June 21, 2004: Puzzle Pirates: ARRRR!
Well, mateys, I bethought me that ye might like to hear what's been a-eatin' of me brain these past watches . . .
It's Puzzle Pirates, a (massively) multiplayer online game from Three Rings. This is a first effort from a small group of experienced game creators who banded together to do something different. And boy howdy, they did.
I'm having a huge amount of fun with this game. Part of it, of course, is, well, it's pirates . . . and as all know, I'm a pirate fan. That was enough to get me to check it out, but it's not what's keeping me there. Yes, I am actually taking time every few nights to sail the Midnight Ocean. And while I am definitely learning from the experience . . . because they did SO many things RIGHT . . . let's face it, I wouldn't be there so much if I wasn't having a good time. (And it's not just me. I was not the first member of the SJ Games staff to join, nor the last.)
- The graphics are great. Cartoony but sophisticated, very pretty, with a huge variety of character appearances.
- No killing. In fact, you can't even injure another player's possessions except by plundering him on the high seas (which stings, but you don't lose much) or sinking his ship in a blockade (and if you don't want to risk your ship, it's easy to avoid blockades, though once I sailed with a captain who forgot, and that's my best sea story).
- The people are nice. Every experienced player that I have met has been (at least) polite and helpful. Many of them go hugely out of their way to help newcomers. (And the game is designed to REWARD those who help newcomers. Smart.)
- The puzzles are fun. I'm not a huge fan of puzzle-type games, but in context, these work. They're not too hard (okay, Navigation still eats my lunch, and my brain doesn't like Carpentry, but I'm good with the others) and they're not too easy. And they're darned clever. The Swordfighting puzzle has its roots in Tetris, for instance, but with a couple of brilliant twists.
- The puzzles work in the context of the game. You have to do certain puzzles to keep a ship moving; the Sailing, Bilging, and Carpentry puzzles all have to be done, all at once, and if you also have someone on Navigation you go faster. So you NEED to cooperate with other players. The metaphor for ship operations is brilliant; no, working the sailing puzzle is nothing like real sailing, but having several people all doing different things, all together, switching jobs when they need to, and all of it making that ship go . . . that is perfect. I am unspeakably impressed.
- The game's economy is complex and interesting. Pirates forage for (or pillage) raw materials, which are used to make a variety of goods, from the spiffy pirate duds you can buy to the ships ye use for yer pillagin'. Shops are player-owned; some shops produce materials that are only used by other shops. (An apothecary, for instance, makes dyes which are bought by weaveries. The weavery, in turn, makes regular and fine cloth which is bought by tailor shops, and sailcloth which is bought by shipyards.)
- There's lots to do ashore. When you want a break from the digital pillaging, you can socialize in the taverns (with the Drinking and Swordfighting puzzles), work at a job (with the Distilling puzzle), or get involved in the economy by buying a booth and trading commodities. There's also a high-level political metagame, with alliances between crews, battles for control of islands, and so on . . . but this doesn't touch the ordinary pirate unless he chooses to get involved.
All in all, they've got a great game here. I've privately recommended it to friends who are now having a great time. Now I'm recommending it to you all. The coolest thing is, you can get ten logons for free, and that's plenty of time to figure out if you like it. So check it out!
-- Steve Jackson