Q&A: Sea Dogs II
We talk with Akella's Renat Nezametdinov about the studio's upcoming pirate game.
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Moscow-based game developer Akella is working on a sequel to last year's pirate role-playing game, Sea Dogs. We had a chance to talk with Renat Nezametdinov, a game designer and scenario writer working on the project. In the interview, Nezametdinov explained some of the new features that will be included in the sequel, including the improvements to the role-playing system, the new game engine, and some new aspects of the sailing and combat systems.
GameSpot: To begin with, how long has Sea Dogs II been in development, and how many people are currently on the development team?
Renat Nezametdinov: The development of Sea Dogs II was started in January 2001. So, today it's four months. The team now includes 20 developers, but some of them joined the Sea Dogs II project after it was started.
GS: How will the gameplay differ from that of the original game? Will Sea Dogs II include the same combination of action, strategy, and role-playing that made the first game enjoyable?
RN: Yes, it will include all of what players can see now in Sea Dogs, but also we added a lot of new features, like adventures on land (as you remember, in Sea Dogs land was only a place where players could shop and talk, nothing more). Sea Dogs II is a mix of two independent game modes, each with its own gameplay. Now players can explore islands, fight with enemies using cold steel or firearms, and moor off the coast of any island in the archipelago. Islands are now huge fine landscapes that represent tropical jungles, sandy shores, or rocky mountains. Since towns are now realistically placed on islands, players can sneak into a hostile city to complete an unfinished quest or kill some important person.
In addition, a player now can blockade an island, and this will weaken the island's defenses, but the player takes the risk of meeting with a punitive squadron that was sent to save the island. Players will also be able to take captives and slaves and sell them for ransom and gold to improve their wealth.
Ah...about selling and buying--the economic system of Sea Dogs II is an enhanced version of the system from Sea Dogs, based on the imports and exports of each island. Because now players can build a squadron of four ships, they can sail really profitable voyages, storing goods in the holds of four ships.
Sea Dogs II also has a multiplayer aspect, including several game modes: deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the fort, and so on. Now the main disadvantage of Sea Dogs will be removed--players can face each other in large naval battles.
GS: Is Sea Dogs II an updated version of the first game, or does it include a different story or time period?
RN: Sea Dogs II is completely another game. The only part that it shares with Sea Dogs is the location where the action takes place. However, time has passed since Sea Dogs (Sea Dogs II takes place 30 years after Sea Dogs), and some new islands have been discovered and colonized.
GS: One of the complaints about the first game was that the different elements in the game--the action, strategy, and role-playing--were oversimplified. Are you adding more features and options to give each element more depth? Can you give us some specific examples of the new features and options that will be included?
RN: Yes, we are going to increase the depth of each element, but the elements still won't reach a depth that could scare away players because of game difficulty and baffling complexity--we will try to find a happy medium. An example of a new feature I can mention is the ability to create your own character for playing. Characters can now be male or female, and they can be customized with a character specialty that affects skills growth. Also, increasing the role-playing elements brought us to the decision to let players create a game party of up to four characters--now you can take your boatswain and quartermaster in a tavern and drink to your glory together. These characters will receive experience, and the player will manage their evolution.
There will be only one story line in Sea Dogs II, but it will be long and very detailed. Also, the story line doesn't depend on the player's flag and nation anymore. The game will also include a special system that will automatically generate quests and tasks for players. These quests don't affect the story line, but they let the player earn money and experience.
One improvement to the simulation elements will be two different ship sailing models: one for those who don't know anything about sails and wind, and another for hard-core sim fans who want to set and strike each sail manually.
GS: Is the development team making any technical improvements to the game engine?
RN: It would be better to say that game engine is completely redone. The STORM engine is good, but if you want to stay on top of graphical beauty, you need to upgrade the engine once per year. So, Sea Dogs II will use a scion of the STORM engine--STORM 2. The new engine will show players all that they can see in Sea Dogs, and much more. It will include various modern eye candies, supported by new graphic cards, true color textures, and--of course--more polygons per scene. The staggering graphical power of the STORM 2 game engine allows us to precisely imitate sea scenery, tropical landscapes, and colonial towns, as well as various weather and lighting effects. The quality of sea physics is raised to an unbelievable height--no one before has imitated the sea with such precision and reality. The STORM 2 also supports skeletal animation, so players won't see those clumsy moves from Sea Dogs anymore--all motion in Sea Dogs II is done using motion-capture.
In addition, the STORM 2 has a powerful network component. The multiplayer game will support up to 16 players via a LAN or the Internet. As the last word, the STORM 2 was developed for the PC and the Microsoft Xbox, and it can also be easily ported to the Sony PlayStation 2.
GS: What kinds of other new elements--like ships, characters, weapons, and environments--will be included in the game?
RN: Oh, it's difficult to single out all the new elements--the game is full of them. The game art will be redone, and the ships, islands, and towns will be much more beautiful than they were in Sea Dogs. I guess the difference between Sea Dogs and Sea Dogs II could be compared to difference between Quake and Quake II. Or Quake II and Quake III Arena. Or Doom and Quake III Arena. Sea Dogs II will include more than 50 various historically true ships that the player will control, six types of cannons to install onto these ships, 25 islands and 25 towns (five are completely new), 26 different goods, and more than 150 characters.
GS: How far along is the game right now?
RN: Well, a lot of things--game design, development plan, and so on--are complete. However, we still have a lot of work ahead. But we have a clear view of our target, and we're moving straight to it.
GS: What is the biggest challenge still facing the development team?
RN: Dates. Although the game design is complete and we already have work to do, when you see a wide variety of different options and features that could be added to the game, you need a very strong will to stop yourself from shouting: "Guys! I have a great idea! Let's put this and this in the game!" It's difficult because everybody wants to make the game better, but even a little added feature requires more work, and if you add too many features development could become eternal. The complete list of game features is already very large, and I think Sea Dogs II will be one of the most diverse games in the world.
GS: When can we expect to see the game in stores?
RN: It hardly could be said with confidence now, but players will see Sea Dogs II in the first half of 2002.
GS: Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
RN: What could be added here? Wish us to make a good game--not for profit, but for gamers!
GS: Thanks for your time, Renat.
For more information about Sea Dogs II, take a look at our previous coverage of the game.