We got word about a new pirate-themed game based on the Mount and Blade engine titled Caribbean! a couple of weeks ago. While the combination of those two things instantly got me excited, there didn’t seem to be much coverage from English-speaking press. Since I was unsatisfied with reading pages translated by Google, I had to send some questions out to developer Snowbird Games Studio to see what exactly players and I should expect from their new title. Press-attache Vladimir Tortsov was kind enough to respond and answer them. Here’s the interview.

Erandi Huipe: For those who don’t know, what is Caribbean!?

Vladimir Tortsov: It’s a naval action-RPG based on Mount & Blade technology. The project is set in the Caribbean region as the XVII century draws to a close. Whereas Sweden, Poland and Muscovy fought over domination in the Eastern Europe, kingdoms of the West raced against each other in their exploration of the New World. The player will take the role of an adventurer coming from Europe to the Americas in a quest for glory and riches. Everyone familiar with Sid Meier’s Pirates! would recognize the general idea at once: you can serve one of the colonial empires, try to get rich through trading, or raise the “Jolly Roger” and rob anyone who comes across.

EH: Why did you guys choose a pirate theme for your game?

VB: Having released With Fire and Sword the team wished to take the series further and move the action westward – from the steppes of Ukraine to the shores of the Great Lakes. And a game about Great Lakes ought to have river transportation, with the player being able to build pirogues and sail them over the rivers and lakes. We’ve built a small test map featuring canoe-riding Indians attacking an English fort from water – the English fired cannons and could sink enemy boats with direct hits. Just for laugh, someone offered to supply the poor Iroquois with a couple of canoe-mounted cannons of their own, so they would fire back. And then, it was only one step to full-scale naval battles. Having decided to get back to our beloved Indians, scalps and Beaver wars later, we moved the setting to where the fleets could really rule the day – the Caribbean archipelago.

EH: How will the theme affect the gameplay?

VB: Mmm, I guess that ‘dramatically’ is the right word. For the first time in a history of M&B-based projects there will be realistic naval battles simulation, spectacular boarding fights, seaside sieges and the West European factions fighting over the region.

EH: Why did you decide to work with the Mount and Blade engine?

VB: The Mount & Blade engine maybe isn’t the prettiest or the most powerful technology in the world, but it has exactly what we need – great flexibility and a superior simulation of the melee fights and horse-riding. Our team was familiar with M&B engine since we’ve developed Mount & Blade With Fire & Sword and we were really impressed by its possibilities. I must admit that we considered the possibility of using another engine for Caribbean! development, but at the end of a day we decided to use M&B technology, which better suits our needs.

EH: I associate the Mount and Blade engine with that game’s deliberate, methodical, melee combat. Will this be reflected in Caribbean!’s swashbuckling or did you guys decide to go another route?

VB: Absolutely! We don’t want to fix something which isn’t broken and M&B’s combat system is the one thing which makes the whole series so popular. The only thing that is changing significantly is the balance between melee weapons and the firearms (the same thing applies for With Fire & Sword) – in Caribbean! you can’t feel completely safe even wearing the best heavy armor available, because a single lucky musket shot could kill you at once. Not to mention the heavy artillery, which is also introduced on the Caribbean! battlefields.

EH: Speaking of combat, I’m particularly excited about the idea of ship-to-ship battles. How will that be handled from a player’s perspective? What camera perspective will battles be fought from and how will a fleet with multiple ships be controlled?

VB: The ships will be controlled using the familiar WASD-scheme, the camera can be rotated freely around the ship for the best possible angle. The player will be able to control only his flagman ship, while the other vessels of his fleet will be controlled automatically (but he’ll able to give them orders to move in formation, fire or engage the boarding fight)

EH: How detailed will ship sailing be? Will players be expected to know how to tack and how to furl their sails in accordance with wind direction?

VB: The sailing will be realistic, but isn’t complicated at all. There will be 3 sails positions to choose from and the captain should switch between them in accordance with a battle situation and wind direction. Easy!

EH: What’s the narrative motivation for players in Caribbean!?

VB: Caribbean! will be a sandbox game, which means that there are no storyline rails whatsoever. We’ve experimented with the full-scale story campaign in Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword, but it didn’t work out totally as we expected. Thus, we’ve decided to return to the original concept of M&B series of ‘a lonely adventurer with a hole in his pocket, seeking fame & fortune on distant shores’ kind of thing.

As the player progresses in Caribbean!, he’ll become more powerful, influential and rich. The ultimate goal of the game will be the global domination of the chosen faction over the Caribbean region.

EH: One of things you mentioned in the press release announcing the game was that TaleWorlds Entertainment and Sich will be working closely with you. What have each of those studios brought to the table in helping develop Caribbean!?

VB: TaleWorlds are the developers of the original Mount & Blade and the creators of the game engine – therefore their participation in our project is really invaluable to us as they can always track the source of any technical issue. As you can imagine we had quite a lot of the technical restraints in the very beginning – making a game about naval adventures based on the technology which wasn’t created for this purpose specifically isn’t an easy task. However, with the help of TaleWorlds specialists we were able to overcome these issues.

Sich studio are the creators of Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword game and we know each other for a long time already. They’re talented modders and programmers and their experience and knowledge of M&B engine is something that we’re happy to use for Caribbean!

EH: While I don’t like to make generalizations, Eastern European and Russian games that gain popularity over here in America seem to have behind them the design principle of making the player work hard for every accomplishment. The recent iterations of King’s Bounty, Metro 2033, Digital Combat Simulator, and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series are a few examples of this. Why do you think that particular design choice is made so often amongst games from that region and why do you think it’s those that make an impression in America? Or am I completely off-base?

VB: Well, there is definitely such thing as the Eastern European school of games development. Here in the East we have the strong traditions of hardcore PC gaming and e-sports. Many Russian and Ukrainian developers are sharing this passion for the complicated (and sometimes even over complicated) games. I’m not sure about the reasons of it, though – maybe it has something to do with our mentality – ‘ no pain – no gain’ sort of thing.

Speaking of the Caribbean! game – I don’t think that this one is a perfect example of this pattern. The original Mount & Blade was created by Turkish studio TaleWorlds and they managed to preserve a fragile balance between hardcoreness and simplicity. We’re trying to keep this formula ‘Fun comes before the realism’ for the Caribbean! game as well. It means that we’re keen on keeping the game interesting at every stage of a player’s progress without making his life too easy or too complicated.

EH: I’m really excited to get my hands on the game. When can I and others expect to play it?

VB: You don’t have to wait TOO long – we’re aiming for the late fall of 2012.

Caribbean! will be available on PC this fall.