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February 26, 2014 / KingsIsle Entertainment

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 Prototype

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.

Take Two

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!

Josh Tigner
Lead Software Engineer


Leave a Comment
  1. Fair Ashley Holystone / Feb 26 2014 11:07 am

    …….Why did you put Pirates of the Caribbean music? Ha ha, off topic, my bad.
    It’s really hard to imagine that pirate101 looked like this before beta. It makes everything a little…I don’t know, childish? The sound affects were entertaining-like the bison bow making a pin sound, ha ha. I’m glad you didn’t keep it. It is a kid’s game, but some thing would have taken away that adventuring feeling we all have these days playing the game.

  2. James Perry / Feb 26 2014 12:27 pm

    I love the game set up itself but there are many issues with game statistics. When you boost or use damage reduce spells as a witch doctor attacks go down for witches and reduce damage makes opponents go up! The server does not recognize changes in statistics via spell or gear quick enough. Unless you pick privateer you do not get a full range of options in game as far as weapons and spells and gear. Their spells allow them to beat anyone because of full board team boosts and multitudes of healing and defense bubbles as well as team critical boosts. Witches until recently had little options, so thank you kindly Kings isle for remedying that. You should create a new epic spell wand though and give to witches for not having access to as many items! I also thought it was maybe time for our pets to evolve the second level of their epic ability.

  3. valzabrat / Feb 26 2014 1:13 pm

    Oh this is fascinating and I love seeing how you worked through all this. I knew all kinds of work went behind the scenes and it is a privilege to get to see some of it. I love the battle serifs by the way. They really looked fun.
    Thank you for sharing the journey towards the great game it now is. This pirate loves it.
    Blessings and giggles on all of ya.

  4. Lily / Feb 26 2014 5:56 pm

    huh. i did not know that there were so many prototypes before it went into Beta. i thought it was just one plan and pirate101 came out

  5. Emera / Feb 26 2014 6:00 pm

    cool! the only flaw to me in this game is the pvp system. it should be somewhat like wizard101’s pvp but in a pirate way so we can have more pvp matches at a time.

  6. Anne Radcliffe / Feb 26 2014 6:23 pm

    A fascinating and informative article — thank you very much!

  7. Abdullah / Feb 27 2014 5:55 am

    hello, i really liked pirate101 better then wizard101 and I WANTED to say that thanks 🙂

    • michael / Feb 27 2014 10:47 am

      Two completely different games..

    • wade / Feb 27 2014 3:17 pm

      well doh! i love PIRATE101 thank you kingsile you did it again!

    • Anonymous / Mar 1 2014 8:28 am

      I ABSOLUTLY like pirate better. And very facinating thanks.

  8. Anonymous / Feb 27 2014 10:53 am

    That seraph companion would be amazing, by the way! Thanks for the post 🙂

  9. Eric Rasmussen / Feb 27 2014 2:28 pm

    Pirate101 combat is so cool

  10. Musketeer Danielle / Feb 27 2014 3:04 pm

    So far I’ve had no problems, glitches, or anything on Pirate101 or Wizard101. I don’t count the appearing in random places thing as a glitch since it was the best funny thing ever!!! I love the games and I could see how much effort you put into both of them… Love the whole thing!!!

    ~Level 23 Musketeer: Danielle

  11. jenna / Feb 27 2014 5:27 pm


  12. witchdoctor connor / Feb 27 2014 7:40 pm

    sometimes it doesnt show the enemies and I get stuck in a fight and I cant get out of it.

  13. valencia / Feb 27 2014 8:16 pm

    i love pirate 101 everything in that game is awesome it is the best game ever i have ever played in my life it is way way way better than wizard 101 never delete that game even if it is like 100000000000 years

  14. Ian / Feb 28 2014 12:15 am

    This reminds me of a game I used to play called Heroes of Might and Magic… P.S. I actually like the concept of a defense mechanism.

    • ashley / Mar 1 2014 9:40 am

      this is very interesting, but i dont wanna be harsh but, when are you guys gonna make book 15?
      I love pirate101 and just wanna know

  15. Anonymous / Mar 1 2014 11:40 am

    there should be a special type that uses mostly summonings and can sacrifice them like in wizard 101

  16. Swshbuckeler Kaden / Mar 1 2014 12:47 pm

    I have played Heroes of Might and Magic before and it is a cool game and i love it, but Pirate101 and Wizard101 are a lot better! Thanks Kingslsle for the awesome games!

  17. Anonymous / Mar 1 2014 2:58 pm

    Love pirate101 and also love the combat system, really good addicting game!

    By a level 8 musketeer

  18. Lily / Mar 2 2014 12:25 pm

    I ❤ pirate101! It's the best game in the entire world PLEEEEASE do not get rid of it!!! Like a girl said IT IS SO-O-O much better than wizard101!!!

  19. Anonymous / Mar 8 2014 12:48 pm

    it would be better if you could make it so that if you have a gun and a sword weapon and had a choice between a ranged or meelee attack

  20. Cristian / Mar 14 2014 9:16 am

    Pirate101 and Wizard101 have a nice combat system, original and fun, although sometimes too slow. The animations make it even more interesting!

  21. Anonymous / Mar 17 2014 10:52 am

    thats so cool


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