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Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!
Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

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 Mauris studio, is interviewing Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy! community. You can also watch this material on YouTube using the link provided.

Volodymyr: Hi Pieter.

Pieter: Hello Volodymyr!

Volodymyr: So, Pieter, could you please tell us how PiratesAhoy! was created and who developed the website?

Pieter: Firstly, I’d have to say that at that time I was not actually there, I joined about a year later. It’s all basically here, in the article that I sent you; I’ll try to give a short summary of what I understand of it.

So, there was an original Sea Dogs game, which, I think, a lot of viewers will be familiar with. As I understand, it was the first 3D pirate game ever, kind of similar to Sid Meier's Pirates!, but 3D. From what I understand, the original Sea Dogs was in gameplay somewhat similar to Sid Meier's Pirates!, but the first 3D game, so it was quite an innovative game. I never played it, but I’ve heard a lot of positive things about it, so from what I understand, it was quite well-received quite a popular game.

The sequel was being made, which was obviously going to be called Sea Dogs 2. It was never released in the Western world as Sea Dogs 2, but while it was being made, there were Western modders working together. They called themselves the League of Independent Buccaneers, they had this community that they called LIB Island, that’s what I heard, and apparently, they had tremendous fun, they had laughed all over the place. And at some point, they got worried that Sea Dogs 2 was going to be renamed Pirates of the Caribbean to tie in with the Curse of the Black Pearl movie. I’m not entirely sure what their response was, but I do know that when the game was released, they were a bit disappointed and there wasn’t a lot of support for the game.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Keith and William (I do know their last names, but for the sake of privacy, they didn’t give me permission, so I just stick to their first names), created the PiratesAhoy! website, which was intended as a community website for everybody who wanted to do modding on the original Pirates of the Caribbean game.

Over years we expanded, did all those things for a while as well, and we kept up with the new pirate games, and we’ve done modding for some of the newer pirate games as well. On the whole, we started as the Pirates of the Caribbean game modding supporters, and modding community and that’s what we still are today.

That’s basically how it started, it was in the time of Keith and William, there were a whole bunch of other cool people there, but the main person who was doing the actual modding, combining all the mods from people, was Nathan Kell, the Great Nathan Kell, as I like to call him.

Or also such great people as Thagarr (I think he was from Scandinavia), he wasn’t among the modders, but he was always keeping the community together, getting all the latest news. Then there was CatalinaThePirate, she was a big moderator, she kept the atmosphere happy, always ensuring that there were plenty of laughs to go around.

Speaking of me, I actually came from the Virtual Sailor community, which was a community for a sailing simulator, a simulator where you could make your own 3D ships and put them in. I did a bit of that, I was quite involved in that community, I made a couple of ships, you can still find them online.

I had a website where you could find all the ships the people had made, all the sailing areas the people had made. That community, at that time, when I first started there, was a great place to be. But at some point, it started to feel not quite right anymore, that was at the same time when the first part of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released. I went to that movie, not entirely sure what to expect and I came out of the cinema, I was like “Wow, that was an awesome movie, that was absolutely great, I had the best time”.

So, I was always interested in pirates and ships, and in games, also. And I had never played a pirate game, I knew that there was a Sea Dogs game, and I thought “Maybe at some point, I should try that, it sounds pretty good”. Then I heard there was a Pirates of the Caribbean game, and I thought “Might be interesting at some point”.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Pirates of the Caribbean movie

And then, one day, maybe a year later or so, I was in a toy store, and they sold the original Pirates of the Caribbean game in a, basically, bargain bin. I think, when it was released, it was like 40-50 Euros, but already a year later the price had dropped to 15 Euros - 15, which is quite a shocking price drop in that amount of time. Clearly, the game was not very well-received, but I thought it might be interesting. So, I picked up the game, installed it, played it, and was like “Actually, this is quite a lot of fun!”

I looked it up online, I found some separate mods from people - people were still doing a lot of separate mods at that time.

Somebody, I can’t remember his name, had made an automatic combining thing, so you could take certain mods and compile them like your own mod pack. You get used to it, as long as the separate mods didn’t change the same code, as that would always cause conflicts and things blowing up.

So I made one for my own, I took the features that I thought were the most interesting; I put them in my own game, and slightly improved the version of my own game. At the same time, I saw this Pirates of the Caribbean website, PiratesAhoy! website. And I think they were all version 10 by then already.

And I wanted to try it, but I tried it and it didn’t work. Cause it turns out there were plenty of different language releases, and obviously, there was a Russian release because the game was (I think your viewers already know), the game was made by Akella in Russia. So it was a Russian release, and there was an English release, a Spanish release, and a French release, I think. Not sure about any others, maybe a German release.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Pirates of the Caribbean game screenshot

It turned out there were also two different English releases - there was an American release and a European release. And the PiratesAhoy! community was set up by William and Keith, who are both American and they worked primarily on the American release. As Europeans, we could not play their mod pack as great as it was. So I was stuck just doing my own thing.

But then, the big moment came, and the PiratesAhoy! community, Nathan Kell compiled Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 11, which was the first release that had localization support. Suddenly, you could use the Build mod on any language edition. If your game was not English, it would translate into English. Russian players didn’t understand English, but we, European people, were fine with English and could start using it. So I did, I downloaded Build 11, installed it, played it, and was like “This is pretty awesome”.

In the meantime, PiratesAhoy! community continues, continuing on to Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons 12. I installed Build 12, quite a nice step forward again. And people continued to make some more changes. And I think it was Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons 12 where I started to get a bit involved in the PiratesAhoy! community.

I signed up to the forum and you can still find my very first post where I said “OK, it’s pretty great, but I’ve got ideas and suggestions. How about this? How about that?”. And they were very welcoming to me, the community, and they said “Well, maybe we’ll do something with it, or maybe you could do something with it”.

And then, I think, one of the first things I did myself was I created the installer for Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 12.1 so people could play this stuff from Build 12 with a little bit extra. And then, as Build 12 was released and we were basically in the Pirates of the Caribbean Build 13 phase, I started making a ZIP file. And every time somebody made something cool, I added it to the ZIP file, because I always wanted to be up-to-date. And so many people were doing so many cool things. I was just thinking about Couch Captain Charles, and his Special Weapon Assembly Kit or the DirectSail mod, that was a very popular one. The BuildingSet, which is completely bizarre, it’s also still in the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons mod.

Then there was Alan Smithee, he called himself, he always put in the craziest things. First, he started with reasonably normal stuff, such as the blacksmiths, but then later on he added the apothecary, which got a bit sillier, where you could buy a jar of leeches (“blood worms”). Well, the thing that unfortunately never made it into the mod because he didn’t quite finish it, was the fish sword, so you could whack all the NPCs over the ahead with gory-smelling fish. Like that’s the level of hilarity that we were coming at. All of that went into my ZIP file.

At some point, we were in touch with also the Russian community, I think it was ALexusB at that time, and he gave us permission to use the resources that they made for their Russian Pirates of the Caribbean mod. So, obviously, we were really grateful for that.

And one of the things they did was the matter of the “world map”. Actually, approximately a real Caribbean world map, not like a fantasy world. And Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 13, we added that one in, so, thank you very much for that one and everything else, but also that one. 

So we added that in and then we released Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 13 which was basically the first mod pack release that was compiled by me. I compiled the mod pack, I put everything that people did together, I didn’t actually do a lot of modding myself - it was mainly the work of other people. And the release of Build 13 - that was a pretty big step forward, but I’d say it was still on the level of Mod for the original game.

And as we continued Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 14 phase, I actually finished my studies - my secondary school, my maritime academy - and I started working at sea. So for 4 months at a time, 8 months a year - 4 months I was away, 2 months I was back, I was very, very busy with work at sea and I barely had an Internet connection.

But, of course, the PiratesAhoy! community still had to be running, so once a week or so I would log in on the Wi-Fi and I would open every forum thread that had been updated, quickly shut off the Internet connection because every second cost money, opened a Notepad file, and started writing my comments. And then I was in contact with Captain Maggee from Australia, and I would take my text file with all my comments and send it to him, and he would actually post them on the forum for me, just to save me the time so I could focus on, you know, keeping the 2000 people on the cruise ship safe. But at the same time, the PiratesAhoy! community kept very much alive. 

Of course, the compiling work also had to be done. So Pirate KK from Poland was kind enough to take that onto him. And he did a lot of incredible work, he did the Different Flags mod, the Period's mod, and the Storylines mod, and those are really the features that I think I’m most proud of in what we now call Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons

That’s also the reason why we started adding so many cool patterns to Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons, not just more ships, but more features, like really changing the structural gameplay. And also more side quests, but not just side quests, main storylines, with also different stories with different main characters with different sorts of gameplay - really huge wide variety made by so many people.

And that’s when we eventually realized that we can’t really pretend that this is still a simple mod for the original game, this deserves a real name. So we had a community vote and plenty of people suggested names. And in the end, we went with, on the one hand, a slight cliché name, on the other one completely perfect name - Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons. So ever since we started calling our mod pack the New Horizons mod for Pirates of the Caribbean

Technically, we never quite finished that one, we’re still working on Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 14, but these days after so many years of development, with the first part - KK doing a mod pack compilation, and me doing a bit again for a couple of years, eventually Grey Roger taking over, he’s doing it now.

We’ve done so much new development, so much testing and I’d say it’s very playable, very enjoyable. Not going to say it’s perfect, there will be bugs, there will be rough edges, and there is definitely more potential for new stuff. But people come to our PiratesAhoy! community, we are always happy to help them get the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons mod working on their computer as much as possible. 

If people have comments, we are always happy to respond. If we can do something with it, we will. Usually, we respond with “Well, try to make you do it yourself”, and that’s basically the way that community has always been happening, been working. People show up, just like I did, just like Grey Roger did, just like Jack Rackham did, just like all of us did. We came to the PiratesAhoy! community because we liked the Pirates of the Caribbean game, and eventually, we started tweaking something here and there ourselves, and some people left at that, but some people did a tremendous amount of work and altogether, I’d say it’s something that everyone should be proud of.

Volodymyr: Do you and other main contributors have a programming background or it was easy to start from scratch without any knowledge in programming?

Pieter: The amount of people involved in our community over the years is a really, really wide variety. We had people who started in IT when IT itself started, like in the 70s, in the 80s, or close to retirement age who’ve had plenty of experience.

On the other hand, there were really young people. I joined PiratesAhoy! community in 2004, what age was I in 2004? I think I was in secondary school, I’m 34 now. Let me just calculate it, 17 years ago. I was just about 17-18 years old when I joined. At that time, I’d done secondary school, it wasn’t of a specific focus on programming - secondary school.

My university-level education afterward was focused on how to not crash your ship into the rocks, also no programming involved. And so, actually, there were people who joined, like a younger crowd, we actually joined without having a programming background, learning by modding the Pirates of the Caribbean game. Changing small things in the game is pretty easy, and then you can make it as difficult as you want. 

Obviously, don’t start too difficult - it’s what I always tell new people who join the community with really ambitious ideas, like “I want to completely alter all the Pirates of the Caribbean game, yay!”, I say “Well, I’m not going to say “don’t do it”, but start with something simple and build it up, but if you do it that way, there’s a lot of potential there”.

And actually, when I started the final thesis for my university-level education, I went to do it at the Maritime Research Institute Netherlands. And I did my job interview for them. My supervisor there asked me “Pieter, are you familiar with Matlab?” My response was literally “Mat-what?” “It’s a programming thing, don’t worry about it, you’ll get used to it.”

So there I am, the first day in the actual real company office, looking at the computer screen with this Matlab thing in front of my face, I’m trying to make sense of it. I go like “Hold the phone, it’s just like Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s actually a little bit simpler than the Pirates of the Caribbean code.” I got off to a running start there, did a lot of pretty great work that they were very happy with.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Pirates of the Caribbean game screenshot

Then I went to work at sea, and then when I was near the end of my time at sea for 5 years, it was time for something new. So I sent an email to my supervisor there “Do you have a position available? Do you have anything available at MARIN again?” In the end, they had and that’s where I’m back working now. So, in a way, you could say that I have my current job thanks to Pirates of the Caribbean - in a way, that’s actually the truth.

Volodymyr: It’s interesting how such a great job was made by people who have great ideas but don’t have a good IT background and I think it’s incredible - the way you think and the way you decide to do it, and you just do it, as Nik says. So without any background in gaming or game development, I think it’s great.

Pieter: I absolutely think so, as well. I’m especially impressed with what some of our older members managed to pull off. And the way I always talk about Couch Captain Charles, for example. Like, he had these really ambitious ideas that were supposedly completely impossible, and unhindered by any prior knowledge he just kept at it until he bloody well made it work.

And we literally have features in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons that the original game developers from Akella said “Sorry, our game engine cannot do that”, and we say to them “But it’s working! We’ve got it working, we’re very happy with the way it works!”. “No, it’s not possible. It’s not possible!” “Well, we think it’s possible - we can see it right in front of our faces” “OK”.

So, the big one was the DirectSail mod, because all the Sea Dogs games, the way they work is you’ve got to walk around the shore, you can do sword fighting, you go to 3D sailing mode, or you can have sea battles, you go from one island to another island and you have to go to the world map, which is also quite a lot of fun.

But actually, a lot of feedback we got from players was that they do not want to use the world map, they just want to go in 3D sailing mode, just point their ship in the direction of the next island, and just keep going with the time compression to arrive. But the game couldn’t do that, you had to go to the world map.

And Couch Captain Charles actually made it work, so you don’t have to go to the world map if you don’t want to. You can if you want to, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You do actually have to reload the scene, but the way it now works is, in the background, the game keeps track of your hypothetical world map position while you’re in 3D sailing mode. As you approach another island, you get a message “You’re approaching the next island” and eventually you are reloaded to the next island.

And along the way, you can encounter other ships, you can encounter rafts in the sea, and some mines - be careful with those - and also other random stuff which you can encounter without using the world map. That was quite a big feature that Couch Captain Charles added to Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons and it made a lot of people very, very happy.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons game screenshot

Another example that I myself managed to do in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons is we had a member, she called herself Snow White Sorrow, she was from Asia. She had this idea that the ship handling was not realistic enough in the game. So she tweaked the numbers, really put a lot of effort into those numbers, and made the ship handling in the Realistic Game Mode a lot different than it was before, and very interesting, very close to real life. The way real life was supposed to have been, according to her understanding. And I think she was pretty damn close.

One of the things she realized while doing that was that actually, you could fake something like a steamship in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons, she realized. There were two numbers for ships - like the angle to the wind direction where you go the fastest and the angle to the wind direction where you lose all speed. By tweaking those numbers, she could make a ship that was very close to a similar speed regardless of wind direction.

Still, if there was more wind, the ship would go faster and if you were going straight into the wind, you would still stop. But basically between 15 degrees on either side of the wind direction, you could do whatever you wanted and you weren’t affected by the wind too much. Then basically, you had a kind of steamship. So we put in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons some particle effects to fake the steam engine and there you go - we suddenly had the steamship in the game, completely fake.

Then one day I’m messing around with the console and I pressed a button, and my ship starts moving forward. It was a rotation impulse around the Z-axis, which to me sounds like a rotation, not a movement. I put it in the game, and suddenly my ship is moving forward and I realize “Holy crap, I just discovered the engine, like a literal (ship) engine in the (game) engine”.

It didn’t take much longer before I had linked keyboard commands to it, and if you try the steamships in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons now, you can actually furl all the sails, switch on the engine and sail around without using the sails at all. And it works, it’s basically like a real steamship, and if there’s no wind at all, you can still move forward on that steam engine. And that was something like, I don’t know if the original game developers put that thing there on purpose - as far as I’m aware, I don’t think so. But we may do stuff like that and it absolutely works.

Volodymyr: Do you know who added the mines in the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons game, which you mentioned before?

Pieter: Oh, the mines? That was Couch Captain Charles, as part of his DirectSail mode. He figured you shouldn’t just be able to sail from one island to another island, it should also not be boring while you do so. So he also put random encounters in the middle, among those were the mines.

After he did that, you can encounter mines randomly, which is a bit of a disadvantage. At the same time, he figured, just adding a disadvantage - that’s not fun. You have to also add advantage, so he said OK, you can randomly run into mines, however, you can also take some of the gunpowder that Maximus added to the mod a couple of years before, put those in a barrel, put a fuse on them, leave it behind your ship and leave mines yourself. So what you can actually do in the game, in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons, you can pass closely in front of the enemy ship, drop a mine behind it just as you’re passing and then have the other ship crashing into the mine and like half blow up or something.

Volodymyr: It’s an interesting mod. We don’t have it in the Russian community, but for the mines, I would say that ALexusB also made the same modification - it was his last modification for Seaward. And do you know who the Seaward is? Was there any connection with Seaward during the development?

Pieter: I actually know what Seaward is. When I joined the community, Seaward was our Russian brother, so to say. Like they were doing the same thing that we were, just with their own people, in their own way, in their own language. And we were communicating back and forth on it.

I think some of their members were members of PiratesAhoy! as well. I’m not sure if any Western PiratesAhoy! members were members of Seaward. I don’t think so. I think it was the Sea Legend Is Back that they were working on at that time, which is also for Pirates of the Caribbean.

I think it was ALexusB. And as I mentioned, we were in contact and we got permission from them to use their resources, their 3D models, and their textures in our Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons mod. And that’s what we did. I can’t remember, but I think we also told them that they could use some of our stuff. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t, I’m not entirely sure. They might have done.

Yeah, definitely we were in touch here and then. And later, many years later, when the Age of Pirates II: City of Abandoned Ships was released. By that time, of course, Seaward had gone from a modding community to a commercial game development company.

And then we were actually in contact with Edward Zaitsev, and again, he gave us a lot of help, he gave us a plugin for Maya to export our own 3D models, and some more tools, I’m remembering for animation, we got some documents with hints on how to use the Maya export plugin for ships and for characters. And it really allowed us to do a lot more work, a lot more fancy work than we did before.

And actually, he also gave us the source code of Age of Pirates 2: City of the Abandoned Ships, and, unfortunately, we never quite managed to put it to as good use as we wanted to.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Age of Pirates 2: City of the Abandoned Ships

We always had a dream of porting Pirates of the Caribbean to a newer version of Storm engine, to a source for the engine. And some work has been done on that but never quite reached a point that we wanted it to, and well, maybe in the future. I mean, the future is unwritten, so who knows what happens? But for now, Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons still run on the old original Storm 2 Engine.

Volodymyr: Do you know how many users now play Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons?

Pieter: No numbers whatsoever. Let me just look at the number of downloads of ModDB. It’s usually an indication I like. Here, on the extra fixes archive that was posted on February 4th, 2020, and updated on January 30th this year are 2,200 downloads. So I think it’s fair to say that, on the whole, I don’t know, maybe some people downloaded twice, but I think it should be fair to say that at least we had 1,000 players in the past year.

Look at other files, I see here Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 14 Full - 18,500 thousand downloads. Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 14 Beta 3.4. - 29,000 downloads. Just a moment, let me see if we can check. Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Build 13 - 42,000 downloads.

Volodymyr: It’s a lot.

Pieter: So, at the height, we had like several tens of thousands of downloads, and I assume that also means players. These days, obviously, it’s 17 years later now, but still, a thousand, and I think it’s safe to say - thousand or more. All things considered, I’d say it’s a respectable player base.

Volodymyr: On the PiratesAhoy! website, there was no big update from 2018 to 2021. What have you done for this period and why didn’t you publish any new updates for the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons?

Pieter: Basically, when I was working at sea myself, for 8 months a year I did not have time for modding at all. Other people were doing it, but for 4 months a year I was at home basically with nothing much to do, so I had all the time in the world.

When I started working ashore, suddenly I had a regular full-time job - I was working 5 days a week and sitting behind the computer all day. And then for 2 days a week at the weekend, I would go to my parents and we used to talk a lot. And suddenly, when I was in my spare time, I didn’t really feel that much like doing computer work anymore.

Then I bought a boat, a sailboat of my own and suddenly I just didn’t have time at all anymore. And I moved houses 2 or 3 times within the space of a couple of years, so I didn’t have time for much of anywhere and anything anymore, just making occasional posts on the PiratesAhoy! forum, and that was about it.

So the progress on Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons slowed down a bit, but thankfully, it did not actually stop. Certainly, attention to public relations was not the same as when I had all the time in the world to spare. So, thankfully, Grey Roger actually kept updates going all those years.

It’s only been last year or so, also thanks to one of our new members, The Nameless Pirate as he calls himself, he actually started helping me build up the public relations again. So it’s not actually the case that nothing happened in those years - plenty of things happened in those years, we just didn’t post them to ModDB so it was a bit invisible to a lot of people that things were actually still happening.

It’s a bit unfortunate for those players, we’re working with fewer freelance people, people that were freelance available don’t care about posting stuff to ModDB, and they just want to make their own mods. In their spare time, they have a right to spend it in whichever way they choose, right?

Volodymyr: Yeah. And do you have any plans to continue Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons Remastered? Why was development stopped?

Pieter: It’s quite a big story there. So, at some point during the development of the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons, we figured this is so ambitious, like why don’t we start our own indie game? And actually, we tried to make that happen.

We had the Hearts of Oak: Conquest of the Seas project, and we had a lot of people involved from all over the world - we had 3D modelers, texture artists, terrain artists, and composers. Basically, the to people involved the intention was to make completely for free the most awesome ambitious single-player pirate game the world had ever seen.

You might recognize that as being an overly ambitious thing to do for even a studio with a big budget, and our budget was zero, absolutely zero. So we tried different game engines. We first tried the CryEngine, then we eventually had to switch to the Unity engine. We were actually making some really good progress, but it was very difficult to get the awesome things that people were doing and get them really meshed together into one functioning whole.

As it kept proving more and more difficult, which is quite understandable considering that AAA companies, again, do these things for a living, for astronomical budgets, for more budgets than they make like Hollywood movies for, and we were trying to do it completely freelance. So we tried to take some donations, and actually, the biggest donation, I can tell you who made the biggest donation, and it was me. We really tried to make it work, but in the end, it started slowing down a bit. People started to get a bit discouraged.

Then 2 of our members Captain Murphy and Flannery, decided to try and switch and make their efforts commercial, so they did a lot of work on that. They were making pretty cool progress together. That’s when a hurricane in Florida hit Captain Murphy’s house, it was a couple of years back then, and I think he still hasn’t recovered.

At the same time, as one of the big contributors, Armada, was doing a lot of great work on Hearts of Oak, and as Hearts of Oak started to become a bit too ambitious, he figured “OK, let’s turn it down a bit, let’s try to do something that’s more realistic to accomplish with just like a small, tiny, one or two people team.” That’s when he basically by himself, with a little bit of support from Captain Murphy and Flannery set up the New Horizons Remastered project.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

New Horizons Remastered

The idea of that was basically “Let’s try to take the functionality from the original Pirates of the Caribbean, not even with much of the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons features added, just a base game.” And he said “OK, let’s try to bring it to Unity,” and he did actually succeed to make the demo release.

And in the demo release you can walk around Redmond Port - Jamaica now in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons - you can walk around, you can go up the ship deck, you can go into the 3D sailing mode, I think you can fire your cannons, you can do a little bit of simple sword fighting. It was a very simple demo, but the bare bones of pirate games were actually there.

As it so happened, Armada was doing professional game development studies at that time, and as he finished his studies, obviously, he wanted to have a job - he needed to pay the bills - they were not going to pay themselves. You can’t just go and make a pirate game for free. So he had to stop developing New Horizons Remastered and focus on something else, he ended up working at this indie game studio, it’s called Skyward Digital.

I’m not entirely sure if this company already existed, or if it’s actually a company that he started with some of his friends and fellow students. But if you really want to know about that, for sure, have an interview with him as well, I think he would be very much quite happy to talk about his side of the story.

But the game they were working on was actually a Medieval RPG. Let me just quickly look it up. It was called RPG Merchant, you can buy it on Steam, I think. They released it, but it didn’t really meet with quite the success they hoped for. The game, as far as I understand, is a pretty decent game. They didn’t spend a lot of time and effort and budget on promoting the game. And you know as well as I do - you can make the best thing on planet Earth, and if nobody knows about it, nobody’s going to care.

So now, with that project finished, and available for people to try, they’re now working on their new project. And their new project, as it so happens, is a pirate game. It’s called Buccaneers!, and it features 4 different factions - you can play as pirates, obviously, you can play as the English, the French and the Spanish. And released last week, they released to Steam their first playable demo and I tried it for the first time.

And you can really see the influence of the original Pirates of the Caribbean, which is not much of a surprise because one of the big developers there is Armada, who first worked very hard on Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons. Then worked very hard on Hearts of Oak: Conquest of the Seas then made New Horizons Remastered and is now doing Buccaneers!.

So basically Buccaneers! is as close as you can get to New Horizons Remastered in a game. The only thing is that it’s got quite a different art type - it’s got a pixel graphics kind of art style because they really have a small team and they really do want to deliver the game and accomplish their goals.

Basically, they’ve learned from all our years at PiratesAhoy! community that the more ambitious your goals, the less likely is that you’re going to achieve them, and achieving goals is more important than achieving ambitious goals.

You can always achieve a simple goal first, and then go more ambitious later, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. For all people doing anything out there, have your ambition, but at the same time, be careful to not bite off more than you can chew. Do things in steps, start with the basics, and build things up.

That’s what we did also with Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons. Like the first mods that were done for the Pirates of the Caribbean game, they were really simple, they were taking stuff from the game and finishing it up, and taking rough edges from the original game and polishing them up a little bit. As people started building on that and building and building the amount of content that was added, the number of differences to the original game, and the number of structural reworkings ended up being quite astronomical.

And you can really see, that’s like an exponential curve - at the start, it seems like you’re barely making any progress but in the end, it’s really impressive what you can accomplish if you can just do a little bit here and there. Don’t give up, keep going for many, many years and that’s really the way that really big things can be made to happen, I believe.

Volodymyr: I agree with you. And since Pirates of the Caribbean, do you play any other games?

Pieter: So, I myself, before Pirates of the Caribbean, I played some games and my favorite games were Indiana Jones games, some real-time strategy games, I can mention some titles, but maybe not quite all.

Actually, as I played Pirates of the Caribbean and got more into the modding, I stopped playing games altogether. So far, the 17 years at least I spent developing Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons. In 10 of those years I spent really primarily modding the game and a lot of the features in Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons, I never actually properly played with them myself.

I just made sure that other people could play with it. Really only 2 years ago, when my little brother encouraged me to buy a PlayStation 4, that’s actually when I started playing games again. So I finally have some more actual gamer experience again, and the main games that I’ve been enjoying over the years, let’s start by mentioning Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Just of course the number one big famous Western pirate game and when it was released, people at the PiratesAhoy! community, I’ve got to admit, we were very much making fun of it for how unbelievably arcadely it was. Like the speedboat method of sailing around in that game. At some point, I had to play it. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag

So I played it and I’ve got to say there is a lot to be enjoyed about that, but at the same time, I really wish that there was some sort of mix between that game and the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons. Like take those two things and mash them together, I think then we’d have quite a stunning game.

Also, in the same series, Assassin's Creed, one of the other games I played is Origins, which is set in ancient Egypt. And from my side, it’s actually quite a big step forward from Black Flag. It was made by the same team, I believe.

And for me, it’s much closer to, like, a believable game world. It feels much less gamey, and actually, I was really impressed with the attention to detail. Walking around in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I feel like I'm walking around a video game world. If I walk around in Assassin's Creed: Origins, I feel like I’m walking around ancient Egypt and there are people on the streets going about their business and doing all sorts of things that aren’t even remotely important for the gameplay, but they really make you feel like these are real people in a real world.

At some point, my family visited me and I was showing them Assassin's Creed: Origins, and we realized that among the theatres there was literally a theatre group pantomiming some play. Literally, like you’re in a theatre. You could watch a play and they were literally acting out stories without talking, and there were 3 different stories, very much appropriate for the time setting, very much related to the story of the game. But if you are a player, if you are a regular arcade player, and you just rush through things, you wouldn’t ever notice that. But that’s the amount of attention to detail that they put there and I was well impressed. 

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Another game that I quite enjoyed was The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, they did a really impressive job. I played that and the attention to detail there is also amazing, I think. I do think they went overboard here a little bit, like the crafting system - dear Lord, I spent like half an hour at a time just in the menu trying to get my new armor. That’s not really what I personally enjoyed doing, but it’s definitely well done.

The main thing I appreciated in The Witcher 3 was just the characters. The friends to the main character Geralt and how they keep coming back - they really have distinctive personalities and you keep interacting with them and you can make different choices. It has some sort of impeccable game world.

At the same time, you have all those side quests with also distinct characters and you really feel like it’s quite a believable game world with distinct stories. And I think especially I liked the storytelling - it’s like several interactive books wrapped into one - I was quite impressed with that one.

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Uncharted series

From all the games I played, actually, the whole reason I bought the PlayStation 4 in the first place was that I could play the Uncharted series. It’s quite a different sort of game, there’s basically no RPG element whatsoever, just pure action adventure but also with a story base, and I really enjoyed that. ...I’ve been enjoying quite a lot of the Star Wars games through the year, so yeah, that’s a bit of stuff that, I’d say, was worth my time.

Volodymyr: Have you heard about an attempt to develop a new Sea Dogs 4 BlackMark game in 2018?

Pieter: Actually, there were two things that I knew of. Because already many years before that, Edward Zaitsev from Seaward contacted us asking about Corsairs 4, I think he called it like that at that time. Because of course, the game series is called Sea Dogs / Age of Pirates / Pirates of the Caribbean in the Western world, and it’s called Corsairs, I believe, in Russia. So they wanted to develop Corsairs 4, and I think it was not the Unity engine, maybe you can help me here, it was the other one, not CryEngine… 

Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons / Sea Dogs 2 - interview with Pieter Boelen from PiratesAhoy!

Pirates of the Caribbean New Horizons. Sea Dogs 4 (Corsairs 4)

Volodymyr: Unreal Engine?

Pieter: I do believe so. Yeah, I believe it was the Unreal Engine they were intending to work on. Basically, they had an ambitious intention of making our dream game, like making the next version of the Sea Dogs games.

And what Edward Zaitsev was hoping for was to make a game that was not just successful in Russia, where I believe pirate games are quite popular, but also in the Western world where it doesn’t seem to be too much of a big thing. As far as I can tell, they are interested in SciFi stuff, they are more interested in horror, adventure too, and fantasy, lots and lots of fantasy.

But pirates, it’s really, once in a while something pirate-themed shows up - it’s not really something that keeps going. It’s a bit unfortunate, I think, it’s really like a big gap, because the way I see it is a truly no well-done pirate game, not on the level with other popular games out there, like Witcher or Spiderman. I can’t think of any reason why not, why it’s not there at the moment. But Edward Zaitsev had the wish of making that happen.

So he contacted us, and actually, we still have the hidden subforum on PiratesAhoy! with all the discussions that we had about this game. Let me have a quick look at where it’s hiding these days. Regular visitors to the forum will not be able to see this, but it does actually exist in our archive.

So we’ve got the subforum called Former Corsairs 4 Discussions, 11 different threads, and 258 messages - that was basically between our community and Edward Zaitsev to do a brainstorm of how we, as Western pirate gamers look at the series, what we think would be interesting, how things might be different from Russia. Those discussions, still exist. Then, I think, it was 2 or 3 years ago when there was a little bit of resurgence about Corsairs 4, which apparently had been taken over by BlackMark and they had the intention of making it happen.

But by the time, actually, the news reached my attention apparently it had already been put on the back burner again. And apparently, they tried doing some crowdfunding in the background. I was actually interested, I would have been quite willing to donate to them, but by the time I actually figured out was possible to donate, it wasn’t possible anymore. Okay, that was a bit of an interesting thing.

So whatever Russian game studio is out there that is interested in making a game like this again, feel free to get in touch with us. I think we can talk with the rest of the community and we’d be quite happy to give you access to all of our hidden discussions that you can read through to see what we think. At the same time, we’re happy to help you with promoting your game through our social media channels. We’ve got Facebook and Twitter and our ModDB.

Volodymyr: Pieter, I am very grateful for the time. I think it was a great interview and I learned a lot from you. And I hope that you, your team, and the whole community will achieve new goals and you will have new versions of the Pirates of the Caribbean: New Horizons. And also I hope that Armada will achieve the goals and we will see the release of the new game on Steam. Thank you for your time and I hope to see you soon.

Pieter: Ok, you’re very welcome, thanks also for your time.

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