The material below was prepared during the development of the Corsairs Legacy pirate life simulation game by Ukrainian Mauris studio in order to popularize the marine theme in general and pirate games in particular.
Learn more about the Corsairs Legacy – Historical Pirate RPG Simulator project and add it to your wishlist on the game page on Steam.
Volodymyr Bondarenko, the head of the Ukrainian Mauris studio, is interviewing Denis Khaliullin, the key developer of the Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story.
Volodymyr: Dolphin, hello!
Volodymyr: I want to talk with you today on the topic of Sea Dogs: A Pirate’s story. It is interesting to know how the project was developed, how the idea appeared, and how the development went. The project was warmly received by the audience, and, from my point of view, a very good project. Please tell us — how did it all start and how did it all happen?
Dolphin: It all started when I got my hands on a Pirates of the Caribbean CD and it was my first pirate-themed game, but the CD was also pirated. And as soon as the Internet appeared in mass access, I immediately came across thematic forums and one of them was the Sea Dogs’ Harbor forum. But then it was not yet a harbor, it was a cozy place where 20-30 people talked. There I began to communicate with people who are also interested in games of this kind. Then there was the Alexus & Morgan pack for Pirates of the Caribbean, and I began to slowly figure it out there, look at the code. Basically, I am a programmer. I have never worked in my specialty, but then I started to “poke around” a little. In parallel, our project about Sea Dogs was developing. The leader was Kostya Monbar, with whom we had good and friendly relations. And at the time of the release of Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, everyone realized that this project was quite “raw” and, to put it mildly, unplayable. And the Sea Dogs’ Harbor project then already acquired a fairly wide audience and was popular in the thematic environment. One day Kostya wrote that it’s undignified that we have such a resource, but we don’t have our own add-on, and suggested that I work to do something like that. Before that, I didn’t really deal with games, but after looking at the scripts and understanding them, I agreed. Well, at that moment the idea of creating an add-on was born.
Volodymyr: How many people developed the Sea Dogs: A Pirate’s Story add-on?
Dolphin: It's very difficult to say, as there were different numbers of people at different times. There was a strong staff turnover. There were a lot of applicants, especially the authors of quests. We gave them a test task, and naturally, a lot were eliminated. There were a lot of people, but a permanent backbone was formed somewhere towards the end of development and it was within five people. Among them, there was I, the author of most of the quests, the site administrator, a person who made 3D models, and two people who were engaged in services.
Volodymyr: How many quests were made for the Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story?
Dolphin: There were a lot of them, I didn't even count them. There were also a lot of quests “standing in line” to get into the game. One of these quests was related to the fact that the work on the add-on was discontinued.
Volodymyr: How much time did it take to develop the game?
Dolphin: Well, not a game after all, but an add-on. These are different things because it's one thing to develop from scratch, and the other is some kind of adding up to a game. But here it is very difficult to say exactly about the time because the addon was originally developed for the game “ge of Pirates: Caribbean Tales”. Then, with the release of " Sea Legend is Back " and " Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships ", everything was reshaped a little to fit the new content that these two games brought. We can say that everything was redone from scratch. And the last iteration was when the open scripts of the “Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships” appeared, that is, there was their English release. Then the addon completely moved to their engine. And again, it was a new remake. It turns out that as soon as the code for the City of Abandoned Ships became open, since then the add-on has been developed in the form in which it is now.
Volodymyr: So how long did it take from the release of the English version of the City of Abandoned Ships to the release of Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story?
Dolphin: There wasn't such a release of Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story, because the development of the add-on ended suddenly, no one planned to finish the work in advance, nevertheless it happened. It all started in 2005, and I finished working on it around 2012. It turns out 7 years.
Volodymyr: You said that your acquaintance with the series began with Pirates of the Caribbean, from a pirated disk in which you got access to the source codes. Whose disk was it?
Dolphin: It was absolutely a ‘noname’ disc. The cover on it was printed on plain paper with a color print and the same printout was also pasted on the disc. There was no publisher on it, nothing.
Volodymyr: And where was it sold? At some book market?
Dolphin: Yes, at our radio market.
Volodymyr: Tell me, please, did Akella contact you and offer you some kind of cooperation in the development of your addon?
Dolphin: It happened that we had a kind of connection with Akella through a third party. We never spoke directly to them. I have a good friend of a programmer who worked in a studio in our city, they also developed games, but more for a foreign audience. And when we had the idea of developing an add-on, he helped me, and suggested something, since I didn’t have much experience. Then, after some time, he told me that his supervisor was interested in my work and asked for a meeting. And this leader said that soon he was going to a game conference where there would be a representative of Akella, with whom he would try to talk and agree on official cooperation. And when this leader returned, he said that at that time Akella was inundated with add-on offers for Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, and if we can get them interested in our design document, then perhaps the dialogue will continue. But then everything was in such an embryonic state and it was still too early to talk about a well-developed concept. But when we were designing the document, Sea Legend is Back came out successfully. And it was natural that Akella preferred the already more or less well-developed product of Sea Dogs Alexus & Morgan.
Volodymyr: Did you have any thoughts about teaming up with Alexus and making a joint product, or did you want to make your own game?
Dolphin: The thing is, we didn't even try to unite for the most part because our concepts were slightly different. Also, cooperation with us would not give them any benefit. The idea that we wanted to implement in our project, in one form or another, was eventually implemented by them. But they also had something that we did not want to see in our project at all. That is, we had different thoughts about it.
Volodymyr: Can you clearly explain point by point what are the key differences between the Seaward project and yours in terms of ideology?
Dolphin: We were totally against the mystical component. The main difference was that in the same City of Abandoned Ships, most of the gameplay was allocated to this part, while in our case it was fundamentally absent.
Volodymyr: Do you have any idea how many users played your add-on?
Dolphin: No, if you look at the statistics of downloads from our site where the addon is posted, this does not mean anything at all, because the era of torrents began. I also had photos where our add-on was on disks and was sold on various radio markets. Therefore, it is very difficult to compile any truthful statistics.
Volodymyr: How many people ended up downloading the Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story through your site?
Dolphin: I, as the ideological inspirer of this project, have never been interested in such statistics. For me, if 50 people play it's good, if 1000 people play it's even better. I never chased popularity. I tried to make the addon as I see it. Who likes it or not, that's up to everyone.
Volodymyr: Did you manage to monetize the project somehow?
Dolphin: Absolutely not. Personally, I didn't get anything from the add-on.
Volodymyr: You said that you saw discs being sold in some markets. Didn't you have an idea to also start selling discs of your own game to get some income?
Dolphin: No, because the add-on was already in the public domain and anyone could download it. I have always been an opponent, even indirectly, of any fraudulent schemes, but it turns out that I had to take something that was already free and sell it to a person who does not know where to get it for free. It's not about me.
Volodymyr: Okay. But if you look from the other side - any work should be paid, especially if it brings benefits. And, in fact, game development is a very long and expensive project. That is, people who download it by torrent, simply do not allow the developer to develop and create new and more interesting products for the same audience. As I understand it, even though the product was free, perhaps you had some kind of additional donation system that allowed you to somehow monetize? Or have you completely abandoned any kind of monetization?
Dolphin: No, we had wallets posted on the site for support, but nothing came up there. In terms of profitability and income, this add-on was originally a hobby for me and I never accepted it as a significant or promising source of income. Maybe because of this, it turned out what happened. I did everything for my own pleasure.
Volodymyr: Are you still a programmer or doing something else?
Dolphin: I have never worked as a programmer, although I know how to do it. And about what I'm doing now, I, unfortunately, can not tell.
Volodymyr: Okay. Please tell me why did you decide to make two full-fledged lines of two characters, and not make one, but longer and richer?
Dolphin: It's not that simple here. In general, as soon as the idea of creating an add-on was born, we had only 2 people on our team: me and Kostya Monbar. We didn't know how many people would want to join us later, so we took the path of least resistance and made an add-on based on The Adventures of Captain Blood. This was motivated by the fact that it seems like the storyline already exists and from the point of view of the script, we no longer had to strain. That is, Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story was originally planned as just a game about Captain Blood. This was also written in our concept, which we sent to Akella. I don't know if it's a coincidence or not, but then everyone saw Captain Blood in the City of Abandoned Ships and that's why we abandoned this idea. And if before that Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story meant the pirate Captain Blood, now we've decided to make Henry Morgan's Pirate Story. It was a fairly well-known character and we approached the work very carefully, as we were afraid of “breaking firewood”. And we decided to start with lesser-known characters such as Michel de Grammont and Peter Hein. After the stories with these two were finished, we started working on the story about Morgan, but we did it somewhere by 60%, and so now I have it in text form.
Volodymyr: The appearance of Michel de Grammont stands out from other character models in Sea Dogs. How did it happen? Can you tell the story of its creation?
Dolphin: First of all, this is connected with the author of the plot. He insisted that the model should be this one because the story of Michel de Grammont himself begins when he was 13 years old, that is, roughly speaking, he is not even a teenager, but a very young man. This, one might say, was such a whim of the screenwriter and I did not object, because I did not mind. Yes, the model is controversial, not everyone liked it, but it is what it is.
Volodymyr: Have you watched Unity’s review of your Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story add-on? And if you did, how do you like it?
Dolphin: No, to be honest, I don't even understand what it's about, since I haven't been following the development of pirate-themed games for a long time.
Volodymyr: Why did the addon stop at version 0.42?
Dolphin: This is a sore subject for me. I did not plan to finish work on the Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story add-on. In general, most of the time I was the only one working on the add-on. Since it was done with just enthusiasm and no one paid money to anyone, people came and went. And I often had to redo or finish their work. And since everything falls into the hands of one person, it is very difficult. Quality begins to suffer from this and it is also very difficult mentally and, of course, physically. It also always bothered me that quests were written by different people. If we had a game of one character, then it would not be so conspicuous. And, since we have a Pirate's Story associated with two personalities who are completely different in character, this was very noticeable, especially in the passage of quests. Because some quests that were written by completely different people contradict some principles of both the character and the player. Let's say a quest where you need to set someone up or betray, and this particular character is not typical at all. So the uniqueness and individuality of the character are lost since the quest must be completed.
Volodymyr: At the beginning of the interview, you said that there was some kind of quest that caused the game to stop on version 0.42. Can you tell us about this situation, what happened?
Dolphin: Since my team, and especially me, had never had experience in game development before, we initially approached the development process in the wrong way. We started working on the Sea Dogs: A Pirate's Story add-on without having a concept yet, without understanding what we want to see in the end. That is, all the mechanics and some game features were developed in parallel with the plots and quests. And, ultimately, this led to such a dissonance, in which quests used mechanics that were not there before. And the game code was constantly being rewritten, something constantly needed to be changed, and sometimes it had to be rewritten from scratch. Then it was necessary to revise all the quests again so that they correspond to the new mechanics. So there were a lot of bugs. Returning to the quest, one day a person who was fond of historical fencing wrote to me and sent me a ready-made concept for a very voluminous and lengthy plot. It was connected with the fact that the main character must find swordsmen or people who wore the swords of the dead swordsmen in the archipelago and somehow get this weapon through a duel or ransom. Also, in addition to swords, the hero must get valuable books on fencing, after reading which the character was given different skills. As a result, the player should have a collection of cold unique weapons and a collection of fencing books. I liked this idea and I got excited to work on it. But in this case, I again had to change everything and completely rewrite the code. This entailed such a huge layer of work that at one point I just burned out. Sometimes I gathered my strength and sat down to work, but nothing came of it. Well, now this is no longer relevant since the engine is already outdated.
Volodymyr: What games do you play and do you play at all? Or have you moved away from this direction and do not play at all?
Dolphin: No, I play games. The first game I played on the computer was Shogun: Total War and I really liked it and I still don't miss a single game from this series. The only exception is Total War: Warhammer, which I bypass. Also a good series of games The Elder Scrolls. I've played The Witcher 3 four times. Of the latter, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, which I now play quite often.
Volodymyr: Have you tried Cyberpunk?
Dolphin: No, I was put off by the very aggressive advertising company and the way they were praising their product. Well, in the end, they broke off on the release of CD Projekt RED. Well, in general, the very atmosphere of Cyberpunk is not close to me. For the same reason, I couldn't play Fallout.
Volodymyr: Dolphin, thank you very much for an interesting and capacious interview. We wish you good luck.
Dolphin: Thank you! I was glad to share, chat with, and remember my youth. Good luck and all the best!