Sandbox Seas: Naval Action Boards Steam Early Access

Boats have fallen out of vogue. Once upon a time, we had a boat in every bathtub and children would flock to boating ponds after school to sail their schooners. Now they simply throw their iPhones in the pond and look disappointed. Even Queen Elizabeth II, the glorious floating cyborgpalace formed by the fusion of our wizened monarch and the life support systems sustaining her remains for millennia to come, is only visited by pensioners.

The makers of Naval Action [official site] remember boats, and they’ve now spread that love to a wider audience by releasing the sandbox MMO on Steam Early Access.

Here’s a clumsy comparison: it’s a bit like EVE Online with water and boats. By which I mean it’s a sail ’em up set during the ‘age of sail’, where you’re free to sail and trade and fight across sandbox seas. It sounds relatively serious, with sailing driven by wind and physics, navigation where you have to actually navigate, ballistics with ricocheting shots, nuanced locational damage, and so on. Also, you can become a pirate.

Developers Game-Labs have been running their own early access scheme for a while, but now it’s on Steam Early Access for people who insist upon such things. It’s £29.99 now, and will cost more at release. Game-Labs have no clear idea of when it’ll properly launch, though, saying “We plan to stay in Early Access until core features of the game are finished and polished.” Their immediate plans include more ships, ship customisation and crafting, new modes, and more.

I suspect Tim Stone may have something to say about all this in The Flare Path later today, as he’s played it before, but I wanted to steal his thunder.


  1. DLFReporter says:

    You basically took the wind out of his sails!

    • Velko says:

      Now that we have a pun thread as an anchor-point so to speak, let me just say that in terms of a purchase decision for this game, I’m personally waiting for a sail.

    • JB says:

      Unless I’m mizzen the point, I’d say this pun thread is on a winning strake

      • DLFReporter says:

        It seems like something is Aloft. Let’s see what the Pay off will be. ^^

      • cpt_freakout says:

        Sorry, but I’m gonna need galleons and galleons of alcohol to forget the awfulness of this pun thread.

    • Blippity says:

      I didn’t think much of it at the beginning…but frigate, I think I’ll buy it.

    • BenAttenborough says:

      This comment thread has descended into naval gazing.

      • bear912 says:

        I’m luffing it, personally. You won’t have to put up with it long, though. Schooner or later it’ll die down.

    • Quite So says:

      Oh buoy, whale done! It keels me to sea nautical puns. I can’t fathom why anyone wouldn’t seas the moment to embark upon this frivolity. Who cares if people think you are a little dinghy!?

    • Turkey says:

      If I only I’d known about this pun thread. I would have commented much schooner.

  2. mukuste says:

    A game where there is more to sailing than just “point your boat in the right direction and hit go” could actually be interesting.

    Also, those are some pretty graphics; at least 17 or 18 of them, by my estimation.

  3. trooperwally says:

    I’m no boat expert but isn’t the basic idea that sailing is mostly about cross large bodies of water in a boat? How is that going to be an interesting game? I’m serious, not snarky. If they have a solid answer to that question then I’m interested but this game sounds like Elite: The Age of Sail. And Elite is boring enough for it’s travel even though they have the frameshift drive.

    The battles look cool but if the only way they happen is by the devs contriving to have 64 Men’o’War floating around in a duck pond then this could get silly.

    I want this game to be good but I just don’t see how it can be. Any ideas?

    • Fluffy_Fleshwall says:

      The overworld has accelerated timescale meaning it takes maybe 6 hours to sail across the entire map. We are playing the Swedish faction, and there is plenty of fighting and traders to ambush right outside our doorstep.

  4. Fluffy_Fleshwall says:

    This is a great game and the Eve comparison is very accurate only it is so much lighter than EvE. Here I can actually log on, find a trader, try to take him and then log uff in 40 mins ish. Something that is fairly impossible in EvE unless you are playing faction warfare.

    As a sidenote, the Swedish Archipelago Artillery is accepting members :D

  5. tigershuffle says:

    any game that might let me re-use the “lesser of two weevils” pun from Master and Commander grabs my attention.

    Looks v. interesting

  6. Crazy Hippo says:

    I am happy to read about the similarities to EVE which does pique my interest but how comparable is it to POTBS?

    • Powderhorn says:

      Most people figure it is “better” than PotBS. There’s no magical commands, such as making it so your enemy can’t steer their ship by pushing a button. You CAN make that happen by shooting away their rudder.

      I’d say over all, less toward the “arcade” side of things, and more toward the “simulation” side of things (though not an absolute sim).

    • Lancezh says:

      I’ve played PotBs ALOT, and i already like this one better.

      The combat is second to none and i don’t miss the stupid skills from the arcade WoW generation a bit. Combat is much slower and it can take you 30-40 minutes to finish one fight without being bored. Navigating and actual aiming is much much more difficult in this.

      If you like PotBs you will LOVE this.

  7. DrollRemark says:

    After the Christmas holidays I kind of slipped out of reading RPS as regularly as I did, and reading Alice’s wonderful words again has just reminded me of how foolish I was to let this happen.

  8. OldKnivesTale says:

    I’m gonna go ahead and be that guy and say these are ships not boats.

    • Alice O'Connor says:

      okay what and cars are ships too? check your logic, pal

      • silentdan says:

        I’m having trouble parsing your comment, but just to clear things up: in the age of sail, a vehicle which floats in water was called a ship if it had three masts or more, and a boat if it had fewer or none. Most cars sink in water, and are therefore neither boats nor ships.

        • Alice O'Connor says:

          uh, submarines are boats and they sink and you tell me a car’s not a ship?

          • GWOP says:

            Cars are ships sailing on rivers of tarmac.

          • silentdan says:

            All boats can sink, but that indicates their destruction. I was refering to operational vehicles. Operation ships float, operational boats float, and while submarines are technically considered boats for arguably silly historical reasons, operational submarines float. When a submarine descends under control, it’s called diving. An out of control descent is called sinking, and it usually results in the deaths of all aboard.

            Anyway, that’s my serious response, in case anyone reading about a sailing game might be interested in some nautical info. As to the absurdity of your remarks, I’m not sure what to make of it. Did I miss a reference or something?

          • Alice O'Connor says:

            No, I’m just so bored of people who feel a compulsion to “be that guy”.

            No one has to “be that guy”.

            Using the phrase “be that guy” shows the writer is well aware that people piping up in my workplace with pedantic ‘corrections’ to my work is, at best, unwanted.

            And yet!

            And yet.

          • silentdan says:

            Ah, I get it now. Sorry, I’ve been coding all day, and my brain got stuck in Take Everything Literally Mode. :)

          • alms says:

            “Now they simply throw their iPhones in the pond and look disappointed”

            loved this one.

          • xyzzy frobozz says:

            I’d hardly call pointing out that “cheaters” is possibly the most stupid word on the planet pedantic.

          • DFX2KX says:

            As someone who’s got sailors in the family, and sails a bit himself? I don’t know that many who care that much. ‘Ship’ does fine most of the time.

            The only time it comes up in Naval Action (in my experience) is when you’re with others, and telling them what you’re shooting at. That’s it, and half the time we just use the individual ship names, like Bella, Suprise or Santasima.

          • OldKnivesTale says:

            Terribly sorry if I offended. I am a fan of tall ships and by “that guy” I just meant a ship nerd. I didn’t mean it as pointing out flaws in your writing. Sorry again.

      • BlackAlpha says:

        An easy way to remember it: Boat is small. Ship is big.

        There used to be the definition with the masts, but that doesn’t really apply in modern times anymore.

      • trooperwally says:

        I’ve googled this. There doesn’t appear to be a consistent, universal definition of ship vs boat. If anything, the consensus is that ships are a subset of boats (namely, big boats).

        I am having such a useful day…

        • silentdan says:

          It’s not as clearly defined as I’d like, but the distinction has more to do with the vessel’s roles and capabilities than any specific structural feature. Ships are strong enough and have enough cargo capacity to handle a long ocean voyage, but due to their size, often can’t use small harbours or pass under bridges. Boats don’t even necessarily need a harbour, and can generally manage to sail up shallow rivers and such, but risk capsizing or running out of supplies in the open ocean.

          There are exceptions. Viking longships had a tremendously shallow draft, and could (and did) easily sail across rough seas as well as small rivers, but we call them ships. Modern nuclear submarines can cross oceans with ease, but because the earliest subs were carried and deployed by larger ships, it initially received the “boat” designation, and never shook it off. But, generally speaking, ships are big ol’ things, and boats are little ol’ things.

          • trooperwally says:

            I can’t resist the bait, I must troll…

            “But, generally speaking, ships are big ol’ things, and boats are little ol’ things” – unless it’s a ferry. Apparently those are always called boats even though some of them are about the size of a small cruise ship (eg the ones that go across the English Channel). Sorry, I’m basically playing pedant tennis here. I don’t know why. Seems like a compulsion.

            I think if there’s one thing that’s been abundantly clear from my little internet foray into nautical definitions today it’s that there isn’t a clear distinction between ships and boats. There are many competing ideas for what defines each.

            If there’s a second thing that’s abundantly clear it’s that there are plenty of people who think/wish/hope there is a clear distinction.

          • silentdan says:

            Yep, true on both counts.

            For what it’s worth, I think we should use “ship” or “boat” interchangeably, depending solely on what we’re trying to rhyme it with, but the International Commission on Sea Chanties and Nautical Terminology won’t even hear me out on it. :)

        • Diatribe says:

          I like big boats and I cannot lie…

  9. Erithtotl says:

    Were these guys somehow involved in Pirates of the Burning Sea?

    That game was full of flaws but had some great ideas. What I really want is some realistic damage modeling and crew management in my Age of Sail game.

    • Powderhorn says:

      These guys were not involved in PotBS, as far as I know. They do have realistic damage modelling, and crew management is a WIP. Aim for the rudder, knock out the rudder. Aim for masts, knock over masts. Aim for a sail with chain, only that sail that is hit is chained. Etc. etc. etc. The damage modelling is actually quite good, though some compromises have been made as far as gameplay goes. For example, one shot won’t knock over a mast, takes… around 10ish, with an appropriately sized cannon.

      • Cederic says:

        Hmm. That doesn’t sound like realistic damage modelling at all.

        Realistic modelling would be aiming for the rudder and hitting the boat behind. Aiming for the mast and sweeping the foredeck. Aiming for the sails and watching your chain bounce off the hull because your crew mistimed it.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          That’s because, while trying to act in good faith, they only explained the damage modeling that is heavily abstracted, which is mast (and sails). On the other hand, hitting a rudder with a 12-pouned will disable it. Grape shrapnel only passes through ports and gaps blasted into the hull.

          I could go on, but it’s not like there isn’t a forum and a subreddit for this game.

          The reasons why you can’t have dynamic 1:1 damage modeling of those things in a online multiplayer game are obvious, but you’re free to judge games by any standard you like.

        • DFX2KX says:

          I’ve had chain miss because of that. There’s a lag between when you give the order to fire, and when the order is carried out. you DO have to time it. It’s not 1:1, but it’s a hella more in depth about it then AC4 is.

    • Lancezh says:

      You will never get realistic damage modeling the way you described it.
      Having said that, THIS modeling of damage is MUCH more close to realism than PotBs ever will be (or any other naval game). No hit points, no stupid 1hp and you’re alive and 0hp you’re dead. They even track the water that fills up in your ship and you have to actually dedicate men to pump it out. It matters exactly where your shots as they are physics based and since there is no targeting you can absolutely hit someone else accidentally.
      Also, angle of attack matters, shots can bounce and ricochet off.

  10. TerminatorJones says:

    I am interested in this game, but I think that to truly capture the excitement of Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail, you need to seamlessly integrate boarding into the other aspects of combat.

    Boarding was in integral tactic in that era – it could be used by many very small ships to take on a much larger one, it could be used as a last ditch effort, or it could be used to hamper a ship until reinforcement could arrive. It added a whole different dimension to things: not only were you defending against other ships shooting you, you were defending against other ships getting too close to you.

    I played POTBS, which had boarding, but it happened in an instance, instead of being part of the larger melee. It needs to be part and parcel of the entire engagement to really capture the frenetic nature of Age of Sail combat.

    • Erithtotl says:

      Boarding happened in an instance, but it was real time. So the battle raged on around you as boarding happened. I don’t think that was all bad.

      My main issue with PotBS other than the grindy nature of the econ, was that the ships basically had ‘hit points’ and the special abilities were too much like magic. The more this hews towards a realistic model, the more I’ll like it.

      • TerminatorJones says:

        I didn’t play PotBS for too long, and that was a long time ago, so my memory is very hazy. In my memory (which could be totally wrong), there were these problems:

        1. Ships engaged in boarding operations (attacking or defending) were exempt from being shot at.
        2. Multiple parties couldn’t board the same ship.
        3. A captured ship couldn’t be crewed and used to engage other ships in the larger battle.

        Like I said, I could be wrong about all of those. And I’m not crapping on PotBS, I had fun with it and I think a lot of the things I didn’t like about it were because it was an MMO more than anything else.

        And I am excited for this game. I just feel like having boarding be a seamless part of the action would make for a drastically different game in terms of strategy and how the battle played out, and I think that would make things more fun, and more exciting.

      • Universal Quitter says:

        This one’s not a simulator, that’s for sure, but it’s in the “authenticity” family of games, for sure. Cannon balls can bounce, when hitting at an angle. Shots can penetrate, taking our crew and cannon.

        In many ways, the community has spent much of the development time using PotBS as a baseline, with this being seen as a much better, more authentic feeling execution of a similar concept.

        Not sure to what degree the actual devs see it this way, though.

  11. Universal Quitter says:

    I bought Naval action last January, and the 260 hours I put into the old defunct Sea Trials mode were easily worth the money. With the right music and good headphones on, this thing would eat my nights.

    I can’t speak much for the open world, but the combat is almost indescribably satisfying, once you get the feel for it. A Trafalgar-sized battle is like ball dancing, but with explosions and accidental friendly ramming.

    Assuming they don’t screw the pooch, as far as I’m concerned, the open world aspects are just icing on an already very delicious cake.

    Steam Discussions are full of people asking if the game is worth it. For me, it already is, even if it gets cancelled tomorrow (not that anyone is saying it’ll be cancelled. Don’t need to start rumors.).

  12. TerminatorJones says:

    I didn’t play PotBS for too long, and that was a long time ago, so my memory is very hazy. In my memory (which could be totally wrong), there were these problems:

    1. Ships engaged in boarding operations (attacking or defending) were exempt from being shot at.
    2. Multiple parties couldn’t board the same ship.
    3. A captured ship couldn’t be crewed and used to engage other ships in the larger battle.

    Like I said, I could be wrong about all of those. And I’m not crapping on PotBS, I had fun with it and I think a lot of the things I didn’t like about it were because it was an MMO more than anything else.

    And I am excited for this game. I just feel like having boarding be a seamless part of the action would make for a drastically different game in terms of strategy and how the battle played out, and I think that would make things more fun, and more exciting.

    • DFX2KX says:

      I know a ship that’s shooting at a pair of ships in a bording action can kill crew from both sides, by learning it the hard way, due to my own AI fleetmate. Thanks, AI Cutter, needed that.

    • crigby46 says:

      In NA, open world is a living map, but you still have to take into account wind direction and visibility. When battle is joined it is instanced, though a more representative instance is WIP, so landmasses and such are kept. Boarding requires preperation, arming your crew, organising boarding parties, and this necessarily takes some of the focus away from your other activities, so speed in sail handling and reloading. You can disable sails and masts, kill crew with grape shot, whatever is handy at the time. Now for boarding itself, this causes both the ship boarding and the ship being boarded to raft together and slow to a stop in the water, but they do not enter an instance. Both ships can still be fired upon and take representative damage. GRape can still kill crew, and in fact for hunting in groups a common tactic is for one ship to board while the others hurl grape at the unfortunate pirate, frenchman, or smuggler.

      As such, boarding can be used as a tactic even among ships of the line, to break up a line of battle, hold an AI ship out of the action, or of course to take her as your own. It is then possible to capture the ship (by pressing x), and after a short time to transfer crew and ready for sail, you can take control of the captured ship and continue the battle.

      This is not often a good idea, as your crew will be diminished from boarding, and an undercrewed ship suffers from significant manpower problems, but it’s useable.

      Captured ships can be broken up, sunk, sold, or used, and goods in their hold or upgrades such as copper plating can be stripped and sold or utilised on your own vessel.

  13. freedomispopular says:

    Here’s what I want:
    1)Take AC:Black Flag, and take out all the assassin stuff and make it its own IP
    2)Make it an action RPG

    Any takers?

  14. racccoon says:

    Its nicely built, but, from what i have seen from the videos, it does not seem a very lone wolf friendly game, more of a team based one. Maybe that might of improved from a long while back when I saw it.

  15. CloneWarrior85 says:

    The only difference between eve and naval action is pretty much the freedom of being a trader, a craftsman, a pirate or a privateer.

    The closest game i can think of is Pirates of the Burning Sea, which was also an MMO with pretty much everything close to Naval Action, minus the realistic armor and more realistic wind and “movement” physics.

    Being honest the game development was so slow early on that i thought that it would never get out of the already released pvp/pve matches. The game mechanics were pretty good, but that development time seemed (for me) pretty slow, and i ended up forgetting about it until now. Now on EA i gave it a try again and it really seems i’m playing POTBS again, will that be good? I really don’t know.