As the Austin Game Developers Conference wound to a close, I found myself in the hallway doing a mental inventory of those companies I had not had a chance to speak to. To my surprise, one of them materialized in front of me and provided me with the unique opportunity to interview a good chunk of the senior Pirates of the Burning Sea development team at the same time. On hand to answer my questions were Rusty Williams, CEO; John Tynes, Producer; Jess Lebow, Content Director; Kevin Maginn, Lead Designer; David Hunt, Designer; and Troy Hewitt, Director of Community Relations.
With pre-order boxes headed to stores late next month, the Flying Lab Software team likely has a few weeks of caffeine induced insomnia a head of them. Right now, the order of the day is polish. They have three major priorities between now and release: balance, content polish and avatar combat.
Avatar combat is the latest addition to the game and unlike their ship combat, which they claim to be extremely pleased with, they have not had the time to iterate it to near perfection. Thus, between now and launch, that is one of the points they hope to shape up.
One area thing they’ve learned, according to Lead Designer Kevin Maginn, is to throw away some of the assumptions of MMOs. They hope to create a true “swashbuckling” experience where pirates fight multiple enemies in rapid succession, rather than the traditional one-on-one whack-a-thon. Internally, they have an entire team dedicated exclusively to the improvement of avatar combat.
“People will love it a week before launch,” jokes Producer John Tynes.
They also want to work on their missions, as part of content polish. Again, they’ve iterated a good number of them a few times now – their polished mid level missions went into the Beta just after the conference – but some of their high level missions still need some work. Another big goal for them is what they call the “moment-to-moment experience”, which is just a fancy way to say that they want all their systems to work well together, not just by themselves.
While the team remains focused on the game’s launch, they didn’t hesitate to speculate on some of the things they hope to address once the fun of creation begins again. Maginn listed off his top three priorities: raid content, player governed forts and new avatar combat classes. It remains to be seen in what order these things will be added to the game, but he did take the time to expand on what kind of classes they hope to add:
- Musketeer: Someone who uses, well, a musket to shoot enemies!
- Brawler: A hand-to-hand combat class.
- Off-Hand Hook: This is perhaps the most interesting. It’s a class that uses a hook on its off hand as it fights.
CEO Rusty Williams also mentioned ship officers and a potential “Captain’s cabin”, which is an instanced space players can use to meet their friends and display their trophies.
When it comes to hook fighting though, it begs the obvious question: how does one get a hook? Well, in Pirates of the Burning Sea, players must earn their dismemberments. It sounds absurd, but it really makes sense. Right now, players can undertake a quest in the game and earn themselves a peg leg – although Tynes mentioned that there is an “artificial limb” players can wear if they basically want their leg back – which obviously changes the look and feel of a character. In time, once they add hook fighting, they’ll also be able to earn a lost hand and thus a hook to fight with.
This system is not unlike their current clothing system. Again, they didn’t want players to jump into the game with full Blackbeard regalia. That’s an honor they need to earn. Jess Lebow explained how at every five levels players get a big quest that rewards them with new clothes, neat loot and such.
For example, players that begin as an office in the Navy begin with a simple military uniform. It’s all rather plain. As they advance, they get the famous marking of their country people will recognize from popular culture.
This all ties into the game’s overall “choose your own adventure” style story-arc. Lebow told us about how each class has its own take on a 70+ mission arc, but no one does every single mission. As players advance through it, their choices open up some branches and close off others, much in the way “turning to page 20” does in the famous children’s books. He gave examples of how players must choose love interests and friends, both of which obviously create some enemies that, had the player handled things differently, might have been friends. This kind of system, done correctly, should add a lot of replay ability to the title.
Williams believes their game will succeed, but has some realistic expectations. He gave us City of Heroes as an idea of a game with a similar subscriber base to what they expect. Pirates of the Burning Sea pre-order boxes will be in stores on October 23rd and an official launch date announcement is expected soon.