Tuesday, July 13, 2010

GAMES: From Port Royale to Tortuga 2 - Sea Battles

Fellow Game Designer Daniel Dumont created Port Royale 1& 2 and the first Tortuga part. Now, his specialty was (and still is) creating very complex historical trade simulations, which only he can do (my deepest respect, Daniel!). Thus the concept of sea battles was one to be viewed from a God-like position and from the very distant.

Early press shot for Port Royale 2 (Design by Daniel Dumont)

Now, as I was asked to create the game design concept for Tortuga 2 - Pirate's Revenge (a midprice title announced for 2005 and which was released as Tortuga - Two Treasures in the end of 2007 as a triple-A-title). Anyway, I had a different approach as I come from action and fantasy. The first thing I did was bringing the camera closer, because I wanted to create a cinematic feeling like we knew from famous movies like Pirates of the Caribbean.

 Shot from Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
From this idea I developed a concept of three camera positions to provide overview and to experience the full and close sea battle feeling, which looked like this.

Official press shot for Tortuga 2 in 2005

And closer...
Official press shot for Tortuga 2 in 2005

Several things had to be done here. A skybox was needed and the water needed to be redesigned (we created four interferencing wave types to get an almost natural look). The game concept I had in mind was the answer to the question how do you navigate and fight at sea? 
The simple answer is: You drive in one direction, bring you ship about and THEN you fire to the sides. It's not like in a combat flight simulator, where you fire in the same direction where you are heading. With this pattern the whole team started a thrilling game design concept, where you implemented a lot of cool features like time-doistorted firering patterns of the gunnery crew. 
I remember our Lead QA say "This is the best sea battle ever created in this company!" Unfortunately some of the former department heads were pissed of by that statement and saw that completely differently. So they interfered in a way where one can only say "Love it (never!), change it (not possible without killing some jerk, which is illegal and therefore no option!), or leave it". Well, I decided to leave that company. 

The lesson to be learned for these guys was hard, because in the end they blew that title, doing too many redesigns with a number of good game designers on the cost of the title, the creativity and of the company: they broke after blewing SACRED 2 as well (because there they did the same)! 
The tragic thing is: Those department heads put a lot of good developers to the street, because of wrong decisions they made. So, the lessons to be learned are: 
  • You don't try to blew up a midprice title to AAA and get away with it.
  • You don't change the lead game designer who envisioned the concept, because you consider himan exchangable resource. There are guys for action and there are guys for sport games and for casual etc. You don't expect a good action movie from a documentary movie maker, either.
Well, what a bitter-sweet Pirate's Revenge that is...

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