Pirates of the Burning Sea at E3

At the risk of being a re-poster, the folks at Ten Ton Hammer have posted 17 minutes of video interview/preview/fun in the Demo room at E3 with Rusty and crew at FLS.  Go here.  The audio is abysmal but if you can bear with it, you can see what the game looks and plays like.

Even with the grainy video and hard-to-hear audio, the game looks great and looks like its getting close to fully baked.  The world looks great and from what I can tell, combat and animations appear very smooth.  The best news of all, Rusty said they would be expanding beta by about a factor of 5 in the next week or so.  Now that they’ve got their distribution deal with SoE its looking like full speed ahead for PotBS.  Very much looking forward to getting a look at this game.

Pirates of the Burning Sea Still in Drydock?

Of all the games that were supposed to be coming out this year, I’ve really only been focused on LotRO and Pirates of the Burning Sea.  Vanguard, Warhammer, etc., meh.  Vanguard, well enough said already.  Warhammer, that’s already been delayed which is probably a good thing.  LotRO is out and I’m enjoying it immensely.  As fun and familiar *cough* as LotRO is, PotBS interests me because it actually seems like a different game.  Ship-based and land-based content, the swashing of buckles and you get to say booty and not have to snicker.   Whats not to look forward to?

Whither then PotBS?  Originally slated for a June 2007 release, you may be noticing that with this being May, that June is rapidly approaching.  Checking in from time to time, I noticed Flying Lab Software CEO, Rusty Williams’ dev log from a few days ago.  I’ve been meaning to parse through this, but Darren at TCS Gamer beat me to the punch.  Darren got straight to the part that caught my eye:  a possible delay in the release date depending on their distribution strategy.   Here’s the part of Rusty’s post that caught my eye though:

But it takes time. When we thought about looking for distribution, we wanted to wait as long as possible so that the game would be in as good a shape as possible. It helps with the deal terms, especially in how aggressively the distributor is going to push your game. Essentially, our job is to make our distributor excited so that excitement rubs off when they’re talking to the retail buyers, so then their excitement rubs off on the branch managers, and so on. But we didn’t realize what the lead time was on selling into the retail channel and so we probably waited later than we should have. That was my fault, in particular.

(Emphasis mine).  Oooh boy.  I guess this is one of the perils of launching an “independent” game.  In reading the entire post, I start to get the sneaking feeling that while the game is getting close, everything else might be a bit thin which worries me.  I’m sure they are heavy on the game side, but only recently it appears that they are bulking up on the critical but unexciting infrastructure side.  I understand Rusty’s logic on negotiating a distribution deal when the product’s value is more apparent, but sheesh, a month before your original release?  As someone who is involved in getting deals like this done, I’m a bit slack-jawed that this “last mile” of track hasn’t been laid (or at least mapped!). 

Kinda hard to believe that a month before release the digital-only v. retail question hasn’t been answered.  If they went retail, were they just going to have all the employees burn dvd’s on their office PCs, stuff boxes and then run down to Kinko’s to photocopy manuals? This starts to smack a bit of amateur-night on the release-front.  While I laud Rusty for his mea culpa, it does make me worry about all the other things that might not have put in place that are critical for the smooth and successful launch that a game that looks this fun deserves.

A smooth release and first impressions matter.  Blizzard got Burning Crusade right, but they had 2+ years and an infrastructure built for 8 million users to support it.  Turbine got it right with LotRO, but they’ve also had years of experience with other games.  SOE did what they could with Sigil/Vanguard and lets face it, the problems were with the game (and timing of the release), not the mechanics of it.

The good news is that beta is likely to be expanding soon.  I would dearly love to get in and see what these guys have been cooking up.  This still looks to be one of the most unique offerings this year, so lets hope Rusty can get PotBS underway soon.

Becalmed and befuddled

Its been quiet.  Too quiet of late.  I’ve found myself busy IRL and a variety of things have conspired to keep things rather uninteresting on the game front of late.  Not the least of which is the impending start of the Lord of the Rings(tm): Shadows of Angmar(tm).  Open Beta started on Friday, March 30 for pre-order customers at least with release scheduled for April 24. 

I got some characters rolling that first weekend in LotRO on Windfola and have rolled up a few others since, but with vacations and movings and work schedules,  play time has been a bit barren.  In addition, RL work travel has left our WoW group in a bit of a sticky situation:  continue to make progress as a foursome (presumably outside of instances) while we await the return of our fifth (and risk leaving them too far behind) or dive into LotRO and see if it is the one-true game and scuttle WoW in its entirety?  For some of us, juggling more than one MMO is not an option.  Sure would be nice to be able to turn off the XP switch once in a while in order to keep everyone in synch…

And of course, I keep hearing good things about Pirates of the Burning Sea (great find Darren) which is on the horizon as well and looks to be super cool.

Fortunately, the clouds are clearing and the end of the month is looking much better on the gaming and schedule front than the last two weeks.

Shape up and Ship Out

I recently went on a reading jag about exploration in the age of sail culminating with a history of the Britain’s Royal Navy. Naval battles and quasi-naval battles (e.g., space warfare) have long been fodder for any number of computer strategy games (and table top games before that). Lots of cannonfire, splitered wood and the swashing of buckles. The idea seems to be gaining popularity as more of these games are being ported or developed for the MMO space.

Pirates Ho!

Pirates of the Burning Sea promises to be that sort of game. Sort of Eve Online meets Age of Sail (try it, the demo is still available).

According to the PotBS web site:

Ship combat in Pirates of the Burning Sea has all the action, intensity, and tactical gameplay of a single-player game. Speed, direction, and facing all matter, and you fire and dodge in realtime. As captain of your own ship you balance your crew health, sail integrity, hull armor, gun reload speed, and maneuverability, making decisions moment to moment and planning what’s going to happen in ten, thirty, or sixty seconds. It’s a white-knuckle experience, whether against determined NPCs or wily players.

Sounds exciting enough and probably all too familiar to veteran Eve pilots. Of course the big difference with PotBS is that yes, you can get out of your ship and have adventures on dry land as an avatar.

I like the idea and will certainly try the game when its out (currently estimated June 2007). If successful, I hope other developers will consider developing MMOs along this line. The combination of avatar and ship based play puts every naval and sci-fi scenario imaginable into play as potential MMO material.

Who wouldn’t love to travel to a galaxy of different planets, each with different zones, cultures, economies, etc. and adventure there? Toss in asteroid mining, salvage, interplanetary trade and ship-to-ship combat and I think you’d have a winner.

One of the things I see missing from this mix though is meaningful character differentiation. Sure, you could be a merchant or a pirate or stay land/planet-bound, but fundamentally, everyone’s a captain. You’re either a solo captain or a member of a fleet of captains, each with their own ship.

If I recall correctly, Lord Nelson didn’t really have heavily armored ships in front engage the enemy while lightly armored but high damage dealing frigates pummeled them from afar. Nor did they have chippie tenders running about repairing hull damage, dousing fires, repairing sails and healing wounded crew members. From what I can tell, PotBS wont either which brings me (finally) to my point: Whither group play in these multi-modal MMOs? (I can’t think of a better term for them, so since you are basically playing either as a ship or a traditional avatar, I’m considering each a modality.)

Are encounters simply the equivalent of two full parties of mages frost bolting each other into oblivion from afar? Not that I’m against that sort of thing, but I’m a zealot for small, tactical group play. I like having to depend on and adapt to the different strengths and weakness of each of my differentiated group mates. In a multi-modal MMO you are either the ship or the avatar. Why does everyone have to be a captain? Why not a ship and crew members who contribute their differentiated skills toward the group effort in ship-bound mode?

As you can imagine, this raises lots of design problems. Not the least of which is who owns the ship, if anyone. However, that doesn’t seem like such a huge hurdle if player progression allowed new recruits to crew on navy ships (NPC) or privateers (player owned) to gain experience and the gold necessary to ultimately buy their own ships and hire a crew.

Engage

Star Trek Online (slated for release in Q1 2008) appears to be tracking in this direction, but sounds like it will stop short of having truly independently owned and directed cooperative ships. According to StarTrek-Online.net, the largest ships which will require multiple players/professions to command will be fixed player “hubs.Its still a little unclear how this is supposed to work, but it could be conceptualized as a moving instanced zone once all grouped players are on board.

This mobile instance model would work for many missions, but still wouldn’t give players the kind of freedom of action that Eve does. Everyone needs to be able to climb aboard and set a course for an adventure of their own choosing in a fully populated space environment (Roll 1d6 Space Pirates!).

It seems a natural that in a game affording cooperative ship-based play that through collective action, guilds could build and increase the strength of their fleets which would require the contribution of junior members to man and operate them. What a concept. Noob guild cabin boy can stand shoulder to shoulder with guildie Admiral Uber N3lson instead of only hearing in guild chat how 40 1337 level 70 members just took down Cthulu.

I’d join that navy in a heartbeat. What a great way for new players to literally learn the ropes, advance their character, get loot and contribute to the advancement of the guild.

Not enough peeps to ship out? Hire a crew. Plenty of able bodied crew members hanging around every port. Note to devs, better create a ship’s payroll/loot system native to the game or you’ll get keel hauled.

Shiny

To me, collaborative ship-based play would seem to be the be all end all for an MMO like Firefly (expected in 2008). To really live in the ‘verse you really have to have the group ship model down. Navigator, Engineer, Gunner, Marine, etc. all contributing to the group effort planetside and in space. We can only hope that Multiverse doesn’t do what every other company has done to the Firefly franchise: screw it up and piss off its fans. Still, hope springs eternal and I’m hoping that this one will help usher in a new crop of games.

Next Gen Ho!