Tonight Walt Disney Studios releases Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, the third and final film in the action triolgy that began life as an adaptation of a Disney theme part ride. Later this summer, people will be able to play the final version of Pirates of the Caribbean Online, a new PC MMO title developed by Disney's own VR Group. FiringSquad got a chance to chat with Mike Goslin, the vice president of VR Studio, to learn more about their plans for the game.
FiringSquad: First, how did the idea of doing an MMO based on Pirates of the Caribbean come about?
Mike Goslin: Over 10 years ago in 1996 I got the chance to work for Walt Disney Imagineering. Our group was called the Virtual Reality Studio, and our mission was to design and build virtual reality attractions for the Disney theme parks. Over the next several years, we forged a new kind of experience that combined the physical thrill of a theme park ride with the cutting-edge graphics of a video/computer game.
Our most popular attraction, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for Buccaneer Gold”, was based on the original theme park attraction. Guests would man a pirate ship and set sail in a virtual sea filled with enemy ships, sea monsters, and treasure. This got us thinking about how to offer the same type of thrill to guests at home.
We felt the online medium was a great new way to deliver the kind of experiences we’d been building for the theme parks. In 2000, we pitched the concept for Disney’s Toontown Online as part of an online theme park which would feature several MMOs, including Pirates of the Caribbean Online. This was before the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, but we knew from our DisneyQuest experience that the franchise was popular and that the environment would translate incredibly well into a game.
After the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie in 2003, we jumped at the opportunity to create an MMO based on the franchise. We teamed up with the movie studio to weave characters, stories, creatures, and themes from the films into the game. We have shared everything from art assets to character storylines, and consulted with them during development. At the same time, we’re focused on building a world that can stand on its own with new stories, characters, and environments so fans of the movies can come into the game and live their own adventure.
FiringSquad: What can you tell us about the kinds of characters people will be able to play in the game?
Mike Goslin: Our character creation system is extensive with a wide range of choices for players. Pirates of the Caribbean is a very character-driven property, so we thought it was important to capture the wide range of personalities of that world, from the heroic to the humorous and from the beautiful to the grotesque. I think this gives players a broader palette to create their own character from and makes the game more interesting both visually and from a role-playing perspective.
Players choose gender, looks, clothes, and a name initially, but we allow them to make decisions about skills and play styles later on as they play the game.
FiringSquad: How will the game introduce the player to the game world in the beginning?
Mike Goslin: The game opens with the player regaining consciousness in a jail cell shared by Captain Jack Sparrow. This sets the tone of the game and establishes that the player is following in Jack’s footsteps as they begin to build their own legend as a pirate. We wanted to start with the fantastic world and characters developed in the POTC films and build upon it by adding our own original stories, characters, and settings.
Our most significant expansion to the POTC world is the introduction of a new enemy named Jolly Roger. Jolly is evil, undead, and happy to lay waste to anything in his path as he pursues his goal of ruling the Caribbean. Because he can raise dead things and compel them to service, the world is being overrun by skeleton pirates and worse.
Players encounter Jolly Roger for the first time shortly after Jack helps them escape from jail, so they realize right away that this is the POTC world they know and love, but that there are new stories to be told here and new challenges to overcome.
FiringSquad: How will the quests and missions in the game be handled and what sort of locations will be available to explore?
Mike Goslin: Quests play an important role in POTC Online since they are the way the player can advance the main story arc. We have a large number of quest types including smuggling, capturing, stealing, and other activities you would expect to be doing as a pirate. We’ll keep the quest element fresh by adding new types and continuing to evolve our epic storyline.
POTC Online takes place in the Caribbean established by the POTC movies and the theme park attraction. You’ll be able to sail to Port Royal, Tortuga, and other locales from the films as well as some completely new islands we’ve created for the game. We plan to launch with more than a dozen islands featuring towns, jungles, caves, swamps, volcanoes, and forts. The towns will feature Spanish, English, and shanty styles of architecture. We have drawn heavily from the movies in populating the game world so players will see familiar locations, characters, enemies, and situations, as well as a lot of entirely new stuff they haven’t seen before.