Pirates of the Burning Sea to eliminate ganking, restore ambush gameplay

James Egan
J. Egan|06.01.08

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Pirates of the Burning Sea to eliminate ganking, restore ambush gameplay

Is ganking really such a bad thing? That's the question Isildur addresses in his latest Pirates of the Burning Sea dev blog, where he outlines how ganking evolved in the game -- and how it got out of control. "Ganking has a long and difficult history within our design and development process, so it's a hard question to answer with a simple 'we hate it' or 'we love it," Isildur said. To really understand why the Flying Lab Software developers are torn on the issue of ganking, Isildur explained their concept of 'ambush gameplay' and the contradictions it brings to game mechanics.

Isildur explains how the creators of Pirates of the Burning Sea envisioned the act of piracy. The scenario he outlines involves a lone pirate (or small group of pirates), who catch an unwary merchant by surprise, defeat him and loot, then escape before reinforcements can arrive. This is the ambush gameplay Isildur and the team at Flying Labs pictured -- rewarding for pirates, disheartening for lone merchants. To put a more visual spin on it -- a player sets sail from port, perhaps hoping for an uneventful trip. But then, a sail appears on the horizon. Is it a friend or enemy? As the unknown ship comes into view, so does its pirate flag, signaling a possible fight to the death. But the introduction of the Open Sea to the game changed all this. In some respects, Pirates of the Burning Sea developed in ways contrary to the original spirit of the game.

The Open Sea was a fundamental change to the world structure; it became easier to scan for threats. Perhaps too easy. Ambush gameplay was effectively eliminated, but since that time the developers have been trying to recapture that original spirit of the game, resulting in "a cycle of design changes that has continued to this day," Isildur said. For a time, the systems surrounding combat became alternately 'arcane', 'bizarre' and 'Byzantine,' he continued. The system became less about ambushes and more about ganking en masse. Still, Isildur said,"This ambush scenario was the silent designer in the room in most of our design meetings, an unspoken axiom that we incorporated into our decision making over and over again."

Isildur came to the conclusion that the devs shouldn't support ganking to the extent that they do. It saps the fun out of the game, for ganker and victim alike. The changes they've made to the game were counterproductive, leading them further and further from their idealized vision of conflict on the high seas.

Isildur and the dev team have resolved to take a step back and make some fundamental changes to the game that will reduce the current reliance on group ganking, with the ultimate goal of eliminating it altogether. In other words, Pirates of the Burning Sea is getting back to its roots, and restoring a semblance of 'fair fighting' to the game's PvP. Truly removing ganking may not be possible, as "there's always someone in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there's always a lurking predator somewhere," he said. However, he added that, "ganking isn't going to have the protection we've been giving it under the guise of ambush gameplay."

The short term changes to Pirates of the Burning Sea that players can expect will not be drastic. But in the long term, the devs are committed to making the existing gameplay mechanic of group ganking nothing more than a bad memory. "And that," Isildur states, "means a better game for everyone."

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