Blog

latest news

Pirates!

Sid Meier is best known, and rightfully so, for his line of Civilization games.  But they are far from the only classic strategy games in his resume. My favorite of his works, hands down, was Pirates!, which came out in 1987 and was re-released with updated graphics and gameplay in 2004.

 

The only time in history the frilly shirt has been manly

The appeal of the game lay in its infinite replayability and in the unenclosed nature of the narrative. The game was very much a precursor to the open-ended RPG. But unlike a multi-pronged RPG, you weren’t steering towards one of a set number of scripted endings. In fact, you never quite knew when your game was going to end, or whether that ending would be desirable. More on that later.

After choosing your nationality (you could be English, French, Dutch, or Spanish), the whole ocean (well, the Caribbean, anyway) opened up to you to explore and/or plunder. You could take the safer route of a privateer if you chose. There were incentives to so; you were granted safe harbor in your nation’s colonial ports, and you had the chance to marry a lady of good standing and become an upright citizen. But there were also incentives to attack your own flag and become a terror of the high seas — more plunder! Higher profits! Arrr! You really could do whatever struck your fancy. Go ahead, attack that 60-gun galleon. You’ll kill off most of your crew, sure, but it’ll end in one hell of a sword fight.

 

Engarde!

These days, when you play a new title, you pretty much know when you’re approaching the end of the game. Your inventory (if you have one) is full, you’ve discovered and equipped all the weapons, and the narrative is escalating towards a climax, an obligatory confrontation with antagonist who’s been dogging your every step since frame one. Not so in Pirates. The ending of every game was uncertain. Would you retire willingly, or wind up in prison? Would your crew mutiny from bad treatment or greed and strand you on an island? You could never be sure. Late enough into a game, any battle could be your last. And that led to a tension that most game titles can’t create, because you honestly didn’t know how much more time you had. Kind of like life.

And here’s an even more remarkable thing: when your game ended, the game didn’t. I should clarify. When the game ended for your character, the game didn’t end. You just made a new pirate, started on another ship, and began a new career buckling swashes.

The real star of this game was its world, the Caribbean. Even rendered as it was in the constrained graphics of the 1980s, there was no mistaking that. The world did not exist just as a framing device for the protagonist’s story, a path for his or her progress. A lot of games feature the protagonist as the only real character in the world; the world exists for the player to save or conquer. Not so in Pirates. If you go down, the world wouldn’t even notice.

 

The original Arr!P.G.

Big decisions happen without your input. Nations go to war and sign treaties, and ports and colonies change hands. Alliances are made and broken. Rival pirates go tear-assing through the same waters, and may plunder a target port before you. Other events are always in motion. In short, the world does not center around you.

The whole effect this creates is that you are a visitor and guest in this world. The complete lack of defined levels, the openness of the map, and the random nature of ship encounters and world politics make every trip through the game a unique experience. And this isn’t even the game Sid Meier is best known for, which is testament to why he’s one of the titans of video game design.

Author

Tags

This website works best with javascript turned on. For information on how to turn it on, visit activatejavascript.org.