Pirates of the Caribbean Online - CES Update
When the Pirates of the Caribbean MMORPG launched before anyone knew what was happening, no one knew what to expect from the Disney game. Today, Carolyn Koh follows up on her first look at the game with a CES Progress Report.
The Disney group. What does that name convey? A higher bar than expected in others? I rather think so. “People expect big things from Disney,” said Katie Gerber, Communications Manager of the Walt Disney Internet Group, as we walked to their suite. Mike Goslin, Vice President, Virtual Reality Studio and Joe Shochet, Creative Director were there to speak about their game and answer what questions I had. We started off just chatting about the game, the changes they’ve implemented since release and their plans for the future.
PotCO was shipped with little fanfare. They had planned to ship with the opening of the 3rd movie, but that was just not to be, as the game just wasn’t ready at that point, Mike imparted. Their targeted audience is the wider non-game playing public. Such a diverse number of people is a hard group to target, but that is what Disney movies – especially their animated movies - target. Fun for the kids, with some adult humor built in to amuse the adults – take Aladdin with funny guy Robin Williams cast as the voice for the genie for example.
As an experienced MMOG player, I had some expectations. PotCO’s controls was quite different. But as I had mentioned before, if I could formulate a set of “standard” commands for MMOGs and get every development house to follow them, I would be a happy camper. Each time I played a different MMOG, I also had to figure out how to /tell or /whisper a friend, or trade an item – right click? Left click? Drag item over character? PotCO builds upon ToonTown, Disney’s first MMOG offering, so of course those who have played ToonTown will find the controls similar. Children ready to move onto a higher level game than ToonTown maybe?
I asked Joe and Mike about the seemingly high penalty for losing an encounter – the “grogginess” you experienced. Well… it seems like this old MMOG player (and a few of my friends) expected a penalty. When we woke up groggy after being thrown into jail (depressed stats), I got up and went for a sandwich – we all went AFK! When we got back, we were still groggy, so we complained and whined that the penalty was too harsh, played cards and just sailed around until grogginess wore off. Now, Joe tells me that the best way to get rid of grogginess is to work it off! Doh! “We didn’t communicate that too well,” he admitted, “but you’re supposed to get back in game and go back to fighting. That works off the grogginess.” Mike was also quick to point out that your stats are only a little depressed, not by much.
What I had seen as deficiencies in the ease of creating a group by being able to type /group or /invite and your friend’s name were caused by design decisions. Firstly, there was security, in that the game is designed for ages 8+ and PotCO allows you to immediately teleport to anyone in your friend’s list or your group. Parents may not necessarily want for just anyone to invite little Susie into their group from across the world. The group interface only opens when your avatars are in close proximity to one another.
Secondly, PotCO does not require unique names. Why? Based on the story and history, they wanted to create a certain feel to the game with names. To that effect, PotCO has a very strong naming policy. Also, they wanted to make sure that friends could play with friends. Hence, players can move from sever to server. Also, with free to play accounts, unique names could be taken up very fast. Imagine there being only one “Catherine” or “Jack” allowed. What would the other 10,000 avatars be named and still remain true to the time period?
However, players can create invitation codes and email them to their real life friends. Once this code is received and activated in game, you’ve got them on your friends list and can teleport to them to form up. Improving the social aspects of the game are a priority and further updates to group functionality will expand their current Look Out system - a matchmaking system for card games and PvP – to include a “looking for group / crew / quest” functionality, changing the color of your group mates’ names so that they can be more easily followed in a crowd of “Catherines” and “Jacks” and changing the color “dot” on the radar. It is radar, I was told, not a true “map” hence the lack of geographic features on it.
Level cap is currently 45. They shipped with 40, but a *cough* bug allowed some players to attain 42, so they raised the cap to 45. This is not your father’s MMOG. There’s a single overarching story line. You rescue the Black Pearl for Jack Sparrow. Some quests are repeatable, but the storyline quests are not. Boss battles, for example – the recovery of the Black Pearl- are repeatable. If only because it’s so cool that they wanted players to be able to play it again and again (and of course you’ll probably fail the first time around).
I also asked about the differences between character level and notoriety levels and how they impacted your avatar’s ability to defeat NPCs of which only character level is displayed. Here, the explanation was exactly like your father’s MMOG. Shhh…. Sekrit! But do pay attention to the color cues. If it’s red, you’ll probably lose.
When I wrote my “First Glance” article for this site, I imparted several caveats to my readers – that the game was designed for ages 8+ and that system specs designed for was very, very low. Avatars are on the blocky side as the one thing we just cannot get away from is that avatars take up a boat-load of system and video memory. However, this is not to say that the game is ugly. They’ve done very nice things with the environment and environmental effects. A tableau is created in each NPC area so that NPCs aren’t just standing around or patrolling. They dance, they interact with each other. This hearkens back to the tableau you might see while touring various areas of Disney theme parks. Skeletons are dancing around a bonfire. Pirates may be drinking rum and getting drunk. The pirates in the jail are trying to tempt the dog holding the cell key to come closer to them.
Recently, the Pirates DXD or Disney eXtreme Digital community portal was launched. Flash and widget based, it is an easy to use, customizable portal where you can track your own stats, check leader boards as well as keep track of your friends. In February, their first big update goes live and that adds a whole new layer of customization to your avatar. Jewelry, clothing, hair and tattoos. Yes, they snuck in like Pirates in a fog bank when they launched, but as they told me, they are ramping up marketing and working harder than ever to make this the game the best that it can be.