Pirates of the Burning Sea Q&A with Kevin Maginn

Grab steel, ye scurvy scoundrel!

A Pirates of the Burning Sea Q&A with Flying Labs Software’s Lead Designer, Kevin 'Isildur' Maginn

Questions by Cody Bye

When you work in the MMOG industry long enough, you get used to announcements. Developers and publishing houses are often picking up new licenses or buying up smaller studios, desperately trying to generate a media frenzy around their games and software library. Some

Grab steel, ye scurvy
scoundrel!

A Pirates of the Burning
Sea Q&A with Flying Labs Software’s Lead Designer,
Kevin 'Isildur' Maginn

Questions
by Cody Bye

When you work in the MMOG industry long enough, you get used
to announcements. Developers and publishing houses are often picking up
new licenses or buying up smaller studios, desperately trying to
generate a media frenzy around their games and software library. Some
announcements you just shrug away, considering them to be simple PR
fodder.

Every few months, an announcement lands in your email inbox
that takes your breath away. That was the situation when I was directed
towards a recent dev journal entry on the Pirates of the Burning Sea
main site. The news was enormous: href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/8685">Flying Labs
Software had partnered
with Sony Online Entertainment’s Platform Publishing label in
an attempt to get Pirates of the Burning Sea on retail store shelves
across the globe.

Coincidentally, a Q&A from Flying Labs
Software’s lead designer, Kevin Maginn, had recently appeared
in my email inbox, and in the contents he hints at the big announcement
that arrived this week. However, the majority of the interview covers
functions of PotBS gameplay issues, and I hope you find the Q&A
informative and entertaining!


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Avatar combat is going to be discussed in detail in the
near future.

Ten Ton Hammer:
First off, thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

You just released two very informative developer logs almost
back-to-back, one on June 6 and the other on June 7. Why the sudden
amount of info coming down the pipeline? Have you begun the
“ramp up to release” marketing phase?

style="font-weight: bold;">Kevin: Honestly, I
think Aether’s just getting better at hassling us for updates
on what we’re doing.  But it’s true that
as we get closer to launch, we’re more comfortable giving out
the details of our systems and content – we’re not
as worried that it’s going to change, because we
don’t have time to change it now even if we wanted to.

We’ve
got some more pretty in-depth developer logs coming up soon, as
well.  You’ve probably seen David’s
detailed look at the ships; we’re going to be talking about
avatar combat and the auction house in the near future, as well.

Ten Ton Hammer:
Speaking of the developer logs, the one titled
“Funderdome” discusses how your team had to cut
down the number of features implemented into the game (via the
“Thunderdome” meeting), separating those elements
that can be accomplished between those that can’t. This seems
like a very efficient way to insure that tasks get accomplished; who
first thought of the idea and how were the initial design features
determined to be worth putting into the game? What if a feature was so
important to a “pirates” game that you determined
to implement it, no matter the cost?

style="font-weight: bold;">Kevin: To address
your last question first: if it’s so important we cannot ship
without it, then we do it.  That’s why we ended up
including avatar combat.  We’re realistic about what
we can and can’t do, but we’re determined to
release a great game, and as we’ve demonstrated,
we’re willing to make sacrifices to make the game match our
expectations.

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The Thunderdome grew out of the necessity to cut down
on certain features that the design team couldn't implement in a finite
amount of time.

Thunderdome
really grew organically out of necessity.  We have a laundry
list a mile long of ‘neat stuff’ we’d
like to have in the game, and we have a finite amount of time left to
do it in.  Some of the ‘neat stuff’ turns
out to be not optional; other stuff turns out to be cheap in terms of
development time, relative to its impact on the game.  So we
get together to talk about what we can and can’t do, and more
importantly what we absolutely have to do versus what we can ship
without.  At some point, Paul, our Executive Producer, or
John, our Producer, started calling it Thunderdome (you know,
‘two ideas enter, one idea leaves!’) and the name
stuck.

Our
criteria are pretty straightforward: First, is the feature
non-optional?  If a game system is broken without the feature,
or gameplay is terrible without the feature, it’s probably
not optional, so it gets prioritized to the top of the list. 
Second, does the feature have a large impact?  We could add a
dozen tiny features that wouldn’t have much effect on the
game at all, but that’s probably not a good use of our
time.  We’re looking for features that improve
gameplay for as many players as possible – a kind of
‘Design Utilitarianism.’  Third, is the
feature cheap?  We have a very limited amount of content
design time, and an even more limited amount of programmer
time.  The best features to be considering this late in the
project are the ones that don’t require any programmer time
at all; they’re still not ‘free’, because
QA still has to test them, but they’re at least possible.

So a
feature survives Thunderdome based on how it performs on those three
metrics – and even then, we always stop to ask ourselves:
‘Can we ship a fun game without this?’ 
The truth is, it’s very late in the process to be adding
anything new to the game, so to justify doing so, we have to be very
focused and very confident in the feature.


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