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February 9, 2007
Pirates of the Burning Sea - Interview and Exclusive Screenshots

By Staci Krause

Pirates of the Burning Sea is an MMORPG currently in development by Flying Lab Software. Allowing players the chance to hop on board pirate and naval ships and live out their swashbuckling dreams, PotBS (as any MMO gets to be known by its initials eventually), the game is currently in closed beta with a planned ship date in June. We got the chance to talk to Content Director Jess Lebow about this very unique title. He spoke at length about the game, including ship-to-ship combat, level caps and death.

Staci:  For those unfamiliar with your title, what is the backstory behind your game?

Jess:  The year is 1720. In Europe, open hostilities between the British, French, and Spanish are cooling off, but their territories in the New World are a different story. Fat treasure ships sail the crystal blue ocean waters of the tropics. None of the major powers have a large enough navy to completely control the area and impose a rule of law. Thus piracy gains a major foot hold, and the Brethren of the Coast (pirates) compete with the French, English, and Spanish for control of the beautiful and lucrative Caribbean.

Staci:   How many types of ships are there in the game and what separates one ship from the next? Can players expect each ship to handle differently, for example, and feature different armaments?

Jess:  There are over 50 ships in the game presently, and we expect this number to grow before launch. (Most of these ships, by the way, were created by our users.) Each is different from the next. They vary widely on how many guns they carry, how much cargo space they have, how fast or maneuverable they are, how many crew they can house, how durable they are, etc… Each of these variables has an impact on game play, and players will ultimately have to experiment and choose which ship best fits their playing style and preferences. That's a long way of saying, yes, the ships will definitely handle differently and have different types of cannons, sails, hulls, and other accoutrements.

Staci:   User content seems like it's going to be important, as you have devoted a specific portion of the website to user created content. How integrated is the user content with the game and what can players hope to put their hands on to experiment with and change to their liking?

Jess:  As I mentioned earlier, most of the ships in the game were created by our users. But making a 10,000+ polygon ship isn't something we expect the average user to be able to do. (Heck, I can't do it.) For those of us who don't have copies of Maya or just want a little less work in our game play, we will be able to make our own sail and flag patterns. Once they've been put through a vetting process for obscenity and whatnot, the sails and flags will be imported into the game and players will be able to give them out to their guildmates and friends. In addition, ship color schemes will be completely customizable, and you will have City of Heroes-style options for differentiating your avatar from the next player's.

Staci:  What is ship-to-ship combat like? Do the ships move slowly for realism, or is that abandoned in favor of a quicker pace? What factors go into being successful in a battle?

Jess:  Ship combat requires a lot of tactical calculating. Ship speed, wind direction, and your ship's stats all factor into how you approach a battle. The whole thing is a thunderous affair. Pound for pound, there is more firepower in this game than any other I've played. Imagine 50 9-pound cannons all going off at one time-and that's just your first volley. Ultimately you have to outsmart your opponent by playing to your strengths and avoiding theirs. It's fun, and even if you're outgunned you still have a chance, which is something I appreciate. I don't know about you, but I hate getting into PVP and being instantly killed by a flurry of spells or blows, none of which I was even able to parse before they landed. I think ultimately that's what convinced me to come work for Flying Lab. The combat in PotBS is contemplative and skillful, not just a gankfest by the uber l33t ;)

I like to say that Pirates of the Burning Sea is inspired by history. Where possible we've retained realistic elements, but there are places where we just had to tweak things in order to make them fun. The big ships of the line are slower and more sluggish than the smaller, more maneuverable ones, and they feel very different when you play them. But is their top speed a completely accurate historical representation in comparison to the other ships in the game? No. In the end, we want the players to have fun, and, well, some of the aspects of life aboard a pirate ship just weren't fun, so we've changed them.

Staci:   Could you talk a little about PvP and PvE and the Conquerable World and how the three are related to each other?

Jess:  Sure. There will be over 1000 missions for each nation when we launch the game. Those are the core of the PVE experience. In addition, players will be able to do missions that help create unrest in certain ports. Let's say you're Spanish, and the French have taken Havana, and you want to get it back. Spanish merchants will be able to dump economic goods into the Havana economy, destabilizing the prices. This in turn will create some unrest points for the port. Spanish Navy players could then start killing French NPCs outside of Havana, also generating more unrest points. Once the port has been sufficiently destabilized, a PVP zone will open up around Havana. Combat between players from opposing nations can take place inside this zone. After a set amount of time a battle will take place between the French (who control the port) and the nation that spent the most time trying to take it away (for the purposes of our example, we'll assume the Spanish were the most interested in taking back Havana). This final battle will be 25 versus 25, and the winner will get control of Havana.

There can be up to 12 ports in contention at one time, and eventually, if one nation is organized enough, it can take over all the conquerable ports in the Caribbean. When this happens, the "season" ends, peace treaties are signed, and all the ports revert to their original owner's control, so the process can start over again. Historically, this sort of thing happened all the time.

Staci:  Will there be any cinematic work in the game or will the story be revealed through text, the gameplay and web-based content?

Jess:  There are no cinematics in the game. The stories will be, as you say, told through text, missions, the web, and the game's environment.

Staci:   How deep is the character customization of the game so players aren't running across digital copies of their own avatar every few minutes? What all sorts of physical appearances and accessories can players choose to use with their character?

Jess:  At character creation there are 14 different areas in which you can change to make yourself unique. Everything from boots to hats to coats to pants and jewelry will be customizable. Additionally, players will be able to unlock new clothing by doing missions and advancing in their chosen careers. You'll then be able to go to a tailor shop and change your avatar's clothes. (Get dressed up for a formal event or prepare for a rough day of pirating). Of course, eye patches, hook hands, and peg legs will be items you'll have to earn through missions and exclusive challenges.

Staci:  Will the game accommodate different play styles well? Will Player versus Player be an integral part to the game or will there be a deep world for people who don't want to participate in that?

Jess:  At ship there will be over 1000 missions for each nation. We expect that'll translate into somewhere between 400 and 600 hours of game play-and that's without doing any PVP or work on the economy.

It's our opinion that MMO players are a very diverse group. There are people in our community who like to PVP, some like to play the economy, others like PVE in groups, others prefer to solo, and still others prefer huge guild raids. And, to be honest, one player may enjoy all of these things at different times. So we've tried really hard to incorporate all these different play styles into PotBS. PVP will be a active part of the world, but nobody will ever be required to participate. The economy will be an integral part of sustaining our world, but just like PVP, no one will be required to participate.

In addition to the missions (which will be playable solo or in groups), PVP, and the economy, there will also be a series of group-oriented missions that will present organized guilds with considerable challenges, and a roleplaying storyline in which players will get to make significant decisions that actually change the outcome of the story.

Staci:  There are four different nations in the game (French, Spanish, British, and Pirates). What will separate these nations other than name and costume? Will each nation have its own goals and storyline for the players to be involved in?

Jess:  Which nation you choose will impact the career choices that are available to you, which will change the types of skills and ships you'll be able to unlock and play with. For example: Pirates will have the ability to capture ships and keep them for their own, but the British Navy player will get easier access to more powerful warships.

Your nation will also impact your standing with certain factions in the game, which will change who's hostile toward you on the open sea.

And finally, yes, the characters and stories you encounter in the world will change based on who you ally yourself with and how they feel about you.

Staci:  How large is the game world and what kinds of effects can players expect as far as weather, day and night cycles and the like?

Jess:  The world is the entire Caribbean. It includes most of Florida, everything along the southern coast of North America, the eastern coast of Central America, the Yucatan Peninsula, the entire Spanish Main, and Cuba. There are over 50 towns in the game, and in a really fast ship it takes about an hour to sail from one end to the other. The scale of the Caribbean is truncated for purposes of fast travel, but when you get into mission instances the scale returns to something far more realistic. But I guess all of this is just a fancy way of saying that our world is really big.

Wind is obviously a factor in our game, and it plays into nearly every decision you'll make while you're in your ship. You'll also encounter rain and lightning, but they do not currently impact the performance of your ship or your weapons. There are day, night, dusk, and dawn in the game, but there isn't a day/night cycle-yet.

Staci:  How realistic will the game be? Will there be undead or mermaids or will everything encountered be true to the real world?

Jess:  Let's just say that sailors, especially pirates, were a superstitious lot. If you care to search for them, you may just come face to face with one of your childhood nightmares :

Staci:  How do you hope to combat the problems that plague other MMOs with kill stealers, grief players and gold farmers?

Jess:  Kill stealing is an easy one. With instancing and formulas that track who's done the most damage to an enemy, it's not really a problem for us. Gold farming is a little tougher. We keep an eye on the flow of doubloons going into the game. We know how much we want to be introduced to the world at any given time, and we can adjust this amount to either stimulate or slow down the economy. We can also track player activity in different zones of the world. The truth is we're just going to have to monitor this vigilantly, and if we find certain zones that are more lucrative than others, then we'll need to make adjustments.

Griefing is simply just a problem that we'll never be able to completely solve. I mean, we're all geeks here, right? Who wasn't picked on by a bully as a school kid? And as adults, we've all got annoying co-workers. (Those of you reading this at FLS know who I'm talking about.) The same is true in the online world. If you could just zap them it would be great, but it's not that easy. When we're designing the game we do our best to avoid things that will obviously cause strife amongst groups. We try to eliminate the griefer tools (you know, the things that make noise or gate forward progress on a single player or cause you to go into a seizure when you see them) as an essential part of game play. But at the end of the day, jerks are still jerks. What are you going to do?

Staci:  How is 'death' being handled in the game? Do players die or are their ships just sunk? What will the penalties be?

Jess:  There are two ways to "die" in the game-on your ship or in avatar combat.

If your ship is sunk, you are returned to the nearest friendly port. All unsecured cargo that you were carrying (things like raw materials and items created as part of the economy) will be gone, and the ship will lose one "durability point." When a ship runs out of durability points, it's gone, and you'll have to buy, build, or steal a new one (depending on your profession and inclination).

In avatar combat, you have two choices. You can wait around for someone in your party to revive you with a swig of rum, or you can choose to be returned to the starting spawn location. As it is, we think dying sucks enough on it's own, so we didn't make it any worse by adding XP penalties or loot loss.

Staci:  How will the crew system be handled? Will players be able to upgrade crews or join other player's crews for a short time?

Jess:   As it stands now, your crew impact your effectiveness in battle and at sea. They aren't upgradeable-yet. We have big plans for the crew system, but those won't be implemented until after our initial release.

Every player is the captain of his or her own ship. Joining another person's ship isn't something we're going to support.

Staci:  Will you have a level cap and if so, what will it be?

Jess:  Yes. Initially it will be level 50.

Staci:  What is the end game? Do you have plans to add content through expansions or any other ways?

Jess:  Upon initial release, the "elder game," as we like to call it, will be primarily the realm versus realm combat. Each of the four nations will vie for control of the entire Caribbean. Of course, we will also add content on a regular basis. We have a really cool story planned for those missions. You can expect a lot of free updated content from us.

Eventually we will release expansions, but those will be much larger additions to the game that will include new features, locals, and likely new ways to play the game (like new careers or upgraded crew).

Staci:  Any word on the price structure yet?

Jess:  I haven't heard a specific price yet, but you can expect it to be comparable to other MMO titles already on the market.

With a ship date in June 2007, the game should be heading towards a more public beta soon. We’ll bring more details after we get some time with the game at GDC next month. Until then, enjoy the beautiful images they sent to us. For more information on Pirates of the Burning Sea please visit

A few Exclusive Screenshots from Flying Labs MMO Pirates of the Burning Sea!


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