E3 2007 gave us the chance to talk to Flying Lab Software inside the SOE meeting rooms. There we saw the game and spoke to Content Director Jess Lebow who talked about their most recent build, the march to launch and some plans for the future, including a crew system.
Based on interview with Jess Lebow (Content Director)
Article by Dana Massey
With the announcement that SOE will publish Pirates of the Burning Sea, Flying Lab Software only has to worry about the game. FLS Content Director Jess Lebow took some time during last week's E3 to discuss their march towards launch.
Lebow told us of the latest build of the game, which he feels brings it to a point where it is a really solid product - likely read to launch in years past. To emphasize his point, he related something a developer friend had once told him: "Every game sucks until about two months before it ships". This is for them the build that represents a complete and fun product.
One way they've gotten there is through iteration. Like most games, they build their content in the same order it would be played, but the downside of this is that the developers don't truly have a handle on their tools until the end. As such, they went back to the start and redid everything. It made for a much richer and complete experience.
They've also finally begun to snap in the final pieces of the content puzzle. One example of this is ship boarding.
Originally, it was a statistical calculation that told the player whether or not they'd won the battle. Now, when two ships come alongside each other, they're ported off to a instance. It becomes a game of kill the captain. Each side's captain is on deck with a few friends and they engage in hand-to-hand combat. If either ship has the resources, they can call for NPC reinforcements, a representation of crew members who were distracted, indisposed or trapped. As long as a side has reinforcements, the battle continues. If the captain is killed and that side is out of reinforcements, the battle is over. If they are not, then the player can use one to respawn their captain and continue the battle.
There's a twist though. While both sides are in an instance, that doesn't mean that other pirates cannot take advantage of their stationary position. Back in the real world, ships can come alongside and try and sink the two while they're in combat. Lebow told us that it would be made quite obvious to the crews in the instance what was going on and noted that they were hard at work on a fair and non-exploitable disengagement mechanism to cope with these vulture-like attacks. This possibility adds a new level of strategy. For example, in group combat, one ship could be outfitted specifically to board enemies, while the others watch over him. They've taken what was once a simple "win/lose" pop-up and made it a rich and strategic mini-game.
Lebow also told us about a rather big change they've made to the way combat works. Crews were previously a stat like health, sails, etc. It could be depleted by enemy shots and that would have a big impact on what a ship could do in combat. However, the effect was too large and so they've decided to change things and make crew regenerate quickly during combat. This is not perfectly logical, but was necessitated by their desire for fun. He justified it by explaining that sometimes crew would be distracted by incoming fire and unable to work, trapped or otherwise indisposed. Previously, the first thing anyone did in battle was to fire off anti-crew grape-shots, which slowed down their enemies for the duration of the battle and made combat less fun, less explosive and less interesting. Now, crew-killing shots more like a big debuff. It remains a valid tactic, but not necessarily the only one.
With an eye towards the future, Lebow expanded on one plan FLS hopes to add to the game post-launch. Crews are great, but having them just as a stat seems like something that could be expanded upon. In what Lebow thinks will likely be a free content update, the team plans to add crew members with personalities.
As players do missions they'll encounter these personages and eventually they may or may not join the player's crew. These would be officers or high level experts. Once in your crew, they further customize the individual ships. In essence, they'd act like talking persistent modifiers. More than that though, they transform an NPC crew from a nameless statistic to something with a soul.
Over time, Lebow spoke of how they hope to expand the game in any way that makes sense geographically and historically. For example, they hope to do a distinct second game: Pirates of the Asia Seas. This would be a unique licensed world run out of Asia, but one that players from both games could travel between simply by "booking passage", much in the same way they solved fast travel in PotBS. Players would not be able to take items or boats, just their personage.
FLS hopes to launch the game this fall. They had hoped to get to market within a couple months of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean movie this summer, but in the end, Lebow made it clear that they'd rather release a good game this fall than an incomplete one this summer.
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