Official:Release Sep07 PM
Sea Monster Post-Mortem
The preparation for bringing Sea Monsters to Puzzle Pirates began over 6 months ago, prior to the release of the Iron Monger Puzzle and even Brigand Blockades. Many aspects of pieces included in prior updates were put in place to make the addition of Sea Monsters to the game possible in a way that we thought would be fun for the players. Treasure Haul, as an example, has always been intended to play a significant part in the first Sea Monster experience. Its inclusion prior to the addition of Sea Monsters followed concerns that adding too many entirely new features to the game at the same time might prove disruptive, especially if those additions provided ways to earn PoE. It was also, of course, also important for us to provide new and interesting features with each release.
Our goal since August last year has been to focus on new additions to pillaging and pillaging-related puzzles that will interest players at all levels. Ideally, these features would have the "wow factor" that attracts new players into the game and gets them asking questions of their captains and crews (and consequently sticking around) while providing an exciting challenge and new material to our knowledgeable and long-standing player base. Creating and managing the right incentives to make this work has involved (and will continue to require) a great deal of game balancing, given how integral the player community is in managing both the individual and large-scale aspects of the action (meaning battles, blockades) in the game.
Our two big goals with the Sea Monster release were;
1. To (finally!) bring real treasure chests to the game. Pirates shouldn't be without them! Along with this, we understood that we would require a). a reasonable way to meter out the chests to ships and b). a mechanism to provide for the distribution of the rewards in the chests as broadly and fairly as possible across all players involved in the "treasure hunt". These two areas are probably where we will continue to focus most closely.
2. We wanted to experiment with ways of varying the puzzling experience of players during an engagement. It would have been very easy for us to reskin some of the ships currently in the game and release the result as Sea Monsters. This would essentially have been like Brigand King blockades at Halloween. In fact, much of the work on the AI for Brigand King blockades was done to accommodate Sea Monsters in the future. However, the downside of a release that only involved novel enemy vessels was that it would focus too much of the fun on those managing the sea battle. We wanted to make sure that we provide a change to the duty puzzle experience, as well, to ensure that the novelty of the Sea Monster experience was shared with the widest number of players on the ship.
3. Better compensation for the person who owns the vessel/stocks it since the jobbers were profiting from BK blockades and flotillas, but the navigators/crews putting in the most time and effort were not.
Following our experience with Brigand King blockades, it was also important for us to make sure that we created the right balance of excitement, risk, and reward given that we wanted Sea Monsters to be something that players would make a part of their normal play experience. We hope the framework we've established can be used in future additions to the Sea Monster part of the game.
Historically, Three Rings has been somewhat reticent about sharing information relating to the features and release date for an update. Philosophically, we have always tried to avoid creating expectations around a specific release date, as this makes it harder to set aside the extra time that might be needed to correct issues we find. We've also made it a policy to keep as much of the details about a release "off the radar" as we can. Our belief is that this creates more excitement when the release actually arrives.
Over time, we've seen a pretty substantial erosion of this "veil of secrecy" as information from the Ice Ocean has become more readily available to forum users. Obviously, a large percentage of the player base does not read the forums or review the wikis, but we recognize that those that do are generally more involved in the game and would take greater satisfaction from experiencing something truly new.
With this in mind, we decided to experiment with ways we could encourage interest in the upcoming release without losing the sense of "newness" that we hoped to create when the update went public. Our goal was to have something that would be appealing for both those players heavily involved in the game and those that were more causal players. This ended up having three parts:
1. We created a series of puzzles relating to the theme of the first Sea Monster release. We had a great deal of trepidation about this; many of us here have had experiences with riddles of this sort getting solved within hours. We put some thought into ways we could ensure that the riddle played out over the period of time that we hoped, but we were very aware that the focused attention of a large part of the player base would solve anything we could put in front of them in very short order. Some players may be surprised to learn that the "Riddle of Atlantis" was one of the most stressful projects we've undertaken this year.
2. We added the conch items to the game as part of the last release. Essentially, we "pre-seeded" the game with the awards we planned to give out in the run-up to the Sea Monster update. Following the completion of the riddle, we hoped that the competitions to win the conchs would sustain people's interest in Sea Monsters while, we hoped, also being fun in their own right. This was also something we thought would have a much broader audience in the player community than the riddle itself.
3. Finally, to avoid having much of the excitement around the release lost to forum posts about the function and design of the new update, we decide to obscure the art we were adding to the game. While this clearly doesn't protect many of the functional aspects of the update from being shared on the forums, we hoped that hiding the "look and feel" of the Atlantean world would help retain some of the excitement.
Where We Go From Here
We believe that the development of Sea Monsters has created a framework, perhaps similar to the parlour, in which we can potentially deploy a variety of different game mechanics just as we were able to add a variety of different parlour games. We are certainly already considering additions to this platform, some of which will inevitably include some of the better known monsters discussed on the forums and wiki (the kraken and gunwhale to name but two).
Regardless of the monsters and situations we consider, however, our overriding goal is to ensure that Sea Monster engagements continue to be novel and interesting for all players on a vessel. This is by no means and easy task (witness our first iteration of Treasure Haul), although we hope we have made the right decisions with our first iteration of the Atlanteans.