Exclusive Interview with Burning Sea's Rusty Williams

Flying Lab Software co-founder discusses Burning Sea's past, present, and future.

What's more appropriate on Talk Like a Pirate Day than an interview about how far Pirates of the Burning Sea has come and where Flying Lab is taking the game in the coming months?

Unless you've been following the premier sailing and swashbuckling MMORPG closely, you probably haven't heard much about the game. It might surprise you to learn that the marketing blackout was intentional, according to Rusty Williams, CEO of Burning Seas developer Flying Lab Software. Following improvements both core and cosmetic, Williams points to patch 1.7 as a definitive milestone for the game, both for seasoned players (with momentous changes to ad-hoc PvP encounters) and for new players (with new, more intuitive tutorials). Now more anxious than ever to get the word out about how far the game has come, we caught up with Rusty at a recent event to discuss the game's current state and upcoming improvements including an avatar combat revamp and player-governed ports.

Ten Ton Hammer: Newly revamped tutorials (one for each race) are in place as of patch 1.7. Were you just wanting to give players a new experience?

New tutorials such as the
French tutorial pictured here, entered
the game in milestone 1.7.

Williams: My first goal with the tutorial was to have a dedicated user interface with the tutorial up now, which makes things a lot easier to explain without the popups. If you put up a popup, you don't want to read it, you want to confirm it and keep on playing the game - you don't want a wall of text that you have to read before you continue playing. And the most common thing players will do is click without reading, and they've missed the information. So we wanted to make sure you could parse the information as you were reading it a little bit easier.

And the second thing I wanted to do was to make it much more straightforward. The problem is: sometimes we try to tell too much story, and we push our mission tools as hard as we can to be able to do that. That sometimes leads to confusing moments, and the last place I want to have a confusing moment is in the tutorial. Getting that tutorial balance right - the balance between it being fun - not feeling like you're plowing through something - and getting something straightforward is I think what we've nailed with this last revision.

Now that we've done the basic tutorials, I want to actually go back and do advanced tutorials. What you really want to say is: how do I turn the ship? How does the wind work? How do I speed up the ship or slow it down? Great. And then after a few hours, you're asking: by the way, how does the different ammunition work? How does the economy work? You want to sort of parcel that advanced tutorial information out so that people have a good basis rather than being overloaded with information.

Ten Ton Hammer: Looking forward, what are the development priorities past 1.7?

Williams: We have the revamp to avatar combat that we've been working on, and then its player-governed ports. Player-governed ports was always the capstone; our intent was always to allow you to play PvP just as much as PvP and to choose the direction that you wanted the game to go in. And we have lures from one side of the game to the other to allow you to explore the entire game. And basically, since players were able to take advantage of some of the rules we had for flipping ports as well as the absence of player-governed ports, we didn't have enough content at the high level for PvE players and we also made it so that a reasonable character couldn't avoid PvP (because other players could flip a port with no warning and they could keep a port indefinitely, so if you have a mission there, you're out of luck). We've been fixing those issues, and once we get in player-governed ports, which is more the elder-game for the PvE players, then we'll finally knock that issue off.

Ten Ton Hammer: The inevitable question: what's going on with the Pirates of the Burning Sea economy?

Williams: The economy is pretty interesting. We had a dual structure for money sinks in the economy. We had PvP - the loss of ships - and we had the player-governed ports. Unfortunately we had to put off the player-governed ports. And the problem was: when were we going to release the player governed ports? In the meantime we were off fighting the inevitable fires that come with a live game. So we kept thinking that the PvP is bearing the brunt of being the sinkhole, but we'll get in player governed ports eventually. And after a while we thought, why are we punishing our players now - they're paying us $15 / month today, not saving up to pay us in the future. So we changed the economy to make things more inflationary - putting more money supply in so people don't have to grind as much to play PvP.

If we get it tuned perfectly, my experience would be that if you lose a ship, you have to play for about 20 minutes to earn back a normal ship for PvP combat. That's certainly a goal of ours: if you're a PvP player, you really can focus entirely on playing PvP. In a perfect world, you're balanced so that your wins pay you enough to cover your losses.

Player-governed ports
will add a new dimension to
PvP play in milestone 1.10.

When player-governed ports come out, we'll start pushing the sinkhole towards that, but at the same time we're also giving out very cool rewards for the freetraders in exchange for taking their money and putting it down the sink. At that point we'll go back and rethink how the economy is working.

Ten Ton Hammer: How do player-run ports fit into the timeline? Does it have a milestone?

Williams: With the caveat (as always) that we change these things all the time, I think we're going to start this in 1.10 and it'll be a three milestone dev task. But we're actually wrapping it up in little individual bundles. So you'll actually be able to start doing player-run ports in 1.10, and then by 1.12 you'll have it completed. At that point we'll be going back and redoing the player skirmish system.

Ten Ton Hammer: I'm guessing that your ideas regarding player-run ports changed since before launch, when the system was originally conceived.

Williams: It has, honestly. We basically had the experience of watching the game unfold live, plus we've also tuned the game in many different directions apart from what we originally anticipated. So we had to go back and redesign the player-run ports based on what we've actually built. I mean, the spec was written quite some time ago - it was just one of the things we couldn't fit in for launch. And post-launch, we had higher priorities.

Continue to Page 2 for an avatar combat update
and much more! >>

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Last Updated: Mar 29, 2016

About The Author

Jeff joined the Ten Ton Hammer team in 2004 covering EverQuest II, and he's had his hands on just about every PC online and multiplayer game he could since.