[Pirates] Happy Caribbean Christmas!

Last night we went to see Tron Legacy (short review: pacey, exciting, great graphics, and light cycles have never looked this good – but disappointing in that it failed totally to build on the rather cool themes of the original story) and one of the trailers was for Pirates of the Caribbean 4. (A film about which I’m pretty excited because a) Geoffrey Rush upstaging Johnny Depp in every joint scene and b) it’s based on a goddamn Tim Powers book!)

And being in the piratical mindset, it seemed time to take a longer look at Pirates of the Burning Sea, which recently switched to a Free to Play/ Cash Shop basis. Arrrrr!

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Bloggers have claimed that you need to play an MMO intensively for several months to really get a good feel for it, and while there’s something in that, I also think that within 30 mins or so I should be able to get a sense of what a game is about. Pirates does a stunning job in that respect.

I’m never really sure what the ideal newbie experience should be like. Should it be a carefully scripted in media res storylike experience which draws you into your new character and the game world? Should it focus more on introducing you to the UI? Or is it enough if you just want to keep playing after the newbie quests are done?

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With the Pirates opening sequence, you first get to create your character. And this is one of the high points of the game, for me, because they tend to look absolutely stunning.

You can choose between British, French, Spanish, or Pirate as your faction of choice and then have a vast array of clothing options alongside the usual skin colour/ hairstyle/ facial hair (for guys) etc. I do love the clothing of this era and PotBS loves it just as much as I do.

After that, there’s a practice naval skirmish, controls of which will be familiar to anyone who played Sid Meier’s Pirates or Star Trek Online and a practice fencing bout which follows the more typical MMO model. Then a chance to explore the starting town, which is interrupted with another scripted sequence where you get  to use your newfound duelling and naval skills in anger.

And while exploring the town and talking to NPCs, I find that there’s a deep sandbox aspect to this MMO. Players can become Governers of towns, they can take part in a player based crafting and merchant economy (which, like EVE, requires you to travel between ports to access the best prices) and there seems to be a lively faction based PvP game as well. Also, if you are arty, you can design your own flags/ sails and upload them to your ship (they charge for this, which strikes me as reasonable).

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Whatever the locals do for Christmas, it clearly doesn’t involve going to the church, which was fairly empty. Instead, as I wandered into town, I ran into the local Christmas event in the shape of a drunk Irishman who inveigled my new captain into taking him round town to sing to some of the local people about burying a wren – apparently connected with his home traditions.

Pirates loves its lore with a deep and abiding passion that seeps into every part of the game. On the Christmas quest, I got to learn about how the Spanish, the French, and the English celebrated Christmas in the Caribbean in this era and it felt very solidly researched. There’s an attention to detail in this game which totally won me over.

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I was also totally bowled over by the sound track. As I wandered around town, the sounds reflected the area I was in. If I walked next to the chickens, I could hear them clucking. If I went to the fiddle player and dancers in a corner, I could hear the violin and the laughing. If I wandered closer to some gossiping women, I could HEAR what they were saying.

Not only that, but all the music is put together with period sensibilities in mind. The instruments sound authentic, so do the songs. It’s just a brilliant demonstration of how much sound can add to a game, without needing everything to be fully voiced, Bioware-style.

So although my game time at the moment is mostly taken by Cataclysm, this is definitely a game I intend to play for awhile longer. (So if anyone knows any friendly guilds on EU-timezones who can put up with newbies, feel free to note them in comments.) I can’t comment on play balance or how well all the various elements work, but there’s something very cool and different going on here, with a theme unlike anything else you’ll find in the genre.

The players on the general channels also seemed friendly and helpful, something which you often find on smaller games where players are more conscious that every new player who gets hooked is someone else for them to play with in future.

 

So if you are finding that WoW is a bit linear at the moment, and have any interest in pirates or historical sandbox type games, give this one a look.

Day One: San Diego Comic Con 2010

Zombies at Comic Con 2010

Three days with no sleep standing in line for the Tron panel ...

It’s been a crazy day and a half, since I’m rolling the preview night into this write-up. Preview night, for me, basically means having a look around the Exhibit Hall, meeting people I wanted to try and catch and getting the atmosphere soaked up before the real work starts. In other words, I didn’t go to watch the actual preview this year, which was the TV show Nikita. Not that interested.

We all got Warner bags this year with our registration stuff. They’re huge, and they have different designs on and people used to queue at the Warner booth for them, so it’s been nice this year to just have one handed over. My friend got Human Target and I got a Batman one, so I grabbed the Human Target one, while he engaged in a game of bag-trading that saw him work through Clash of the Titans, Batman, Scooby Doo, Chuck, Fringe and finally The Big Bang Theory. But I’m happy with my Human Target one. The Exhibit Hall is huge, it’s just huge. And it runs the gamut from comic artists and book publishers, to games companies, along with the obvious film and TV presence. And people queue. They queue for swag, they queue to buy exclusive items, and they queue for autographs. And I hate queuing! So I go pick up the easy swag on the first night and see what else I might want. I did score lots of goodies from publishers, including a copy of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones, and a bizarre book-related jigsaw. Also a Twilight iPhone cover.. hrrm, I shouldn’t mention that, right?

In all fairness, this year I wanted to check out games more, but they didn’t seem to all be ready to rock on preview night. So I might have to head back there. City of Heroes: Going Rogue had some terminals up, but no way to bag the in-game ghoul costume (and since I don’t play the game, in-game play didn’t really go it for me, but it looked pretty). DCUO was there (for the person who asked), but I didn’t check it out – they had lovely lanyards and my friend snagged one somehow.. we shall return. Then we went to see Super Hero Squad Online, as I’d promised to go hug the CM (long story, follow twitter ;p). My friend took the controls while we chatted and I have to say, I’m totally sold on it. Yes, it’s kiddie, but it’s gorgeous and the housing is honestly the most FUN MMO housing I’ve seen – complete with Hulk throwing sofas around the room to let off steam. So, that was a bit of a surprise to me, only because I’d never really considered it.

So we wandered, we got swag, we met friends from last year, and then we went to check if there was a line for Tron the next day. There was. And I’m a fool. So we took spots and settled in for a freezing night in a line. At least there was cover this year, as it rained. Also the Hilton sent us blankets, pillows and water. Was still freezing though!!! So let’s ignore the night in line, it’s not that interesting, but I had excellent company which helped.

And it was Thursday, the first full day of the con and I was near the front of the Hall H queue. First up was Megamind, a superhero/villain 3-D animated film starring Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and Jonah Hill, oh, and Brad Pitt. The first three showed up, with Ferrell in costume. I’m not a huge fan of any of them and they didn’t disappoint, I found it quite a stodgy panel, with nothing quite as funny as they wanted. But, and it’s a big but, the film looks awesome and fun and is definitely on my radar now (not least cos they gave us all watches!).

Next up was Tron: Legacy which was as awesome as expected. They showed 8 mins of footage, they showed the new trailer, the entire main cast were there and made interesting comments (the panel is almost certainly on YouTube by now, so honestly, I’m not going into details). They recorded us yelling De-Rez, and other terms and they’re hoping to insert it in the film, so whee, I might be in Tron: Legacy!! That’s a cool give-away and a half. But when they packed up to go early, it was obvious Disney had more in store for us. Firstly we got a 3-D Johnny Depp Pirates teaser trailer, the next one will be about Fountain of Youth, and he’s so great in character, again, I know the footage is online, so go seek!

Then, Guillermo Del Toro came out to reveal his next project is Haunted Mansion for Disney. And they’re rebooting it, forgetting Eddie Murphy ever existed and making it scary and cool. Hrrm. I’m not a massive Disney kid, Haunted Mansion to me was an ok ride in the theme park… so colour me a little disappointed that he left The Hobbit for this. But – the first 999 in the hall got a signed, numbered Haunted Mansion poster (signed by the artist), so yay for swag?!

We left the Hall post Tron and went to find food before heading back to pick up our Haunted Mansion swag. I had wanted to dash to the 38 Studios reveal, but frankly I hadn’t eaten in over 12h and I was HUNGRY. Got to see the Westboro Church protest and counter-protest and headed back to the Convention Center. I did manage to catch the last 15 mins of the panel, but mostly when they were wrapping up. Luckily they have the game’s website up now, so all the info will be there. There was a reason I headed to that room though, and that was for the other panel that was on my must-see list – a Quantum Leap retrospective. But first I saw through the Aqua Teen Hunger Force panel, which was frankly a little bit awkward. Still, it was over and people enjoyed it!

Then I settled down for an hour with Scott Bakula discussing the impact of Quantum Leap with someone from TV Guide. It started off with the show’s credit sequence which almost made me well up and then Bakula took to the stage. He got a standing ovation, which both surprised and pleased me, and I totally joined in. And it was just a magical hour of him speaking and clips from the show, including the final minutes of it. Shockingly, perhaps, he annouced that a Quantum Leap movie was ‘on’ again and that producers were getting on-board and it should all go ahead this time. He did say that he and Dean Stockwell would be in it, but not as the main characters anymore. I’m not surprised at that, but glad that the project is underway and they all seem to be happy about it and on board to star in it regardless of characters!

And then I went to see Dragon Age II…

((If you’d like to see another take on Day 1, Geeks are Sexy went to some of the same panels as Arb but also went to the Scott Pilgrim one instead of Quantum Leap.))