The Evolution of Pirate101 Combat Part 1
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