Tuesday 22 February 2011

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea

Until recently our little fleet in Pirates of the Burning Sea had been patrolling the Caribbean on behalf of His Majesty, preserving the shipping lanes by hunting down pirates or seizing the ships of the dastardly French and Spanish when they challenged our rightful governance (it’s all legitimate with letters of marque and everything, honest). Then, while searching through the hold of a Spanish merchantman that was definitely supporting their war effort and didn’t just look like it might be loaded with gold or silver, certainly not, Flamboyant Admiral Sven found some weird book thing about Wealth and Nations or something[1], and he hasn’t been quite the same since… Alongside the usual cries of mainsheet splicing and yardarm hauling can now be heard “set sail for the quarry, we need more limestone!”, “does anyone have some common cheese, cured fish, hardtack, rum and a few sacks of beans?” and “avast, #ERR! off Column D, hoist revised inputs and prepare to recalculate SUM() functions!”

PotBS has a deep economy, a bit like EVE Online; resources such as limestone, iron ore, forests and fertile soil are distributed around various ports, and players can set up quarries, mines, logging camps and plantations to exploit them. The raw materials are converted into manufactured goods in player-built mills and forges, which in turn can be made into outfittings, consumables or further components that can eventually be assembled into entire ships, which other players promptly try to blow into matchsticks, a few of which can be gathered up to start the process again. There is heavy interdependence between the various resources and components and no quick way of transporting limestone from a quarry in one port to a forge in another port, you have to load it up onto a ship and sail it over. Materials can be bought and sold at auction, but again need hauling from the place you bought them if they’re required elsewhere.

All in all, there’s quite a lot to get to grips with. There is a good tutorial mission that gets you set up with a logging camp and lumber mill and takes you through the process of producing material, but I did it right at the start of the game at the same time as learning everything else in lessons such as Basic Ship Control, Leading a Boarding Party, Which One Is Starboard (Hint: Not Left) and Skull and Crossbones Flag: Good or Bad? By the time we actually got interested in production my logging camp was shuttered, and the lumberjacks were all off shopping and having buttered scones for tea; for anyone just starting up, I’d perhaps suggest leaving the economy tutorial for a while until you really want to get into production so that it’s fresher in your memory, but it’s not too tricky to go back to.

Our first goal was to produce Unrest Supplies, a method by which traders can contribute to the overall PvP campaign through economic warfare. It’s not like our rag-tag crew are going to be a critical component of the British war effort, but the Unrest Supplies need components from a few different types of structures so it seemed like a good way of dipping a toe into the ocean of manufacturing before taking the plunge into bigger enterprises like shipbuilding (or, if it turned out to be a bit cold, running back up the beach of naval combat and having an ice cream instead). Slightly randomly we’ve plonked down a bunch of structures from Guyana to Nicaragua, hauled a load of ore and tar around, and made a pretty decent start. Suitably emboldened I’ve set up a shipyard and, as as per the title quote of this post from some Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry geezer, taught my fellow society members to long for the endless immensity of the sea. I don’t know how things work in French shipyards but I can tell you it’s sod all help in PotBS, so after we’d been staring out to the ocean for a while I figured collecting wood and assigning tasks would actually be a much better idea, so I… well, I’ve… it’s just that… I… downloaded a spreadsheet to help. It’s pretty simple, though, couple of VLOOKUPS, no dynamic pivot tables, I can give it up any time. Really. Just one more shift-F9 and I’m done…

[1] (Pedant’s Corner: if you spotted that Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations was published 50 years after the setting of Pirates of the Burning Sea, award yourself one point)

No comments: