FiringSquad: First, pirates continue to be a popular subject in pop culture as the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie can attest to. From your perspective why is there so much attention being put to this historical period in history?
: Even in the days of real piracy, the pirate life was attractive to many sailors. Given that navy ships could impress them for years of service, the fact that pirate ships tended to be very democratic was appealing. Journalists and authors soon romanticized them further, conjuring up a life of freedom and adventure. There was also the lure of wealth, the vast fortunes that pirates were imagined to possess buried beneath the shifting sands.
Early movies adapted the works of adventure writers like Robert Louis Stevenson and Rafael Sabatini, and had the good fortune of putting Errol Flynn in there to make pirates sexy and cool. Those films established a set of visual cliches that have persisted, merging romance with fashion and daring.
At the heart of it all is the figure of the pirate, the eyepatched scoundrel who flirts with the governor's daughter, steals from the villainous aristocrat, and follows a powerful code of honor. He's the likable rogue, the anti-hero with a heart of gold, and of course a great guy to drink with.
The pirate genre has certainly gone through cycles of popularity. When we started work on our game in the fall of 2002, pirate movies were dead and buried. But we believed the inherent coolness of pirates would win out, and happily Johnny Depp proved us right. :)
FiringSquad: How hard has it been to make an MMORPG that has such a different setting and gameplay than your normal fantasy themed game?
: Very hard. In the field of tabletop RPGs, there's long been a phenomenon where people who were fed up with the rules of Dungeons & Dragons would make their own homebrew game systems, to "fix" the problems of D&D, and then publish them. This made for dozens of copycat fantasy games, each of which was just yet another reinvention of the wheel. Why? It's far easier to start with something you know and alter it than it is to create something new from scratch.
It's been the same thing in MMORPGs. Actual innovation is rare. People have been "fixing" the likes of Ultima Online and Everquest since the day they shipped and in general, it's a lot easier to start by designing a game that is based on one you know intimately. We see this in other areas such as the first-person shooter or the real-time strategy game.
We had to solve a lot of problems: real-time vehicular movement and combat was the biggest. It took us almost two years of constant iteration on those systems before we got to a point where we were happy. The technical issues weren't the biggest hurdles at all -- it was really just finding a way to make naval combat fast and fun without overwhelming the player with complexity.
The genre elements are still something we're working on. We are spending some time right now putting more pirate flavor into the game, trying to make the experience more immersive, colorful, and with a sense of playfulness. At times we take this stuff too seriously so we're trying to lighten up. :)
FiringSquad: The game has also taken a long time to develop. Was the decision made to extend the amount of time to add more aspects to the game?
: We've made that decision several times, actually! Initially we were planning for a very simple niche game, something we could do with a small team in about a year. But we swiftly expanded our vision for the project. At various times we have looked at what we had, decided we weren't dreaming big enough, and raised everything up to a higher level.
FiringSquad: How much historical research was done to give Pirates of the Burning Sea a realistic look and feel while still be a fun game?
: Quite a lot. A major area of learning for us was the ships themselves: how they were made, why they were designed the way they were, and how they were sailed and fought. Our lead designer, Taylor Daynes, immersed himself in books on ship design and naval warfare until he could talk about bowsprits with ease. I spent a lot of time learning about the Caribbean in 1720, researching the histories of individual islands and understanding the nature of this new world. And we all watched a lot of pirate movies.