Avast ye unclean and uncouth, ye powdered and prim. Sayest I, both lowly wretch and most noble ranked, shalst findeth gaming food of gods herein. If thy fee lest stout of arm and girdest thine loins a merry adventure, not without peril hark you, layest ahead in these waters I shall unfold and reveal to thine eyes, those that have seenest them not. For thy small band of brothers that have sailed these waters, for many a year, I offer but a simple story, one more to the many you will knowest true in your hearts.
So on with it, cast off!
PotC + Build Mod 14 beta(beta patch 5)
Difficulty = swashbuckler
Setting = Nathaniel Hawk (main quest)
Advanced options = everything set to 'realism' where applicable.
A quick history:
I came to this game first on the xbox back in...what....2004? Something like that. I played it for quite a while, along with Morrowind (and Kotor) it was the highlight of gaming on that console platform for myself. Those three games were the only things on xbox I was interested in.
At that time my forum name was Child of Thor, and I stumbled one day upon the forums at pirates ahoy. I got involved in the discussion about PotC and saw the Build Mod effort going on there. Being just an xbox owner of the game was difficult. Despite that I pushed the design aspects of the simple game that was PotC and posted quite a few threads/posts about what I would love to see in the game, from Direct Sailing (after first finding out you couldn't do it in the original game, I did try and test that was the case for quite a while!) to simple suggestions to improve the feel and depth of the role play experience etc.
I guess all those posts are around somewhere. Anyway, I got distracted by other things, and in part the fact I only had the xbox version made me feel jealous of all the Build Mod goodness happening on the PC platform, so I ended up away doing other things, and PotC fell down my priority lists.
I came back a couple of years later, as Black Bart (I lost my old login details). I had a new PC able to run the game (I keep my hardware behind the tech curve!) and a copy of the Pirates of the Caribbean game for PC. I found the Build Mod 12 Full, and jumped in, spending a good few months trying it out, being amazed at how much better than the stock game on xbox it was. And I carried on trying to help where I could in improving the game, not as a real modder (don’t code, don’t model), but with testing and feedback and suggestions and some work on the dialogue files etc. Eventually real life got in the way and I had to turn my attention away.
Now it is 2011, and I come back to find not only Build Mod 13 Full finished, but Build Mod 14 nearly, really close to its probable first ‘Full’ build version. And I can now ‘Direct Sail’ (thank you CCC!) around a ‘real’ Caribbean map, with lots of historic accuracy to ships etc. Simply awesome. Anyway that is my quick history with the game, which leads to my first post about why this is still the best Age of Sail + rpg type game around.
The last week or so I’ve been rushing around the game trying to sort out the early dialogue issues, and I’m 95% happy with the half dozen files or so I’ve changed, things ‘read’ a little bit better in English now for sure, which gives a bit more polish to the game(important imho). And as this is all I’m semi-qualified to do (I’m really bad at spelling! So use word to check my files most of the time!), I’m happy to do it.
Anyway all this rushing around didn’t leave a lot of time for relaxing and simply playing the game, so I had not even tried out one of my requested features, that of ‘Direct Sailing’. After I had given my initial dialogue fixes to Pieter(for the next patch I guess?), I had a bit more time to get into the game, and I’m loving what I see. Sure we have a couple of major bugs, the ‘storm ships spinning left’ bug, and the ‘graphical clutter when masts get broken’ bug. But neither is a game breaker really, just odd and annoying.
I’ve got real Officers now, whom have an impact on how I interact with the game world, especially at sea onboard ship. I’ve got a much wider range of weapons and items of interest. I’ve got some of the best looking ships I’ve seen in a game of this type(some really incredible work by the modellers), and I’ve got a ‘realism’ mode that makes these ships handle much more like they would in real life. In short I have a real pirate/age-of-sail simulator to play around with. The guys that have been involved actually doing the work in making this mod, and Pieter in keeping it all together, well I take my hat off to you all.
So here is a tale of my first adventure into Direct Sailing:
I’ve made it to Port Royale and spoken with the governor, I’m currently level 4 at this point, having done a bit of exploration in the jungles of La Granada and Jamaica. Obviously my next task is to get back to Barbados and check what the French are up to in Speightstown.
My ship is 100%, my crew is happy, my Officers number around 6, and I have a cargo of Ale to sell on La Granada on the way back; maximising my profits being the order of the day.
The piratesahoy website and forums are down, so I figure I will spend the time in trying out Direct Sail. My task is to try to navigate from Port Royale to La Granada without going into the world map navigation screen. I have a ‘simple compass’ and a ‘common spyglass’ as the only navigational aids, and the most useful new map of the Caribbean that the game gives me from the start. I should be able to make it, but I really have no idea what to expect.
After the cargo of ale is loaded on ship, which fills the ‘Pegasus’ to capacity, and a quick visit to the tavern for a last pint of grog, the time is just past 8pm when I set sail from Port Royale. Now keep in mind I’ve not been long in these particular sea’s (hmm a little like the premise of Malcolm’s Tutorial really), I’ve not sailed around this new Caribbean map much, and certainly not in Direct Sailing mode.
I spend a few minutes looking over the map of the Caribbean, trying to line up the costal features out of Port Royale with the map and setting an extending line out towards La Granada, roughly south west it seems.
As I leave Port Royale(which takes about 30mins), I see a ship ahead of me, which is too far ahead to make out, and to my starboard, running parallel to my own heading, another Lugger roughly 300 yards away. They both are going in my direction, so I figure I must be on some kind of trade route, hopefully the one that leads to La Granada. I then gain EXP for most/all of my Officers.
There is now a faint moon illuminating the sea, and dusk has become early night; the odd star is visible in the sky……and it is x1 speed all the way to journey’s end. That is just the way I’ve always done Direct Sailing, even back on the xbox version of the stock game, where I first worked out you couldn’t Direct Sail in the stock game.
It’s the only way to get some flavour of the period of the Age of Sail imho, even if it is a gaming version of that. Imagine months, years sometimes at sea, fully at the mercy of tide and wind. Our ancestors were hardy people, brave and curious about the world, even with their limited technologies.
And this is why Direct Sail is so important a feature, it allows us to really follow in the wake of these ancestors and get a feel (just a feel mind you!) of their lives and their experiences. It puts us much more directly into their shoes. No ‘Fast Travel’/’Teleport’ option for men of little patience, no speed-boat velocities to break the believability of actual Age of Sail transport. And do not touch that x3 speed key! Keep it ‘real’, keep it ‘pirate’, keep it true and pay your respects.
Why? You may ask. Back to the story for the answer:
So I’ve been sailing for about an hour real time, the cliffs of Jamaica are slowly receding into the dark night horizon behind me. The other Lugger that was to my starboard is now dropping behind, and I slowly gain on that unknown ship ahead of me. In that hour I’ve navigated out of Port Royale, set my general ‘best guess’ direction, watched the view for a while and investigated the ships around me.
In about the 30mins ‘dead time’ of that hour; I’ve made a cup of tea (talking real life stuff here!), done some work, read a wiki entry about Bartholomew Roberts and started to write this entry. Think of it like the day-to-day routine on board an Age of Sail ship. It is only ever boring if you don’t behave like our sailing ancestors did. You do stuff, once your course is set, stuff about ship, stuff in the Captains Cabin (think of the scene from the movie ‘Master and Commander, where the ‘hero’ practices his instrument). You can simulate that around ‘Direct Sailing’.
Another 30mins goes by roughly, more EXP is gained by the crew (this does happen way too often in Direct Sail, as I’ll highlight later on), and I get a call that ‘grand tabac’ is up ahead. I look out for it, but with the fairly poor detail and magnification of the spyglass I never see it. I more or less keep on course and follow the ship ahead that I’ve slowly been making ground on. The Lugger behind me is really far away now. Another 15mins or so passes and I start to come by the ship I’ve been following, then I get a ‘transition’ load which I think takes me from one ‘cell’ to the next. It is now daytime and neither of the two ships I had been in convoy with are around (I guess this is one of the limits of the current Direct Sail mod?).
I sail onward, leaving my direction as it was, no land is visible anywhere and I feel quite alone and vulnerable in this wide open expanse of ocean. Another 15mins goes by, some more EXP is dished out to my Officers(I level up a few and myself), then I get a ‘Sail Ho!’ shout, the screen for that pops up and after a short load I get info that two strange ships are of my port bow(so the left front of the ship). I switch from the 3rd person view to first person and rush towards the bow of the ship, on the port side and have a look with my Spyglass. Yep – two ships but I can’t tell the nationality from here, but at least they do not have black sails (but could still be pirate’s maybe?) and they are heading in my general direction. They are kind of sailing north-east, while I’m heading south-west. We get closer, and I still can’t really see what nationality they are, a whitish flag is all I can tell, so could be anyone really. Then battle music starts and a couple of cannon ball hit the water on the port side. Who ever they are they don’t like me! As it transpires they turn out to be French, a larger merchant type vessel with a lot of guns (about 20 I estimate), accompanied by a smaller, and faster, Xebec.
We pass each other over the next ten minutes or so, they had been sailing very slowly due to the wind being against them, which is why I manage to slip by while avoiding their main broadsides. They turn about and slip behind me, the Xebec leading the chase. It is more than capable of overhauling my full to the brim Lugger, and starts to make ground while firing it’s forward cannon all the while. Luckily his cannon are not too accurate. I load chain and start the process of trying to damage his sails. My range of shot is not quite as good as his it seems, and in the general manoeuvrings that take place I accidentally forget about the larger ship, which remarkably has been keeping up! It turns and gets of one half broadside (the other half of cannon shoot well wide). I take some damage, mostly to my hull (thank god – I need my sail!), but I have planks and sail in the hold and repairs take place on some of the damage.
Still I’m going to have to be careful here. Over the next 30mins I manage to get a couple of shots on target and the Xebec starts to slow, to about the same speed as the merchant ship, it takes a while, another hour or so in which I get the occasional cannon ball to dodge, I work out I’m roughly travelling 1-2 knots quicker, the margins are that fine. After another 30mins the battle music stops and the normal sailing music takes over, but I am very aware that any slip up on my part and they are still following behind. I got a sensation of that wearing psychological effect of Age of Sail encounters, again the film ‘Master and Commander’ portrays that deadly day/weeks long chase and escape aspect, as does Direct Sailing mode.
IF I wanted I could enter the map navigation mode, but of course I don’t want to play with such arcade toys!
Another ‘cell’ loading event brings that particular encounter to an end; the seas are once more empty! I get more EXP for the Officers (some more levelling up) and then a message saying Bonaire is up ahead. I guess during the engagement with the French I drifted too far to the west, but that is difficult to tell in an empty sea with no points of reference! So I turn to the south as much as the wind will let me, it’s been blowing between south-south-west and west-south-west since leaving Port Royale, another amazing aspect of the mod, the changes in wind are much more consistent now, especially in the Direct Sailing mode.
Bonaire starts to fade into the distance behind me, I see about 5-6 ships far on the horizon heading in its direction, but I’m long past them and they would have a job of catching me if they so wanted, I doubt they even know I’m here in this small Lugger far to the south of them.
As Bonaire slips into the haze behind me I see a Fluyt of some kind ahead to port, I take it as a good sign I’m heading towards somewhere at least! The wind changes to blow in a westerly direction and I have to turn a little to south-west to keep a decent speed going (I can only tell from the amount of spray coming of the bow!). After another 30mins or so I get a ‘land ho!’ message and ahead of me I can see the murky outline of land. La Granada it must be, my destination for that hold full of Ale. Spirits feel like they lift, that foreboding of the unknown of the wide open sea is behind me and my crew.
Then I get a message something has been spotted in the water ahead – I look through the spyglass and see some ‘stuff’ floating. I have to tack around the wind, but eventually I head close to this cargo…and find 30t of planks! Great, I have just enough room and my carpenter can get back to work finishing off the repairs to my damaged hull.
Tacking, lots of tacking. I’ve come too far west and ended up on the north-west section of coast of La Granada. I have to turn into the wind and tack; aiming to get around the north eastern arm of the island, and then a clear run to port. It probably takes about an hour real time, and as I approach that arm of land that signals a turn to starboard, with the wind and port, I see about 6 ships of varying sizes. For a long while I have no idea if they are friend or foe, the spyglass is as usual not much use. Eventually I see English flags! It is quite a big convoy; it even has some class of battleship or large frigate to run escort duty.
I scan around to enjoy the view, and see two sails behind me, they have been coming from the direction I had been and have just come around the head land to be in full view. I notice dark looking sails, and then I notice battle music and cannon ball! Pirates! They are quick, gaining ground on my poor little Lugger, heavily over laden as she is. Some cannon balls hit the rear of the Pegasus, to add to the damage marks done by the French earlier. I decide rather than run for port, with the wind across my sails, and the reduction in speed that would cause; that I will run for the convoy and hope for the best. Will they come to my aid? Will they take on the Pirates and maybe allow my escape?
A tense 15 min journey with the Pirates right on my tail and I make it, and the convoy does indeed break to deal with the pirates. I slip of, exchanging a few cannonball as I go, and luckily for me the pirates are too engaged with the convoy to bother chasing me, or so it seems for another 15mins or so as I head towards port. Then the larger second pirate ship turns about and as it receives fire from the Fort, it follows me in to fire back. I hope they don’t decide to take shots in my direction, but the sounds of the Fort firing gives me comfort. Soon enough both pirate ships are sunk, and I am in port, able to moor and breathe a sigh of relief. That was fun!
Probably about 4-5 hours was the total time of the Direct Sail journey from Port Royale to La Granada, some time was lost at sea during poor navigation and on a good run it should take about 3 hours or so, maybe a little less for an experienced navigator?
My character is now level 6, and i have a 10 rated carpenter(repair skill) and Master at Arms(melee skill). EXP progression is very quick using Direct Sail, +1000 EXP is given out to all Officers about every 15mins, so that is my only concern at the moment, and i'm trying to find fix for this. It's true it levels out later as level gain gets harder, but still you rush through the early char levels which feels a little out of pace with the rest of the game.
Despite this, one thing is for sure, I seriously doubt I will ever, out of preference, use the map navigation sailing mode again. Direct Sailing is much more interesting!