Sid Meier’s Pirates! Content Blowout

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Tuesday, September 20, 2005

You’ve read our review, now go further with new content for the game. We begin with a Q&A for the game, answered by the man himself, Sid Meier.


Can you please just introduce yourself and what your role is within Firaxis?

Hello, I’m Sid Meier, Partner and Director of Creative Development at Firaxis Games, in Hunt Valley, Maryland.

The original Pirates was first developed and released over 17 years ago. Why did you decide to make a sequel now?

I get asked that one a lot! Well, there’s always been a loyal fanbase that have enjoyed the original for years and there’s always been discussion about whether there would ever be a sequel or not. But, we finally decided that the time was right and that technology had advanced to the point that we could really bring the world of Pirates! to life in a whole new way, and make significant improvements to a game that is already so well liked. We didn’t want to simply remake the original (even though many fans emailed us to say they’d be happy with just that!).

How did you approach designing the new Pirates game? Did you want to produce a modern version of the original game or create a new game entirely?

Our goal has been to stay true to what people most love about the original Pirates! while upgrading, enhancing, and in some cases, re-inventing the game to make it a great experience for today’s gamers. With the 3D engine we’ve created a gorgeous world full of interesting places to visit and characters to meet. We’ve added new story elements and quests, upgraded dueling, land battles and ship battles to give the player more options and control, and added new action sequences like dancing and sneaking in and out of towns. Our hope is to deliver an incredibly fun and compelling game that will give the fans more than what they’ve been waiting for, and show a whole new generation of gamers how much fun it is to live the life of a pirate!

Have the fans of the original Pirates game provided you with any feedback and if so can you tell us how you have incorporated their ideas into the game?

The fans have been incredibly vocal about what they would like to see in the game and likewise what they don’t want in the game! This has helped us work out what elements from the original we should improve and expand upon.

Give us a general sense of what a player experiences when playing Pirates!

In Pirates! you take the leading role of a Pirate Captain in the 17th century Caribbean amassing fortune and fame in an attempt to seize your rightful place as one of the most revered (and feared!) pirates in history. Easily the greatest feature of Pirates! is that the player is always in control and able to make lots of interesting decisions throughout the game. The game is centered on the life of a pirate or, rather, the swashbuckling life of a movie pirate, blending action, adventure, strategy and role playing into one game. Our intent is to use action sequences as they are used in movies, to tie together story segments in a fun and interesting way. As in the original game, you will be able to choose your allegiance and switch it at any time to better suit your situation. Now, however, you will also be able to influence economic and political conditions both locally and for the entire region.

What kind of career paths are available to players in the game?

Some highlights in your career as a pirate might be defeating one of the top pirates like Blackbeard or the Evil Mendoza, courting the Governor’s beautiful daughter with charm, wit, and heroism and eventually marrying her, capturing a town after a land battle and installing a new governor, finding a lost city of gold, and capturing the treasure fleet or the silver train.

Did you hop aboard a frigate and sail the seven seas in order to understand what it’s like to be a real pirate, or were there other more eyesight intensive research methods at hand?

Actually a few of our artists and designers did take a trip to the Caribbean to study the architecture and get a first hand look at the lush environment and vibrant worlds – at least that’s what they told me. In addition, we played through the other pirate based games- like Pirates of the Caribbean and Port Royal. Many members of the team read Pirate themed stories and books and we all enjoyed watching the classic swashbuckling and pirate movies to remind ourselves what makes being a pirate so fun and fascinating!

What are some of the major changes/additions in Pirates!?

Well, most importantly we’ve been able to create a living, 3D environment that brings the world of Pirates! to life like never before. In addition, we did get a chance to revisit and overhaul our approach to land battles. Pirates! now come in several varieties (Buccaneers carry guns for ranged combat instead of the cutlasses favored by regular Pirates) and defenses now include cavalry and mobile cannon, along with the usual infantry. Things like height advantages, tree cover and morale will impact the battles. If successful in a land battle you’ll be able to conquer and install a new governor.

Will the politics and historic events of the time have an effect on gameplay?

At Firaxis our motto is that we do the research after we make the game. ? There are two reasons for that. First, we want the game to be accessible so we try to play to what we think people know and find fun about pirates already. We also consider Pirates to be more of a movie pirate game as opposed to a realistic pirate game (scurvy just doesn’t seem fun). Second, when you do too much research, you run the risk that the only people who enjoy the game are the ones who read the same books as you. But to answer your question much of the environment (cities, ships, weapons, diplomacy, etc.) are based on the actual history of that time period, but the player controls the overall dynamics of how this history unfolds.

Aside from the obvious pirate theme, what helps you to distinguish this game from your other efforts, like the Civilization series?

The Pirates! game design is unique because it blends elements of action, adventure, role-playing and strategy allowing the player to tell their own unique story of pirating in the 17th century Caribbean. Easily the greatest feature of Pirates! is that the player is always in control and able to make lots of interesting decisions throughout the game. It’s different from my other games because Pirates! is centered on the life of one character rather then on decisions and gameplay that effect an entire civilization, your railroad empire or the success of your golf resort.

What other games have been inspirations for Pirates! and how is the new Pirates! better than those?

One of my earlier inspirations was the C-64 game, Seven Cities of Gold. I really thought the exploration and trade were great and the time period was set in the Age of Exploration, similar to that of Pirates!. But, my real inspiration is my fascination with pirates as a child. That timeless fantasy and allure of the swashbuckling life of a pirate is really what this game is about.

Where do you see the Pirates! franchise heading in the future?

There’re a lot of fun and interesting directions to go with this franchise and we’re certainly considering all options. We’re really excited about our upcoming release of Pirates! on Xbox in spring 2005.

What are your personal goals when considering a game under development? Asides from making a profitable product, do you wish to educate, entertain people, or just tell a story?

My goal is for people to have fun when they play the games. I try to put the player in a situation where they can be something really great – King, Pirate Captain, Tycoon, Entrepreneur – and present an interesting world in which they can have an adventure, build an empire, conquer the world etc. Through decisions they make as they play the games, each player will create his or her own story…a story that is all their own. A nice “side effect” of some of the games we’ve made is that people learn things as they play…world history, science, geography, economics…which is really exciting.

Next up, we’ve got some tips straight from the developers themselves on playing the game, and more!

From Firaxis Dev Team:

Ship Battle —

From a Distance: Fighting more powerful ships – Early in the game you will have an inferior ship yet rather than racing in and board a stronger vessel, you can fight from a distance. Recognizing the wind and engaging in ship battle with it in your favor is crucial. The next step is staying out of round shot range and forcing the opponent to chase you. Be careful not to stray too far, for the battle will end entirely. The idea is to form a straight line where your in the lead. Once cannons are fully loaded, turn about 45 degrees to let loose a blast. Opponents will continue to chase you until they have taken sufficient damage; at which point they will either turn and run or begin to fire back themselves. After suffering this initial damage, maneuver yourself carefully and continue to cripple their offense. If they are running, use the opportunity to take down sails with chain shot. When the sails fall, feed them grape shot if you have it. If not, chain shot will slowly diminish crew and convince them to surrender in no time.

Lead, Disable, Destroy: Fighting faster ships – After conquering Henry Morgan’s Large Frigate, the Caribbean is mine on a platter. While larger ships carry more firepower, faster, smaller ships will often attempt to board you immediately. All the swashbuckling prowess in the world won’t help a severely outnumbered player. To remedy their speed advantage, unload your initial cannon fire into them with chain shot. Then turn away and reload, forcing them slowly chase you. The key here is only slightly turning back to fire as they follow you. Most of your chain shot will not hit, but what does will make a great impact. Another blast of chain shot and they shouldn’t be able to keep up. At that point it is up to you how you disable their vessel.

Dueling —

Bar Fights – Practicing techniques – The swashbuckler difficulty level offers quite a challenge, especially as your character ages. To improve your dueling, try dueling without a attacking in a tavern. This would be too risky on a ship, since your crew might diminish, but in a tavern simply duck, jump, and taunt your opponent. Once you recognize fakes and attacks, very little will stand in your way.

3 for the Price of 1 – Combos – With the rapier, it is possible to pull off a second attack after succeeding in the first. A split second before you complete a thrust attack, launch a low attack. If the low attack is launched too early the character will fake a thrust and move to a low attack. If it comes too late, the thrust attack will connect then the player will begin a low attack, without the lightning speed of a true combo. Perfect timing will result in a thrust attack immediately followed by a low attack. This knocks the opponent back 3 steps, rather than merely 1.

Dance —

Tap Dancing – Although some may find this to be the most difficult part of the game, it is by far the most rewarding. Weapons, info, maps, and other upgrades are rewards for successfully impressing a governor’s daughter. The trick to impressing her is rhythm. Watch your character’s arms and tap your foot in time. As most dances have a 4/4 tempo (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and…) prepare for the move on the 3rd beat and execute it on the 4th.

4 is the Magic Number – There are specific patterns are obvious (right, left, right, left) while others are more complex (back, turn right, forward, turn left), but all generally are in groups of 4 moves. If you recognize a group of moves and know it will end in 4 moves, you’ll be prepared for the next set. Plus a good pair of slippers never hurt either.

Ship Battle —

1. Grapes of Wrath – Grape shot will not only eliminate crew, but actually take out sails as well. Once you have effectively damaged a ship’s sails, with the wind in your advantage, reduce their crew to a boardable size and the vessel is yours.
2. When firing upon an enemy vessel, target your cannons at their path not their current position. Keeping an eye on the wind and their current direction, shoot ahead of your target and with practice you will always hit.
3. Before engaging in battle, recognize the surrounding landscape and think about how you will use it during the battle. Should your opponent turn and run in a faster ship, pin them against the shore so it’s not an option. If you’re facing a more powerful opponent, ensure you will have an escape route yourself should the tables turn.
4. Plan your first shot carefully. In every ship battle you begin with full cannons. The intent of a pirate or pirate hunter will be to immediately board you. As captain of a relatively fast ship, unload those full cannons with Chain Shot to slow them down and give you some space to work. Should they have a faster ship with more crew, carefully aim a blast of Grape Shot into their number to reduce it.
5. As the game progresses and your age becomes more of a factor, sailors will be less inclined to accompany your out to sea. So pick them up in the sea. Well, overboard that is. One of the quickest ways to increase your crew size is picking on slower ships with a large crew, eliminate their cannons, and move in close to unload some Grape Shot. The crew will leap into the ocean and gratefully join you given a hand aboard.
6. Don’t sink it when you can plunder it. Once you have control of a powerful vessel it becomes difficult to keep from sinking every opponent you face. If you have the option of taking control, collecting gold and supplies, you can sink it afterwards. Your crew will thank you for it and stick around longer as a result.
7. Knowing when to raise and lower your sails during battle is crucial to mastery of the Caribbean. When you need to quickly flee or gather distance, full sails is the way to go. Reefed sails are for sharp turns, used to dodge cannon fire and quickly turn to catch the wind. A careful combination of both will ensure your survival.
8. False Advertising – When you are fired upon, aim your ship in one direction and turn away rapidly to the opposite just before the enemy fires. Watch the opponent’s cannon flaps and time their reload cycle. Head one direction with full sails, then at the last minute reef the sails and head the opposite.

Land Battle —
1. Splitting a crew into 3 parts against a greater number can often prove a successful strategy. One group heads to the far right of the map, attracting attention. Another group sneaks to the far left of the map observing as much tree cover as available. The last group plant themselves in the shadows of a forest near the middle of the battle. When the enemy have split to handle the separate threats, run down the center and take the town.
2. Calvary is devastating in the open, but defenseless in a forest. If you can force them to give chase into the woods, once they follow you in taking them out isn’t a problem.
3. Guards are powerful in both range and close combat, but if tricked into following one of your units and attacked from their flank, they will crumble like any other unit.
4. Force the enemy troops to attack in your home field. Instead of charging immediately, find a good defensive position and pick out the incoming enemy.
5. Know the movement and range of your opponent. If you can not see the enemy, be careful in your strategic placement, for they can hide in the tree line just as you can. It’s better to assume they are then discovering by accident.

We at Cosmos Gaming hope you are enjoying the game and wish you a happy holiday season.

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