• Jason Everett, Executive Producer, Disney Online
  • August 27, 2007

During Phase 1 of the Beta test I spent hour after hour with Bilgeratte, an amazingly durable Pirate who, considering his eyes and face, might be a long-lost descendant of Sao Feng - or, allowing for his Fu Manchu moustache and broken nose, might be a pretty recent descendent of some scary biker guy.

I kept a running diary during the Beta for the game developers - what was working and what wasn't, what was fun, what was confusing, and because no self-respecting Producer can resist, a list of things we just had to tweak. Here are a few sample entries:

  • I got into a Mayhem PVP match with Allan today (and completely kicked his butt… he forgot to bring health tonics with him). I died during the match more than a couple of times, and each time I re-spawned with 0 HP. The recharge time to get back to full health from there needs serious tuning.
  • The bartender in the Faithful Bride needs a rag - he's cleaning the bar with his palm. It would also be nice if the guy near the harbormaster on Port Royal flipping a coin actually had a coin.
  • The Black Mac quests need tuning. His initial dialogue needs to be more direct, telling the player what they are going to earn when they complete the quest. Requiring players to win 150 gold seems fine, based on the way the economy is balanced now, but I'd up the number of skeletons that need to be defeated in the second quest to the 10-15 range. Ideally, the amount of gold Black Mac makes you win and the number of skeletons you have to defeated should be tied to the card you're going after.

After Phase 1 of the Beta ended, the development team spent two solid weeks reviewing everything we'd seen -- feedback from the beta players, thoughts from the development team, bugs, feature requests, balancing and tuning needing to be done, game systems needing refining, client and server performance and stability issues, features that needed to be added, and features that needed to go -- at least for now.

Here's an overview of the work that's gone into the game since we closed the doors on Phase 1 of the Beta test:

A lot of time has gone into refining the UI and the game's control schema. Players don't need to use the TAB key to switch been combat and interface modes anymore, and the mouse-look camera controls are now optional. At the same time we did this we also improved the combat interface. The old radial menu that held each weapon's special skills has been killed and replaced with a simpler interface that's always on-screen. It's faster now to get at your special skills and easier to watch your recharge times - both of which are good things when you've got a dozen undead Carrions charging you.

We've already finished a round of play testing with the new control system, and the results were great -- it's easy to use, and we're really happy with it.

The quest system got a nice polish pass as well, making your encounters with Jack Sparrow, Elizabeth Swann, Joshamee Gibbs and the rest of the game's personalities and NPCs (Non-Player Characters) more cinematic -- and making the actual interfaces you will use to get quests and manage quests clearer and more intuitive.

Next up was ship boarding. This has gotten much simpler -- now you can just walk up to a dingy on the shore of any island and use it to row out to (read: pull up) your ship, already rigged and ready to set sail.

Crewing up got streamlined at the same time ship boarding was tweaked -- the definition of a crew is now much looser than it was in Phase 1 of the Beta test - now it's really the pirates who are on the ship. The trick is, to get onto a ship, you have to teleport to one of your friends who is already on deck. This can be someone on your Friends List, a fellow Guild member, or a mate from your Pirate Band.

The biggest and most exciting improvement is the overall sense of story that now permeates the world of the game. There are little things, like the behaviors NPCs have now when you encounter them going about their daily business, the presence of the prison dog in the jail, and the richer palette of sound effects and music. There are plenty of big things too, like great new spawning and defeat animations for Jolly Roger's undead army, a burning town deep in the jungles of Tortuga, and a Navy mining operation in the caves underneath Port Royal. All of this is contributing to make the experience richer and deeper, and the world that much more immersive.

There is tons more to talk about -- more killer PVP game play (And what is PVP, really? Player versus Player or Pirate versus Pirate?), more polish in the poker and blackjack game systems, fine-tuning on ship-to-ship combat, an improved chat interface, and balancing and tuning for just about every weapon, from cannon shot to the voodoo staff. There is way too much to talk about -- you'll just have to experience it all firsthand when you're playing again.

See you in Phase 2 of the Beta!

- Jason (aka Bilgeratte)

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