Prototypical: Pirates Of New Horizons

By John Walker on October 8th, 2010 at 3:01 am.

If only it had ninjas too.

Okay, so, let’s work out what would go in the ideal computer game. Clearly pirates. And robots. Both pirates and robots. Then of course if the game’s going to be any good at all we’re going to need to be able to double-jump, right? And then there’s having a grappling hook, obviously. And collecting coins. So in many ways, the four-man team at Exit Strategy Entertainment are onto a winner with their plans for Pirates of New Horizons. Rather sensibly, the indie devs have released a prototype of the game, giving you an example of three different ways the game plays, including a rather large level to run around in. Play it, and then they ask you to complete a survey about it at the end.

Short of jetpacks, it really is as if they tried to include everything that makes me switch off my critical faculties and just dance around in glee. I think double-jumping should be an extra five percent on any score, instantly. Even in a text adventure. And obviously every game in the universe would be improved for having a grappling hook. Take Empire: Total War, for instance. So putting both in the game is an excellent way to start. Theming it around pirates, and letting you pick pocket everyone you talk to, works even better. Especially when there’s robots hanging about too. And all the pirate ships can fly.

The game’s being built in Unity, and as such works as both a downloadable, and embedded in a website. And of course it’s just a prototype at the moment, so rather rough in places. But it shows a lot of promise for a cute third-person actioner.

I’m a little frustrated that games like Ratchet & Clank, and Jak & Daxter don’t make it to the PC. Cute, bright, third-person action/platforming is a much under-used genre on our boxes, for which there’s little excuse now most people are realising a 360 controller is a necessary accessory. In fact, Exit Strategy state that the game is fully intended to be played with a 360 pad, and while there’s mouse/keyboard support they’re very dismissive of it. Which is strange, as it works very well. Having leant my pad to a housemate, and it being gone 2am, I couldn’t get hold of it tonight, and then found the poly-buttoned approach was just fine. The in-game instructions are entirely in 360-speak, but were quickly self-evident.

This is to be a game about a 14 year old pirate setting out to steal enough money that she can retire. Which is a cute idea straight away. You begin on board your pirate ship, being attacked from all around by enemy flying vessels. Her one-woman crew means she has to dash about trying to fire off cannons as ships fly past, frantically taking out the baddies before her own ship is too damaged (although I’m fairly sure it can’t be in this version).

Complete this and you arrive at what is likely to be the game’s hub. Here you must get your ship fixed by a robot mechanic, and then figure out how to get a lighthouse to light up. There’s plenty of other people to talk to here, and every time you chat your character will attempt to pilfer some coins out of people’s pockets. Once the lighthouse is lit, it fires a beam off into the sky that you can follow in your freshly fixed sky vessel.

The light points you toward what’s currently the game’s only action area. It’s a huge floating volcano, riddled with tunnels and full of purple aliens trying to thwart your progress. Here you meet the prototype’s biggest weakness – some really shoddy combat. You’ve got a block and an attack, and so do they, but these feel slightly broken. You flail around until they’re all dead, really. It needs a lot of work.

But the real goal is finding vast amounts of treasure to pour into your ship’s hold. This involves lots of platforming, including learning the three different ways the newly acquired grappling hook works. So you’re quickly leaping, double jumping, and grappling your way around large rooms, hoovering up as much treasure as you can find. The grapple also needs a deal of fixing, often poor at offering your the reticule that lets you attach to a new target while flying through the air. And when you’re attached it feels awkward, not very fluid.

But there’s a good deal going on here. It’s the details that make this seem impressive, if the tech can be smoothed out. Arriving at the volcano, you first meet a man protesting against the treatment of the aliens within. It adds an odd touch to the combat, wondering if you should be slicing them to bits with your shield. The level design also shows a lot of promise, with nicely spaced platforms to make sure you’re always enjoying the double-jumping, and lots of little tweaks and twists, forcing you to explore, and explore vertically as much as horizontally.

Two of the team behind this are ex-IO Interactive, and a third worked with Crytek. But perhaps most crucially, lead developer Soenke “Warby” Seidel says that he’s won many awards for creating custom maps for games, indicating a good sense for level design that shows itself in this demo.

It’s surprisingly charming, if a tad crude at this point. But I love the idea of a developer releasing a free prototype and then asking players to give them feedback. I’d like to see their survey form giving a bit more space for comments about specific features. They don’t even ask about the combat, which seems a strange omission. But it remains a great idea – they’re genuinely asking people: is it worth our time making this into a full-length game?

So have a play – there’s around an hour’s stuff to do in there. And let them know.

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39 Comments »

  1. CoyoteTheClever says:

    The funny thing is Empire Total War has grappling hooks. You use them to take over fortresses, though if you skipped that broken part of the game I wouldn’t blame you :D

    • The Innocent says:

      I think that’s what he was referring to.

      Grappling hooks not only to take over fortresses, but to lash ships together.

  2. El Stevo says:

    I don’t like the way that trailer is dismissive of the appeal of beards.

    • mlaskus says:

      True, they don’t seem to get what being a pirate is all about.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Lucky you! I will have nightmares for a week after seeing the video! I thought the N64 graphics style and childishness was shot, burned, buried, digged up, and launched straight into the next black hole. (Poor black hole… *sniff*)

      Well, at least she’s barefoot. (And not running over rusty sharp metal, like Lara Croft back in the days. ;)

    • mlaskus says:

      @Barefoot

      Do you understand what prototyping means? I believe you do not.

    • mlaskus says:

      Ugh, I reread your post and you do not criticize the graphics quality but style… I withdraw my comment. Sorry

  3. Erik J says:

    It has some camera problems (what 3D platformer doesn’t?) and a few smaller issues but as a prototype it does its job: I’d like to see more. It’s made for the 360 controller and doesn’t include PC controls, but they’re pretty easy to figure out:

    WASD/Mouse: Movement/Look
    Mouse 1: Slash
    Mouse 2: Use Key Item
    Space Bar: Jump
    Numbers: Hotkeys for Key Items
    E: Confirm
    Q: Block

    • Rii says:

      “It has some camera problems (what 3D platformer doesn’t?)”

      The ones by Nintendo?

  4. pupsikaso says:

    So glad you posted this, John, thanks! :D I caught it at indiegames.com and really loved playing this prototype. There’s a lot of talk about it being designed for a controller and yada yada, but honestly I wouldn’t have even known if nobody said anything, and I am VERY picky about those things so take it from me that it plays absolutely fine on keyboard and mouse.

    Otherwise it’s a wonderful 3D platformer. Only thing is I’d sure like it to have more exploration in the final version.

  5. SpinalJack says:

    That looks really impressive, see what you can do in Unity with a bit of talent?

  6. Spoon says:

    Now I want a text adventure with double jumping.

    • Mad Doc MacRae says:

      blah blah…

      There are exits North and East.

      >double jump

      You jump once into the air, and as you reach your apogee you defy physics and redouble your altitude! You promptly hit your head on the dungeon ceiling and pass out. You are eaten by a grue.

  7. The Archetype says:

    You see a ledge

    >Jump up to ledge

    You jump, but you’re unable to gian enough height to reach the ledge

    >Jump again in the air

    Planting you;re feet firmly on air, you leap easily onto the ledge

  8. Sagan says:

    I enjoyed this a lot. They seem to know what they are doing.
    Will buy this if they manage to make a full game out of it.

  9. Awesomely Awed says:

    Robots, Cool. Pirates, also cool.

    Now it just needs some monkeys.

  10. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    Well ninjas are in. Note the one at 0:01

  11. ezekiel2517 says:

    Typing in that survey was annoying. I had not played a game like this one in a very long time, though I do have a 360 pad. I am unsure if I would pay for this. Depends on how funny it will be when it’s full (Monkey Island barely gave me a few smiles).

  12. jarvoll says:

    Wow, up rather late, John! You and Quinns must never be awake simultaneously, since he starts posting at about 7am.

  13. chokoladenudlen says:

    Avast! Me interest be piqued. Although my parrot prefers buried treasure, and I tend to agree, as platform-coin-jumping is about as fun as scurvy.
    But ‘grappling hook’ instantly makes me salivate and think of Killer Quake so I wonder – is the grappling hook weaponized, or will I have to impale my foes on my wooden pegleg?

  14. K says:

    Double jumps are the worst invention ever. They make no sense, and they have stopped to serve any purpose, because the “default jumping height” nowadays requires two button presses instead of one. Only Metroid Prime does it right (Double jump is a late game upgrade).

    I also hate 3-hit A-A-A combos. Seriously, why make me press the same button thrice for one effect? Can’t I just hold it down? Arkham Asylum did this way, way, way better.

    • basil says:

      There’s no appreciable advantage to holding a button over pressing it for each hit. Plus, the latter method builds a more immersive connection between player and character (even if it’s a canned combo) and allows for some degree of skill gameplay, if timing is involved.

    • Wulf says:

      And I think double-jumps are fine, it takes that little bit of extra skill to time the second jump at the perigee of your first. Knytt Stories had double-jumping too, and used it really well. And I liked the double-jumping in this. I suppose the only reason not to like double-jumping is if you stink at the timing. :p

  15. Alexander Norris says:

    This is to be a game about a 14 year old pirate setting out to steal enough money that she can retire.

    [Insert piquing commentary about the job situation for young graduates.]

  16. apricotsoup says:

    Is it just me or is the theme in that vid a rip off of shipping up to boston? :/

    Looks kinda fun though, hooray for unity.

  17. Gap Gen says:

    Man, “Pirates of the…” is becoming the new “Call of Company Band of Duty Hero Brothers: Road to Blood 13″, what with all the burning seas and new horizons and Carribeans.

  18. Premium User Badge James G says:

    I really enjoyed that. I have a bit of a soft-spot for the 3D action/platformer, and it is a genre sadly lacking on the PC. Amazed that this was produced using Unity.

  19. Peter says:

    That character is supposed to be 14 years old? Really? Pirates are getting too many hormones in their milk, methinks.

    • Hulk Hogan says:

      Grog will do that to you.

      I knew this one pirate who was 12 years old and he looked like a freaking lumberjack crossed with a bear (he was a bear too so that made it even worse)

  20. basil says:

    Developer fail. it IS the beards.

    • apricotsoup says:

      In the game settings there’s an option to give the girl you play quite an impressive beard.

  21. Loomchild says:

    I sincerely enjoyed the two minutes of playing I got before Unity decided to freeze Firefox, which then decided to freeze my Windows. As a consequence, I will now try the downloadable version and advise any prudent player to do the same (or was it only me ?).

  22. Tom OBedlam says:

    Anyone figured out how to do the wire-fu section yet?

    Also, those pirates didn’t seem all that rapey when they found a 7 year girl stowaway…

    • Wulf says:

      Can’t comment on the piraep aspect, but…

      The Wire-Fu section is done by cheating, like a pirate! Ignore the wires. Just leap around the roof-tops, and follow the arrows. Once you spot an arrow, leap up onto something high, leap into the arrow, then follow the roads/rooftops again. If you keep going like that, you can take huge shortcuts where the wires don’t go, and you’ll make great time, then you just need to get back on the dual-wire to the little island again to collect the last one, and you’re done. It’s pretty easy when you know how, trust me, give it a shot. Aim for the rings, rather than staying on the wires.

  23. Wulf says:

    Where do I begin?

    Okay, these guys really know how to do rewards. That’s one thing. That’s something I really miss about certain kinds of games, you do something that’s a bit crazy, and you get to obtain/see something fun. Sometimes it’s even just something interesting to look at. Blade Kitten scratched that particular brain itch, too, but I think this might do it even better when it’s finished.

    Another thing they know how to do is cartoon graphics. One problem I have with WoW (this is necessary, please stick with me here) is that they use so many colours and yet they manage to make everything in the game look so bleary, dreary, and bloody dull. How do you do it, Blizzard? Torchlight did it better, and this does it better too. And I think I’ve figured out what it is, it’s finally hit me. It’s a lack of ambient lighting. I don’t think WoW does that, I can’t recall any, but it’s something that both Torchlight and this use to a pleasing degree, and it makes me love the visuals. The way they’re lit really brings out that vibrancy, it’s a trick that console games have been using since… well, forever.

    So, in the course of playing, I got stuck on the environment a few times, I found every last bleeding secret, I found incorrect ways to secrets (I’ll get to this later), and I even found a couple of ways out of the level. One I wasn’t sure how I did, so I can’t recount that. The other though was in that room which you get to from the open area where there are three tiered crystal grappling hooks (that go higher and higher), and you have to cling the ledge to get over there. Fool that I am, I figured let’s try jumping at the windows, that seems like a fun idea. Then I found myself out in the void, I was swimming in nothing water for a bit, then I fell into some doom lava from the outside just to get myself back into the level via dying. So that was a bit entertaining. They really need to put something outside of the level to screw with people who manage to do that, just to make them nuts.

    Ah, but back to me being an OCD fool.

    So! Remember that chamber wot the chains were in? The giant chains? The ones that lead to side rooms where you had to turn valves in order to open a gigantic door to an area where you could call your ship? That area? Do you remember that there were hearts far above those chains that seemed impossible to get to at the time? Can you guess who managed to get them even before summoning the ship, the improper way? That’s right. *twitches.*

    I was so OCD about getting those damn heart upgrades that I actually found a TINY SPOT on the ceiling that I could grapple onto, I later discovered that this was actually a few rear pixels of a grappling plate that was behind one of those trapdoors with the chain that you break. Yes, I managed to grapple onto that, from below, when the chain-trapdoor-thing-that’s-oddly-like-a-plug was still in place.

    Of course, as I progressed through the level I found out that there was a sane and incredibly easy way to get to those, and that was my first and only ‘FFFFFFUUU HATE YOU >:C‘ moment, the bloody game was mocking me! Well, it was my own fault, really, I shouldn’t have been so OCD, but I kind of can’t help it. Odd OCD disorder. It’s more crazy though because I was just about to give up on them when I found the tiny pixels I could grapple onto completely by accident.

    *falls over.*

    Also: Best grappling since the first Ratchet & Clank. Seriously. Why can’t developers get that I like grappling hooks where I can swing around nauseatingly, planning crazy trajectories to propel myself off toward, likely doing things with that that I shouldn’t be doing. But that’s part of the fun! And I really had a blast with this, which is why my comment is late, since I didn’t want to write about this until I’d ensured that I’d found every last little thing.

    Also, I loved the resort at the start. So many things I forgot to write about. So… first of all, I kind of expected Megaman Legends, Tail Concerto, Skies of Arcadia, and Ratchet & Clank all smooshed up into one bizarre whole when I went into it, what with the flying islands, the little robots, the gameplay that I know definitely know is reminiscent of the first Ratchet & Clank… but is any of that a bad thing? Nope! They mixed these ingredients correctly. So they’d better bloody finish developing that game, since this really feels like the best thing since the first Ratchet & Clank.

    So, yes. The resort. I love resorts. I love flying islands. That mixture just filled me with glee, I like little resorts with charming little stands in the same way that the Doctor likes a little shop, I couldn’t help but smile at the whole thing. Beat the Ninja in his race too! But I couldn’t learn Wire-Fu…

    All in all, this was a blast. I really want to play the final product of this, though I do worry that some of their secrets, what with them being rather interestingly designed (cleverly in some ways), are going to make me obscenely OCD. And I’m going to love every minute of it. If you haven’t played the prototype yet, do yourself a favour and give it a try. I played the standalone version myself, just FYI.

    So, I can’t think of much else that I want to add, but… I’m completely in love with the concept. In fact, the only thing that could make this better is the random inclusion of a friendly beast race, since that makes everything better. Well, at least from my perspective, but since this is my comment, that’s the only one that matters. Do I have anything negative to say? …not really, no. I suppose I felt a little sorry for the aliens, though, since I was basically being a total dick what with breaking into their home, killing their hivemind thing, and stealing all their worldly possessions. But I suppose that’s sort of what being a pirate is all about.

  24. Rii says:

    Loved the humour in this otherwise very Wind Waker-esque game. Not so much a fan of the platforming/dungeon, but I liked the ship and resort and general look and feel of the game.