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Pirates of the Caribbean Online

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Buena Vista Games
Developer: VR Studio

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'Pirates of the Caribbean Online' Developer Interview

by Rainier on July 18, 2006 @ 3:12 a.m. PDT

Capturing the high seas and swashbuckling adventures found in both “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and the upcoming “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” players embark on quests for adventure and treasure in an effort to become the Caribbean’s most legendary pirate. Featuring hundreds of customization options, players create and customize their own pirate, form a crew, and set sail on the high seas. Along the way they learn skills and tactics from the notorious Jack Sparrow, helping them forge alliances, hunt for buried treasure, battle evil undead forces and face off against known enemies from the movie franchise.

Q: What is a normal day for a VR Studio developer? How much time spent in meetings? Brainstorms? Coding? Is it true you live on soda and pizza?

Thankfully, we don't have too many meetings... but we do spend a lot of time debating in the hallways! Since most people in our group work in an open space, we tend to "prairie-dog" a lot. For example, if a discussion is going on, someone might hear and pop their head up to chime in with suggestions.

How we spend our time also depends on where we are in the development cycle. Early stages are dominated by brainstorming and coming up with concepts and art. Later the focus is on prototyping and trying things out to see if they are fun. Eventually we build systems and start hooking things together. Finally, it's polishing, performance tuning, and bug-fixing. Occasionally, someone will eat a salad in addition to soda and pizza.

Q: What is the most fun thing about developing THIS game? What are some of the challenges?

We really enjoy being able to mine the richness of the world of Pirates of the Caribbean. There's a ton of great material, history, and humor to draw from.

The huge success of the first film (Curse of the Black Pearl) makes it a real challenge to live up to people's expectations of what the game experience should be, but it's a challenge we are excited to take on. We know when to break the rules for fun's sake. For example, while developing the Pirates of the Caribbean virtual reality ride for DisneyQuest (Battle for Buccaneer Gold), we discovered that the real-world physics involved with steering a large ship doesn't exactly produce fun game play. As a solution, we amped up the physics to make the boats move and turn like high-speed yachts. When challenged with the need for thousands of Toontown players to interact together in the same world, we developed a new shard system that allows players to switch from one server to another on the fly - which I don't think anyone else was doing at the time. Because of our Imagineering background, we always look for creative solutions to any challenge.

Q: What differentiates this game from other MMOs and pirate games?

The biggest difference between this game and other MMOs is that the pirate-themed world we are designing will feature some supernatural elements that are unique to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise: defending your ship from sea monsters, fighting skeleton pirates, and casting voodoo spells. We will also include the classic pirate activities: epic sea battles, searching for buried treasure, playing dice and cards, and carousing in towns.

Q: What do you think fans of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will like most about the virtual world?

I think they'll really enjoy the chance to become a pirate and live out their own adventures in an expanded version of the world from the films. Casting voodoo spells is a lot of fun, too.

Q: Are there any special inside jokes that fans might look forward to?

Would any Pirates of the Caribbean game be complete without an appearance by the infamous prison dog?

Q: How will people play together? How will community form around this property/game? Tell me about some of the social systems.

Many of the game activities are designed to be played as a group, from playing cards in a tavern to battling ships at sea. We will support multiple types of groups from temporary "crews" to more permanent guild-like "bands" of pirates.

Q: What is the process of creating "virtual" Jack Sparrow?

We start by trying to create a likeness of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in the form of a computer model. Then we hand-animate the model to match his performance and mannerisms. Finally, we write and record dialog that captures the personality of the character. In order to do all this successfully, we have to spend some time "getting to know" the character by watching the film, reading the script, working with the theatrical team, and thinking about how he would react in a variety of new situations.

Q: How much game play will be on land? How much at sea?

The breakdown will depend on the player. We think being at sea is fun and different and captures the essence of what the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is about, so we're trying to have a lot of seafaring game play as well as numerous land-based adventures.

Q: What do you like most about the game?

I have a new favorite thing each week, but this week it's definitely battling the Kraken.

Q: Who is your favorite character from the franchise?

Captain Jack, of course!

Q: Does the game start where the movies leave off? How does the story work?

The game takes place in the same world as the movies, but is not locked to a particular point in time. Many characters, settings, and events from the movie will be featured and expanded upon. We will also introduce completely new characters, enemies, locales, and monsters.

Many games based on movies are slaves to the original story and thus are creatively constrained. Fortunately, we were given the freedom to use the movie world as a setting and did not have a specific storyline forced upon us. The story unfolds as a unique experience for each player - your character has the freedom to go wherever, whenever, while staying immersed in the broader story arc. Players themselves help evolve the story of what happens to Jack Sparrow and the other characters in completely new adventures beyond what is depicted in the films.

Q: What will playing this game be like? What are the enemies like? The environments?

This is not a simulation of real life during the historical time period of pirates. This is not a confined recreation of the film. This game is about becoming and living as a pirate in a stylized Pirates of the Caribbean world. We are trying to capture the fun, excitement, humor, and sense of adventure that the movies convey but give the players full control as to how they participate. We will certainly feature some of the movie elements and locations, including Port Royal and Tortuga. We will also integrate components from the theme park attraction and even introduce some new characters to the franchise.

Q: What makes someone a legend? Are you a legend?

A legend is someone who has mastered something so completely that people tell stories about their ability, whether it be sword-fighting, captaining, card playing, or all of the above. As far as being a legend myself, I've got quite a way to go yet.

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