One of the problems with working on a game—or on any project, really—for as long as we’ve been working on Pirates is that it often becomes hard to remember the big-picture inspiration that started the whole thing. You inevitably get bogged down in the details of implementing each feature, debugging each game system, and following up on each little minor task that, taken collectively, form the foundation of your game.
We’ve been making changes, incremental improvements, and bug fixes since launch, but in the background, we’ve been stepping back to look at that big-picture inspiration again, and ask ourselves: What did we make? What did we want to make? What would we like to be making now?
We found ourselves in general agreement on most of these questions, and after conversations with many people at FLS, I sat down to write a single defining statement for Pirates. What did we, collectively, believe Pirates was all about? The answer is our ‘vision statement’:“Pirates of the Burning Sea is a competitive game in which players take the role of adventurers in a romanticized version of the Caribbean in the Age of Sail, and seek fame, fortune, and glory for themselves and their nations.”
This isn’t necessarily where we are now; it’s how we all view the game that we’d like Pirates to be. It’s both a description of what we’ve made, and a goal at which to aim.
This is a pretty dense summary, and has a lot of implications, which I’m going to briefly sketch out one at a time.
Competitive: We acknowledge that fundamentally our game is about players interacting with each other. This is most obvious in the PvP systems, but it should be kept in mind for all other game systems as well.
Adventurers: The characters are heroes of an adventure story. Nobody is a minion, or a peon, or working at a dull job pushing papers for the Navy. We’re not simulating a historical career; we’re creating a tale of high adventure.
Romantic: In keeping with the previous point, we’re not simulating the Caribbean of 1720, either. We’ve got Captain Kidd leading the pirates, we’ve got hostile Mayans and ancient curses, we’ve got improbably evil and vicious pirate gangs. History is our foundation, not our definition.
Fame, Fortune and Glory: If you’re going to be the hero of an adventure story, we need to acknowledge that you’re the hero. There are in-game ways to do that, and there are also out-of-game ways to do that. We need to do both: NPCs that sing your praises, new weapons and clothing to make you stand out in a crowd, special rewards for major accomplishments—but also leaderboards, player profiles, and social networking tools on our website.
For Their Nations: Pirates is a multiplayer game, and we need to emphasize that as often as possible. This means both more group content and more support for society-based gameplay. You should feel like you and your friends are important in the world, and that you can have a real impact.
This is, of course, just a brief outline of what we’ve been talking about since launch, but it gives you a sense of where we think we’re at and where we think we’d like to be. Some of the concerns that you might have:Is Pirates PvP-only?
No, of course not. We just believe that our best avenue for content is to put the tools to make fun gameplay in your hands. That’s the idea behind the PvP system, but it’s also the driving force behind the economy; looking to the future, it’s the inspiration for our port governance plans, the Skirmish mechanics, and other systems we’ve got lined up. Interacting with other players is what makes an online game compelling.I don’t want to roleplay an adventurer.
We’re not going to force you to go out and do heroic deeds. You’re more than welcome to define how you find fun in your own way. We’re constantly trying to add new options for you to progress and succeed in different ways in Pirates, and we will continue to do so. But neither are we going to limit our content to match a particular interpretation of, for example, the Freetrader, or the Naval Officer. First and foremost, we think both those archetypes are heroic archetypes. You don’t have to play yours that way, but that content will be available.The ‘Romantic’ stuff sounds an awful lot like fantasy.
We’re looking at the feel and texture of pirate mythology as our guideline, not the strictly historical world of 1720. Superstition and native religions provide an inspiration for variety in everything from clothing options to enemies. However, we won’t have elves with flaming swords shooting lightning bolts. That’s far, far outside the feel and texture of pirate myth. But we may have ancient curses; we may have voodoo.
It’s difficult to make a clear distinction between ‘historical’ and ‘fantasy’. As someone with a degree in history, I’m all too aware that everything we consider ‘historical’ is ultimately a fantasy of one degree or another. The best historical sources are still not reliable, and the events we ‘know’ happened are only very likely to have happened, at best. Our knowledge of the past is essentially a spectrum with ‘realism’ at one end and ‘fantasy’ at the other. We’ve always hewed pretty close to the ‘realism’ end, but never so close as to limit our storytelling options. However, we are taking a step down that spectrum—a small step, but a step nonetheless—and expanding our storytelling a bit more. I want to embrace the whole of the pirate myth, because it’s all fertile ground for new content and new adventures.When can we expect to see some of this fame, fortune, and glory stuff?
We’re already gradually introducing it, and some of the features I mention in that section are in development and testing even as I write this.Are you eliminating solo play?
No. We recognize and support solo play as an exciting and fun option. On the other hand, when we talk about the ‘endgame’, we do believe that it’s something that happens with other players—whether cooperatively or competitively. No developer can generate new content with the speed or enthusiasm of players; no hand-crafted mission arc is as likely to keep you playing as your friends. Mission content is necessary but not sufficient, and in some cases we’re aiming that mission content at groups, as well.Why are you telling us all this?
Because I was pointedly reminded by Aether that while we’d been moving forward with design and development based on the vision statement we developed months ago, we hadn’t actually shared it with anyone. Why are we making change X instead of change Y? Why are we working on this system, rather than that system? In almost all cases, the answer lies in that statement of purpose.
As we move forward, the question I keep asking of our team is: how is what you’re doing related to the vision we have for this game? How is this feature going to make the game more like the one we’re all imagining?
It’s an ambitious statement of purpose, but I believe we’ve got a great foundation to build upon.