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Developer Profile: John Scott Tynes

By Jon Wood on November 23, 2007 | Interviews | Comments

Developer Profile: John Scott Tynes

Let's start off with the obvious. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do on Pirates of the Burning Sea?

John Tynes:

I'm the Producer, which means I'm kind of the pirate-in-chief.


What does a Producer do on an MMO? What are your responsibilities as a Producer?

John Tynes:

I'm sure it's different from company to company but here, my main job is managing the nuts and bolts of production. Every day I'm checking out the new stuff going into the game, tracking down problems we aren't addressing, and helping our awesome staff when they get blocked or need some cross-team coordination. I also triage all the new bugs that come from QA, build the list of major work items for each milestone, and talk frequently with our publishing partners at SOE about marketing, distribution, and technology issues.

It's a great job. I love being able to get involved in every aspect of the game and see good ideas blossom into great ones.

Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you got into game development?

John Tynes:

My background is in tabletop roleplaying games. I started a game company when I was 19 called Pagan Publishing and for about twelve years produced lots of books and games based on the Call of Cthulhu RPG made by Chaosium. I designed some games including The Hills Rise Wild!, Unknown Armies, Creatures & Cultists, and Puppetland.

Flying Lab contacted me six years ago to work on a videogame based on one of my tabletop game projects called Delta Green. We worked on it for a year but couldn't find a publisher, so we started Pirates of the Burning Sea and they asked me to come on board.

At first I did a lot of different things because we were such a small team. As we grew I started up the content team and then became producer about a year and a half ago so that our CEO, Rusty, could have more time to deal with business stuff.

Previous to this I did some freelance writing for game companies including Acclaim and Bungie.

Your website,, lists some of your credits and you've worked on projects in many different mediums, Film, Non-Fiction, Fiction, Board & Cards games, etc. How is working on an MMO different from this?

John Tynes:

Very, very different. I'm running a project with 75 people working on it full time and that's a pretty incredible experience all its own. I love working on collaborative projects and having so many insanely talented people doing great work day in and day out is just a blast.

The biggest difference between MMOs and most everything else I've worked on is that you are constantly trying to second-guess the audience. There are a lot more players than there are game developers and they're really, really smart. So designing for an MMO is a lot of two steps forward, one step back, since every cool idea you come up with is always full of exploits and griefing problems and you have to adjust to work around those issues. At the same time we need to keep the cool ideas cool and fun, even though we have to file off the sharp edges and cover them in padding to prevent players from hurting themselves or others on our game!

What past project do you think has had the most influence on your work at Flying Lab?

John Tynes:

It's hard to pick just one because you really are the sum of your experiences, but I'd say Delta Green. That was a sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu RPG and it was a monster, five-year project that involved quite a few writers and artists. It was extremely collaborative, grew well beyond its original scope, and ultimately became something better than any of us would have expected. In those ways it's a lot like Pirates of the Burning Sea and it was a fantastic creative experience.

Just to get some background, what MMOs have you played and enjoyed other than Pirates of the Burning Sea?

John Tynes:

I've tried a lot of MMOs in the last five years but City of Heroes is the one I liked the best. I thought it was a pretty radical design in that it was a very decisive step away from the Ultima Online paradigm of a big world full of diverse activities. Instead it focused on a limited but very strong set of features and walked away from the kind of stuff that was happening in UO, Star Wars: Galaxies, and other big-world games. I think those games are cool too, but it was a bold step for City of Heroes to break that mold and do something different. Plus, no elves.

Now that you're quite a ways along in the development process, how different is the Pirates of today from the Pirates that you originally envisioned?

John Tynes:

Pretty completely different. We set out to make a very small niche game with no avatars. You'd sail a ship, buy and sell goods, and fight other players. But we kept coming up with better ideas, and then the Disney movies started coming out and the genre just exploded. We've really stepped up our game and brought it to a very high level of fun and diversity.

What is it about Pirates of the Burning Sea that you are personally most proud of?

John Tynes:

The user content system. That was one of my first big designs on the project, the thing where players can submit flag and sail graphics to our website and other players can vote on them. Then the best ones go into the game and you can fly your own flag. I'd played so many Doom mods back in the day and seen sites like, and it just seemed like a natural way to both allow players to bring their own creativity into the game while also providing a good filter to weed out crap, porn, etc. If you want user content without filters, of course, there's always Second Life...

If you could go back in time and un-do one thing about this game and / or its production, what would it be?

John Tynes:

There's a very long list but I'd say the biggest one is we should have done avatars and avatar combat from the start. We're going to ship with it and I like what we've done with it, but it just hasn't had the five years of love that our ships and ship combat have had.

What do you think is the most important thing that you have learned since beginning work on Pirates of the Burning Sea?

John Tynes:

That gamers are completely awesome and I am proud to be one.

Ok, the last question is just for fun. Let's go with a classic. What three things would you bring with you if you were going to be stranded on a desert island?

John Tynes:

My wife, our baby, and about ten thousand diapers!

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