Russell Williams, CEO of Flying Lab, took the time to respond in detail to my first post which discussed my impressions of the Pirates of the Burning Sea. I've reposted his comments separately to raise reader's awareness of his responses, especially since his second comment was hijacked by a misconfigured spam filter I recently setup. His opportunity to respond to a potential customer's concerns regarding their game is one of the great things about the Internet and blogs in particular - they give people an easy medium for communication and discourse.
Russell's comments are in reference to my first post which you can read here.
Russell's First Comment
Hi, I just came across your first impressions of Pirates, and I thought I'd address some of your points.
1) Female characters use the same body structures as men - Obviously we'd love to have a different rig for both, but we also wanted a pretty in depth level of character customization, so we wanted to spread that content across both men and women. We were also limited in our ability to change those rigs because our characters are more real world than other games, specifically how the clothing drapes across them, which makes it pretty much impossible to do it algorithmically (as opposed to CoH). This isn't to say that I'm unhappy with how they look - the reaction has been relatively positive, but that's not to say there's not room for improvement. It's also possible that your graphic settings could be set unduly low (a bug earlier in beta) which can really impact the look of our avatars.
2) For the variety of faces of color, we had a new technique that we rolled in relatively late into the beta to redo the avatars, and between that and the amount of time required to polish up mesh collisions, we didn’t have the time to go in and expand out the faces. We have quite a few which will be going into the game very soon after release.
3) The swashbuckling combat is way too easy at reasonable levels right now. You can play until level 18 without really knowing how to use the system, which doesn’t help our players to really learn the strategy behind this combat system. We're changing that to better escalate the challenge earlier on. The worst part of it is that by training you on such an easy system, you then get in PvP and get pummeled in boarding combat by an opponent who has mastered the system, which is really no fun for either side. As for our animations, they've sort of spoiled me on other MMOs, as it now drives me crazy when there's no specific reaction to my attacks.
4) Invisible walls - Erm, yeah. We've been fixing a lot of this. It won't be perfect for release, but it won't lure you into going into places you should obviously be able to access.
5) Instanced - Guilty. Guilty!! /hides face. We built for breadth, but now that we've done that, we're building much more expansive areas. Check out Tortuga as an example of the direction we are headed and let me know what you think.
6) I'm assuming the complaint about scenery from the ship is the Open Sea. Because of the PvP aspects, it's a single process so there are a number of overhead restrictions that you wouldn't expect. If you're talking about in a combat encounter, then I've got nothing for you, because I think it's absolutely gorgeous, though again we built those environments to be pretty reasonable so that we could support 25 vs 25 fights on a mid level machine.
7) And the rest – Did you have a chance to play the role playing story arc missions? The PvP? The Economy? Those, along with the ship combat, are the strengths of the game.
Philosophical disconnect – We’re not using WoW as our yardstick. We don’t have 65 million dollars, huge teams, or a backlog of work to draw upon. And that’s why we didn’t build another fantasy game, because we knew we’d be a fly on WoW’s windshield. Frankly, if what you’re looking for is a game that matches WoW on this level, you may as well just stop playing new MMOs until Bioware comes out with theirs, or you’re always going to be disappointed.
What I can tell you is that our ship combat kicks ass. Period. And it’s a damn sight better than WoW’s. We have to do new and different things to differentiate ourselves because for all of WoW’s strengths, it’s not everything. I do think you’ll be happy with us going into the future, because now that we’ve finished the foundations of the game, we’re just going to keep polishing and expanding it.
Russell's Second Comment:
Hi, yeah, I'm the CEO of FLS. Which means right now I'm pretty much useless as the people who actually DO WORK are focused on polishing up for release. It leaves me time to roam the web!
We're not interested in doing VO, mainly because of the problems that the EQ2 team hit when doing them. There's no question that they're cool, but I'd rather reserve the voice work we're doing for the vignettes we have seeded throughout the world. They're kind of subtle, so you may not have seen any, but you can be walking around and find two characters talking to each where previously they were saying nothing. You don't need to hear the conversation to play the game, but it provides us a chance to tell cool little stories that are more human and less "...and then, when you have dispatched the guard, you must take the egg and then..." Not that they're not cool, but you know, you choose your battle.
As for the enhancing the text so you can scan through it, we will. I personally hate it, because I really love the writing we've done for it, but there's simply no question that some people just want to scan read it, and we'll provide better support for them.
The question of targeting Explorers is a good one. We're really not. We'd like to, but the issue of instancing was thrust upon us pretty much by the nature of our genre (for the sea). Keep in mind that we originally built the game to be a single world for sailing, so realizing we had to go instanced was a bit of a rude surprise. But when we looked at it, it solved a hundred design issues, brought about a ton of cool gameplay, and was very clearly the right decision. Except that it wasn't going to be good for explorers.
Again, you choose your battles. Rather than be kind of crap at everything, we picked sailing combat, Organic PvP, and the Economy as our star systems. Those have to be great. The rest we strive to make solid, and to improve on as we go.
So, we know we need to do better for explorers. Because we can't do world exploration as easily, we've been working on alternative forms of exploration. For example, putting in more hidden triggers in the towns that let you open up secret areas. Let the player explore that, and feel like they've seen it, and then open up another area on top of that one that lets them explore more and reveal more layers of the story. We're also going to do a lot more in the Open Sea for things that you can run across and will allow you to access cool missions and areas that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Assuming that "developing interior spaces in that manner" means providing persistent instances by zoning, we're going to do more of a mixture. What you get without zoning is strange L corridors all over the place to make the chambering work, which also leads to places being bigger than they should be, which also leads to the city being HUGE to support those rooms. In addition, they're typically less detailed than our rooms are because they have to be huge. What we're planning on doing is more of a mixture between the two, making relatively simple persistent spaces do the corridor dance, and reserving zoning for larger, less commonly accessed spaces.
Which serves to illustrate a central point of this: we're somewhat used to a way of doing things, and if you're an MMO player, odds are you really like the current way of doing things because otherwise, you wouldn't be playing the current MMOs. But these aren't obvious good and evil tradeoffs. Personally, none of the MMOs have been the least bit immersive for me because the world doesn't reflect my actions. I personally loved the accessibility of CoH with its cool combat. But it wasn't zoning that killed me, or the random stories that wound up with me beating up everyone in the same warehouse, it's when I stopped a gang from stealing a purse, ran across the street to stop another gang, and looked back to see the original gang respawning. All of a sudden I wasn't a hero stopping crime, I was a guy who liked to fight who conviently tacked the name hero onto himself. But that's just me. Other people don't really care about that at all, since that's what the current MMOs offer, but they care about the other elements that aren't as enticing to me.
My argument is that the MMO label supports a much wider style of gameplay than what we've currently seen. It's also my bet, because we haven't seen any sustained hits since WoW. Maybe it'll work out for us (yay!) maybe it won't (rats!) - only the consumers will tell us that. What I am sure of is that doing things exactly like the current crop will result in, at best, people coming to visit your game for a couple of months, and going back to WoW.
As for what's robbing you of the pirate ambience, I have two possible answers:
a) You'll play the game again, and the stuff that was bothering you suddenly doesn't seem as important, and you'll love it. That happens to quite a few people who show up to play who also have a negative reaction to the instancing, but had a strong pre-disposition to play, and so got past it and learned to love it on its strengths, not its weaknesses.
b) Right now, as a pirate, you're pretty much an Errol Flyn (sp?) character, not Blackbear. The fact is, we want to provide multiple types of story lines for you to go through to define your character. You may be looking for something that feels more definitively pirate in that aspect than what we've currently got in the game. I have a lot of plans for this, but it's going to be a lot of content to provide it.
Tortuga is damn dangerous, but if you ping our community manager Aether, he can take your character on a brief tour of it to get a sense of the scope and what we're doing there. It won't address all your issues by any means, but I think you'll be a lot more excited about where we're going with things.