After the 'drought' in the late 90s we've seen a surge of pirates-themed titles in the past 2 years thanks to games such as Port Royale I&II, Tortuga, Sea Dogs, Pirates of the Carribean and, well, Puzzle Pirates. And more are to come due to projects like Pirates of the Burning Sea and the Pirates! remake being in the pipeline. In Germany a small team is currently working on World of Pirates. The MMO game has been in development for a while and is getting closer to its release now. Read on as Hardy Winter talks about the game, the WoP-Dev Team and the oncoming public beta test among other things!
Q: Who is behind the WoP-Dev Team? How many people are working the World of Pirates and have you been involved in the development games before?
Hardy Winter: Uwe Mattner and I are the core of the team, the only people permanently working on the game. Uwe's responsible for the server programming whereas I'm taking care of the coding of the client. We, however, had some freelancers providing graphics and sound assets.
World of Pirates is our premiere in the gaming business. Parts of our programming experience stem from the time when we were developing business applications/enterprise solutions for other companies.
Q: How long has the game been in development?
HW: The idea for the game was born around October 1999. It wasn't until February 2000 though that we really started working on the first version of the server and the client. We both still were students of computer science at that time. And since then we've been spending every single minute of our spare time on WoP.
Q: So, if you look back to 1999 now, was WoP more of a hobby project or was it intended to be professional game right from the get-go?
HW: Originally we didn't have long-term plans for the game, so yes, it was a hobby project at first. We found the idea fascinating and wanted to see how far we can get; experimenting how it would work out. After a while we realized that we both wanted to bring WoP beyond the 'hobby level'. Also, working on a game was always something I had considered a plum job.
Q: And now that you've been working on a game for more than 4 years, does all that still seem like a plum job to you? Or have you changed your mind thanks to encountering problems that couldn't be foreseen?
HW: Earlier I only had a rather vague grasp of game development. It all goes back to the time when I was coding little demos on the C64 and later Amiga 500. The idea to program games came up while playing some titles I wasn't really satisfied with. There had to be a better way to do it, and that would be creating my own games. Well, I'm certainly not the only one who got into game coding as a result of that thought.
Due to various circumstances I ended up getting a job on the business software side of things. Around that time the desire to switch to game development became notably stronger. I found working on database and book keeping applications dull, wanted something different for a change. A new challenge.
Now that my dream has become reality I can say it's definitely all I wanted it to be. Sure, there also were problems I hadn't expected, e.g. the difficulty to maintain a schedule and meet your own deadlines. Intending to finish some part and then stumbling over a bug that keeps you busy for almost a day. Thus only getting a fraction done of what you you had planned to complete. Well, that definitely can get on one's nerves once in a while. :) Or dropping an idea you had come up with earlier because you realize that it cannot be implemented with a reasonable amount of effort. Still, overall they seem like minor issues to me. I simply love developing games.
Q: Let's talk about the game then. Which Pirates!-elements does the player encounter in the game?
HW: Well, the basic idea was to recreate the gameplay and feel of Pirates! and put it into an online environment. So, you'll find familiar parts such as the fencing or conquering a city and assigning a new governor in WoP. A mutiny might break out if the moral of your crew hits the bottom or if you run out of food. And treasure maps can be obtained from shady characters, of course. You can't marry the daughter of some governor. It's up to the players to organize things like this due to the nature of the game. :)
Naturally, all that is not enough to provide long-term motivation. Therefore one will also see new concepts, e.g. players being able to found nations and expand their territory by taking control over towns.
Q: And what about the 'non-piracy' part of the game? Could you elaborate on the city management?
HW: First of all, conquering a town is not the only way to gain control over it. If you prove to be of good service for your nation, you might be promoted to a governor position. A governor has access to all aspects that are important to the economy of a city. He's the one to decide about what kind of buildings will be erected. Military ones such as a fort or city walls? Perhaps civilian or industrial institutions like a business office, plantations or factories for the refinement of resources or production of new goods? (An example of that would be tobacco, which can be used to produce cigarettes.)
The governor is also in charge of the local tax system. That way you're also involved in the business activities of other players in your town. However, the whole management part as I described it won't make it into the initital release version of the game. It's one of our priorities though and we're going to incorporate it as fast as possible after the release.
Q: I assume that WoP will Ã‚– like basically all other MMO titles Ã‚– feature some kind of guild system? How's that going to work like in your game?
HW: Nations are in WoP what guilds are in other games. You can found your own nation and expand its reach by conquering other towns. However, it takes at least two or three players (and each of them having at least one city under his control) to found a new nation by declaring your independence. Of course, your previous home nation is unlikely to be very happy about that. :)
Q: What kind of groups/fractions have been established by players in the closed beta?
HW: Currently there are no 'real' fractions in the beta since the nation feature isn't fully finished yet. Also, the time span between some updates was longer than originally planned. Which again resulted in a fluctuation among the beta testers. That certainly did hurt the group building process, too.
Q: So, how many people are currently participating in the closed beta?
HW: Right now we have about 3000 testers playing WoP. Usually there are 50-60 of them online at a time. Sometimes less, sometimes more than that depending on the time of the day.
Q: Back to the game, back to the city management: can you found a new town or only take over existing ones?
HW: Yes, new towns can be founded later in the game, but only at pre-defined spots on the map. When we started developing WoP we wanted the player to be able to settle down everywhere he wants. Unfortunately, that turned out to be more troublesome than we had expected. It brought up a number of questions about what kind of restrictions we'd need in order to make sure that players don't create new towns too close to already existing towns and how to keep the game world balanced. It also would have meant an enormous technical effort. Under certain circumstances the terrain or the shorelines would have to be modified. And that's not simple thing one can do frequently since the map is stored client-side. Maybe we're going to find a better solution for that some day.
As for towns that are being created by players, one really has to take care of such a place and manage it carefully. Or else it might vanish again, being abandoned by its inhabitants. Unlike the default cities.
Q: What kind of character attributes are there and how do they influence your performance or the performance of your crew?
HW: Currently we have the following attributes to factor in: Navigation determines how fast your fleet can sail, what kind of ships and how many of them can be under your command. Fencing affects your condition in sword duels. It also increases your attack power and helps the moral of the crew in battles. The gun attribute has an effect on range and firepower of your cannons. Skilled traders are getting better prices at merchants and also might get more gold from ships they plunder.
The way you answered indicates that there may be more attributes in the future.
HW: Right now we don't have plans for more attributes. Of course, it's always possible to do it. Should there be a nice idea that fits into our concept, we'll certainly think about incorporating that one.
Q: Since the player can have more than one ship under his/her command: how does that work in battles?
HW: You're controlling (and seeing) only one ship at a time - the flagship. It's the strongest one in your group and represents the fleet. Should it get destroyed in battle, the second strongest will automatically become the new flagship. If you lose all your ships your character will be left on a float. Might take a bit to reach the next port that way, but maybe you happen to run across a ship of an NPC or kind player. They probably won't mind transporting you and it's definitely faster than travelling the whole route on a raft.
Q: And the game itself... is it a straight PvP environment or will there also be PvE servers?
HW: WoP is not for the fain of heart. :) PvP was one of the basic design premises behind the game. And features such as a bounty being put on someone's head certainly help the competition among the players. We, however, did implement a newbie protection. Up to a certain point beginners are safe from attacks of others (and incapable of attacking them at the same time, of course.)
Q: What's the current status of WoP? Word on the street is that you're currently preparing the public beta phase...
HW: Well, our recent update contained all features we considered necessary for the open beta. Now it's mostly about balancing; that's why we need as much as feedback as possible. Right now we're polishing the manual and the online docs. So yes, you can expect us to launch the public beta very soon. I'd recommend keeping an eye on our website for updates!
Q: Sure thing. Which brings up another question though: will there also be a version for the English-speaking audience available?
HW: Absolutely. We've been working on both, a German and an English version right from the beginning on. And only one third our current testers comes from Germany. So, everyone's free to join! The server situation might be a bit problematic. The world servers are provided and run by 4Players and are located over here. However, judging the feedback of our North-American testers I'd say that lag doesn't affect the experience that much.
Q: Once WoP is finished, how will the game be distributed? In Germany you've partnered with 4Players. Anything in sight for the other markets?
HW: Well, everyone will be able to download the client and subscribe Ã‚– no matter what region you're from. As I said, the English version will be available at the same time as the German one. There currently are no plans to distribute it via retail chains. The installer weighs about 50MB, so downloading isn't much of a hassle. :)
As for the servers, right now there are no plans for world servers outside Germany. Nevertheless, should there be enough demand from let's say overseas, I'm positive that we'll find a quick solution for that.
Q: And how do you want to keep the player interested and motivated beyond the initial phase?
HW: The aforementioned city management will be one of the key aspects. We'll also incorporate options for the player to manage his town even if his character is currently exploring some other part of the map. That's going to increase the strategy portion of the game, lending it a Civilization-style touch. We're hoping that this part will become more appealing to those players who want to take a break from or are tired of their pirate career.
Thanks for answering our questions and good luck!
If you want to know more about World of Pirates, head over to the official website of the game.