Pirates of the Burning Sea Lead Designer Kevin Maginn gets our Q&A series running again with another set of questions and answers. This week we learn about population imbalance between the nations, the stress test and more.
Answers by Kevin Maginn (Lead Designer, PotBS)
Questions by Dana Massey
WarCry: Pirates of the Burning Sea has kept growing in scope as the years of development have gone by. Sometimes when games do this, they fail to really nail any single aspect. Why did you choose to go for both land and sea at launch, rather than adding avatars later, like EVE for example?
Kevin Maginn: A lesson we learned from watching the release of other MMOs is ‘you can only launch once.’ What that means is that while you can promise features for post-release, you have to succeed or fail on the feature set you ship with. With avatar combat not in the launched game, any promises we made about its eventual arrival would be meaningless as far as attracting players and retaining players. With it in the launched game, and in reasonably good shape, it’s much easier for us to promise improvements and have those promises be believable.
WarCry: Every MMOG coming to market has developers who talk about how they learned from WoW and are going to polish their game. Yet, paradoxically, none of them seemed to have learned from WoW and shipped a game with realistic system requirements. What range of systems will be appropriate for PotBS and why do you feel that is the right choice?
Kevin Maginn: We were targeting high-end systems back in 2004, and aiming at a much smaller market share. These days, our requirements haven’t changed much, which means that our target systems are much closer to the mainstream of PC gamers. While we can certainly take advantage of faster video cards, more memory, and so forth, we’re not Crysis. Most gamers should be able to run the game fine, and have it look good. Conveniently, this coincides with our larger target market.
WarCry: Sometimes, Open Beta can be a cold dose of reality for game designers. For many prospective players, it’s MMO code for a demo. Tell me about some the situations where the stress test has validated your decisions and a case where it has inspired some further thought?
Kevin Maginn: The big things we’re getting out of the stress test are server infrastructure issues. It’s simply not long enough to provide a large-scale workout for many of our game systems, which work over weeks, not days. We’ve had a surprisingly positive response; my cynical jaded gamer nature made me think we’d get nothing but negative feedback. But we do want to see how some of the large-scale systems perform under heavy load, which is part of why we’re inviting all the stress testers into the closed beta.
WarCry: Your game lets people play as French, Spanish, English or Pirates. It seems likely that you’ll face some population balance issues. Have you seen them so far in Beta and how do you plan to keep things fair after release?
Kevin Maginn: We’re seeing the same population numbers consistently through every stage of the beta. 35% of the players choose Pirate; a similar number choose Britain. 15% choose Spanish, and 15% choose French. Obviously, those numbers aren’t balanced, but they’re not a failure state either. That said, we are working on some population balancing tools, with two goals: make the game more fair if your nation is underpopulated, and make underpopulated nations more appealing, particularly to large PvP guilds.
WarCry: The sign of good UI is that no one notices it. Talk about your efforts to ensure the best user interface you can make?
Kevin Maginn: Our UI is an ongoing source of concern for most of us. We have excellent UI artists, and a full-time usability specialist, but the trouble with UI is that everyone has a different opinion on what’s the ‘right’ approach, and UI preferences are so personal and deeply-rooted that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. On the other hand, if you just throw a hundred user-configurable preferences at the UI, you end up with a sloppy mess. There are areas of the UI I’m really happy with, and areas that I’m pretty unhappy with (I’m looking at you, Local Map). Thankfully, UI is low-impact as far as game stability and programmer sanity, so we can continue to improve it as we go.