You are reading an article prepared during the development of the pirate life simulation game Corsairs Legacy by Ukrainian Mauris studio with the aim of popularizing the marine theme in general and pirate games in particular. You can follow the project news on our website, YouTube channel, and Telegram.
Volodymyr Bondarenko, head of the Ukrainian studio Mauris, is interviewing Eduard (Eddy) Zaitsev, Project Manager of Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships and Sea Dogs 4 (the project is frozen).
Volodymyr: Eduard, hello!
Eduard: Hello, hello.
Volodymyr: How did you come to Seaward and what did you do before you started working on Sea Dogs?
Eduard: At the time of joining Seaward, I was not involved in programming. I'd abandoned it for, like, 5 years. My life situation started to... Our alliance fell apart when a lot of good projects that I was engaged in in the field of programming were gone. Just on the hardware side too. I was frustrated, I received an invitation and left for a slightly different field. I played games, of course, and when BKM got me – it was the same thing. I found Seaward, and I got carried away with this business, and slowly I mastered my skills and we started coding. So.
As a result, something somehow began to turn out, a significant thing that could be imagined as, like, a mod for a game, but some actions on my part were taken in relation to the Akella company to establish contacts so that we, together with it, could get it started.
Volodymyr: The game “Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships”, looks to me, is considered by me and by most of the fans the best, one of the best games in the Sea Dogs series. It would be interesting to find out from you as a project manager: what is the secret of your success, what is the success of the team and how did you achieve a result that surpasses the results of the, well, previous and next parts?
Eduard: The secret, probably, is in focus, in the interest of those people who were doing this. In some kind of cohesion, or something. Somehow we got together, there were people so passionate about this topic, they were ready to literally do anything for some of the set super-tasks that I, basically, I set as the leader of this project, to be done.
That is, we followed the path of minimizing costs and maximizing efficiency. Maximum effort investment of some kind. Nobody worked for a salary. No one. Everyone put their everything. From ideas of some kind, from implementation to discussion, to doing some shit at night, attracting some additional resources whenever possible.
But everyone, I mean it, really the whole team, and the people who didn't even code, or did something - everyone participated, well, in the fact that this project came out.
Even some kind of soundtrack, something else was written by people who are, like, in the Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships. For example, the guy also wrote to me in the chat and made a gorgeous soundtrack, it went from the third part.
There were a huge number of interested people who participated in the project, really interested. Not for a salary, nah, not just riding our time, but we just worked hand and foot. We wanted to do such a big thing, and that's why it turned out nice.
Volodymyr: I wonder how many people were in the core team and how many people took part in the development of the game?
Eduard: So, in the core somewhere around, probably, 5 people were in the core. And the numbers fluctuated like this, yeah, right. In general, the ones who had something to do with this in one way or another - well, there were like 20 people, who put something to make this project come to be, put some kind of effort.
Volodymyr: It turns out that the team was not very large? For some reason, I thought a lot more people took part in creating the game.
Eduard: No, no. Well, I did Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships together with Yuri Rogach only, so, in fact, yes.
Volodymyr: So he was in charge of art, and you were in charge of programming?
Eduard: Yes. And design. Well. This is the core, the two of us ... Actually, this Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships, came to be from the fact Yura made some piece of art, like a sketch. And I liked it so much ... Well, there were several interlocked ships, they were in the form of, so to speak, islands like they ran aground somewhere. I liked it so much that I immediately thought up away to embed it, well, into the general storytelling of the game, also how to get out of it again into the game, and what is inside, I wrote the script instantly. The general idea, the framework immediately developed, well, you know ...
And I just read a lot of good books in my time, and so it turned out I also had a talent for writing dialogues and scripts, so the things went like this naturally.
That is, I immediately wrote the script, Yura suggested some opportunities, options, and things like that... Hung up the skeleton somewhere, played around with it, rewrote the dialogues, and immediately changed the quests just for it. That is, stop, some ethical problem. We immediately bypassed it in a different way. It was so fast... Sometimes you think: well, damn! How did we do it? But, that's how we worked. Therefore, in general, with such enthusiasm and creativity, we have implemented this business. It's a pity that ... by the way, we were working on Sea Dogs 4 just like that. We dragged them for years and got a very good result. Well, with a larger team, of course.
Volodymyr: I know that you have been working for Unity for 12 years. It would be interesting to know, what do you think about Gamebryo and why the decision was made at that time to develop a game using an engine other than Unity?
Eduard: Yes, there was no Unity. We didn't know about it at all. And what happened... Well, how many... When the whole thing fell apart, probably a year later, only at the event I learn about it and Unity became an engine with which some decent thing could be done. It was also quite raw for a long time, but even ... But even the raw Unity version, like 2.7, was much better than the Sea Dogs engine. It had a good, stable render, well, just a buzz, right? That is, the difference was enormous when we switched to Unity.
Speaking of Gamebryo. Gamebryo is pretty much not even an engine. This, this is a render with which every company that bought it did what it wanted, and if you take, for example, one Gamebryo project, another Gamebryo project - they are two projects that, well, don't look like each other at all ... They are like chalk and cheese. That is a lousy render that still needed to work and work.
Volodymyr: By the way, there is an opinion that if you release some new version of "Sea Dogs", today it makes no sense to develop it on Unity, because its performance is low, and we need to do it on Unreal. I’m interested in your opinion. Do you think that Unity can make it and you can do it without actually digging into C ++ and developing in Unreal?
Eduard: It’s not just a thought, I know for sure that it can be done on Unity no worse than on Unreal.
Unreal is kind of easier at first. Graphics that come close to the desired result, are high quality. If one has a proper and good understanding of Unity, it gives him very great opportunities, no worse than Unreal. Therefore, I can absolutely say that it will be easier to develop such a game on Unity. And especially sailing, which is associated with the sea.
Volodymyr: Open world, if we talk about the ground part, is it possible to develop an open world on Unity?
Eduard: You can, yes. But, at the same time, it will be necessary to finish coding a lot of your own stuff. But for good specialists, this is not a problem. It's just a matter of time.
Volodymyr: Do you have a couple of interesting stories that have not been told before since the development of Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships? Perhaps you would like to share them?
Eduard: Yes, a lot of stuff. Whether I told it before or not, I don't remember. By the way, I don’t remember when we won the Gameland Award: in 2007, I think, or in 2008. “Best Russian RPG” for “Sea Dogs” was presented to us by representatives of CD-Project. Maybe that's why they swore at The Witcher and their products regularly.
About this story, yes, about what we were spying on, we, of course, well, when we got involved in these "Sea Dogs", we even looked at pirate-themed porn. Even that. Morgan was involved with us at some time, I don't know, Alexus knows him. They were always in conflict. And he somehow made that brothel, he made it so it was impossible to listen to and read this quest, at all, to be honest. So, when we were done with our brothels, well, I wrote the dialogues, Alex, just, he was pleased with this, totally delighted, how elegant all this is.
Well, something had to be written there, quests and so on. Anyway, for brothels, we called for help too. I’m saying: "Guys, let's throw something outta porn, some sounds." Anyway, the guys started to cut ‘em sounds. Fans, yeah, they are sending, well, some groans, the second one, the third one, yes ... The voice acting from this would have slipped... Asian. I say:
- Guys, let's not take the Asian one. Do you know why?
- The feeling is ... Well, when you look, it is okay, but when you only listen - the feeling is that these are children. They are Asians, they, like, yell like children, right? Just to hell with them. Only European appearance.
All in all, they got enough of them. And we inserted them. Well, you get it, I closed the censors, then this sound was played when the Witcher was not yet there. And all these erotic scenes were not yet made. We have a review in the West. The players were surprised: "It really is in the game, yes!"
That is, we kinda went ahead in this regard. And what is most interesting - the producer at Akella calls me up and says:
- Listen, you know what they ask us the most? Remove the censors. Can you remove, - he says, - this... Well, closure, censors.
- Listen, you make games, huh? And you understand how it's done. You understand that there is nothing there. They just keep walking there and that's it. I close them. They don't go to bed. And all this must be done, do you understand? Animate these models and so on. I just closed and opened everything. That's all…
Volodymyr: I wonder if there are naked models in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships or in other parts, maybe you know?
Eduard: At an early stage there were such attempts. From the side of Morgan, as I told you earlier. There were not only texts but also these... Yes, it was like that. But it didn't go as planned. Because, well, it's really sad.
Volodymyr: There are no naked characters in the release versions.
Eduard: No, no. If we had more money, and more of that ... More opportunities. Cut scenes – they are expensive. And. And we were barely making ends meet.
I mean, in Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned, for example, the animations that Akella threw out and replaced with the new ones... "Akella" made completely new animations for these “Sea Dogs". The fighting characters are walking, running, and fighting with deep thrusts that were in good Caribbean Tales animations, huh?
You could have slipped, well, into the wall, but I brought back the normal old animations, half of which were completely unused. By the way, Dima Arkhipov himself, who used to practice fencing, was a model in the mockup. And the animations turned out to be beautiful, really. And when he asked me:
- How did you get it back? Can you tell me how?
- Dima, there are 2 types. There is a deep thrust, there is not deep. If I just scan space ... If there is no patch – an elementary thing for programming, then I replace the deep thrust with the usual one. That's all.
He used to swear at those people who offered him to remake the animation in Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales. Moreover, there were many such stories.
Development is such a thing ... As Yuri says, "we used the Japanese method." If we cannot directly, we will come up with something to make everything look good, but it was done cheap and cheerful. If we had decent money, this is normal ... There, everything would, of course, not worse than "The Witcher".
So on the "Sea Dogs 4" we counted on this. That's how it turned out. And for a million dollars, I'm sorry, how ... It doesn't work. It doesn't cost that much. Top game.
Volodymyr: How much does it cost from your point of view a top game for 2008 cost and how much from your point of view now, in 2021, would it cost to develop a top game?
Eduard: It's like, when Blackmark was looking for investors, yeah, Dmitry Arkhipov also pulled himself into this business and kinda asked me to count. So, we have counted. Something around ... In the cheapest version - about 2 million. That was then. Well, now, about 2.5, I think, if there are no frills. We must do well.
Volodymyr: And how about AAA game? Well, about 3 years ago.
Eduard: 5-7 million, I guess.
Volodymyr: As I understand it, in 2008 there was still a problem with a publisher abroad. And there were problems with paying a percentage of sales to Akella from Playlogic, which published the game in the West. Could you tell us more?
Eduard: "Playlogic". We worked with it, we made translations into different languages, and prepared a publication that was released successfully, basically. And "PiratesAhoy!" supported it. This was very good ... At that time, we worked closely. I also did a lot for them, and so, when the release ... They supported it very eagerly somehow, and everything took off.
But then the year 2008 came. And the market for the distribution of computer games, which existed at that time was done with, literally, in some 2-3 months. It just ... It just ceased to exist. People stopped buying. And so, companies that had their money eaten by credits, that were left without cash - these companies all died. Well, like Akella and Playlogic as well.
Volodymyr: Has the company simply ceased to exist?
Eduard: Yes, the same. Yes. The company has ceased to exist, yes. Well, as always, there is a question. Who always suffers? Those who receive money not from the process, but from the result. At the end of the food chain, there are developers who worked honestly and saved money and tried to do as much as possible for less money in order to earn more on royalties. When something happens, they suffer the most. Therefore, we suffered the most. I mean, we were simply not paid the money we had already earned. They went bankrupt there, there, there, somewhere and that's it.
Volodymyr: Is there any game after Sea Dogs that you did in the evenings that you finished and that went well enough and had some financial ... financial blast?
Eduard: Yes, we did a lot of games. Decent, huh? By the way, we made sailing multiplayer, which we sold to Wargaming in the alpha, sold very well. We made snowboards for a sports game that has already passed 1.5 million copies and was at the top of sports games. We did some of our own unique ideas that didn't go so well. There are many projects, with varying degrees of success, let's say.
Volodymyr: Eduard, please tell us, as the person who directly took the decision on the fate of Sea Dogs 4 in 2008, when you were actively developing them, how it was? Why did everything stop? And why didn't the continuation come? Why was the game left frozen?
Eduard: The Sea Dogs 4 game remained frozen because funding and development stopped ... Like that. From the Akella side. We had a standard contract with Akella, according to which the third was also being developed, respectively, or even ... The third, I think, yes, the third project, which was Sea Dogs 4. Contract with me as with individual entrepreneur Zaitsev.
Accordingly, at that moment the royalty for Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships had just arrived, and so ... A fairly decent amount, measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars already earned by us. As we were expecting, ready to be paid. We rubbed our pockets and rubbed our hands and thought that finally our hellish labor would be rewarded accordingly, we were so desperate for this. And suddenly Akella announced that it was in a financially disastrous state, not a dime would be paid.
And I was like, damn it, I could bet my ass something fishy was going on, well, because there was funding for the expansion of our team, and for some reason, I did not dare to expand. The money settled in my accounts, this gave us the opportunity to maintain a team for about 4 months more, so that something would change and the situation would improve, because at the time there was an audit of Akella by investors, a venture fund in Minsk. And so on.
I say, I was absolutely sure Akella could not be done with, because the project was already very good, and the results were excellent. And the game design document already was there, I already started the script. And the Gamebryo programmers also showed good results.
Anyway, in the end, we received a proposition to make it for a million, but in a year. So, I agreed at first, but on the condition that the money would go not to Akella, but to me. Naturally, with a guarantee that we have a loan agreement. The contract, they said, would be tough. I was warned by the Akella. They meant, that responsibility is tough by itself, but there is a loan agreement ... You will lose everything, in short. We already worked with this, but here it will be really tough.
Well, I agreed, okay, but in that case, let me get the money so every penny goes to our project, because I will be responsible for it. At first, they seemed to agree, and then, when it came to the execution of contracts, again according to the same scheme Eduard: the money goes to Akella, and then Akella transfers it to me. How much I would have received from this million is not clear, and I, so to speak, hesitated to do it. That’s the first reason.
The second reason is that Gamebryo was still, after all, despite the result that was shown, it was raw. If by that time I was working on Unity, and Unity then didn’t exist at all, I would certainly go for it. But, with Gamebryo – just no. There was still a lot of raw material in terms of a direct trender. I Thought all these factors, yeah, and I realized that, most likely, for this money, in a year, the game will not work on Gamebryo. And I had to refuse.
Volodymyr: Eduard, you said, "offered." Was it some kind of investor? Or who exactly? So, who did come up with such an offer: "to make a game for a million dollars in a year"?
Eduard: Yes, this is from the side of the Akella investor. How to put it ... "Akella" has always supported our team, just very strongly in the sense that I have repeatedly heard from different people in high positions that: "We are most interested in you, as a maximum effectiveness team."
Because of this, in spite of the bad situation in which Akella was, investors put forward that there is such a project that is highly desirable to get up and running and if completed, it will be a blast, right? Well, the investor made ... Such an offer. Nothing else, but, look, I had to meet ends.
With all this in mind, yes, we sat down with Yura and discussed this is probably not worth it. I will be guilty at the end of this whole story. It was very risky. A lot of things did not depend on me. I mean Gamebryo here.
If we had an engine like Unity in Sea Dogs, it was about the same engine as Storm for Sea Dogs. We worked in about the same paradigm. Well, and, like, we got into it, changed a lot, modified it. But nevertheless, yes, we had a render, we had a sea, and so on. I mean, if there was a base in the form of Unity, I would go for it. But this base did not exist. There were developments on this base. But no solid foundation to lean on.
It took a year to make the game, although even the base was not ready. I could not start making the game directly. Because of this, to my deepest regret ... But I'm telling you, I was absolutely sure that one way or another, yeah, I will get a better offer not today, then tomorrow. I didn't think such a great project could be canceled.
The union collapsed, and I worked in IT. We made great money. I earned Soviet money, like 900 rubles a month. And ... The Union collapsed and it all bombed and IT suffered in the first place.
In 2008, there was another economic crisis, and again IT was the first to suffer. And now we see the same thing. In IT, the number of projects that are implemented in this, on the part of customers, suffers. They fall into comas, and poor companies run around, trying to somehow expand their areas of application of efforts because they do not make ends meet. Such a story it is, unfortunately. IT suffers first.
Volodymyr: I wonder what kind of projects you were involved in at the junction of the Union, and now, you say “projects that brought good pay”? Can you tell us what you did?
Eduard: Well, I worked on DOS as a hobby. At the time even Windows, as it were, wasn’t popular, but there was a disk operating system. MS-DOS, Macro Assembler, I wrote drivers and other low-level garbage. Many things.
And for the money, I worked with economists and accounting. Of course, I soon got bored of it and left for a very good project. I then worked in Central Asia, I will make a reservation, not in Russia. Maybe that's why the collapse of the Soviet Union was so hard for me. I worked in the directorate of boiler houses, united networks.
There was an idea to connect all the boilers remotely via a modem connection to a single central dispatch control computer, to which the dispatcher had access. Dangerous equipment, pressure, monitoring is an important thing, yes, temperature, monitoring and so on ... Well, all the indicators. And that's when I got involved with analog converters. The experience of working at a low level with the assembler came in handy.
I wrote programs for modems for communication over telephone lines, and all this ended due to the collapse of the Union and our inability to purchase analog-digital converters for devices for removing temperature sensors, pressure, and other things. I was so damn upset, I so wanted to implement this project ... It was such a breakthrough in its time, in which there were no networks as such. I received an offer from one of my customers to change my profession, by the way, I did a lot of software for him. He comes in and says:
- Listen, why are you here? Come on with us, if you want to earn money on business trips, all that.
And I left for interstate payments for electricity between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. I worked for a long time in this direction.
Volodymyr: Eduard, do you play computer games? Do you have any favorite pirate-themed games besides Sea Dogs?
Eduard: Pirate theme, except for "Sea Dogs", for me, well ... I played in "Age of Sail", of course. But there’s no game I’d be head over heels for... Well, of course, I'm playing this Cyberpunk, right now. Well. All the Witchers.
Volodymyr: For players in 2021, what pirate game would you recommend, when Sea Dogs are already technically outdated? Do you see some kind of analog product that would be more relevant in terms of graphics and gameplay for 2021?
Eduard: Only “Assassin’s Creed” can probably be recommended as a final project. Well, if we talk about computer games in general, yeah ...
Just, you know, when you are fascinated by the pirate theme of course, we didn’t just make everything up, well, those stories were made up, and, well, the dialogues were written and so on. All this, when we did it, it was inspired by what was happening in reality at that time. We were immersed in the topic. Well, I kinda read a lot of things, knew and understood how it worked then, right? I really liked it, regardless of the computer games, so ...
The TV series was released, having several seasons, about pirates. What is it exactly called? .. "Black sails", I think ... This is, yes, this is good. It was done in the same way as I did "Sea Dogs" - based on real events, with an admixture of these cool things, yes, so that everything was as if it was real, right? And for me this spirit ...
I'm the scriptwriter of "Sea Dogs", I wrote all the quests, except for the Captain Blood lineup myself. And wrote all the dialogues myself. I also coded them myself. By the way, that's great. Why? Because when the scriptwriter does one thing, the coder does another, well, they can never agree with each other, you know? Some tasks can be difficult to implement, some, for example, on the contrary, can be implemented. The coder understands this, the scriptwriter does not. When it's all rolled into one, then everything is done as efficiently as possible. So, as a scriptwriter, this series is close in spirit to me.
Volodymyr: During an interview, ALexusB said that on the basis of our art "Save the Pirate" it is possible to make a simplified 2D version of "Sea Dogs", which from his point of view today can very well enter the market and please users. How do you rate our art, and do you think that such a 2D project can be interesting to the audience for mobile platforms or for Steam and desktop?
Eduard: ALexusB has been with this idea for a long time. He did something on PHP at one time. Also the sailing multiplayer in the same concept, with ships and so on. Well, I don’t know what he did in the end, but he is still all about that 2D. Perhaps it will work on mobile. It seems quite attractive. For Steam players, well, as an indie project to try. Port from mobile to PC and from PC to mobile.
Volodymyr: The point is that we have a game of simply choosing an action - what to do next? And he talks about creating a full-fledged analog, simply using the art and cartoony of our characters and locations.
Eduard: It will take a long time. You probably... This must be understood; it will require serious efforts in implementation.
Volodymyr: You don’t evaluate... You don’t undertake to evaluate the concept, but from your point of view, it is better not to take it?
Eduard: I mean, how long will it take. You see, well, first of all, it must be evaluated what resources do you have, right? If, well, you want to attract a specialist of the proper level, well, with the proper qualifications ... What Alexus says is right. This, if this is a serious matter, yes - it will take six months. Half a year. Like 9 months.
But this will require a serious team, and good specialists, which are expensive. If you make it, well, in the evenings, then it will never end. It will be the hope that never... Games are not easy to make.
The game is like a software product. And I, well, began to do this in ancient times and made a DBMS, like, programs of economic nature for accounting and so on. Games are harder to make. Much. And now I can, for example, work on a salary, well, in some state company without problems. I take on games only if I have, like, some royalties, because it's difficult.
Volodymyr: Eduard, thank you very much for the interview.
Eduard: Thank you very much, pleased to have an acquaintance.
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Learn more about the Corsairs Legacy - Historical Pirate RPG Simulator project and add it to your wishlist on the game's Steam page.