Sid Meier's Pirates! Designer Diary #5

Sid Meier's Pirates! is finally done, so Firaxis lead animator Dennis Moellers sticks a fork in it.


A long time ago in a galaxy that is the exact same one we're in now, designer Sid Meier and a team of game developers created a computer game that many fans still consider to be a sentimental favorite. The original Pirates! let you play as a buccaneer during the Age of Sail, engaging in profiteering to become the most accomplished sea captain in the New World, which you could accomplish not only by exploring and trading, but also by participating in minigames, like sword duels with rival pirate captains that could potentially increase your reputation and wealth. The new game will reprise the classic game with all-new graphics and all-new minigames. And best of all, it's finally done. Now that development on the game is complete, lead animator Dennis Moellers shares his final thoughts on his side of the story--the game's character animations--as well as on the completed game itself.

Sid Meier's Pirates! is finally done.

Bringing Sid Meier's Pirates! to Life
By Dennis Moellers
Lead Animator, Firaxis Games

I'm thrilled to announce we have just completed development on the PC version of Sid Meier's Pirates!. As lead animator, part of my job was to create in-game animations that enhance Sid's amazing game design and help bring to life the incredible adventures and stories that are created when playing Pirates! My work with Pirates! began very early in the development process, where my job was to create some simple animations for the game prototype so that Sid and the team could quickly get a feel for which animations worked and which ones didn't. Once Sid was happy with the direction of the gameplay, we then needed to re-create and redesign the animations, but at a much greater quality. But before we embarked on the second series of animations, the entire team got together to set an animation style for the game. We knew Sid's game was not a gritty, shady world of outlaws but was instead a romantic, legendary world of beautiful seascapes and heroic characters. To match that atmosphere, we wanted characters that moved believably but had a fantastic, exaggerated sense to their movements. Characters that leaped would jump twice as high and float for a moment in the air. Dueling characters would swing their swords faster than humanly possible, they would slide down stair railings, and they would perform amazing flips to dodge enemies.

The game will feature exaggerated animations in keeping with its artistic style.
The game will feature exaggerated animations in keeping with its artistic style.

To accomplish this look and feel for the animations, we used a combination of techniques. In some cases, we created rough storyboards after acting out poses in our office mirrors. These storyboards would consist of exaggerated thumbnail-figure drawings for each main pose of an action. As we animated, we used these storyboards as guides. Other times, we filmed the actions with a digital video camera. This allowed us to base all the motions on real human motions, and it also allowed us to create a frame of reference that was much quicker and more efficient than drawing storyboards. We just used the video footage for reference, and then we exaggerated the videos to create the movements we wanted. Later, we designed the timing and breakdown of the animation without using the video. This approach prevented us from copying the footage frame by frame and ensured that we kept to our look and feel goals for the game. One of the techniques that really proved most effective was simply drawing on our individual experiences in art and animations, in addition to just going for the most spectacular animation we could envision. When no footage or drawings constrained us, we could go wild with the action! Many of these animations proved to be both the most fun in-game and the most fun to work on!

I recently played a final version of the game, and even after all these years of working on the project, I still enjoyed seeing my player character kick the enemy pirate through an upstairs tavern railing, jump 15 feet into the air, land next to the guy, pick him up, and tell him to fight! The whole Firaxis team feels that the animations in Sid Meier's Pirates! add a tremendous amount of extra fun to the game, and when you play it next week, we hope you feel the same way!

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