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AGC: Taylor Daynes, Lead Designer

Aaron Roxby Posted:
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Pirates of the Burning Sea: Interview from AGC

Lead Designer Taylor Daynes and Designer Kevin Maginn speaks to MMORPG.com about a range of systems

At the recent Penny Arcade Expo (PAX), Flying Lab Software announced some major new additions to their swashbuckling MMORPG, Pirates of the Burning Sea. I took the opportunity at this year’s Austin Game Conference to sit down with Lead Designer Taylor Daynes and Designer Kevin Maginn and discuss some of the game’s recent additions in more detail.

We began by discussing the game’s new Avatar Combat system. These on foot battles were originally planned to be added to the game after launch, however as Maginn says, “One of the lessons of Star Wars Galaxies is that you only get to launch once, and if you launch without something that feels like it really should be a core feature… users are not actually going to forgive you.” In addition, the designer found that with the level of polish they wanted to put into the game, with or without Avatar Combat, they would not be able to launch during 2006. The team has decided to use that time to add more planned feature to the game at launch.

When designing Avatar Combat, a major concern was latency. “We don’t want to give the low-ping masters an advantage over everybody else” says Maginn, “It’s not really a fighting game in the sense of Street Fighter or Soul Calibur, but we also are trying to get away from the ‘Stand there with your auto attack on, whacking away model’”. To this end, they have taken lessons from the game’s ship combat system. The combat in Pirates is based around the concept of tactical positioning. The game will have an on-screen balance meter. As you move, you lose balance. The less balance you have, the easier you are to hit. This was implemented to prevent the “Strafe Battles” found in games like World of Warcraft. In Pirates, if you run around trying to circle your opponent, you will be very easy to kill. While stepping forward and strafing decreases your balance, stepping backwards increases it. In this way, you can fend off multiple opponents by backing up, at least until you are cornered, at which point the attackers can position themselves for the advantage.

The combat skills are divided into three basic groups, Sword, Brawl and Musket. From there it is broken down even further. So swords, for example, break down into formal fencing or slashing, swashbuckling style. From there it breaks down into individual skills. “Our goal is that the skill you are using at first level is also the skill you are going to be using at the end game.” While any player can learn any of these disciplines, it pays to specialize in one of them. So, if you specialize in swordplay, you can still pull out your musket and take a ranged shot at someone, you simply wont be as good as a musketeer would. These specializations will be learned once the player is already in the game. “We do like you to make important, meaningful decisions about your character but we want you to do that once you’re informed, so a lot of the early stuff will allow you to use all of the weapons and give you a chance to have a feel for them, decide what you like and don’t like about the weapons.”

In addition to PVP, Avatar Combat will be used in world-based PVE content. While there will not be free-roaming exploration across huge landscapes, there will be large persistent areas. The idea is to focus the players on the points of interest. So, if you are standing outside of a jungle with a Mayan temple at the center, you will be brought right to the temple.

Taylor Daynes then gave me some more detail about the recently announced “Adventure Sites”. Adventure Sites are large, instanced areas, capable off supporting hundreds of players. The first announced Adventure Site is going to be called “El Dorado Coast”. The zone features ancient Mayans who have been supplied by Dutch adventurers, seeking to exploit the Mayan wealth. The player will be fighting modern (for the time period) ships, crewed by ancient Mayans. “El Dorado Coast is, I think, a great example of the role of history in our game,” said Daynes, “Obviously, the Mayans didn’t have this grand revival with the Dutch, but we are totally willing to have fun with history, as long as we can find a way to make it reasonable.” Each adventure site will also have different rules. The next, untitled Adventure Site will be PVP active.

PVP rewards will be offered for completing missions and looting NPCs, however players will also be able to loot cargo from each other. This sets up some interesting scenarios for world-based PVP. Players can take control of ports in the world, through PVP, completing missions, subterfuge or sowing economic unrest in the area. When the unrest in a port gets high enough, the port and the surrounding sea will be PVP active. This can make the peaceful transportation of goods through the area risky, essentially allowing players to block off trade routes.

The ports themselves have been designed to give a feeling of being lived in. In the Pirate town, for example, NPCs will be hanging around gambling on the docks, NPCs play music and dance on the beach, and NPCs practice dueling, with spectators surrounding them. The idea is to really give the player the feeling of being in Tortugas, or Brie from the Fellowship of the Ring. The game uses a system that adds variation to models, allowing for many NPCs to appear on the screen at once, while at the same time adding a greater degree of variation than is generally seen.

The economy in Pirates is a player-driven manufacturing based economy, based around supply and demand. “Essentially, anything out there in the game world that is at all interesting is player created” said Maginn. As opposed to going out and mining resources themselves, players manage the entire chain of supply, from the workers obtaining raw materials, to the craftsmen creating items. “The player shouldn’t be sitting in a workshop, hammering nails into a chair,” Maginn continued, “These guys are larger than life heroes, to the extent they are businessmen and merchants, they’re larger than life merchants.” While there will be safety-nets to insure that there is no point where a player simply cannot play, the game’s economy is based around real world economic principle.

Geographical distribution of resources will play heavily into the economy. For example, teke is an important resource in ship construction, which is only available in Cuba. So, in order for other nations to obtain teke, they will need to either pay what the Spanish are charging for the resource, or take one of the Cuban ports.

Pirates of the Burning Sea continues to shape up as one of the most interesting MMO projects on the horizon. While still in closed testing, the developers plan to expand testing soon, including an eventual open beta before the game’s 2007 release.

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Aaron Roxby