Flying Lab Software on Pirates, part 4

Williams: The thing that is – once you make this system and it actually kind of works, you're so amazed that it works, "Like, oh my god!" that it seems pretty fun and you're pretty excited. But if you wait a couple of months and then come back and play it, you realize that there are certain fundamental problems and the way to solve those is by ripping them out and putting them back in. And avatar combat essentially did not have the opportunity to go through that iterative process. So that's what we're doing now.

Maginn: We're sort of revealing the "how sausage is made" here. Because every game you've ever played has this. They just don't like to talk about it. Every single time we tell anybody, a developer comes in and says, "Yeah, well, part of the reason it took us this long is that we rebooted the game and tore out this system and that system." The response is always, "Of course you did. Who doesn't?" Every game has this.

"We're like, 'Pirates are cool! If you just do something good with pirates, people will love it.'"

Williams: Well, except for the games... I mean, one of the advantages – if we were making an elves and dwarves game, you can basically sit down and look at the camera model, the combat model, visually how they move. I mean, there are so many things that you can look at in another game and say, "Okay. Let's use that with my tiny variation on it and I'll innovate over in this other area." But you can take all of your core mechanisms and basically have a good reference to start from. And so you know that you might go off in a squirrelly direction here or there, but you're largely going to be on track. Whereas, when we were building ship combat, I mean we had to rip out... it wasn't just ship combat. It was the entire way our game was structured. We had a one-world instance where you could sail around and run into other ships and have organic fights in the one world.

Maginn: It sounds great except that sailing around means sailing for hours without seeing anything.

Williams: Or admit that people would never leave a battle because they could respawn and get over there in time before the battle actually ended. And we just always thought that we would be able to tune our way out of that situation and then, when we finally built it and started tuning, we thought "Oh, dear god." You know, a lot of other games would just say, again, if you had the whole art team and you've got the burn going, you'd say, "Okay. People will sail for hours. I'm sorry but that's the way it's going to be." We had the luxury of ripping that out and going back in and doing it correctly. And so that's why the ship combat is so freaking cool and why avatar combat is going to be a hell of a lot better after we go through this process for it.

Maginn: So my last point here is more player empowerment, more chances to be the hero. This really comes from one thing. There is one thing that is to credit for this – Dynasty Warrior 6. I started played Dynasty Warrior 6 and I said, "I am a badass. Every time I play this game, I'm a total badass." When I'm done with a Dynasty Warrior 6 mission, I have killed 1500 people. That's great!

Then I went and looked at Pirates because one my visions early on for Pirates' avatar combat was you could fight your way through and army of certain minions and get to the big boss and have a duel with him. I'm lucky if I can get through three guys in Pirates before they kill me. And I'm thinking, "What the hell is this? This is not the game that I wanted it to be." It suddenly struck me, all at once, that Dynasty Warrior 6 was more of what I wanted than our actual game. So, yeah, I decided to make every single skill in Pirates area effect. It turns out that this is awesome! This is so much fun. It just feels great. It feels like and epic movie.

"We were always shying away from supernatural elements.... Well, as it turns out, magic's fun. And so is the supernatural. People really like it."

So we were always shying away from supernatural elements. In fact, I can remember long, drawn-out arguments about whether or not we have any skills that couldn't be explained in the real world at all. And to some extent we're guilty of buying into the forums as the only source of information for us because everybody there seemed really excited about historical simulation. Well, as it turns out, magic's fun. And so is the supernatural. People really like it. We put a little bit in, just a dash, just a little town that has its own mission arc where you encounter some cultists and fight against this supernatural threat. Guess what people like the best?

We added a new instance called Fortaleza that's all supernatural. Guess what piece of new content people liked the best? It turns out that supernatural is great. And it gives us a lot more freedom and flexibility.

Williams: The interesting thing about the supernatural is that it's sort of this line that we've been trying to find. Because what we don't want is for you to come in to the sort of unrecognizable Caribbean of the 1720's.

Maginn: We don't want you to start out sailing a ghost ship.

Williams: And, you know, you get in to the open sea and suddenly somebody's firing fireballs at you and you think, "This doesn't feel like anything. It feels like this horrendous mishmash." So the line that we've been trying to walk is essentially having sort of that very historical flavor but also giving you the supernatural for the areas that you'd sort of want it.

One of the nice things about the supernatural, beyond just the basic appeal of it, is that it lets us do very, very different kinds of combat instances and encounters. One of the things that we've actually run into as a problem with our ship combat is that the high-level ships are simply too powerful. One of the reasons for that is because our combat model is based upon number of cannons, which is very realistic and is very true, but that also means that our ability to tune that somewhat is much more difficult to do. Whereas, when you have any sort of ... if you were doing a science-fiction game, hey – that's just how Mayzon beams work. You know? It's much easier for you to say, "What is the gameplay experience I want?"
This article was originally published on Massively.