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Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, Pirates of the Caribbean, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview
Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, Pirates of the Caribbean, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

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. You can follow the project news on our website, YouTube channel, and Telegram.

Volodymyr Bondarenko, head of the Ukrainian studio Mauris, is interviewing Yurii (Ursus) Rogach who made art for Sea Dogs 2: Pirates of the Caribbean, Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, Sea Dogs: Sea Legend is Back, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships, Sea Dogs 4 (the project is suspended). You can also watch this material on YouTube using the link provided.

Volodymyr: Hello, Yurii!

Yurii: Hi.

Volodymyr: Please, tell us what Sea Dogs projects have you worked on and what work did you do?

Yurii: Well, actually I first came to Sea Dogs from the official Pirates of the Caribbean game, which was later renamed Pirates of the Caribbean. Eventually, I started working on Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales, as well as Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Naturally, later I was involved in the Seaward.Ru team – working on projects like Sea Legend is Back and Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships from Sea Dogs game series.

At some point, I was also involved in the development of Pirates of the Burning Sea (Sea Dogs). About the work that I was responsible for – Pirates of the Caribbean (I was a team supervisor on 3D objects). Later – the role of the art manager and after the art director of our team Andrey Ivanchenko left, I became the new art director (that was near the end of Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales development). Also, Akella had this position on Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

When I was brought in by the Seaward.Ru team (originally, I was simultaneously working for Akella and Seaward.Ru), I immediately got an art director position. I also forgot to mention Sea Dogs 4, which hasn’t been released, but I was working on it for over a year, so I was doing my part as a member of a team.

In addition, I was working on Captain Blood, where I was also in the art manager position. And here you go, that’s my small list.

Volodymyr: It seems like you worked on all of the crucial games that gained deserved recognition, except the first Sea Dogs.

Yurii: Yes, I was very lucky. I often tell people that I was involved in the most noticeable Sea Dogs games and I actively participated everywhere, and I was lucky to have an impact on those projects. This is awesome.

Volodymyr: Yurii, I heard that your appearance influenced the famous art of Gordon Freeman, from an official Half-Life 2 artbook. I’d like to hear the whole story and how much did Half-Life spend on the artistic license.

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs. Half-Life 2 artbook

Yurii: That’s quite a story. There were a few coincidences. The drawing itself was for a video game magazine, I believe it was called Game.EXE. It was sent to the, now former, art director of Akella – Andrey Ivanchenko, also known as Anry. I think he’s one of the first digital artists from Russia and CIS countries. And at that time his influence on the industry was huge: he was well-known, and frequently quoted, and he also made some lessons and programs for artists' education. At that moment he probably was making the best digital covers for magazines. No wonder that order was assigned to him.

I was lucky to rent a communal apartment with Andrey, we had a shared kitchen. And when he got an order (that was pretty late), he had no time to get the work done quickly, as usual. That’s why he decided to make me a model, so I stood in a game pose, he gave me an item similar to a famous crowbar. 

I can say in that age I was looking very similar to Gordon Freeman, I had a similar facial structure and those glasses I wore. And I think that way Andrey Anry got the job done fairly quickly, he drew a character in one night, with slight corrections in the morning. It was easier for him to draw a character based on me. I love to tell this story. That was an implicit portrait of me, and for that I thank Andrey.

Eventually, Valve got interested in this artwork and they bought out the license to use it in their Half-Life 2 artbook. Naturally, a portrait of me in the character of Gordon Freeman got in an art book. Really fun story. Regarding the cost – of course, I know how much it cost, but to not offend anyone I can’t reveal it. I can only say, it was about three salaries of an art director at that moment. So, basically, the price was more than acceptable.

Volodymyr: Good story.

Yurii: Yeah, it’s great.

Volodymyr: And really, I think Half-Life is one of the fundamental games that everyone in the 2000-s played, it surely is the greatest shooter. And I think it really is a quality product.

Yurii: Yes, I totally agree, because it set a new standard for storytelling, at least for PC, because on game consoles something similar probably existed, but it wasn’t really available for the average player in our countries. And if now people are playing Cyberpunk 2077 that came recently, we can see that developers who worked on that project grew up playing Half-Life 2. Because, if you pay attention, the delivery of information, placement of cameras, and the way the player looks at people, are very similar to Half-Life 2. Yes, I think that project is great.

While we’re mentioning a team that worked on Half-Life 2, a few people actually know that many Half-Life 2 developers played Sea Dogs 1 and Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a well-known fact. And when they met Akella developers at conventions, they appreciated Sea Dogs 1 and Pirates of the Caribbean, which were popular in the west, on the first Xbox. That was pleasant. So that’s an indirect connection between Sea Dogs and Half-Life 2.

Volodymyr: By the way, I read somewhere that Johnny Depp played Sea Dogs and he liked it. Is there official information about that?

Yurii: There was no confirmation, but the only thing I know for sure is, that at the stage of development of Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2), Johnny Depp and other characters from the original movie were modeled into the game. And, unfortunately, Bethesda didn’t agree to give copyright. If some players remember, models got to original releases and mod makers could unlock them.

Volodymyr: I remember 12 characters for sure.

Yurii: Yes, yes. That was very upsetting because I’ve read reviews on Pirates of the Caribbean from western players. Honestly, the release was very successful, because the console had only a few RPG titles and Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) looked very good.

And graphics back then in games from Akella were up to date. All the negative comments related to the game were like “there was no Johnny Depp and other actors, that’s why we’re giving this game a bad review”. I was very upset.

Volodymyr: If I remember correctly, real Caribbean islands were replaced with fictional ones, but at the same time mod makers could just pull them out and get the map of real Caribbean islands.

Yurii: I can’t confirm that for sure. Because when I was brought into the project, Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) was in development for a year. At that moment I haven’t seen real islands in the game. They probably were hidden in archives or game files, but I haven’t found them in Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2).

Volodymyr: Right. By the way, I’m curious, have companies like Disney contacted Akella about collaboration or making a project based on Sea Dogs or other games?

Yurii: It was rather the other way around. I think, after the release of Pirates of the Caribbean on the western market (the first Sea Dogs game was successful) at that moment Akella…

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs. Pirates of the Caribbean

Volodymyr: I want to clarify, that “Sea Dogs” is how the game was named for English-speaking and US markets. It’s an important remark because not everyone might know.

Yurii: Yes, it’s even more important nowadays, because at some point Bethesda owned this trademark for years. Then (after 10 years) it expired and the organization that is Akella’s legacy bought the Sea Dogs brand and all Sea Dogs games (I’ve seen them on the Polish platform GOG) are named Sea Dogs and then comes the second name that could be in the original. Nowadays it’s a popular brand too, but it isn’t well-known in former CIS countries.

When it comes to offers, Akella was a pretty self-sufficient company and it was enough to work with Bethesda, the engine used in Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) was Storm 2.0 – it allowed for beautiful sea graphics.

If we look into graphics of that time, it’s safe to say that was cutting-edge technology, because back then there was no DirectX that made vertex shader technologies for displaying sea waves. 

For that Akella used old DirectX (it probably was DirectX 4 or 5) and they made a dynamic sea with various storm weather. And, naturally, Akella wanted to make use of this knowledge in other projects, they wanted to collaborate with Sid Meier who released a remake of his game Sid Meier's Pirates!.

They sent a lot of appeals to Sid Meier’s office so that Akella could help with some graphic technologies and content-making work. But, as far as I know, bureaucracy at Sid Meier’s team was so huge at the secretary level, that there probably were some managers, and so appeals have not reached Sid Meier. Though, there were really a lot of appeals. And so, Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) remain in history as the biggest achievement.

Volodymyr: By the way, Sea Dogs 2 was released on Xbox, but not on PlayStation. What’s the reason behind it?

Yurii: Right now I can safely tell you because, after the release of Pirates of the Caribbean as usual the team is taking a break between projects, I forgot the word for it. And naturally, in that situation, there always is uncertainty, because people don’t get overtime anymore and can freely generate ideas and start preparing for future projects.

But Akella decided to use this break to explore the possibility of porting Pirates of the Caribbean to PlayStation 2. The team was making RND for a few months (if I remember correctly I was also the head of a team) and it turned out there were many differences in technical requirements on the first Xbox, which was close to PC and Sony PlayStation.

PlayStation had an absolutely different format for loading models, textures, and other content or data. After 2 or 3 months of experiments, all of it stopped. Because we had to rethink all the content. Sony PlayStation 2 had a completely different approach to models and textures, it was impossible to scale textures and load them differently. I mean, the models were good, but the textures were not so much. Firstly, they had a different color palette and they couldn’t have a certain size.

Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) used Storm 2.0 – character textures were at least 512 by 512 pixels, but texture maps of the city or environment were up to 2000, and we had to cut it to smaller textures, and assign materials, remap and retexture everything. That was very expensive and that’s why the project was canceled.

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs game series

Volodymyr: Under the agreement with Disney, you had to release the Sea Dogs 2 game only for PC or for PC and Xbox? What was the agreement?

Yurii: No, I think it was only for Xbox. I might be wrong because it was released simultaneously on Xbox and PC. The PC version of Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) came in the box, it was very common at that time. It’s not a collector’s edition, it was simply called “box”. That was a colorful box with a rule booklet and fancy disks (2 or 3 disks, I can’t remember). Вethesda gave a box version to all people from Akella who participated, and they keep it to this day. After all, there were two projects: for Xbox and PC. First Xbox, not Xbox One. 

Volodymyr: Ok, but at that time, wasn’t PlayStation more popular than Xbox? Do you have that information?

Yurii: Well, firstly, PlayStation had a very convoluted approving system from Sony. Akella studied that system when they tried to release their motorcycle racing game with an element of freedom, that project was called Axle Rage. It was hard to deal with that system. Of course, I think that Disney had connections with Microsoft and there probably was a big problem with copyright. And so, Sony PlayStation had been given up for various reasons, including that one.

Volodymyr: Ok, I’m also curious about the following. From what I understand, after the release of Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs game series), Вethesda stopped partnership with Akella and that was partially related (at least according to my information) to the fact that Akella hasn’t released the promised Pirates of the Burning Sea. I’m curious about the fate of this game – was it in the development and what exactly went wrong?

Yurii: I heard that was one of the actual reasons. At least the online part was in development during the first Sea Dogs. Pirates of the Burning Sea may have been discussed, and it was announced at some old game conference, but I haven’t seen the development at that moment.

There were discussions because Akella was one of the publishers of Everquest 1 and 2. I’m not sure about the first one, but I know this project was reviewed by Akella employees responsible for publishing. Everquest 2 was localized and managed by Akella, so interest in online technologies manifested strongly in the team. But after all, there were no direct instructions or allocated resources for that.

Disconnect with Bethesda was probably documented according to Dmitry Arhipov, vice-president of the company. On the part of the team that worked in the studio, including me, it seemed to us that disagreement was about some parts of the game promised to Bethesda. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons, but there was probably more.

Volodymyr: Yurii mentioned that the legacy of Akella acquired a new legal person and is now selling games on GOG. I thought Akella stopped existing in 2012. Does it still exist but under a different name?

Yurii: I haven’t really thought about that, because when Sea Dogs 4 got closed I didn’t really have time for that. There are so-called brand successors, officially registered at least in Russia. And for some reason, they have the Akella logo. You can find projects on GOG that were officially released after the closure of Akella (that we know of). Basically, there’s someone who works with western systems on behalf of Akella. If someone finds more info, it would be interesting to read.

Volodymyr: I think I could take this theme and make a breakdown in the next video.

Yurii: That would be great. Because from the perspective of me as one of the developers of City of Abandoned Ships, seeing the project selling on the western market with a different name, I want to have some confidence that there’s none of my share left there. Because the author's reward for such products has to be formalized or specified somewhere.

But no one showed up with questions or other themes. That’s why I haven’t studied this question in depth, at the end of the day it’s not worth it, because there’s not that much money left.

Volodymyr: On Steam, Sea Dogs: To Each His Own, and so on.

Volodymyr: You mentioned a popular game City of Abandoned Ships, which, from my point of view, is one of the best, I even have a 10-year-old disk and it motivates me to make my own games. We’re now releasing our game Save the Pirate, as I showed you.

Yurii: Great, thank you.

Volodymyr: I also would like to know, why do you think this game, according to fans, is considered the best in the Sea Dogs series, not including the first Sea Dogs game from the 2000s?

Yurii: Well, I can tell you my side of the story, because I think that players who spent a lot of hours in the game can give us more valuable feedback. I have my own opinion as a developer.

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs series. Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships

Firstly, I think the project Age of Pirates 2: City of Abandoned Ships (Sea Dogs game series) covered some game mechanics that still aren’t fully implemented. It includes sea adventures, land adventures, some form of fencing, capturing cities, traveling, and trading. Those things are implemented as strategy elements, which means you have to figure out where to swim, what goods to carry, and how to not get caught on the way by pirates or warships.

There were fun storylines and dialogues. People saw a bit of a visual novel in it, playing other games at the same time. There were also elements of sailboat simulation and team management. Basically, nowadays a lot of people would be happy if the same game was made with today’s graphical technologies and some are probably still waiting for such a game. 

There was also a core element that isn’t really on the surface – it’s that during the development of City of Abandoned Ships, the Seaward.Ru team and its previous members were communicating with players very closely, and they practically attracted them to the development of the technical part, making quests, testing, voice acting and making music. And it was some sort of a public project, and when it’s public, it attracts people and forms the community. I’m speaking about the Russian-language community.

However, if you’re curious how the western market accepted the project, we’ve seen that many mod-making groups were created back then, and people always wanted to bring something to the project. That’s because the engine allowed this. It’s not very convoluted in itself, so using game scripts and through access to 3D packets, people could make changes and additions. People pretty much liked that. The genre of pirate games is much in demand but poorly implemented. It really played a big part.

And many additional elements, that I can’t all remember. Every time there’s a small thing that’s important in every other project, but here it connected to everything in one place and it created an interest in the game. Although, when the game was released, graphics were not up to date, nonetheless people remember it to this day. And if we take a look at the current top 10 best games about pirates, City of Abandoned Ships will usually be there

Volodymyr: I noticed this too. By the way, I’m curious, do you know about that western project the mod makers are developing right now? It’s called New Horizons, made with Unity, they copy most of the logic from Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2).

Yurii: I saw this project when it got closed and it got handed to any team who would want to continue the development. Back then I just found out about this project. I don’t know its current state, but I remember there was an ability to give your sailboat to the opposite team, so it could prove it’s able to manage it.

Volodymyr: Nowadays there’s some activity on the “PiratesAhoy!” forum. Besides, I’m currently in touch with a person who is the founder and the main enthusiast of the project. I want to interview him too and localize it to the Russian language. Overall, what do you think of those projects made by mod makers, people who make clones of actual games? Do you think it’s good or bad?

Yurii: Everything that’s related to game dev, if we’re talking about local interest, the relationship between human and computer – it’s always good because a lot of mod makers get the hang of programming, modeling, texturing, game design. They’re really priceless for the video game industry.

If we’re talking about 2002 when I was lucky to start working in Akella, and on the main project Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2), you’d have to have some skills. Nowadays it’s impossible to get into the game dev industry with the level of knowledge that recruits had back then. But mod making allows you to learn essential things and then have some portfolio.

We have to pay tribute to mod makers, including the Seaward.Ru team, that released City of Abandoned Ships and Sea Legend is Back, they left their mark on the industry and they are a beacon, reminding you that people can achieve the impossible. If we remember what was going on with the development, from the outside it seemed impossible to make it with the deadline and lack of money, even with the involvement of specialists from big companies. After all, enthusiasm plays a big part in the modern world, that’s why people should be doing that.

Volodymyr: I completely agree with you. I’m curious, over many years of work on Sea Dogs, I think there were some interesting and funny stories, and I think not many people follow current releases, articles, etc. Do you have a fun story you would like to tell us?

Yurii: I think there were a lot of stories, but as time goes it gets forgotten or more exciting events overlap. Sometimes fun coincidences occur, that have some continuation to them.

The first thing I remember from the development of Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2), there was an interesting typo in the name of some game components. There were several types of spyglass that you could upgrade to look at other ships and to see certain stats.

The simplest spyglass was a little scuffed and with cracked glass, had a typo in the Russian release where it was called “spyglass of shame” because one letter in Russian was missing. And no one noticed that missing letter, players thought that the name “spyglass of shame” was intentional by design. It amused us, and I’m not even sure whether it was fixed or not. 

There was also an interesting moment, in the original project Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) most of the story was related to characters who were associated with satanism. There were cults in the story and pentagrams in some locations.

Naturally, when Disney started to discover this project, that raised some questions because we could get negative feedback from players and their parents. That’s why the story was changed and all that was replaced. I could be wrong now, but satanists were replaced by animalists.

And all that was great for Disney, and Microsoft probably participated in some testing too. But when it came down to preparing files, it turned out some models or scripts contain text like “satanist.tga”. Of course, we were told to fix them.

You understand we had to fix all references in scripts and code. We were worried and asked, “Is this really necessary if the player never sees it?”. They literally responded with “some grandma or mother can take their son’s disk that could be similar to a movie or music disk, insert it into the PC, open the explorer with the contents of the disk, suddenly go to some catalog and see “satanist” file – there would be big problems”. And it’s good that they asked to get rid of that. 

Of course, there were more interesting stories during the development, when computers were left working at night, to test stability. And game stability depends on a lot of things, including the duration of the game if you don’t turn it off.

There was a fun moment with NPC (maybe 2 fun moments) in Sea Dogs 2.

First one, when NPCs were unloaded, they just walked around locations, assigned by game designers, soldiers and villagers were moving around the scenes, but at some moment, there probably was a memory leak because of the continuously running game (maybe it was running for a few days or weekends), so model vertexes bound to bones (it’s called skinning) started to be a little off.

And people moving around the scenes looked like monsters from some horror movie because their faces and clothes surfaces were constantly moving, looking horrible. 

The problem is that we didn’t know about that, and when game designers came to work in the morning, drank coffee, and sat to test an already running game, they accidentally discovered those horrible characters. They were genuinely scared when they suddenly saw that monstrosity in the corner of a screen… I remember that moment, I was there, and it was interesting and fun.

The second moment was related to the fact that programmers had as much freedom over the project as artists. They could make some features, test them, add them to build, and tell the others, but sometimes not, leaving some features as easter eggs. And someone from the programmers limited the lifespan of some characters to a couple of years. And when that character theoretically lived hundred years, its model was replaced with a skeleton.

Also, when you play for too long and don’t quit the Sea Dogs 2 game, your main character turned into a walking skeleton. That too caused unadulterated surprise and was fun.

Volodymyr: I never heard about those skeletons if I’m being honest. It seems like very few people encountered it. The concept of testing is interesting and I think it’s useful to test the game for better stability, as opposed to not doing tests. I think those tests allow players to protect themselves from sudden crashes and bugs.

Yurii: Yes, there was a lot of it, and usually bugs are a different territory for us. Firstly, when players act unexpectedly and use different hardware and software.

Also, I can give an example when in Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) there was a ship named the Black Pearl (from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie). You had to defeat it at the end of the game with a special artifact, but to not make constraints, they just gave it a ton of health. An ordinary player could never defeat the Black Pearl unless they had an artifact that could deal substantial damage.

But after the release, we started to see some player reviews (or at the testing stage, I can’t remember), that they managed to defeat this ship. And they did it midway through the game, that’s why they couldn’t complete the final quest. It was an unpleasant and scary bug. There was a question: how could they defeat a big ship that had a huge amount of health? Then we found out how.

So, Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) has the chasing element. If you start fighting with another ship and drift away for some distance, it starts to chase you by some AI condition (when it’s stronger, it chases you). Naturally, when the player keeps their distance so that the enemy ship can't hit them, it will follow them.

So, about the Black Pearl. Once it followed you, you had an opportunity to come close to an enemy fleet that could damage Black Pearl. If the player managed to keep perfect distance, they were followed by the enemy fleet and Black Pearl.

There were moments when you and the following ships could swim close to the walls of the armed fortress. That fortress had very powerful cannons, and at some moment you could sneak in and make both cannons and the enemy fleet shoot at Black Pearl.

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs. Pirates of the Caribbean ships

All that damage combined could kill Black Pearl and the course of game events was disrupted. Developers have no idea about this. Of course, later that was fixed.

Volodymyr: But it’s very difficult to do. I think, even at 2x speed you’d have to swim for hours.

Yurii: At that time swimming for hours was normal. Because, if I remember correctly, in Steel Hunter, a game about submarines, there is real-time travel between Europe and America. My friends from Akella left the game running after sending a submarine on a trip, then they came in the evening while it still was traveling. They even called their wives to look at what was happening in Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2), and correct the travel course if needed. So, at that time, it was normal.

Volodymyr: Well, as of today, I’d say 2x speed is not enough and I would like to have 4-8x. And I know that mod makers did that, but as far as I’m aware the original version had only 2x speed.

Yurii: It was made for only one reason (it was possible technically), with the big number of events that had to be sped up (probably using delta time), the probability of bugs occurring could become very high. And, naturally, the publisher wouldn’t allow the use of those mechanics. That’s the main reason.

Volodymyr: By the way, I think my game crashed when I was at 2x speed. I also had a crash two weeks ago – I was firing cannons at an enemy ship and at that moment I had an exception and my game just closed. Supposedly, I think it could be because of the accelerated mode.

Yurii: Unfortunately, among other things, the Pirates of the Caribbean game was affected by installed programs, I don’t even understand how and why they affected the client. There was an ICQ messenger if you remember.

Volodymyr: Yes, it still exists, but it’s less popular. 

Yurii: Yeah, it somehow caused errors in Pirates of the Caribbean and Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales. Something like this. Very funny, but I guess there were a lot of reasons, including Windows modes with overlays and stuff.

Volodymyr: Yep, ICQ was pretty aggressive and overlayed other windows…

Yurii: Definitely.

Volodymyr: And that could cause a lot of problems. I’m curious, do you play any pirate games nowadays? Do you have a favorite pirate game, besides Sea Dogs?

Yurii: In due time I tried to play some, but if we’re talking about a project that left a deep mark on me – it’s Sid Meier’s Pirates, 2004 remake. For me, it was a very exceptional project because there are a lot of land, sea, and trading mechanics. In some way, it was a twin brother of Sea Dogs.

Many people say that Sid Meier's original Pirates project from the 90s inspired the first Sea Dogs. All of that was made in 3D and later when Sid Meier’s Pirates remake was released in 2004, I think that developers had to play the first Sea Dogs to make the things they made there.

But I really liked that project. For other projects people watched or streamed on YouTube, the interest was always there. I never played them myself, because there were a lot of Sea Dogs projects and it was fun and self-sufficient.

Volodymyr: I’m curious, what projects are you working on right now? As far as I know, they’re not related to pirate themes and more related to tanks, because you’re working in Wargaming. Tell us what you do.

Yurii: Basically, if we take my experience in game dev – I got lucky two times. First time I was lucky to work on the Sea Dogs project. And the second time was at the time of Sea Dogs 4 shut down – there were a lot of reasons. The main one is the economic crisis in Russia in 2008.

It was not rightfully decided to shut down the project and studio. The Seaward.Ru team made this decision in half an hour, we didn’t know about the shutdown before dinner, then they told us about the crisis, reduction in funding, and delaying salaries for a few months. And we decided to not escalate the situation, hoping we could come back to Sea Dogs 4, so we shut down this project. 

At that moment we didn’t want to lose touch with the video game industry and make the financial situation in our families worse. I was lucky to quickly find a job at a Wargaming company in Minsk.

I was very happy because I’m from Belarus and I had an opportunity to go back to Minsk from Moscow. And I’ve seen the first days of the World of Tanks project. According to Wikipedia World of Tanks development started earlier, but that was purely RND. They experimented with the genre and created some combinations and elements for showing art from other projects. Back then, I and a couple of others joined the team, we were hired just for this project.

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs. World of Tanks

At that moment we started to make content purely for World of Tanks. And I’ve seen and experienced all of that. I was working as a lead technical artist. So basically, I loaded the first tank into the game, assembled and skinned it, and came up with a lot of things.

And after a certain period of time, I moved on to managing outside artist teams. Currently, I’m the head of an art outsourcing team. It means that 3D models, textures, and 2D content, exclusively for World of Tanks, go through me and my department. It’s been 11 years by now.

Volodymyr: Interesting, what direction do you like the most: pirates or tanks?

Yurii: Both became part of my life. Of course, if we take pure romanticism and elements of inspiration, I like pirate themes more. Because it’s a legacy of literature I’ve read in my childhood. I’ve read their books by Stevenson and Jules Verne.

I also love tanks, because in my youth I liked military technology, and when all those tanks ended up in the game, exclusively through materials from Moscow libraries, closed archives and they uploaded them on servers for artists, including scanned blueprints – all of that luckily passed through me. And every time I received a new portion of materials for the Minsk team, I was the first one who was curious about it. And those discovery and exploration elements were cool. It’s an awesome experience. Sometimes even I am jealous of myself.

Volodymyr: It’s an awesome project in itself.

Yurii: Yeah, some people still find the strength and enthusiasm to make something great and even impossible. Although great stuff is made within a team, it’s an experience and a lot of good memories.

Volodymyr: I have the last question regarding Sea Dogs 4. Actually, you’ve already touched upon the history of this game, there were rumors in 2018-2019 that Sea Dogs is in development and that it might be released, then Akella stated that it will be released, but all of that was probably for the hype and marketing. So, the question is: what do you think is the probability of Sea Dogs 4 releasing? And would you want to take part in the development?

Sea Dogs with Yurii (Ursus) Rogach: Pirates of the Burning Sea, future of Sea Dogs 4. Interview

Sea Dogs 4

Yurii: It’s a difficult and common question, in order to answer it we should go back to December 2020. Nowadays, the concept of Sea Dogs, unfortunately, is very out of date. In the current form, and in the form of announcements from different teams, I think now it would be possible to achieve, but impossible to get fame and recognition. Because players and the community completely changed their views on game mechanics, graphics, and interface elements.

I remember when we were developing Sea Dogs 4, a popular Polish studio released The Witcher 2. We already had similar graphics, and Akella told us that we must be on the same level as them. At that moment there was a standard in the industry.

But nowadays, The Witcher 2 and The Witcher 3 are pretty out of date, even if they had ideal AAA or Nextgen graphics, game mechanics get old too.

I may be wrong and this game is still in demand. But maybe it should look slightly differently, played differently. I recently played Obsidian’s project The Outer Worlds and I liked it, but I noticed that its mechanics, interface, and storytelling are out of date.

If Sea Dogs 4 is released now, it would be similar to The Outer Worlds. We can read about how The Outer Worlds was accepted by players, and I think the same would happen to Sea Dogs 4. If they wouldn’t forget to implement good Sea Dogs mechanics, related to sea and ships.

That’s why I think the probability that it would be in demand is 20-30%. And the probability that someone starts developing something similar is no more than 3%. As our studio director once said, our three games basically have three game engines.

If we take Pirates of the Caribbean (Sea Dogs 2) and Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales – those are engines in charge of land travel, character, skeletal animation, battles, pathfinding, navigation mesh, and other elements.

The second engine was in charge of sea travel. That was a completely different graphical core and logic.

And the third engine was responsible for the global map. The global map had its mechanics, different render, and requirements for image elements. We had to make three games in one. Nowadays developers don’t want to take this risk. 

Volodymyr: Definitely, I can confirm it, because on the Seaward forum I found some game, recommended by one of the old forum members, it’s called Vendetta or something. There were mechanics of ship battles and land travel, but they didn’t make a proper map. You had to mark the place on a map and your ship travels there. Just 2D points on a map. They implemented only 2 mechanics, and the main focus was on sea travel. They haven’t combined all 3.

Yurii: Well, now it can be enough to use two, but an element of the global map is very necessary to have. 

Volodymyr: Last clarifying question. There was an example with The Wither: CD Projekt RED are making their own engine, which means they don’t use Unity or UE4, and it’s completely handmade. As far as I know, Storm Engine was born in Akella and it’s a handmade engine as well, for Sea Dogs, Captain Blood, which wasn’t released. So, was Sea Dogs 4 in the development on the updated Storm Engine 3.0, or did you use something else?

Yurii: No, at that moment Akella used GameBryo, unfortunately, in its minimal form. That was a smart PR move because Fallout 3 at that time also used GameBryo.

It’s certain that Bethesda modified GameBryo for their needs, and the one we got was not what we expected. That’s why we had a team of programmers to build upon that engine, which lived and worked in Krasnodar. They were very talented guys, but GameBryo had its limitations. Officially I was GameBryo and half of the instruments were GameBryo too.

Volodymyr: Got it, thank you for the info. And thank you for the informative and comprehensive conversation.

Yurii: You’re welcome.

Volodymyr: I liked the stories about Sea Dogs 2, especially about spyglass, moments like that are very funny.

Yurii: Unfortunately, I forgot dozens of things before the call. Maybe someday I’ll remember them and add more text.

The development of Sea Dogs was fun and interesting, there are a lot of funny stories I’m embarrassed to talk about because they contain personal stuff. We have to live and work with that. And I think it will be difficult for developers in the future.

Volodymyr: Thanks again for your time, I hope to see you again in future series.

Yurii: See you. Goodbye.

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