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Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales add-on (Sea Dogs). How it was: Denis Khaliullin

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Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales add-on (Sea Dogs). How it was: Denis Khaliullin

You are reading material 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. 

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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.

Volodymyr Bondarenko, the head of the Ukrainian Mauris studio, is interviewing Denis Khaliullin, the key developer of the Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales add-on (Sea Dogs series).

Volodymyr: Denis, hello!

Denis: Hello!

Volodymyr: Why did you decide to create your own add-on and how did you form the team?

Denis: It all started with the fact that I became interested in the topic of Sea Dogs. At first, there was such a false add-on “Master of the Seas”, which promised a lot, but in fact, did nothing. One day they announced on their forum that they were recruiting a team, and they had a vacancy for a forum administrator, to which I responded. That's how I got into this topic. Later, when it turned out that there was no addon, we decided to do something with like-minded people. This is how the idea of ​​​​creating an add-on was born. As for the team, at that time it was quite easy to recruit people because many wanted to participate in this, however, people just as quickly “merged”. Already somewhere in the middle of the first part project, our team somehow settled down. There was also a time when I was alone.

Volodymyr: It turns out that the backbone of the team is you alone or is there a certain number of people who have done almost the entire project together?

Denis: Specifically, from the very beginning it was me and several guys from bestgamer.ru, who did not take part in the development itself, but provided consulting support.

Volodymyr: And what is the connection between bestgamer and BG Team? BG is, in fact, the bestgamer? Everywhere it is written that the add-on was released with the support of bestgamer.ru and I would like to know more about the partnership. I also saw that the site has not been updated since 2018, although there is an audience of more than 1000 people a day. What is the history of this site and why is it frozen?

Denis: Indeed, BG Team is short for the bestgamer team. This portal originated from an ordinary pirate forum, and initially, we started making an add-on within the framework of the forum. After that, the guys decided to develop and created a gaming portal, in which I took a small part in the initial stages. After that, we split up: my team and I were developing the add-on, while others were engaged in the promotion and support of the portal. Of course, in many ways, our project played a role in the initial attraction of the audience. Then we practically did not intersect, we existed in parallel. Why the project is frozen, I honestly don't know, since I haven't talked to the guys for a long time.

Volodymyr: Is it a commercially successful project or was it more of a fan-user project?

Denis: As far as I know, the portal brought some money in a certain period, but I don’t have any information about how much.

Volodymyr: Your add-on was very different in cut scenes, camera movement, zooming in, and additional characters. How did the audience perceive it and why did you decide to make such changes?

Denis: “My add-on” is a big word. From the second half of the project, the backbone of the team was nevertheless formed, there were 5-6 of us permanent people. As for the presence of cut scenes and other things, initially, we had the idea to make a story-oriented add-on and, accordingly, we used all these innovations to immerse the player in the story. But at that time we were criticized a lot, and the audience was very divided: some were very positive about us, and some were extremely negative. We balanced on this edge. Over time, we can say that people still liked it. Another point is that by the abundance of cut scenes and switching from one character to another, we slightly beat up the game engine, which began to produce a huge number of bugs that we, in fact, could not fully cope with.

Volodymyr: You actively used well-known names from various films and series, football players, there were many characters from Pirates of the Caribbean, whose models you directly transferred. How did you select these characters, was there some kind of algorithm, or selection criteria, or did you just insert your favorite films and TV shows into one plot?

Denis: There was no special algorithm because we had programmers, and screenwriters in our team, there were guys who did a little bit of texture work, but we had absolutely no specialists who could make a new 3D model. So we made the most of what we could. Comrades from Pirate Ahoy shared Assassin's model with us and we decided to insert him as an easter egg. There was a great desire from the forum community for this story to appear in the add-on, so it's crooked in places, but we implemented it. Now, of course, I look at it after the fact and it looks so-so in places, but at that time it was not bad. As for other models, since we couldn't change them much, but wanted to use them, we decided to leave the names as they are. And so we got Nathaniel Hauck and Daniel Green and some other characters. The football references were because the whole team loved football, so there was nowhere without it.

Volodymyr: Is it me or is the sex scene between Beatrice Sharp and Peter Blake the first such scene in the entire series of Sea Dogs? Was there anything similar before you or after you?

Denis: To be honest, I don't remember if there was anything before us, but after us, in some add-on in the source code there were sounds of sex in games. This was likely a reference to the Mafia, which also included a sex scene.

Volodymyr: Akella considered your add-on “Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales” as an alternative to “Sea Dogs: To Each His Own” to make a commercial project. Tell me how the negotiations went. Why the BlackMark Studio add-on was chosen, but yours remained fan-made?

Denis: Yes, at a certain time there were negotiations with Akella. The only thing we didn't know was that Akella was choosing between two projects. A representative of Akella came to us and offered the possibility of publishing. At that time, negotiations lasted for about several months, but there were no specifics. There was a choice to publish the first part or do the second. If you publish the first one, then because of the commercial rights it was necessary to cut a lot, and for this, you need to recruit a slightly more professional team. This period of uncertainty lasted for about 3 months. But only later, with the advent of information about the publication “Sea Dogs: To Each His Own”, we found out that we were actually a backup option for Akella. After that, the representative of Akella smoothly "merged" and we did not hear any more information about him.

Volodymyr: Did Akella announce any commercial conditions for everything that you discussed?

Denis: It didn't come to that. There were only promises that there would be some kind of payment.

Volodymyr: Then what did you discuss for 3 months?

Denis: Good question. I do not remember the whole story in detail, but I remember that it all lasted a very long time. We were given some information bit by bit, like: “Can you recruit a team? Can you remake this or that?” We said that yes, we can, the person disappeared for a certain time, then returned with some information, and so it was in a circle. This happened during the development of the second part and it notably crippled the team, so this part remained unfinished.

Volodymyr: Then what did you do? What brought money and “fed” you while you were doing add-ons?

Denis: In general, I started working on add-ons when I was a first-year student. Subsequently, I left for web development, including getting a job as a system administrator and site administrator for the Amkar football club. Generally, the IT sphere fed me.

Volodymyr: What are you doing now?

Denis: I stayed in this area. I can't say that it's just websites, but also portals, systems, and everything related to the web.

Volodymyr: Do you have any team left, backbone? Are you working alone or do you work with a team?

Denis: I work in a team, but it has nothing to do with the add-on. As for the add-on team, we generally keep in touch with some of them from time to time.

Volodymyr: You distributed your game for free. Is there any information on how many people played it? Was there any financial profit for you — some kind of return with donations or in some other way?

Denis: Unfortunately, there are no exact number of how many people who played our game. At that time, it was difficult to trace. The game was distributed on all gaming forums, and gaming magazines: "Igromania", "Navigator of the game world", and "Best computer games". Potentially, the reach of the audience can be very large. The bestgamer.ru portal also helped in distribution. Commercially, we didn't get a dime from the creation of the add-on. At that time, the donation system was not as developed as it is now. Therefore, it was all created with absolute enthusiasm.

Volodymyr: As I understand it, after talking with Akella, you just approached version 0.8 in “Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales 2”, and at that moment the work smoothly stopped.

Denis: Yes, at that moment version 0.8 was in development. We managed to “finish it” to the end, and then things got tough. After the release of the 0.8 version, the work continued for some time, then stopped, but then continued again. Firstly, the story with Akella played a role, and, secondly, we started making the add-on as students, and we approached version 0.8 already as adults with our own problems and concerns.

Volodymyr: How many years have passed since the start of work until the moment when it stopped?

Denis: We started doing the first part in 2006, and the final version came out in 2009. We started doing the second part in 2009. Recently I saw information from our VK that 7 years have passed since the release of version 0.8.

Volodymyr: So it took you 7 years to develop these two add-ons?

Denis: Yes, somewhere like that. With varying success, with interruptions.

Volodymyr: Who wrote the plot for you?

Denis: The plot was written by several people. Initially, in the first part, we had a scriptwriter and he wrote the first quests. Moreover, these quests were in no way connected to a single whole. Then, as this screenwriter left, the plot of the first part had to be assembled by me. I glued it all as I could. The plot of the second part started with me, and then our new screenwriter Dima Pshenichny joined in, who finished writing the entire plot to the end.

Volodymyr: In the second part, there is a change in the main character, he begins to do things that are not very humane and correct in relation to people. There is such an idea that you are trying to show him as a protagonist who smoothly slides into an antagonist. I would like to know —was the goal of the final version such that the main character became bad?

Denis: Yes, it was really the goal to show Blake's change. The first part we had was so a little naive and cloying, so when developing the second part, we tried to make it more adult, and more thoughtful, but not everything worked out either. And in general, we have several endings written for the second part. Depending on the choice of the hero, the plot will turn in one direction or the other.

Volodymyr: Considering that we will see all this in the game, can you tell us these interesting and exclusive endings, how the story should have ended and what would it depend on?

Denis: Of course, we will not see them in the game, but in fact, we have been talking and discussing how to tell people the ending of Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales 2 for a long time. No one from the team wanted and does not want to simply lay it out in text form, because this will not allow you to fully experience the game. We had a hope that the guys who did offshoots from our add-on could finish the story, but in the end, it didn't work out. At the moment, I can say that soon there will be details about the ending of the plot. And now I have been working on options for a long time about how to talk about it. It will definitely not be in the game engine itself, it will probably be a semi-webcomic with some interactivity elements.

Volodymyr: Did you watch the review of your add-on from Unity? I wonder what is your opinion about this video and in general about his opinion about the game?

Denis: Yes, I watched the review. Basically, I largely agree with his point of view and, indeed, now it all looks a little different than before. But then again, to better feel the add-on, it had to be played 10-15 years ago, when it first came out. But on the whole, I agree with most of his opinion and think that Unity is a fine fellow.

Volodymyr: Do you play any pirate games now? And in general, what games would you recommend playing from what has been released in the last 5-10 years?

Denis: Of the pirate-themed games, I partially played Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, and in general, I liked the Uncharted series. Well, the last one I went through is a remake of the Mafia.

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