Avast, ye hearties!
We recently sat down with KingsIsle Entertainment VP of Marketing Fred Howard and Pirate101 Community Manager Tom Purdue to chat about their upcoming MMO. Fortunately, they answered all our questions, so we won’t make them walk the plank…
The first and most obvious question was: Why pirates?
“The story of the Spiral hadn’t been fully explored,” Howard told us. “We’re really excited about this opportunity to have a totally new game, totally new combat system, all-new characters, new storyline… it really is a true standalone game, but it takes place in the same universe as Wizard101.”
He described the Pirate101 universe as a little more “shady” and its characters a little more individualistic than Wizard101. “Wizard101 is more Luke Skywalker, Pirate101 is more Han Solo.”
How KingsIsle managed to keep the game a secret for so long was also a mystery that boggled many gamers’ minds, and their answer to the question reveals an aspect of their marketing strategy that’s very much unlike most every other MMO company out there.
“So many people will make an announcement three, four, five years before a product hits the shelves, and we don’t,” said Howard. “We believe in making an announcement when we’re really very close to launch. With Wizard101, that was a much easier thing because nobody had heard of KingsIsle. It’s been much more challenging this time.”
And yes, the game is “very close to launch,” relatively speaking; Howard confirmed that the game was currently in alpha, with beta testing and a launch planned before the end of the year.
And after that? KingsIsle confirmed that they have three more projects in development! Howard wouldn’t confirm if they were full-fledged MMOs or other products, but suffice to say that this won’t be a two-game company for long.
A Cap’n And His Mates
The Wizard101 story was pretty basic – you’re summoned to Ravenwood Academy and learn right off the bat that there’s an evil wizard, Malistaire, looking to gum up the works. It was the same for every character, regardless of their school of magic.
Pirate101 offers different choices during character creation, which will have an effect on the path your character takes. “The backstory of your pirate weaves into story arcs that are specific to your pirate,” Howard explained.
Selected quests will be different for different characters, based on those choices. “There are a lot of unique variations based on how you set up your character and how you play through the game.”
But you won’t be sailing the high seas alone. “Each class has a different propensity for different crew members to come on board, and many of those crew members have their own story arcs and backgrounds.”
“Instead of worrying just about your own characters, you also have to worry about your shipmates,” Purdue added. “Some of them have their own epic progression.”
If you think it sounds a little like Star Wars: The Old Republic, you’re not alone in that thought. However, where a SWTOR character had just a handful of companions at his beck and call, there are over 300 companions in Pirate101 that you can recruit – some available to any class and others unique to certain classes.
Boarding Party Time
And where will your band of scurvy scalawags be most useful? In battle, of course!
Wizard101 used a card-based battle system; Pirate101 deviates from that course in offering a more board-game-like system, similar to games like Final Fantasy Tactics. You’ll be joined by one or more companions in battles, though the ones you get will be semi-random, based on how they’re ordered in your lists.
“Each of the crew members has a probability of joining your battle, based on how you have them ordered in your crew,” Howard explained, comparing the random aspect of crew selection to drawing cards from your deck in Wizard101.
Ship-to-ship battles start with long-range blasting with cannons, but can quickly get close up and personal when one crew boards the other’s ship. Battles can have a number of different objectives, from eliminating all enemies to capture the flag to simply surviving a set number of turns.
“It gives a nice sense of urgency when you’ve got a counter working against you that way,” Purdue said. “It changes the strategy and helps the storyline along, as well.”
The ships will be highly customizable, with players able to choose color schemes, flags, cannons, and loads of other options. But ships won’t replace personal housing – after all, every pirate needs his or her hideaway, as well, to store all that ill-gotten booty.
Pirate101 will follow pretty much the same payment model as Wizard101: free-to-play, with Crowns as the real-money currency that can unlock new areas or purchase special items. Memberships will also be available, and discounts will be provided for players that purchase memberships for both games.
I can’t wait to set sail in Pirate101, especially after getting all the juicy details straight from KingsIsle.
Thanks to Fred and Tom for taking the time to chat, and we’ll see you on the seas!