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'Sid Meier's Pirates!' (Xbox) Dev. Diary #2 - Screens & Trailer

by Rainier on June 14, 2005 @ 9:42 a.m. PDT

In Pirates! you take the leading role of a Pirate Captain in the 17th century Caribbean trying to become the most revered and feared pirate in history - exploring high seas and exotic ports, overtaking enemies in fierce naval battles, engaging in duels and attempting to seize valuable booty. In this designer diary lead animator Steve Chao talks about the animation process and "even the odds," a new mode added for the Xbox version of the game.

Get the Pirates! Trailerpack off WP (12mb)

I’ve been obsessed with video games since I was eight years old, when my parents bought the family’s first video game console, an 8-bit system called the Famicom. That obsession steered me towards my eventual career as a character animator. Console gaming has always held a special place in my heart, and it has been a dream of mine to work on an Xbox title. Naturally, I was thrilled when I was enlisted to head up the animation team for Pirates! Xbox. After helping to make Pirates! for the PC one of the best games of 2004, I couldn’t wait to get started on re-imagining this classic Sid Meier title for the most sophisticated gaming system on the market.

A great deal of my focus went towards the planning and production of the button matching game, a Pirates! Xbox exclusive feature. The mechanics behind button matching is simple: The game slows down almost to a stand-still in mid-action, where the player is prompted to input a set of button presses. When the player succeeds in pressing the buttons in the correct order, the hero character will dispatch the enemy crew in a skillful and sometimes superhuman manner. If the opposite is true, the hero character would receive a thorough beating from the enemy, before moving on to the next series of button presses. Three of these sequences will chain together each time, forming an impressive fight scene. The button matching game provided the perfect opportunity for the Pirates! animators to showcase their talent and to infuse the game with the kind of customized action Xbox players have come to expect.

Very early on, the Pirates! team decided that the action sequences in the button matching game would not be limited to sword fighting. We wanted it to be a no-holds-barred fight, where anything and everything goes. So, with a blank check in hand, the animators went to work.

Researching ideas for the action sequences was a blast. We looked everywhere for ideas on how to choreograph the fights, from TV wrestling shows, to classic Jackie Chan films from the 80s. It was also very important to us that the camera cuts and the framing of each shot would have the same intensity and energy as the fights themselves. Movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredibles were great examples for us (they were also excellent excuses for sneaking out of the office in the middle of the afternoon to catch a movie). Music was a strong source of inspiration as well. It may not provide specific ideas on the choreography, but a soundtrack can put your mind in a particular setting or a mood, and that can be very helpful. I did a lot of my brainstorming and storyboarding, while listening to music by Hans Zimmer and the soundtracks from some of my favorite fighting games. And of course we also called on our imaginations. The team frequently gathered together to brainstorm ideas. This led to some really cool action sequences.

After finalizing all of the fight choreography, it was time to put our noses to the grind stone and transform these big ideas into an actual chain of animations. And, boy, was it a lot of work! We poured our time and energy into making these animations as exciting and fun as they can be.

I am very proud of what the team has accomplished. Xbox gamers are in for the ride of their lives!

Author: Steve Chao, Lead Animator

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