Last week we introduced you to a few early versions of Pirate101 combat as KingsIsle Lead Software Engineer Josh Tigner explained the steps taken to create the Pirate101 combat system you love today. Today we conclude this look into the journey combat took to become our current version!
Frame the Action
We needed to figure out how to frame combat to the player in a way that was exciting and engaging. Giving them complete control to swing around the board only caused issues, and we had no way to predict which angle players would be viewing the action. It would be too unpredictable to build areas or create animations without a clear guide about how they would need to be framed. This became the primary goal for the next iteration of Pirate101 combat. The camera became entirely automatic, ensuring that all players would have the same experience, similar to Wizard101. However, we had to account for issues that weren’t required in our previous title. Combatants were not in static locations, they were allowed to move around and face any direction. Projectile timings were not consistent because attack duration would vary depending on the distance from attacker to target.
Once the camera position was locked, it became obvious that selecting units was going to become a problem. Some units would be off screen, while small ones were unable to be seen behind large ones. We knew that the only direction we could go was up, so we continued to rotate the camera overhead, hoping to find a “sweet spot” that solved all of our view problems. We finally found it when we were pointed straight down!
The Good: This was great! The attack sequence was enjoyable to watch and you were able to truly appreciate the care that went into creating the animations and particle effects for each action. We had strict adherence to “The Line,” an invisible axis that prevents viewers from becoming disoriented when the perspective changes too drastically.
The Bad: The combat framing was ideal for watching the action. However, looking directly down at the world caused disorientation and didn’t feel right. You couldn’t easily discern between units that had similar visuals, and there was no easy way to see detailed information about the combat.
Planning goes 2D
We needed a way to present a unified view of the combat, and all the important information that gives players a sense of strategy. The answer was to create the first version of the Combat UI that is in use today. This would allow us to present the most amount of information with a cohesive feel.
The Good: Selecting companions was no longer a problem. Strategy was much easier to set up and perform. It was very easy to have a high level overview of the entire combat. You were able to feel engaged in the action and enjoy watching your army storm onto enemy ships like real Pirates.
The Bad: It needed a lot of polish, but most of our problems had been solved. For the first time, the list of “Good” outnumbered “Bad”!
A Final Note
Once we had completed the Look & Feel of the experience, that’s when the real fun began! We began adding layers onto the system. We added ‘Area Of Effect’ spell types like Radial, Line, and Wall. Next, we added Reflex Talents (First Strike, Riposte, Double Tap) and Auras (Hold The Line, Cheap Shot, Repel Boarders). The addition of “Bullet Time” gave the critical hits a great flair. We are constantly working to generate new ideas for the next power, talent, or strategy. We have some great updates that we have been working on for a few months and we can’t want to show them to you. The community has been instrumental in providing us with information about what you want to do and the types of skills you like to see. So, now it’s your turn. What is your favorite part of combat?
Lead Software Engineer
One of the systems that reviewers feel stands out the most in Pirate101 is the combat. Combat in Pirate101 has been described as “deceptively simple” and “really fun”, but it took years of iteration and changes to finally arrive at the experience that players have today.
All of our games start out with a prototype, which is a bare bones concept of what will be the primary game play mechanic. In Pirate101, just like Wizard101, our prototype was the combat system. A majority of players will spend their time engaged in combat, so we need to get it right. We knew that Wizard101 did this with its turn-based mechanic. It allows the game to be played at a slower pace, but still incorporates strategy that can be quickly understood. That first acknowledgment led us to thinking of ways we could manipulate the concept of Wizard101 and make it our own.
The first incarnation of combat in Pirate101 was heavily inspired by various turn based strategy games. After a few short weeks of brainstorming, we began a furious attempt at completing a prototype. There were 5 actions available to choose from: Attack, Move, Wait, Defend, and Power. ‘Attack’ & ‘Move’ is still very much the same as it was during this phase. ‘Wait’ would defer the unit’s turn without skipping them. The ‘Defend’ option would allow you to increase your companion’s armor rating during the opponent’s turn. This would minimize the amount of damage they would take with the trade-off being that they were unable to perform any other action for that turn. The ‘Power’ action would summon a giant meteor onto the enemies dealing massive damage, but you could only cast it once per combat.
The Good: We knew we had the start of something great. Sure, it was rough around the edges but we had fun playing it. Casting Meteor was fun. We only had that one spell, but it was exciting to watch!
The Bad: Not many things are perfect on the first attempt, and the Pirate101 prototype was no exception. There were lots of issues to work out. Because each unit is given an initiative value to determine when they are allowed to perform their action, it was not uncommon for the turn order to switch back and forth between teams often. This resulted in turns taking much longer than we liked. A heavily alternating turn order would result in the player having to re-evaluate the board and begin the decision making process all over. The “Defend” mechanic just wasn’t fun, either. Why would I choose not to do any damage? This just resulted in longer, more drawn out combats.
After several long meetings, and even longer emails, we had settled on revisions that should alleviate several of the problems we discovered in the Prototype. Teams would perform their actions all at once. This allowed the player to work out a complex strategy for their units without interruption. We also added player controlled camera rotation, improved the planning visualization, and added an official “Defend” stage.
The Good: Making all moves at once significantly sped up the experience. It also gave the player a better feeling of being “in charge” by dishing out a handful of orders at once. We began to discuss strategies around the office. How much should positioning matter? Should we gang up on the enemy or divide and conquer?
The Bad: It was difficult to see what was actually happening. It was not enjoyable to act as a crane operator so that you could watch the action. Selecting units in the 3D world wasn’t easy either. Small units would hide behind large ones. Enemy units would be completely surrounded and difficult to find. The “Defend” stage still didn’t work. Its days were numbered.
Stay tuned next week to see more iterations of the Pirate101 combat system and how it came to today’s gameplay!
Lead Software Engineer
It is pretty surreal to sit back sometimes and just look at how the computer gaming industry has evolved since I first played Pong so many moons ago (yep, I realized I just dated myself J). Games have grown from text based interactions and rudimentary pixel images to full blown immersive, interactive worlds. They have grown an industry from a relatively niche market to one larger than either the music or film industries. For many people, games have also become an important part of life. They are a way to interact with friends, compete against peers or relax with family.
It is to this last point that I would like to give a huge congratulation to The Syndicate (www.LLTS.org). The Syndicate just celebrated their eighteenth birthday last week and is the Guinness Book of World Records record holder for the longest running online gaming guild. It’s a pretty amazing feat if you think about how young the online gaming industry was 18 years ago. It is even more amazing when you realize there have been an estimated 66,000,000 online gaming guilds that have come and gone over these last 18 years.
While guilds haven’t been a part of KingsIsle properties, we have had the chance to work with members of The Syndicate and I have gotten to know a number of their members personally. It is an incredible group dedicated to the enjoyment of online games and in building friendships in a common passion. They had many members help early in the play testing of both Wizard101 and Pirate101 and provided great feedback. Perhaps most importantly, they have created a wonderful group that truly exemplifies their motto: “In friendship we conquer”.
My most sincere congratulations go out to Sean (aka “Dragons”) and all of The Syndicate members for your dedication to friends, to online gaming and having built something that has withstood the test of time.
Vice President of Marketing