Disney Online recently launched its Pirates of the Caribbean Online game, a world based on the successful film franchise, for both PC and Mac platforms.
The pirate-themed world offers quests and adventures, customizable pirate avatars, treasure hunts, and lets players captain their own ship and crew with the aim of becoming the most legendary pirate.
Gamasutra sister site Worlds in Motion
spoke with vice president Mike Goslin of Disney Online's VR studio about the film extension process.
So far I've heard your current team be referred to as Internet Group, VR Group, and Virtual Studio -- could you tell me what the official title is, and explain what the team's purpose is?
Our internal development team, VR Studio, is part of Disney Online. We have a great team with a keen understanding of MMOGs as well as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise from our prior work with Walt Disney Imagineering. This team was also responsible for the development of Disney’s Toontown Online and will continue to play a big part in the creation of future Disney virtual worlds.
This is the first time that the Pirates of the Caribbean property has been made into a virtual world; could you describe the process that the studio has taken along the way to creating the new MMO?
Before we started building MMOGs, the VR Studio team worked on virtual reality theme park attractions. In 1999 we developed an attraction for DisneyQuest based on Pirates of the Caribbean that allowed players to sail around in that world sinking ships and gathering treasure. It was a lot of fun and had such strong appeal that when we later got into building MMOGs one of our first pitches was one based on Pirates.
We felt the online medium was a great new way to deliver the kind of experiences we’d been building for the theme parks. In 2000, we pitched the idea of multiple MMOGs, including Pirates of the Caribbean Online. This was before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but we knew from our DisneyQuest experience that the franchise was popular and that the environment would translate incredibly well into a game.
We were thrilled with the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2003 and immediately teamed up with the movie studio to weave characters, stories, creatures, and themes from the films into the game. We have shared everything from art assets to character storylines, and consulted with them during development. At the same time, we’re focused on building a world that can stand on its own with new stories, characters, and environments so fans of the movies can come into the game and live their own adventure.
What were the challenges in translating the Pirates world to a new medium?
Our biggest obstacle was trying to deliver an authentic Pirates of the Caribbean experience in that incredibly detailed and richly textured world while still running on a wide range of PC hardware.
I think the world we ended up with delivers an experience that lives up to the high standards of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The credit goes to our incredibly talented artists who did a lot with a little and our hard-working engineers who spent months and months tuning the engine.
What sort of development tools has the studio used to produce Pirates of the Caribbean Online?
We use a wide range of tools including both commercial modeling and animation software, paint tools, and so on as well as some applications we developed in house, such as our level design and editing tool.
Could you talk about the unique alternate subscription model that has been planned for Pirates of the Caribbean Online?
The game utilizes a hybrid business model, which allows players to scale their engagement. There is a free, ad-supported portion of the game and at any time players have the option to upgrade to an Unlimited Access subscription for a first-month fee of $4.95 and $9.95 for the following months.
The Unlimited Access subscription upgrade allows players to unlock expanded features and play in a full screen, completely ad-free environment. Within the ad-supported free portion, ads are in external frames around the game window only and not integrated directly into game play.
We really felt it was important to open the game up to as many players as possible, and this hybrid model really allows us to do that.
A "Lookout" system was implemented, which lets players quickly engage in game activities; would you explain how that feature works?
The Lookout system matches players with activities as well as other players. For example, if you want to find a game of Tortuga Hold-em, you can register with the Lookout system and it will match you with other players and tell you when the game is ready.
If you choose to join, you are teleported immediately to the card game so you can get right into the fun. We currently have the Lookout system hooked up to pirate-vs.-pirate (PVP) game types as well as card games.
The overall goal is to not make players walk around looking for something to do or for someone to play with.
What sort of user-generated content and network-building will be available in and around this title?
We allow players to create and run their own guilds, and have provided tools to manage guilds and other game stats via the web.
What lessons have been learned during the development process for Pirates of the Caribbean Online which will carry over into future MMO projects?
Here are some important lessons we learned from our experience developing Toontown Online and Pirates of the Caribbean Online that we will definitely carry over into future projects:
Make it easy for players to join their friends; make it easy for players to find and join fun activities; support as low a minimum spec PC as possible, and focus on making the game as fun as possible!
[This interview originally appeared on Gamasutra sister online worlds weblog Worlds In Motion.]