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Portalus Games | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Historical | Status:Final  (rel 01/22/08)  | Pub:Portalus Games
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Interviews: Developer Profile Q&A: Rick Saada

By Jon Wood on October 26, 2007

Developer Profile Q&A: Rick Saada

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

Rick Saada:

I wear quite a few hats. I’m the tools dev, so I make the tools that our content crew uses to make all the missions, NPC’s and suchlike, and that our design crew uses to make all the loot. I wrote the editor for laying out automated tests for the test team, utilities for the art team, plus a zillion other little tools. I’m also one of the founders at FLS, which means I appear at the top as well as the bottom of the org chart (it’s circular, really). Oh, and I’m in charge of banana bread. Some here would argue that’s my most important job.



From your bio on the PotBS site, you obviously have a lot of experience in game development. How has working on the Pirates of the Burning Sea project been different for you?

Rick Saada:

PotBS is the biggest and most complicated project I’ve ever worked on (including little apps like Microsoft Word). On previous games, it’s been reasonable for one person to keep the entire project and its various interactions in their head. That’s not really feasible any more, although our Director of Development, Joe Ludwig, does a pretty amazing job at it. It’s been a much longer project as well, clocking about 5 years now, so it’s taken a hefty chunk of my life. It’s great watching it all come together as we push towards ship.

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

Rick Saada:

Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you got into game development? Rick: I started a long time ago. When I was in high school back in the late seventies, I was visiting the university where my father teaches, harassing his long suffering secretary and generally annoying the grad students. One of them sat me down at the PDP-11 they had there and typed Adventure. Up started the Colossal Cave text adventure, arguably the great-great-granddaddy of most of today’s MMO’s. I was hooked (and quiet) for the rest of the day. I managed to find a copy of some BASIC source code for the game that had been published in an old computer magazine and decided “Hey, I can do this.” So I spent the next few weeks ignoring my high school Driver’s Ed class and writing my first text adventure. I still can’t parallel park very well.

I dinked around with games during college, but it wasn’t until a few years later that I seriously started writing another one. I was working on DOS Word at Microsoft in the late 80’s, and I could see that the cool kids were all getting to work on the Windows projects like Excel and Word for Windows. I needed to learn Windows programming, and the obvious way to do (to me) it was writing a game. My efforts eventually resulted in Castle of the Winds, which was my first published game. It also had the dubious distinction of slipping the OS/2 project because a sizable chunk of the graphics team at Microsoft was hooked on my game and not working on GDI. Oops. Tim Sweeney was just starting Epic Megagames at the time, and convinced me to let him market my game for me, along with his platformer Jill of the Jungle. Castle did pretty darn well for a shareware game; I got something like 13-15,000 or so registrations before I released it as freeware.

I took a few years off post Microsoft to let my hands recover from RSI, and then joined up with Paul Canniff (who’d done the town art on CotW) and Rusty Williams to work at Flying Lab. Rails Across America was our first game, and then we moved on to Pirates of the Burning Sea.

There has been a recent upsurge in the popularity of pirates in pop culture, due in part to that Disney pirate film franchise. What, in your opinion, makes pirates so popular?

Rick Saada:

There’s a lot of romance associated with Pirates, totally fabricated by Hollywood. The old Errol Flynn movies like Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, plus many others, have painted the image of the swashbuckling hero, sailing the seas and righting the wrongs that drove him to piracy. They dress in cool cloths, get to carry swords, and talk funny. Add to that the number of kids who’ve played pirate with a cardboard ship and sticks for swords and you’ve got subject matter of enduring popularity.

Why did you feel that pirates would be a good basis for an MMORPG, specifically?

Rick Saada:

Swords and sorcery is fun, but that space is a little full. So we looked around at other genres that seemed like they’d be a good fit. Pirates is a genre that’s full of stories to be told, and one that hasn’t been beaten to death. The lore is full of kidnappings, romance, betrayal, skullduggery and heroism, all playing out in a lush and beautiful environment. Add to that the twofold combat of swords and ships and you get a lot of variety there as well.

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

Rick Saada:

Very. We’d originally planned a very small and simple game. We were going to release a little ship combat game and then grow it from there. That idea didn’t last very long, and we moved into a more realistic sailing simulation. Many parts of the game evolved over time as we discovered what worked and what didn’t, what we needed but hadn’t thought of, and what the market required us to do. Somewhere along the line we discovered we had a full fledged MMO.

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

Rick Saada:

The team. A few months back someone parked their SUV blocking me in. When I went inside and started bitching about it, the art department came pouring out and literally bounced it out of my way. I mean, how cool is that? Seriously, we’ve put together a great group of people to work with. Everyone here has been kicking ass and taking names, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

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

Rick Saada:

I’d do a better job of figuring out what we were building up front and design for that at the start, rather than stumbling into a full MMO and having to redo lots of systems as a result. I’d let small teams iterate on a few of the core systems before going into full scale production to make sure we had them right.

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?

Rick Saada:

A fully player driven economy. PvP that changes the landscape of the game world. Missions and stories that are fun to read and play. Beautiful environments and colorful characters. The list goes on and on…

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?

Rick Saada:

We’re really aiming at a rather different market than PotCO. They’re going more for the 9-11 age set, and we’re taking everything else. Our game is a lot deeper and more interesting than theirs, as befits our target market. I’m sure many fans of the movies will check out the Disney game, but we hope that when they discover they’re looking for something a bit meatier they’ll check out our game. As for VoC, I haven’t looked at it very closely, but it’s got a very different model than we do. Their game is far more grind heavy than ours, and being an Asian import has a very different style to it. I think our economy and PvP story is far better than theirs, and being a subscription game we’ve got a more level playing field than the “lose for free, pay to win” model.

Ok, the last question is just for fun. Who would win in a fight, Smurfs or Carebears?

Rick Saada:

Our lead designer was talking at lunch about doing a PvP game with Carebears. But have you seen the Penny Arcade “reimagining” of Teddy Ruxpin? He’s going to own them both.