USG: If I'm a player who's more objective-oriented, how would I go about getting into the game and immediately start to do something?
GM: We will have a quest system. Players who want very predefined goals, you'll get quests that say things like, "go to this specific island and search for this treasure". We'll absolutely have things like that. So you'll know where you're going and that there's going to be a reward at the end of it. You're not quite sure what might happen on the way, who you're going to come across, what the weather is going to be like. You might spot a sunken ship and decide to stop off and dive down to take a look at it.
USG: When you build your character, how customizable will it be?
GM: We haven't landed on exactly how we're going to do that. We know players will want to customize their characters, but we haven’t worked out exactly how we're going to do that. But there will be character customization.
USG: Beyond character customization, it sounds like the ship customization will be a part of the game?
GM: It's the core loop. It's almost written for us that pirates expect to get treasure, and amass wealth, and then they spend their wealth on things. As a crew, we want to reward them socially. When we were experimenting initially with the prototype, we made it very personal – players would individually gain treasure, but it turned the game into a really anti-social experience. When the crew would find a reward, there would be a mass charge at the treasure chest, and you'd end up with people wondering where their share was.
So we changed it to when players find treasure, there's a big chest. Someone has to carry the chest back to the ship, so immediately as a crew you're bonding around the chest. One guy carries it, but he can't defend himself, so if he's attacked, he has to rely on his crew. Once you get the chest back to the ship, all the crew is rewarded equally. So that removed all the competition to get to the treasure first.
Without knowing it, players are co-operating and doing stuff together. And that's been the approach all along, really. We don't want to force players to co-operate, we want to encourage players to co-operate together. Because when they do, you just feel it's great fun and you have a good time.
USG: What's the minimum amount of players required to sail a ship?
GM: What's on the show floor is four or five players on a fairly large ship. That's our biggest challenge – to get players to operate a big ship together. We wanted to go after our biggest challenge first, and we think that's the thing that's quite unique about the game. But we also know that players will want to play in different-sized crews, or there might be times when your friends aren't online, or you're not comfortable playing with strangers despite all our cool co-operative things, or you might enjoy the challenge of going into this world on your own. So we will allow players to come in on their own. We've prototyped a number of different boats, and one of those is a smaller boat that's suited to one or two players. So you can actually come into the world and sail around on your own, and it's a very different experience. It's a small ship that's got one mast, but it's fast and it can run circles around the bigger ships. For some players, that's the way they want to play, and we're not going to stand in their way. But they will be doing it in a shared world. So you might come across a single player in a small ship, or you might come across a big crew on a big ship.
We've seen examples of three ships coming together, and two are small and one is big, and the two little guys immediately ganged up on the big guy and it was like two wasps circling a dog working out where they could sting it. It was an interesting scenario. We don't want that to happen every single session. That's not what the aim is. The fact that it happened is great. And once the game is out there and people are uploading videos to YouTube, it's going to make for some really great stories – have you seen the one where two little ships took down a big ship? Our aim is to put all these interesting possibilities into the players' hands and then see what comes back.
USG: How does the PvP aspect of the game work?
GM: You can't attack your own crew, but you can attack other crews. We haven't put any weapons into the game yet. Every time we show the game, we want to make sure it's a balanced approach. We don't want to overly go on combat, or overdo the non-combat. Every time we release, we're going to be very careful about the balance of play. But of course at some point we'll add muskets and guns, swords and all sorts of other things. So if you see another crew, that's an option – you can use all of these weapons against them. What you can't do is use your weapons against your own crew.
Initially in our original prototype, we allowed players to do absolutely anything, because we thought that as a pirate you should be able to do anything. For a while it was really good. Until players got treasure, then the game would degenerate into utter chaos. The crew was just shooting each other – even people that worked together. As soon as someone got treasure, people were creeping up behind each other and shooting each other. We thought it was really fun… until, like, the 10th time it happened, and then we thought, no, no, no. We can't have this, so we took it all out. And that transformed the game. Now it's very much your crew against the world. Whether that's creatures in the world, or other players you might come across, we want to foster that sense of the crew co-operating, and everything else is something that's there to go up against.
USG: Can you jump ship?
GM: We've tried to make it so that as long as it doesn't contravene our crews getting along rules, anything you think you should be able to, you can. So if you see another ship sail next to you, can you jump across, board the ship, throw the crew off the ship and steal it? Yes you can! That's the type of game we want to make.
There's grog on the table in the tavern. Can you drink it? Yes you can. Will you get drunk? Yes you will. Can you steer the ship when you’re drunk? Yes you can. When a game allows you to do something that you almost don't expect it's going to allow you to do it, and when you can, it's like one of those "wow" moments. And we'd like to get as many of those wow moments in our game as possible.
USG: If you board my ship and kick me off, what happens to me?
GM: You get a new ship. When we were originally thinking about the vision for the game, and were looking at shared world games, a lot of the games were quite punishing. Like Day Z, Eve Online, or Rust. They're all shared worlds, but when you make a mistake and die, your progress is wiped. For a group of gamers, that's really appealing – they love that high-stakes stuff. But we want to appeal to a wider range of players, so our balance of loss can't be that brutal. We want players to care about their ships, and care about not losing their ships, and care about their crew. But when you lose your ship, which invariably will happen – even the best crews will lose their ships - there will be a sense of loss. You might lose what's on board the ship, or lose your position in the world, but we'll always give you another ship so you can carry on adventuring.
USG: Can I join another crew of a ship mid-game?
GM: Yes. We've looked at that. As part of trying to get crews to co-operate, we had a very free system originally where anybody could join any crew, but it became chaos. But what we found is that it's okay to leave your crew and join another one. What's unacceptable is the inter-crew problems. We want to encourage players to be able to emergently change situations. Like if you're on your own and you come across a big ship, and they say, "come and join us," we want that to happen because, 1) players expect it and, 2) that would make a really great story.
I'm a firm believer of what you allow players to do in a game will steer how they behave. So if you have a game where you can only do bad things or violent things to other players, it's no surprise that players are just going to do that. Behaving like that doesn't have a place in our game. It's so much more interesting when there's all sorts of things that players can do together. There's going to be a range of emotions, a range of behaviors, a range of the way the crews can work together or against each other.
USG: If you can become a legend in the game, get a big ship and become infamous for taking out other players, would you get a bounty on your head for something like that?
GM: That sounds like a really good idea! The benefit of having a prototype for the last 18 months has been we've built up all these ideas, and we have an enormous database of things we think would be really good for the game. Now it's just a matter of figuring out what to bring across to the main game, and listening to players and seeing what they want. If players want to build up a bounty on the most legendary players, we'll prioritize that and put it in the game before other features.
USG: Are you going to have a layer of social interaction in the game in terms of if I'm with a crew of people, am I easily going to be able to friend them so I can play with them again?
Yes, absolutely. A key part of this game is getting players into the game, getting them to have a good time, and then being able to find their fellow players again. That might be a live friends system, or it could be a custom system in the game that keeps track of everyone you’ve played with. The more players can form positive bonds, the better it'll be.
USG: So you could have something like Guilds, then?
GM: Yes. That's another thing we've been thinking about.