• Mike Goslin, Vice President of Disney's VR Studio
  • December 5, 2006

After more than two years fully immersed in all things pirates, and not really seeing a whole lot of the sun, it's an exciting feeling to know that the game launch is on the horizon. Our team has put in countless hours and dozens of red-eyed, head-down, caffeinated nights, cranking out an incredibly deep and compelling online world. We're really just eager for MMO players and fans of the movies to finally experience Pirates of the Caribbean Online and see all of the work we've put in.

I'm sure some of you are thinking right now that this is an improbable project: an MMO based on a pirate movie, and from Disney of all places. It's definitely been a challenge, but through it all we've remained focused on making the best game we possibly can. I should start at the beginning...

It started over 10 years ago, in 1996 when I got the chance to work for Walt Disney Imagineering - the creative concept team behind Disney's theme parks. At Imagineering I worked with a seasoned, talented group, from whom I'd learn a lot over the next decade. Our group was called the Virtual Reality Studio, and our mission was to design and build virtual reality attractions for the Disney theme parks.

Over the next several years, we forged a new kind of experience that combined the physical thrill of a theme park ride with the cutting-edge graphics of a video/computer game. Our goal was to transport Guests to another world, to give them the sense of being enveloped in a fantasy universe. We developed a head-mounted display (HMD) device that delivered the sensation of total 3D immersion to audiences. Motion bases and huge multi-screen theaters surrounded them with 360 degrees of infinity optics for a pretty unforgettable experience.

In 1998, Disney built a state-of-the-art entertainment center called DisneyQuest near Disney World in Orlando. DisneyQuest is a 5-story, 100,000 square foot building that features several of our virtual reality attractions, including "Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride", a four-person journey through Aladdin's world. Guests put on custom designed HMDs and straddle motorcycle-like vehicles on a fast-paced race to find the Genie of the Lamp.

Three years later we released "Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Buccaneer Gold", an attraction based on the original theme park ride. Guests man a pirate ship and set sail in a virtual sea filled with enemy ships, sea monsters, and treasure. The ride ends in an epic cannon battle against Jolly Roger's ghost ship and flying skeleton crew. People absolutely loved it, and the ride won a Thea Award for best new theme park attraction in 2001.

The great buzz around our pirate attraction got us thinking about how to offer the same type of thrill to Guests at home. It was about this time that graphical MMOs were beginning to emerge, and we felt the online medium was a great new way to deliver the kind of experiences we'd been building for the theme parks. In 2000, we pitched the concept for Disney's Toontown Online as part of an online theme park which would feature several MMOs, including Pirates of the Caribbean Online. This was before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but we knew from our experience that the franchise was popular and that the environment would translate incredibly well into a game.

Toontown proved to be a success, and was heralded as a big milestone for Disney and the VR Studio. Not only was it Disney's first MMO - it was also the first premium MMO designed for kids and families. Toontown was our introduction to the intense, time-bending, black-hole-like process that is MMO creation. Most of our attractions were designed to be five-minute experiences, so it was quite an adjustment to build a game requiring hundreds of hours of gameplay.

After the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2003, Disney's now-CEO, Bob Iger, approached us and asked if we wanted to move forward with a Pirates MMO. We, of course, jumped at the opportunity. Based on our experience, we knew how broad the appeal of a pirate MMO could be. Men and women, boys and girls - everyone loved the idea of being a buccaneer.

Toontown and Pirates of the Caribbean Online have a lot in common, but they're very different games. For one thing, Pirates is much more ambitious in design, scope, and attitude. It's based on the movie property, so we teamed up with the movie studio to weave characters, stories, creatures, and themes from the films into the game. We share everything from art assets to character storylines, and generally consult with them on all aspects of development. At the same time, we're focused on building a world that can stand on its own with new stories, characters, and environments so fans of the movies can come into the game and live their own adventure.

So how's the game development going, you ask? Good, if you like exciting and fast-paced work with a group of passionate designers, bad, if you like to get a lot of sleep.

As the nights and weeks wear on, we'll try our best to keep you updated on all the grisly details of game development with diary entries from other members of the team, including:

Bruce "sword fighting is my specialty" Woodside, Animation Director Felipe "did you ask for a larger ship?" Lara, Art Director Joe "you want this to launch when?" Shochet, Creative Director and Lead Game Designer Daniel "pirate speak is my specialty" Aasheim, Producer Matt "I've never found a server outage I couldn't fix" McKenna, Live Team Leader

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