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Fun Zone | Game Design

Yo-Ho-Ho, It's a Pirate's Game for You

February 08, 2001|SCOTT STEINBERG | steinbergs@hotmail.com

High-seas terror just isn't a viable career option these days. So, would-be swashbucklers turn to the PC whenever the urge to commit piracy strikes them. Dmitry Arkhipov, producer for development house Akella, explains why his creation, "Sea Dogs" from Bethesda Softworks, has armchair captains proudly flying the Jolly Roger.

Q: What makes high-seas piracy so attractive?

A: I think the idea of life as a pirate is a romantic one, and the chance to play a game that lets you live that experience is very compelling . . . provided it's done properly.

Q: Should a historically inclined game favor fun or authenticity?

A: That depends on what it's intended to do. We set out to make "Sea Dogs" a very fun pirate game, and so while we called on a lot of historical information to put the game together, our ultimate goal wasn't authenticity. We wanted the ability to do things in a way that made the game fun, without being tied down to real-world issues that detract from game play.

Q: How extensive is the research done for such a project?

A: Fairly extensive. We did a multimedia CD-ROM in Russia on pirates, so that provided a lot of background information that we used. We also played a lot of games to try and pull ideas that we thought worked best for what we were trying to achieve. It's a constant learning process, and we're always finding games or information that influences development.

Q: What aspects of the pirate lifestyle are most important to re-create?

A: Two aspects were most important. First, that your at-sea experience was as realistic as possible. The second and most important aspect is to allow people to play the game however they like. Pirates shun authority and structure, and so creating a game that forced the player down a single path would have been a huge mistake.

Q: Why would someone care to relive the past?

A: I think it's the idea of being a swashbuckling pirate that gets everybody's attention. The ability to attack merchant ships to plunder them for gold, or attack an enemy fort, or duel an enemy captain. . . . All of these things have been romanticized through books and movies and TV. We're just bringing that same level of excitement to your computer.

Q: Roughly how much of a semi-realistic product's design should be grounded in fact?

A: Certain things, like the way waves and wind work, the relative size and ability of each ship and the value and usefulness of goods and ships all have to be balanced. By grounding each of these concepts in fact, it gives us a basis from which we can expand to improve the way the game plays and make sure that it feels like a realistic experience in a fictitious world.

Q: Did the team have to wear peg legs and scream "Ahoy Matey" to get into the creative spirit?

A: No, but we did make them scrub the decks and walk the plank if they fell too far behind schedule.

Q: Is a love of swashbuckling tales a designer prerequisite?

A: It's certainly a big plus. If you don't love pirates and swashbuckling, it's hard to get into the spirit of the game. It's that spirit that allowed "Sea Dogs" to grow into the game it has become.

Q: Care to cite any influences?

A: We drew inspiration from games like the original Sid Meier's "Pirates!"--one of the greatest games ever made. We also drew inspiration from other role-playing games and from artwork and drawings from the age of sail.

Q: Corsair-wise, which is more exciting: fact or fiction?

A: Fiction. Facts tend to weigh you down. Making things up means you never really know what's going to happen next.

Q: What's the hardest thing to do?

A: Ship-to-ship combat can be tricky because you're factoring in a lot of things to make it realistic. However, none of the combat is as hard to do as the open-ended game play, because you have to account for the player switching sides and story lines and so many different points in the game. It can give you a headache trying to keep it all straight.

Q: Are you afraid you'll be sued for too many "booty" references?

A: As long as people don't think that "Sea Dogs" is about disco, we'll be OK.

*

Scott Steinberg is a freelance writer specializing in video games.

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