There was a time in history in which exploration fueled many. The prospect of venturing into the unknown to claim new territory or uncover abundant treasures was one that captivated people across the world. More often than not these desires resulted in fruitless quests, while others changed the course of history.
Usually, the key to accomplishing such notoriety was assembling a crew and embarking on a massive sea vessel with only the ocean, wind, and one’s instincts to guide them. For those who want a taste of what it was like to be a true adventurer, Abandon Ship from Fireblade Software delivers such a thing.
INSPIRED BY THE PAST AND FUTURE
Despite the trends that occur in pop culture, not many games have taken advantage of the pirate/sea fairing genre. A few games in the past have examined such a thing, such as Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, but it’s often a mixture of game elements. Rather than combine outside action with occasional ship combat, Abandon Ship places players firmly in the role of a captain as they search the unknown to see what awaits.
“I always loved FTL and believe it to be one of the best-designed games ever,” Abandon Ship creator Gary Burchell stated. “I was so into that game that I was desperate to experience more of it in an expanded form, but nothing else came close.”
With a fondness for the space travel of FTL, Gary looked towards another passion of his – naval history. Along with working near the historic Portsmouth Harbour, the concept pushed forward within Gary’s mind to create a game unlike anything else.
“I couldn’t quite believe somebody hadn’t married the ship and crew management mechanics of a game like FTL with an Age of Sail setting. I’d reached a point in my career where I could have happily continued being an Executive Producer, but I was making other people’s games. I got into this industry because I wanted to make my games. So I decided to stop thinking about doing it, and do it.”
A PROPER TONE
An element of Abandon Ship which Gary wanted to present was a harshness to the world. Striving for a more grounded tone, Abandon Ship presents a level of grittiness that depicts what sea exploration was like in the 18th century; a hardship.
Players have to make hard decisions constantly which affect both them and their selected crew. Battles are arduous and strategy is paramount. Speaking of the design pillars, Gary said, “This is something I summarized as ‘Surviving on the Edge’, what I mean by that is life in this world is hard. Death can come quick and is permanent. So the tone needed to feel appropriate to those core pillars. Abandon Ship is certainly not a jaunty pirate’s tale.”
“This is partially where the inspiration for the classic oil-on-canvas Naval-Painting art style came from. Those paintings from artists like Turner, Ivan Aivazovsky, Willem Velde, James Wilson Carmichael and Ebenezer Colls were not just a great thematic fit; they contain drama and tension which make them a perfect tonal fit as well.”
With a tonal focus, Gary likens Abandon Ship more in-line with “Master & Commander” than the fantasy-laden approach of “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Abandon Ship will test both the skill and emotional capacity of players in an experience which won’t be easy.
Abandon Ship is striving for a tone which is harsh and dramatic; essentially being accurate to the era. Despite this, Abandon Ship isn’t an 18th-century naval sim.
Injecting small elements of fantasy into the game, Gary and his colleagues are making sure that they deliver a fun game. “For the team, the priority is always Gameplay First. That was partially why the game was set in a grounded-fantasy world. We didn’t want to be restricted from including fun and interesting gameplay mechanics because they weren’t historically accurate. As long as they feel appropriate for the technology of the 1700’s or 1800’s and on tone for the game of course.”
This melding of reality and fantasy does include elements which play to the maritime myths of old. On the topic of what may lurk in the sea, Gary said, “I don’t want to spoil too much of this because we will be revealing more on that in due course. But yes, I can confirm that there will be battles (note the plural usage there!) with big sea monsters.”
A TOUGH JOB
Instead of embarking on stealth missions, Abandon Ship puts players directly in the shoes of a captain. In this role, players will have to both protect and maintain their ship as it’s more than a vehicle – it’s their home and salvation.
As a captain, things won’t always be easy. Besides trying to find riches, players will have to make decisions in which the negatives may outweigh the positives.
“You make choices along your journey; maybe you decide not to help that sinking ship? If the crew from that ship survives they may appear in a later event and get payback,” Gary said. “Equally, if you go around helping people in distress there’s a chance those people might pop up later to help you when you need it.
Being a captain in Abandon Ship may result in failure at times. Though the instances in which things go awry, the game won’t suddenly shift to a “Game Over” screen. Instead, players have the option to break the maritime tradition of the captain going down with the ship.
When a player’s ship is on the brink of destruction the option is available to escape on a lifeboat. “If the player ends up in the Lifeboat, or alone in the water then the gameplay shifts. It becomes about surviving for long enough to either make it back to port or be rescued,” elaborated Gary. “Unique events happen in these modes that suitably reflect the dire situation the player finds themselves in, but you can survive, get another ship and continue your adventure.”
This is one of the many multi-faceted aspects of Abandon Ship which stays true to the history of naval exploration. After all, the honorable thing to do would for a captain to go down with his ship. Though others may prefer to live for another day. More so, the survival element is an aspect that Gary feels instills a sense of character.
“The game makes the player go through hard times. Scraping through several battles and limping to a port for repairs before setting off again – but who doesn’t like to win against tough situations? The lifeboat and stranded gameplay is a logical extension of this. The lows may be lower, but the highs of surviving these situations are oh so sweet!”
“As long as the Captain is alive, there is always hope. Your ship can be destroyed and you’re on a Lifeboat, or you can be cast adrift, alone in the water. Admittedly your nautical career isn’t at a high point, but you can make it back to port and continue on your journey.”
EXPLORING THE UNKNOWN
With players having complete freedom to do as they wish, Abandon Ship won’t have any restrictions. Players can either stick to the central story or freely explore the vast procedurally generated world. Capturing the essence of not knowing what’s to come next, there’ll be a constant sense of uncertainty.
Skepticism may be present in players since past procedurally generated games haven’t delivered. But for Gary, it’s a system which has proven to be exciting to develop for. “Because the game is so systemic, at the very start of the project it could feel pretty bare. But the more systems the came online the more depth it adds to the experience and it didn’t take us long to have faith that we had a good game on our hands.”
“It’s the same with any procedurally generated systems – they can feel sparse if there isn’t enough content to provide variety, so it’s about creating enough content to prove the system works, which eliminates the risky element, and then coming back later to provide that extra variety.”
“Procedurally generated worlds are often quite static, in that once they have been generated little changes. For us, we want the world to feel more dangerous and in a state of flux. A quest-chain could result in a port being destroyed or a dormant Volcano suddenly erupting.”
PREPARE FOR COMBAT
The seas won’t always be friendly, whether it’s having to content with unruly weather or a competing ship. When people think of old naval ships they often associate the combat that occurred within the era. Fueled by cannons, naval battles had a methodical design of warfare where every moved could be the last.
Embarking on their journey, players will, of course, have to defend their ship or even take the battle to others. If players wish to be successful in Abandon Ship they’ll have to be a tactician that can adapt.
“Combat is an incredibly important part of the game. It needs enough depth to sustain player interest and keep them coming back for more,” Gary stated. But the success in combat will go beyond simply knowing when to fire and what weapons to equip. A captain is only good as their crew, and this is true in Abandon Ship.
“The tactical management of your crew is of paramount importance in being successful in combat. There are several crew classes each with their own specialty. By ensuring your specialists are in the right places at the right time, you can squeeze out extra performance which could be the difference between life and death.”
Presenting more of a strategy management aspect, players will have to juggle things as a real captain would. This entails knowing what decisions to make, most of which can result in success or immediate failure. Of this element, Gary said, “So the player has to constantly juggle difficult decisions. Do they put out that fire? Do they take off the Gunner manning the cannons to repair the sails so they can try to catch up with the enemy and board them? But then who is going to pump out the water and stop us from sinking? Of course, all of this is happening whilst under constant enemy fire and trying to defeat the enemy ship!”
Gary is addressing crew management by dividing the ship into specific sections. This not only helps players become accustomed to their surroundings but track which areas are performing poorly.
Ultimately, each element of Abandon Ship ties into decision making, and that’s true of the combat as well.
ALONE ON THE SEAS
As opposed to other games, Abandon Ship is a strictly single-player experience. Players at times expect a multiplayer component in their games, and for Gary forgoing this wasn’t easy.
“We did start off supporting multiplayer; in the first builds we were having online battles! However, we have a very small team and only one programmer. So it was obvious that the scope of supporting multiplayer was going to be beyond what we could realistically achieve. Looking back, it was a tough decision. But I know that was the right call to make because we had always planned this to be a primarily single-player experience.”
THE SEA AWAITS
Ambitious would be an easy way to describe Abandon Ship. Venturing into new territory as a genre, Abandon Ship is delivering a game that many players have wished for. Presenting a combination of realism and fantasy, Gary has created a fully explorable hyper-real world.
“I tend to be the sort of person that doesn’t dwell on a success because I instantly move onto the next target to smash. At the concept stage, the first time we created something that approximated the style felt like a big achievement, but then I immediately started to focus on how we replicated that in the engine. Right now, I’m really pleased with how the whole game is plugging together. I can’t wait to show more soon!”
The journey won’t be easy in Abandon Ship, but when lady luck is on the side of the player it’ll be an occasion to celebrate.