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E3 2006 Preview

Michael Hampden Posted:
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Last year's winner of best graphics explored

On day two of E3 we caught up with Flying Lab team, developers of the upcoming naval-themed MMO: Pirates of the Burning Sea.

Much of our conversation focused on combat – this is one area where PotBS is unique amongst MMOs. In PotBS, combat takes place in instanced zones. Players enter these zones after encountering an enemy on a larger world map. The instance in which I played involved me squaring off against a number of small ships, while I piloted a large gunship, complete with cannons mounted on three sides. My ship had loads of firepower, but it was a challenge for me to hit the smaller, faster ships as they darted about. Successful attacking is dependant on your direction and position in PotBS. It’s not as simple as targeting an enemy, and letting auto-attack do your work. Instead, I had to maneuver my ship, in order to bring the enemy into the range of my guns. Once in range, I had to maneuver my ship so that my guns pointed towards the enemy. The range and direction of your guns is denoted by a display in the combat U/I, which conveniently also displays the position of enemy ships. When an enemy ship is within you guns arc of fire in the U/I, you know its time to fire. This is done with a simple left-click.

Firing itself is a very rewarding feeling. My ship lurched slightly as many guns went off, sending thundering death towards the enemy ship. Damage is represented by another display in the combat U/I, and shows the status of each side of an enemy’s armor, as well as the internal structural integrity of their ship. This lends itself to the strategy of trying to concentrate your fire on one side of your enemy’s ship, in order to weaken one side of the armor. For instance, you could maneuver a small ship in close behind a large ship, and while the large ship turned to face you, you could concentrate on devastating his rear armor. Damage is also represented visually by actual gaping holes and similar other signs damage to your ship. Ships are fully destructible. Just a couple of shots taken to your structural integrity and the shows over, your ship crumbles in upon itself and begins its slow journey to the briny deep.

I’m sure it’s easy to see that combat in PotBS will require careful strategy and skillful command of your ship to have a chance at success. This is not only limited to PvE combat either. Simply having a higher rank or more powerful ship won’t be enough to win in PvP combat. Smaller ships are more difficult to hit, so a highly skilled player might be able to dance circles around a less skilled player in a larger gunship, inflicting damage along the way.

With such a great combat system to support it, PvP combat will be a huge part of Pirates – so much so that Designer Kevin Maginn plans for PvP to be present in 30% of the game world at any given time. This makes sense, considering the game features four rival factions seeking to gain dominance over the high seas. These factions are the Spanish, British, French, and Pirate factions. Unlike many MMOs, PotBS will not feature static PvP zones. Instead, PvP zones in PotBS are essentially created by the behavior of the individuals playing the game. This is done in part through PotBS’s “Conquest” system. This system allows the players of each nation (excluding pirates) to conquer up to half of the game world’s One-Hundred and Three ports. The process of capturing a port is very difficult and highly involved however, so it will be very difficult for one nation to gain total dominance over the world.

Kevin tells us that the process begins by generating a state of unrest in a port. This unrest can be generated in a number of ways including, missions, PvE, etc. An interesting twist however, is that it can also be generated by high amounts of economic activity in the area, meaning merchants will also have an impact on the system. Naturally, Pirates are the first to gain the ability to attack other PCs. Pirates can take advantage of the situation by simply attacking everyone they see, or selling their services to one of the Nations contending for the port.

At this point, the port under contention is raised to “tension” status, which brings about open PvP between all Nations within the area around the port. This status lasts for three real-world days, and concludes with a massive battle between two of the Nations fighting for control. Players not wishing to engage in PvP combat can take part in special PvE missions that are designed around supporting your nation whilst hindering its enemies. During beta, this battle can included up to 50 ships, with 25 PCs representing each side. The combatants for this battle are chosen based on their performance during the prior three days of open PvP. Whichever Nation comes out on top in this contest gains control of the port.

The rewards of controlling a Port are varied. Firstly, the conquering Nation’s PCs will get a tax break from local vendors. The victorious Nation’s players can also make economic inroads in conquered Ports, creating structures to extract raw resources from the surrounding lands, resources like wood, iron, etc. Players can then sell these resources to local auction houses for profit. Alternatively, players could also trade these resources with player merchants, avoiding the formalities of the Auction House altogether. Designer Kevin Maginn tells us he expects to see a thriving black-market in PotBS. These resources can be used to create a number of in-game items, with the ultimate item being an entire ship. Defeated Nations will still have access to the Port, but will be subject to higher tax rates, and have no access to any resource extraction.

These aren’t the only innovations Pirates of the Burning Sea is bringing to the genre. PotBS features a unique player created content system, allowing players to create their own items and bring them into the game. Of course, players have been able to create things like Guild Tabards in MMOs before, however, Flying Lab actually allows players to go so far as to bring in their own textures, even their own 3D models into the game! This means in PotBS you could potentially sail around in a ship you modeled and created yourself. Players handy with Photoshop will be able to, among other things, create their own textures for their ship’s sails. Very cool.

Flying Lab accomplishes this by providing a kit to help players who are interested in creating their own content. The company is also extremely careful regarding historical accuracy, so you probably won’t see anyone sailing around in high-fantasy dwarven paddleboat of death. Flying Lab naturally will only allow quality player created content to become part of the game. So far this restriction hasn’t stopped the players. According to Troy Hewitt, Community Envoy at Flying Lab, “we anticipate UC [User Created] ships to make up half of our total fleet. At this point in beta, just over a quarter of our ships have been created by PotBS fans”. Amazing.

If you want to get cracking and create some content of your own, check out Flying Lab’s own UC content kit here.

For those that might not be so tech savvy, there are still a number of ways to make a ship unique. Players are able to paint their ships and sails a multitude of different colors and patterns. You will also have a plethora of options when customizing the look of your avatar. According to the guys at Flying Lab, they’ve calculated that the number of different possible character customizations is up somewhere in the trillions.

So far Pirates of the Burning Sea is looking like a very interesting title, sure to bring some new elements to a genre that some would argue is growing stagnant. The game is currently in closed beta testing, and is scheduled to be released sometime later this year.

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Michael Hampden