Pirate101 is in many ways the spiritual successor to Wizard101 and marks an ambitious undertaking by KingsIsle to build another engaging and successful MMO that is also family friendly and safe. We talked to producer Jay Gordon and associate producer Mike Stone to get an idea of the challenges the team faced and what may lie in store for those looking to loot and plunder.
Massively: Let's start with safety and age-specific content. Both Pirate101 and Wizard101 are designed with families and kids in mind. What are the challenges of creating a game in which communication is key but chat must be safe and secure?
Jay Gordon, Producer: It's a big challenge. In fact, we have patents on some of the ways that we've worked to create layers of security in our chat systems for KingsIsle games. For younger players, or for those that want the most secure communication possible, we offer menu-only chat in both Wizard101 and Pirate101. This is the safest and most secure way to handle communication in the game, but it is also restrictive. The next level up is text chat. This is where we take a white list of permitted words (words that are already in the game) and then add a level of intelligence on top of that safe list. The example of this we use pretty often is that while it is OK to talk about wizard robes in the game, it is never ok to talk about what's under those robes.
Mike Stone, Associate Producer: We are continually looking at permitted words, restricted phrases, and a variety of other aspects of our chat (from capitalization to punctuation to acceptable symbols to innocent words that in combination may not be so innocent) and trying to make sure we are going above and beyond to make communication as safe and appropriate as possible. However, at the end of the day, our players are clever and are always looking for ways to get around the filters. It's a neverending task to try and stay ahead of them. That's why when we catch people trying to get around our terms of service, we are quick to mute or ban the accounts. It's not something we take lightly. In fact, during the development of Pirate101, we took a strong look at chat to ensure the system functioned exactly like Wizard101's does along with improving it wherever we can.
Stone: There are a variety of ways we are continually monitoring the game. First, we have customer support and player reporting in place. Second, we just kicked off a hall monitor program that provides a growing group of trusted players a set of robust tools to prioritize reporting and to temporarily mute (pending KingsIsle review) any troublemakers. Finally, we have a comprehensive set of parental controls that cover a wide range of variables, from chat level to membership preferences.
Gordon: All of these things Mike illustrated are important, but what we really want to see is parents sitting down and playing the game with their children. That's why we put so much effort into trying to create content that is entertaining both for kids and for the family members who play with them. The best way for parents to really understand what a game is like is to spend time playing it with their children.
Gordon: For us, it really is the best of both worlds. We have a rich collection of pirate myths and legends to draw on, and we also have the unique mythos of the Wizard101 Spiral to pull into the story. As a result, we get to explore a pirate-themed world where ships fly, vortexes of energy transport you across vast distances, zany creatures wield tremendous power, and a Frog-father makes you an offer you can't refuse. Traditional pirates are very cool but can also be a bit mundane. In Pirate101 we have this opportunity to mix the expected with the fantastic, which makes the game stand out from a collection of pirate-themed titles that might otherwise feel pretty similar.
It's been said that the choices a player makes with his or her pirate will affect the way the rest of the game plays out. In what ways will players see their choices made manifest?
Stone: Choices made in the beginning of the game affect a number of factors down the road. These choices influence some of the powers and companions that players will be able to access throughout the game. The key thing about companions is that all of the main companions have their own unique quest lines and stories, some of which might even help pirates gain insight into the fate of their lost parents. Because of this, players have the added benefit of creating additional characters to see how that character's role will play out differently from their original character. This alone will provide for hundreds of hours of gameplay.
Stone: Companions are key. For example, in Wizard101, the main collection quest in game was finding spells for your deck. In Pirate101 the main collection quest is finding companions for your crew. Success in combat often hinges on utilizing your companions with strategic efficiency to complement the pirate avatar's moves. Not only can they get the player out of a tight spot with a timely block or dodge, but it's really cool to watch a companion fly in the air for stunning melee attacks or cast a wicked energy bolt to finish an enemy mob.
Gordon: Yes, companion attacks add a lot of visual flare, and it's really exciting when you level up a companion to unveil his or her new powers and choose new talents. In addition to their pivotal role in combat, companions come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities, lending a lot of humor to the game as well. You can change which companion is your literal sidekick at any time while traversing the spiral, and it's really engaging to hear him or her chime in with commentary, insight, and wisecracks as events unfold on your particular adventure. Companions truly make every Pirate captain's journey unique. Mutinies? Not that we're aware of, but I guess mutinies aren't really announced, are they? :)
We're customization addicts. What options will we have for making our ships the envy of everyone in the high skies in Pirate101?
Stone: For starters, there are three different levels of ships with three different looks for each world of the Spiral (skiff, frigate, and galleon). That alone means you'll potentially be having a lot of ships in your own personal fleet. To add to this, there are a ton of unique figureheads, cannons, sails, rudders, ship wheels, horns, armor, and anchors to choose from. You want a shark head figurine on the front, with shiny golden cannons and a complex mast design? We got it! Out of all of these options, though, the ship armor and sails will affect your ship's look the most. The ship armor and sails for a Cool Ranch ship will look entirely different from the ship armor and sails for a Monquista ship.
To add to this layer of customization, at the beginning of the game we also let you choose a two-color ship emblem design from pages of possible designs. This emblem rests upon a separate two-color flag design of your choosing as well, and the options are quite varied. A dad's sails can sport a fearsome Black and White skull design, while his daughter's sails strike fear into her enemies' hearts with a pink and yellow dolphin of piracy.
One last question: Is there a plank, and can we make people walk it?
Gordon: We have a button we used to call the "Walk the Plank" button! In the end, we changed it to say "Eject Passengers" since there's infinitely less roleplay involved here; it's really just a way to boot unwanted stowaway visitors off your ship. However, if you want to tell your passengers you're making them walk the plank before you hit the button, more power to you, pirate!
We definitely will. Thanks so much for your time!