Pirates! a year ago and now...
  Comparing notes

In a previous article here at Cutlass Isle, we speculated on certain hints that were given in the announcement that Firaxis was working on a new Sid Meier's Pirates! game. With very little to go on, we tried to expand and form some kind of conclusion as to what the feel of Pirates! would be. The information flow has been increasing rapidly over the past few weeks. There have been plenty of videos, designer diaries, previews, and screenshots to satisfy our unquenchable thirst for Pirates!. Comparing the article With the information we have today, we can say that we weren't that far off the mark.

A valid question could be; “How do you enrich this experience? How do you make it even more appealing?” You would get a shrug from most people you'd ask. But this question would be easy for Sid Meier. He will simply tell you, “Make it random every voyage. Make it non-linear. Make it open-ended.” This said, you get an instant boost of exhilaration each time you play without it getting old, and this is possibly why Sid’s games are so addictive. Lets have a closer look shall we?

Seriously fun

In the original article, we ventured that the game wouldn't take itself too seriously, that it would stay close to the previous games and that realism would have to make way for fun. We hit this spot on. From the very beginning the designers of the game have aimed at keeping the old-school gameplay of the previous version of Pirates!. The developers chose to build the new Pirates! on a cartoonish-looking base. What was actually formed from this idea has exceeded our greatest expectations. Simplicity is key here, as it is to the average gamer. Sid Meier’s games have also never been brutal or cruel, anyone who knows this will know that the new Pirates! will not be as serious and as realistic as real piracy was in the Caribbean. This has swayed a lot of fans, but at the same time has brought many who value gameplay above reality into the fold.

As speculated, the gameplay has indeed been deepened considerably. Almost every aspect of the game has received an update or even a complete overhaul. Firaxis wisely has kept quiet about the details as to how deep these changes go, but the hints have been promising. A whole new addition to the game is a mini-game in which courting governor's daughters is done via ballroom dancing. This has caused mixed responses from the community, but most are willing to give it a try. The speculation out of the way, we think that it is safe to say that Pirates! is in fact going to be a very deep game on adventure. How can it not be? Mention to anyone treasure hunting, capturing ships, and looting towns and you get that instant surge of excitement. Oh, but much more is involved, a handful few exciting phrases cannot explain what can really be experienced. We talked about quests being randomly generated and about a main plotline. The quest part came true but there has been no hint towards a main plotline whatsoever. Other than, of course, living the live of a pirate captain.

3D for the masses

We also said that Pirates! would go 3D. That of course, was the easiest part to speculate on. A good start is paramount for any game developer. You have to start on the right foot. Firaxis did so by choosing a great graphics engine (NDL’s Gamebryo engine) which opens up a lot of further, gameplay-enhancing possibilities. The game has been designed to be quite flexible in the moding department. Lots of custom flags, character skins, and that kind of stuff will be available for download. That we know. What we do not yet know is the extent of how far we - the community - can modify the game. Judging from previous titles, such as the Civilization series, the game should be extremely flexible not only in us modifying it, but also its gameplay.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! is also scheduled to be released on the XBox in 2005. It will include multiplayer (the PC version does not have multiplayer planned for it), and a few other gaming enhancements such as improved dueling. The developers do not want to make the PC version and the XBox too different from each other, but also don't want to go for a straight port from PC to console.

Close enough for a sigar?

All in all, we weren't that far off the mark with our speculations. Some parts were easy, some weren't. Pirates! is shaping up to be a great game, true to its original but with enough refreshing new content in it to keep us stuck to our computers. We have waited so long, but you cannot deny that the wait has seemed longer over the last couple of months. Waiting is, of course, only a fraction of the adventure. The tension is building, but we still haven't touched the experience of playing Pirates! when it's been released. Only screenshots and previews can give us a hint towards this.

Written by Civrules and Falconer