Sid Meier's Pirates!
|a game by||Firaxis Games|
|User Rating:||7.7/10 - 6 votes|
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|See also:||Pirates Games, Civilization Games|
Who has never fantasized about sailing around the world in a ship as a pirate? Exploring different islands and stealing treasures? Well, Sid Meier has, and so do we. But Meier took it to the next level when back in 1987 he launched his first game simply called Pirates!.
But time passed and he launched a revision of the game in 1993. However, the version you should really check out is the 2004 remake of the game called Sid Meier's Pirates, so let's talk about that one
About the game
A young boy's family is taken away and later on murdered by an evil Spanish nobleman called Montalbán, as the years pass his thirst for revenge gets stronger. Now as a young adult, this hero sails away to the seas to try to avenge his family.
You end up becoming the captain, now you'll have to make a name as a pirate. You'll have to complete different tasks and missions to do this, level up your character, upgrade your ship and explore.
But what makes this game special is its gameplay. Customization is a key element in this title, as you can even choose your character's abilities and the crown you serve. These details will shape up little by little your adventure.
There are no straight lines in the sea, and it is the same with this game. You'll never have to follow just one path, but rather you'll end up making your own story. And if you play your cards well and a governor may even give you his daughter's hand in marriage after a dance. You even get to play the dance sequence in a Beatmania style.
Is it the same thing as the original game?
Not at all, but that's the short answer. So, what makes it different? All the mechanics are way more polished, keep in mind that this game came out almost 20 years after Pirates!. Not only that, the older title was more straightforward. Older games couldn't store as much information as we can in modern times. So a lot of things had to be cut down to be able to run the game.
New minigames were added, tons of new content, not to mention the new visuals and sound. The gameplay is completely updated. The older title didn't even have the main storyline available here. So you can say that it's more of a spiritual sequel than a remake.
Sid Meier rarely if ever disappoints, and this title is no exception to the norm. The mix of so many different game genres makes the game an addicting and fun experience. You'll want to keep on playing more every time you sit down. It certainly owes a lot to the original title, and it makes better something that was already amazing. An excellent game anyone should play
Graphics and Sound: The visuals are the main thing this game's lacking. They are not terrible, but even by the time of release, they looked outdated. It compensates with a nice art direction, and even with that, it leaves to be desired.
Gameplay: Every genre mixed in this game controls differently, and they are all easy to understand. So many missions, possibilities, and customization make it an amazing title.
Sound: The music is great too, remember that this comes from a time before the Pirate of the Caribbean movies came out. Things were different back then, and the best reference to any pirate-related content was Monkey Island. And while this soundtrack is still not at that level, it's still great.
Download Sid Meier's Pirates!
Sid Meier is a refreshingly modest fellow. Despite the praise heaped on him by pundits over the years - some of whom would have you believe he invented interactive gameplay as we know it - Meier is far more interested in citing his own influences than the countless imitators that came after.
So, just as it'd be impolite not to mention the impact games like Herzog Zwei, Utopia and Mega Lo Mania had on Command & Conquer and the early real-time strategy genre, Sid Meier feels that were it not for a long-forgotten game called The Seven Cities Of Gold, his 1987 swashbuckling simulation' Pirates! would never have existed.
Released in 1984 for the Atari 800 and Commodore 64, Seven Cities was a seminal influence on the Baltimore developer. Up until Pirates!, he was becoming something of a career military specialist, having worked on such simulations and war-themed strategy games as Silent Service, F-15 Strike Eagle and Gunship, perhaps the best simulation of the entire decade. Having achieved a certain amount of success with these titles however, Meier was eager to explore new themes, and Seven Cities provided him a key to unlocking new avenues of gameplay.
That game had the biggest influence on the design of Pirates!," says Meier. It showed it was fun to explore, discover and be part of a grand historical world. Seven Cities casts you as an explorer, sent to colonise and conquer the New World - but unlike so many other games with an appreciation of history, it was no overburdened simulation. Instead, it offered a level of accessibility and charm uncharacteristic of the time, and brought with it a number of small gameplay innovations that, though crude, remain largely unexplored to this day.
(As an historical aside, Meier was so enamoured with the game that he later managed to coax its creator, Dan Bunten, away from EA to work at Microprose, where Meier was co-founder. Among his new colleagues, Bunten was keen to develop Civilization, yet stood aside for Meier, and so it was he who cemented his status as a legendary game designer. Bunten is sadly no longer with us, but you can't help but wonder how different Civ might have been if he'd headed the project...)
With his efforts on Gunship complete and having finished designing the third in the respected Command' series, Conflict In Vietnam, Meier had already begun work on Pirates! during 1986. However, his interest in the subject and the desire to develop a game set during the buccaneering days of New World expansion was ignited long before.
I've always been intrigued by pirates, he says. As a kid, I'd read books about pirates and play pirate games, so it was kind of a dream come true to design my very own pirate game. I wanted Pirates! to be a game where you could make your own story and live your own unique pirate adventure each time you played. Of course, since I'd spent so much time as a kid learning about pirates, the research was already done. The challenge was finding a way to deliver the experience to players that I'd always envisioned. "To do that, the game had to be open-ended and involve lots of different gameplay elements, from strategy to adventure to action to role-playing. I wanted to make a game that would give players a chance to be a true pirate hero - living the adventurous life of a pirate in the 17th century Caribbean."
Meier continues: "What we had in mind was a version of a classic adventure. There were loads of adventure games back then, and in most of them you had to type in commands letter-by-letter. We wanted a game that had the same kind of depth, but which felt more like a movie, where you go from scene to scene. The important thing is that, back then, games didn't have to fit in with a genre - it didn't have to be a first-person shooter or an RTS. All these elements - action, strategy, combat, trading - would seamlessly fit together to tell a story, whether you wanted to become a famous pirate, find treasure or make money."
Finding the right team to help bring his vision to life wasn't difficult. Meier's list of previous collaborators was without equal, and his role as co-founder of Microprose meant he could pick from a list of prodigious talent, among them Michael Haire who'd worked on Gunship and would later create grapnics for Civ, Civ II and Alpha Centauri.
We had a great group of talented folks already in place at Microprose, he agrees. As a matter of fact, my current partner at Firaxis, Jeff Briggs, and a number of our artists worked on the original Pirates! with me, so it's great to be working with them again on the new game.
For Meier, getting the team he wanted was key to the success of Pirates!, as his approach to game design is more collaborative and open than most. 'As with all of the games I create, the design of Pirates! was bom through an iterative prototyping process, he explains. I started with a playable prototype and then we played and improved, played and improved, until we'd made a game that we thought was really fun.
The great thing about this approach is that we constantly tested, balanced and changed things as we went, so in the end we made the game we intended to make. This process took about a year for the original Pirates! - it worked well, so we're using the process again for the development of the new edition. Of course, the process takes a little longer these days.
And while some developers would baulk at Meier's organic development style, there's no faulting the results. Not only is Pirates! a classic game, but its development was famously easy going as well. And as you can tell from his continued efforts to update the game, Meier's regrets are technology-related and not to do with gameplay.
Clearly, we didn't have the graphics technology we have today, so I had to rely on the player's imagination to bring the gameplay to life visually, he says. My philosophy has always been to create a great gameplay experience regardless of the technology available at the time. The gameplay always comes first. As for the game itself, I was able to make the game I'd hoped to make."
Like so many of Meier's early games, Pirates! made its debut on the ubiquitous Commodore 64, despite the increasing prominence of the 16-bit machines. Versions for the Apple and PC appeared almost immediately thereafter, but it wasn't until 1989 that the ST and Amiga received 16-bit conversions.
The Apple version was a straight port and I worked with another programmer on the project to produce it," explains Meier. Other versions had separate development teams and I worked with them too. However, at that time, during 1986-87, there was a very small installed base for the ST and Amiga, so the fact that the game did very well on pretty much every available platform was exciting. Each platform was quite different and offered something unique.
For instance, the Amiga offered enhanced graphics and sound, along with the chance to change the control scheme by using the mouse predominantly. I think Pirates! was a fun game on all of the platforms it was eventually released on, but the C64 version was the one we developed first and it was definitely my favourite."
Going For Gold
As the final weeks of testing and balancing approached, Meier began to allow others access to the code. The feedback within Microprose was unanimous.
People were definitely excited about Pirates!. I think it offered a totally unique experience for gamers and had something for everyone. Then the magazine reviews came in and they were very positive - we received some great honours and awards. I'm never quite sure how games will sell, but we knew Pirates! was very unique and lots of fun, and we hoped people would enjoy playing it for a long time. I'm happy we were able to deliver such a fun experience to players."
The Pirates! story didn't end there, of course. In 1993, after Civilization was complete, Meier went back to his old code and gave it a graphical makeover. The Gold version was meant to be the ultimate PC version of the game, taking advantage of all those powerful 486 computers. It was also designed to work with a new operating system called Windows (3.1). As I said, I've always been most fond of the original C64 version, but I did get a bit of inspiration from Pirates! Gold, as well as some artwork to get my prototype rolling for the 2004 edition."
Of course, Sid Meier has come a long way in the 17 years since the original Pirates! set sail. Three Civ games have come and gone - four if you include Alpha Centauri. Then we've had Railroad Tycoon, Colonization and a number of impressive strategy games. In-between them all, Meier has continually helped out with other projects, The Sims, M1 Tank Platoon and Age of Mythology among them. Perhaps this is why a true Pirates! sequel has been so long in coming. I'd been thinking about making another Pirates! for some time, but I've also been a bit busy making other games, Meier says. "Pirates! was always a game I'd planned to revisit however, and it's only now that I think we can deliver an incredible visual experience to complement what has, over the years, proved to be an incredible gameplay experience.
Meier is clearly excited by his new venture - but how does the veteran developer view the original game today? Did it change the world of gaming for the better? Well, Pirates! broke some new ground in the early days of the gaming industry, certainly," he says, almost reluctantly. It's also had a positive influence on some games that've been created since then, but the main thing is that people enjoyed it and still hold fond memories of the game - and that's the greatest compliment."
Ask a veteran of gaming's 'Golden Age' what his or her favourite game is and there's a very good chance, especially if their formative years were spent in the company of a Commodore 64, that they'll immediately bark out the original 1987 version of Sid Meier's Pirates! If you were then to retort with the 1993 'Gold' version that was updated to run on the emergent PC format, they'll more than likely sneer, muttering something about it losing the purity of the superior, if rubbishlooking, original.
One wonders then what the old guard will make of this 2004 edition, which could justifiably be called Pirates! Platinum, because, as Gold was to the original, so this new Sid Meier's Pirates! is much the same game, only dressed to impress on far more capable machines. The essential question is, underneath the 21st Century graphics, does the 17th Century gameplay still hold water? The answer is a very definite "Yo-ho-ho." The story and setting will be unnervingly familiar to anyone who's played Pirates! or any of the many stuffy derivatives that have appeared since. You begin, as ever, as a young buck with salt water running through the veins and dreams of finding fame and a fortune across the bright and breezy seas of the Caribbean. And if on your travels you manage to discover the whereabouts of your extended family, who've been so cruelly abducted by the most villainous pirate afloat, all the better.
Down The Docks
Predictably, you begin the game in port and are immediately struck by the game's jaunty simplicity, for rather than having to run around a vast 3D set of ramshackle houses, each settlement is navigated via a simple menu. Together with the jolly shanties that play out in the background, the mood is set for a fun and frivolous adventure.
Of course with a menu before you it would be rude not to explore all the options, and so, after paying a visit to the shipwright (who'll repair and upgrade your ship) and the trader (who'll happily exchange coin for all the goods you steal), it's off to sample the local ale at the tavern. Here, rumours of passing treasure ships can be heard, extra crew hired, and later, when you've a tidy sum rattling about in your hold, you can pick up treasure maps and other assorted trinkets from the creepy guy at the back.
Prior to setting sail it's always worth popping round to the local governor's mansion, where you'll be able to obtain a Letter of Marque - official authorisation to plunder the ships of the enemy. More importantly, the governor's home is also that of his daughter, who as governor's daughters are prone, like nothing better than to swoon when hearing about your tales of derring-do. Needless to say every port has a governor with a luscious daughter, so should you place higher priority on emotional rather than financial matters, it's quite possible to impress them all.
On leaving port the view switches to a 3D isometric map view of the Caribbean, and while the geography is generally accurate, that's pretty much where the realism ends. Controlling your ship is as easy as navigating a soap-dish in a bath. Left and right cursor keys steer while up and down change your speed from full sails to what in another ship and another universe would be half-impulse power. And so, after slicing through the sea for a few seconds appreciating the comical but satisfying speed and manoeuvrability on your vessel, it's off to explore, or fight, or trade, or do whatever you want to do. Fight mostly, because it's by far the easiest and most fun way to make money and it's the only way you're ever going to impress the land-locked ladies waiting for you in every port.
Although the ship battles are simple affairs, they are also wonderfully multifaceted. Movement is, as before, simple and arcade-like (if you remember an obscure Psygnosis game called Overboard you'll know what to expect), but of course in order to hit each other ships must present their widest profile to fire, and their narrowest to avoid being hit, with the resultant movement being not dissimilar to a couple of spoons fighting to stir tea. Granted, the sea battles may appear dumbed-down in comparison to dedicated sailing sims, but they are surprisingly tactical. Not only are firepower, speed and manoeuvrability important, but so too are your crew - the more men on board. the faster your cannons are eloaded. Also, if you have a larger crew you're more equipped to board your opponent's vessel when victory is assured, rather than sink it. You should board wherever possible of course. Sinking is so wasteful.
Ultimately, unless you've taken the time to carefully eliminate a ship's capacity to fight back or run away, the only way to capture it and the treasures below-deck is to duel the enemy captain. When you board an enemy ship (by ramming it) the view then switches to a toe-to-toe encounter with swords out and frilly shirts flapping in the salty breeze.
While the screenshots may suggest otherwise, sword combat is as intuitive and arcade-like as the battles between ships. Essentially a kind of tug-of-war, the aim is to force your opponent into the sea, each successful blow landed literally taking them one step closer to the edge of the ship. Of course the enemy is trying to sweep you away too, so by studying posture, it becomes easy to predict his next move and prepare a fitting counter.
However, the longer you take, the more crew members are killed, and if you end up being the last man standing, combat can become decidedly difficult. Lose the battle and a cold dark cell awaits (from which it is possible to escape, of course). Victory on the other hand brings you gold, goods and perhaps, if you haven't knackered it too badly, a brand new ship, should you wish to transfer your flag of command.
Whatever the outcome of battle, ships need repairing, sailors need food and. after a lengthy voyage particularly, crews can become mutinous to the point where the only way to quell them is to divvy up the coin and take a break. If your crew does rebel against your cruel reign however. Pirates! at least gives you a chance by handing you a small percentage of the takings and a skeleton crew - in a sense dividing up the booty. While this puts you back towards the beginning of the game and could be seen as an unwarranted frustration, it actually adds to' the urge to get back on your feet and prove those mutinous sea dogs wrong.
Returning to port has other benefits too. Swing by the Governor's residence and you may be in line for promotion, which is sure to impress his daughter, leading to an invitation to the ball and one of Pirates! more devilish games of combat - dancing. Fittingly these scenes play out much like the fencing, for as the music plays your partner offers a flick of the wrist as subtle clues as to what move to make. As the dance progresses it can be tricky to pull off a sequence of moves without stumbling and blowing your chances of getting a shag. Pull off an impressive trot however and she'll giggle with delight, heart pumping with barely concealed lust, and when the dance is over she'll whisk you to the servants' quarters and ride you like a stallion. Or at least that's what I thought would happen when after one particularly lustful waltz I was offered a 'Dutch Rutter'.
Snake In The Grass
Pirates! is a wonderfully engaging and accessible experience. The setting is vibrant, the characters are full of humour and the gameplay is bursting with variety. The freeform play (now lazily referred to as "GTA-style") links in with each section remarkably well, and although there are areas that lack excitement and challenge, the time spent in them is so short and the game moves on to something new so quickly that Pirates!' less than impressive features are happily overlooked.
One such dodgy gameplay section happens if you wish to enter a French port that's hostile to you (because you've been mercilessly preying on Gallic frigates). You have to sneak in, at which point the gameplay goes all Metal Gear and you have to avoid the guards and sneak around the maze-like streets. Clearly the adventures of Solid Snake were the inspiration, but in reality these sojourns play more like Pac-Man (slowed to a crawl and without the pills) and are only mildly amusing at best.
However, this brief dip into mediocrity aside, Pirates! is a game that's difficult to resist. Luke its predecessor, Sid Meier's game effortlessly takes the best of every style of gaming and mixes it into a consistent and enduringly charming whole. Certainly there are games with more strategy, and others with more action, but few, if any, can claim to be as breathlessly easy to enjoy. Little wonder that underneath the plush graphics so little has changed in Pirates! -it simply didn't need to.
We Might Sound Like A Broken Record, But...
K's an obvious flaw that will no doubt be receiving some love via the inevitable add-on, but Pirates! is a game screaming for some multiplayer action. At the very least there should have been some kind of deathmatch or capture the flag arena, where players could control single ships in battle. It may have seemed a trivial addition to make, but it would have been a great deal of fun. As competent as the Al is, out of all the battles in the game, the ship-to-ship assaults are the easiest to win.
Mounting A Shore Raid Is A Pleasure For Today's Buccaneers
If there was one aspect of the original Pirates! that was decidedly dodgy, it was the part of the game where you attacked settlements from the land. Today, having had a ton of real-time strategy games for inspiration, Sid Meier's all-new Pirates! has it sorted. Now, when you send a landing party ashore to attack a village from behind, you're treated to a far more interesting view. It's nowhere near the sophistication of the Total War series, or even C&C (in fact it plays more like North & South, if you remember that), but the 3D view is a welcome one, with cannonballs flying and swords flashing. Needless to say, taking a heavily fortified town is probably one of the most challenging parts of the game, but offers one of the greatest rewards for victory, bringing much coinage and the ability to decide who to install as the new governor.
Despite more modern attempts to outdo him, Errol Flynn remains the archetypal matinee action idol, immortalised in such classics as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. He was, is, and forever will be, the ultimate swashbuckling hero, despite his dubious off-screen behaviour. (He famously once said: "I can't reconcile my gross habits with my net income.")
Likewise, Sid Meier's original 'action sim' Pirates! is a classic from a bygone and simpler age, one that remains as playable today as Flynn's early high seas adventures are watchable. The difference between them (apart from a few lifestyle choices) is that Meier is very much alive, meaning that after much cajoling from fans, an all-new-and-improved Pirates! is setting course for a return to our monitors. And about time too - the last 17 years have seen some depressingly average imitators make sail for glory and sink without trace soon after leaving port.
Lock Up Your Daughter
In this increasingly genre-obsessed world, it's worth noting that Pirates! is something of an anomaly: it's neither straight-up action, nor strategy or RPG, nor, in the traditional sense, an adventure. Rather, it takes elements of them all and is essentially a series of mini-games bound within a plot-your-own storyline. All the action is based in the 17th century Caribbean, where the major colonial powers of England, Holland, Spain and France are vying for a share of the region's wealth.
Rather than going all-out to realistically simulate the sailing ships and strategy of the era (as you might otherwise expect from a Sid Meier game), Pirates! remains in essence much like its ancient arcade-orientated forebear. Apart from the gloriously-staged sword-fights, spirited sea battles, the governor's daughter swooning at your dashing good looks and the odd hornpipe or two. All the basics of a classic Flynn movie in fact, only in videogame form.
Grapeshot Of Wrath
You start the game in a friendly port, with a basic ship and a skeleton crew. What you do next is up to you: stick around and visit the local hostelry and you may hear rumours of passing ships ripe for plunder, or swing by the governor's residence and you may be presented with a mission to ferry goods to a nearby outpost or vanquish an enemy ship sighted offshore. Fulfil the mission and your footing with that faction increases, which if siding with the English, is likely to be to the detriment of your status with the Spanish. Of course, you can betray your allies at any time, switch sides or simply go jolly-rogering and attack everything afloat on the high seas.
Ship-to-ship combat in Pirates! appears rather simplistic at first hand. The wind direction and strength dictates ship speed, leaving you to control the rudder and press the fire button whenever your prey swims into range. Despite such an apparent lack of complexity, watching a ship duel reveals a delicate balancing act of trying to ensure the wind fills your sails to effect the necessary speed, all the while leading your cannons to pound the enemy ship. Problem is, by striking a parallel course, you leave your vessel open to similar volleys. With 27 types of vessel all distinct in speed, crew and firepower, Pirates! may well be an easy game to learn, but it's tricky to master.
However, the biggest change and by some margin the most obvious is the graphical update to the sword-fighting sections which kick in whenever you attempt to board an enemy ship. Here, you take on the enemy captain, and although he may be an excellent swordsman, if you've decimated his crew beforehand, the fight is much easier. Beat him back to the abaft of his poop deck and he keels over into the water, leaving his ship, its crew and cargo yours for the taking.
Apart from the obvious beat 'em up fun to be had (with various combo moves to perfect), the animation during such fights appears wonderfully directed. Foils whisk the air and sabres clash as limbs counterbalance the artistic flurry on-screen, with all the combatants parrying and thrusting across detailed backdrops. There's very little freedom of movement since the duels take place on an axis rather than a 3D plane, which may upset Tekken die-hards, but the cinematic effect more than makes up for it.
Solid Sea Snake
Despite sticking to the same 17-year-old formula, Meier and his team have made sure there's plenty for fans who're still alive since the first game set sail. Land your crew and the focus switches to a RTS-style view, where you can direct various units C&C-style as you launch a sneaky assault on a port.
Or, if you prefer to slip into town stealthily, the game switches to a distant third-person view reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid with gameplay to match. Creep ashore during the day and you must find a disguise and avoid the crowds as they go about their business; sneak in after sundown and instead you must stick to the shadows and avoid the torch glare of the night watchmen. If you're caught, it's the clink. There are other new features too, like being able to upgrade your fleet of ships (up to a total of eight) and man them with specialist crew. These can be surgeons who heal the sick and wounded, sailmakers and carpenters who effect repairs while at sea or cooks with the ability to stave off a potential mutiny by adding shelf life to the rancid limes rolling about your empty cargo hold.
Having had a sneak preview, we reckon that Sid Meier's got the balance just right between staying true to his original vision and offering enough new features for today's gamers. Come the release date, it should be interesting to see how successful the game eventually is because it's so very different to what us genre-led PC players are used to playing. However, that's a problem for the marketing minds - we're more interested in the finished product, which is set to be another Sid Meier-sterpiece. It may be too late to revive Errol Flynn's Hollywood standing, but after the disappointing SimGolf, Pirates! looks to be a welcome return to form for Cap'n Sid, one of the most respected PC developers still afloat.
With The Third exhausting Pirates Of The Caribbean movie currently playing at your local cineplex, you may be in the mood for a bit of pillaging, treasurehunting and "Ha-haaar"-ing.
Sid Meier's Pirates! is a 2004 3D remake of the famous developer's 1987 game, where you can live the life of a Caribbean sea captain, enjoying daring ship-to-ship battles, trading, pilfering, swordfighting and dancing - the latter to woo rich Governors' daughters for a girl in every port.
Pirates! has a decent plot, involving you seeking family revenge on the Spanish nobleman Montalban, but you're able to take on any quests in any order - the freedom to express yourself how you like in the gameworld being one of this and the original game's major plus points. The stealth-lite sneaky bits around town are a bit rubbish, but I'm being picky - this grog-fuelled classic is still worth spending your pieces of eight on.