Closed beta test of action MMO “Cloud Pirates” began on September 15, 2016. We talked to its project manager Aleksey Kornev about the game history and the specifics of its development.
Image Credit: Cloud Pirates
Hello! Let’s start with the story of the “Cloud Pirates”, which is known in Russia by the name “Pirates: Allods Online”. What is the history of the project? Why did you decide to make a “tanks” game in the world of Allods?
Hello! First of all, I want to say that the game is about flying ships, not “tanks”.
The history of the game is fascinating. The idea of flying ships was born at the start of “Allods Online” when our studio was just beginning to look for a new USP for a local MMO. Many of us found the idea of flying on ships and battling in the Astral interesting. The Astral is a hostile dense substance formed after the big bang, which made a start of the universe of Allods.
With the release of “Allods Online” players could check out what we made. After forming a team and building a ship, players went to the mysterious Astral in search of treasure and adventures. Enemy monsters, NPC, and even other adventurers were waiting for them. Often, these meetings led to the boarding and fighting on the deck for the treasure.
Years later we kept on developing this direction, but the reality made its adjustments. MMO genre changed so as games in general. Numbers of players in the squad decreased and long manual gathering of a raid team changed to the automatic search system. In general, the pace of life increased, and our players found it problematic to gather a team to the Astral. That’s when the idea of special mode came (and a separate game later), where players don’t depend on the team and are able to manage the ship alone.
By the way, what is the concept of the “Pirates”?
In short, the “Pirates” is a team action on astral sailing ships in the world of Allods Online.
What other USP (Unique Selling Points) are there in the game apart from the setting and the aircraft?
The main task for us was to combine the classic action gameplay on vehicles with fantasy MMORPG. Therefore, our game inherited the best features of both its ancestors: balanced RPG leveling up of the ship, its captain, and the crew, and classification of ships (tanks, support, healers, buffers, etc.).
Of course, we have our own USP. All fights in the game are in the “honest 3D”, which greatly affects the battle tactics, you can move in any direction. At the same time, we have a very high dynamic battle with relatively low speeds, the player sees his enemy well, so there is no pixel hunting or fighting from a bush.
As far as I know, the first version of the game was made in spare time. Is it true?
When we had the idea of a new mode for Allods Online, there were no resources for its implementation. We put this plan aside for some time. But last year, a small group of developers decided to get back to this concept and began assembling a prototype. After the first tests, it became clear that the mechanics of the Allods Online didn’t work for this mode and it required serious changes. We started to make test changes in spare time. Soon we had a new version, which we began actively play-testing inside our studio. Despite the fact that the version was in a very early stage, positive feedbacks from the participants pushed us to the development of “Pirates” as a separate project. We showed a prototype to executives and within a week a separate small team was formed for the project.
How much time did the team spend to create a prototype, which received approve from the executives of Mail.Ru Group?
It took around 2 months if you sum up the prototype with the “Allods Online” mechanics and with the new one.
Does the project turn out to be based on technical solutions of “Allods Online”? How many changes were made in the engine?
The changes were dramatic. Battle mechanics were almost completely changed. Render was slightly rewritten – dynamic shadows of objects and many other changes were added. But we wanted to keep the style and requirements of “Allods Online”.
What design solutions did you reject at an early stage of development?
Initially, we would like to make the classic action gameplay on vehicles. However, looking through several options, we realized that it was boring. So we focused on dynamic battles on medium distances with special abilities.
During development we abandoned the concept of two decks on a ship – originally a player was able to manage each side, but the gameplay wasn’t comfortable, and the extra keys only confused and didn’t give any advantages.
“Tanks” enemy detection was useless in our gaming environment and was sent in a trash can. We made special modules that allow players to reduce or to increase the visibility of a ship at the right time.
In fact, the list is endless, the game with “honest 3D” sets a lot of restrictions, but also gives a lot of tactical possibilities.
You mentioned a captain and a crew. Please tell us about their role.
Captain is the embodiment of a player. By participating in the battles and completing quests, players can level him up by opening new features like the access to better modules, the ability to level up the team, etc., and general improving abilities (reduced scatter guns, reloading reduction , increasing damage, etc.). Development of the captain involves all ships that are available for the player.
The team is attached to the ship and can improve the characteristics of a particular class of ships. It means that a player has the opportunity to assemble a unique team that is suitable to a particular ship and a player’s fighting style. More details will be revealed in media after the second stage of the CBT, which starts on the 15th of September.
For me, the game looks innovative within the niche. On the one hand, it takes place in the sky. On the other, the levels are built quite differently from other flight action MMO. Can you tell us about your approach to level design of the project?
Of course, the approach is not the same as in action games with vehicles moving on a flat surface or a trajectory. We faced the problem of all space and flight simulators – the fight takes place in an open space, where it gets very difficult to feel the distance and object sizes. This leads to problems in the battle when it’s almost impossible to understand how far your enemy is. The setting of “Allods Online” helped us. We weren’t limited in level design as we weren’t tied to reality because in the fantasy universe of “Allods Online” everything is possible. Our levels are constructed the way so that a fan of melee battle and an avid sniper could be happy. Space is filled with fragments of destroyed allods, but the fight could take place over the existing allod too. During the first phase of CBT players were very pleased when they found one of the capitals from “Allods Online” on a battle map.
By the way, if we are talking about the levels, how many maps will be in the game? How much time do you spend creating and developing each level?
During the second phase of CBT, which will start on September 15, we will show four maps in four different settings. Making a topology take less than a week, and further debug never stops. Any changes in the basic gameplay mechanics are supported in the levels.
Here is another question. As I have already said, the architecture of levels is complicated. At the same time, the ships can fly over each other, go above or dive down. But the radar map is flat. Is it informative enough?
So far we haven’t noticed any problems with the perception of the minimap. The participants of the first phase of CBT didn’t pay attention to its flatness. I think the core gameplay and movement of the camera gives off. It is quite simple to navigate in space, and the mini-map is a tool for tactics not navigation.
Let’s move from development to marketing. Why did you separate beta test in Russia and in western countries?
In Europe, another beta test will be held. The approach to Russian and European communities is the same at the moment.
Can you share the results of the Russian beta test?
First of all, the beta test helped us to locate some technical problems that we couldn’t catch for a long time during internal tests. We are thankful to all participants of the CBT. Secondly, we have gathered a huge amount of feedback from different users. Our game lured not only fans of action games but also RPG and other genres. Their suggestions and advice helped us to improve the game. Thirdly, the CBT forced us to rebalance all the ships and take into account previous mistakes.
Are there any differences between beta version for Russia and the West?
There is only one difference – date. A small delay due to the localization and voice over.
When will be an open beta and a release?
If nothing changes, then this year. I think we’ll make our players glad.
By the way, what’s your opinion, when the game should go for a closed beta, and when for an open beta? Is there any universal advice?
It all depends on what goals you set for a beta test. Sometimes you need to check some concepts on a real player and it isn’t a good idea to invite a new user. Early versions of the game look very schematically, and users can be scared of projectiles in the form of simple balls and ships consisting of a single cube. When the game is close to a release, you can invite more players, collecting feedback and comments about the gameplay.
After an open beta and a release, how often do you plan to update the game and which way are you gonna do it?
It is too early to talk about it. The size and the number of updates depend on many factors.
I was very surprised when I learned about PvE. How will it work?
PvE is likely to appear in the first update after the release. At the moment there are several ideas: from small missions and battles against the waves of enemies to full-scale story quests.
And the last question. The names of Western and Russian versions of the game are different. Western version doesn’t mention “Allods”. Why?
It’s the choice of our Western publisher. According to our colleagues, it fits better. Anyway, the game is still based on the “Allods” universe.