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Portalus Games | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Historical | Status:Final  (rel 01/22/08)  | Pub:Portalus Games
PVP:Yes | Distribution:Download | Retail Price:Free | Pay Type:Hybrid | Monthly Fee:Free
System Req: PC | ESRB:TOut of date info? Let us know!

Interviews: Developer Profile Q&A: Jess Lebow

By Jon Wood on November 01, 2007

Developer Profile Q&A: Jess Lebow

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

Jess Lebow:

I'm the Content Director, which means I oversee the story and mission creation for the game.



How does one become a Content Director? How did you end up doing what you're doing?

Jess Lebow:

I ask myself that question at least once a week, and I'm not sure there's a standard career path. I took a very circuitous route to get here to be honest. I started out with big dreams of becoming a famous writer and ended up with a creative writing degree when I came out of college. After several years selling beer for a living (which was neither famous, nor did it have anything to do with writing), I finally got my break at a publishing house where I edited the Magic: The Gathering novel line. From there I started writing again. One of my first books caught the attention of the folks at ArenaNet, and I eventually landed a job as the World Designer for Guild Wars. After writing two fantasy games and five fantasy novels, I decided I needed a change of genre, which landed me here at Flying Lab where I took over the reigns of the content team from a fellow writer, John Tynes. That's probably a longer answer than you were looking for, but you asked ;)

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

Jess Lebow:

You know, I just love games. All games. All kinds of games. I play everything: card games, tabletop games, shooters, consoles, MMOs, handhelds, you name it. If it's got rules I'll play it. But even more than games, I love to tell stories, and videogames give me an outlet to do that--all day, every day.

What makes working on a pirate-based game different from working on, say, a fantasy or sci-fi game?

Jess Lebow:

Working in fantasy give you a lot of flexibility. Anything you could possibly need you can simply make up out of thin air. With pirates that's a little different. You need to base everything in reality and work out from there. The best example I can think of for this is trying to create a live event around a winter holiday.

In Guild Wars, we just made up a story about what the people in the world believe and what they celebrate. But when you're dealing with the Caribbean in 1720 and real history you can't just go around inventing new winter holidays that no one has ever heard of. So we did a whole bunch of research and discovered that there is a festival called Junkanoo that's celebrated in the Caribbean on December 26th. It even started in the 17th century, so it's believable that people in our game would be celebrating at that time of year. We of course took some liberties with our storytelling, but it all has a basis in reality.

This may seem restrictive, but really the history of piracy is a terrific place to find inspiration. I guess that's probably the biggest difference. Pirate stories have real-world reference material. Fantasy stories don't.

While working on Pirates, have you been inspired by other MMORPGs?

Jess Lebow:

Oh sure. I don't think you can make an MMO today without knowing what's out there and what's coming next. Pirates has taken inspiration from a lot of different games.

What is your favorite aspect of Pirates of the Burning Sea as a game?

Jess Lebow:

My favorite? That's a hard one. It's such a big world and there are so many aspects. If I were to pick just one, I'd probably have to say the ship combat. It's very different than anything else I've played, and it just feels good to give the order to fire 50 or more cannons at an enemy ship. Wood splinters, enemy crewmen fall overboard, and the roar of those guns is a glorious thing. If we're talking about contributions the content team has made then I would probably say the Easter eggs we've managed to sprinkle all over the place are my favorite.

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

Jess Lebow:

I'm very, very proud of the missions, the writing, and the sound design of this game. My team did an amazing job.

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

Jess Lebow:

I'd add jumping.

At the time I am writing this question, lists over 200 different MMORPGs. What sets PotBS apart from the bunch, and why should our readers be excited to buy it?

Jess Lebow:

Pirates of the Burning Sea is about you playing a game the way you want to play a game. With piracy as a theme, how could it be any other way? If you are big into PVP, you can create your own war zones, where you can battle players from other nations. If you're into PVE, there are more than 1000 missions for each nation. If you like trade and commerce, there is an entirely player-driven economy. If you like exploring, the entire Caribbean is at your disposal. There is no right or wrong path, just fun.

Now the same question with a slightly more narrow focus: Why should our readers be more excited about PotBS than they are about those other pirate MMOs?

Jess Lebow:

To be blunt: because our game is more fun. If you've ever wanted to be Errol Flynn as he swings aboard an enemy ship and crosses his blades with a half-dozen swordsman, then Pirates of the Burning Sea is for you. If you've ever wished you could obliterate your enemies in a thunderous cacophony of iron, smoke and gunpowder, then you'll like our game. If, on the other hand, you like lots of loading screens, merely adequate art, or poorly translated dialogue, then, well, you might want to give those other games a try.