Swashbuckling and Derring-Do - Exclusive Pirates of the Burning Sea Interview

Updated Wed, Oct 29, 2008 by Cody Bye

By Cody “Micajah” Bye, Managing Editor

Combat in massively multiplayer games is almost always the area that makes-or-breaks a title. A world can be crafted with meticulous precision or the creativity of a virtual Da Vinci, but if the combat doesn’t hold up, players will fail to remain a part of the game for any extended period of time. It’s like biting into a jelly-filled Krispy Kreme donut only to find that someone forgot to fill the center with the calorically rich goo.  It would be an appalling dietary downer.

Avatar combat will have a brand new face after the revamp. Hooray for swashbuckling! Hooray beer!

 Every so often a game comes around that introduces two different types of combat in the same game, and arguably the two most prominent titles in this category are Star Wars Galaxies and Pirates of the Burning Sea. Both games include ship (star and sea) and avatar combat, and each development staff made substantial modifications to try to adjust their avatar combat to coincide with the team’s vision of the game.

In the case of Burning Sea, more avatar combat changes are in the works, as discussed by Kevin “Isildur” Maginn, the game’s lead designer, in a recent developer blog on the topic. After reading his entry, the Ten Ton Hammer team knew that we had to get to the bottom of this mystery, so we hopped into our own virtual version of the Mystery Machine and asked a number of questions to Kevin about the upcoming avatar combat changes.

According to Kevin, the PotBS team has been working on updating the avatar combat system since shortly after the team shipped the game. They weren’t entirely satisfied with the way avatar combat felt, so they have been continually making iterations on the design.

 “I consider my top priority to be designing a game I have fun playing; if I’m not enjoying it, I certainly can’t expect players to enjoy it,” Kevin said. “And while I had moments of fun in our initial avatar combat system, I also had moments of irritation, where I just wanted to reach inside the game and change things.  Luckily for me, I can do that.”

As any lead designer would hopefully suggest, Kevin isn’t comfortable with any part of the game being less than 100% and he believes that it is his responsibility to make it better.  But the change couldn’t come from Kevin alone, and almost the entire content and most of the QA team is working on revising the missions that the combat system will impact. Kevin noted that the work is being done “slowly and carefully” and that “it’s a monumental amount of work, but thankfully the new system is somewhat easier to tune, so content creation and revision can move a bit faster than it used to.  Even so, we’re going to be working right down to the finish line.”

Avatar combat should allow me to quickly jump in and rescue my pirate comrades ala Jack Sparrow!

That being said, we gamers are a notoriously fickle bunch. We want to play with our cake, toss it on the ground, stomp on it a few times, then expect it to be spotless and shiny when we want to eat it. So what will happen when old veterans of PotBS see this new combat system? I posed that question to Kevin who reassured me that the team at Flying Labs knows the score and wants to insure that every gamer that ventures into PotBS feels comfortable with the new system.

“First, the new avatar combat won’t be completely unfamiliar,” Kevin explained. “I’ve tried to work with the existing systems and mechanics as much as possible.  There will be familiar elements, and experienced players won’t find it impossible to adapt.  One of our early playtesters, in fact, is a player with a lot of experience with the old system, and we’re relying on his feedback to manage how we introduce the system to veteran players.”

“That said, we’re going to be easing people into the new mechanics in a handful of ways.  First, we’re making avatar combat respec items much cheaper, so that you’ll be able to experiment with different builds before you settle on one.  Second, we’re revising the tutorial significantly to teach the new mechanics.  Third, we’re creating more daily avatar combat missions, particularly at the high end, so that there’s plenty of content available to try out the new system.  And fourth, we’re adding a ‘sandbox’ mission that will allow you to have as many ‘practice’ fights as you like.”
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