Rampant Piracy

Kartuga by Ticking Bomb Games and Inno Games

Published: April 29. 2013

Unity Web Player

From Ticking Bomb Games and InnoGames’ comes Kartuga—the pirate MMO you’ve been waiting for

The world of MMOs has become an increasingly crowded one, and one in which standing out can be particularly difficult. To find their own niche, the developers at German studio Ticking Bomb Games first had to look backwards in order to look ahead, asking themselves the essential question: What would Sid Meier's Pirates be like if it was an MMO?

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“When first envisioning the concept, we started to fantasize about a browser-based, free-to-play pirate game,” says Kartuga’s development director Tobias Severin. “We really love pirate-themed games like Sid Meier's Pirates and the Monkey Island series, but we felt that something was missing. As much as we love Pirates, we love fast-paced, action-packed multiplayer games, and we wanted players to play with their friends in intense, thrilling naval battle actions, instead of trading spice and sugar.”

The trick, then, became bringing the theme and strategic elements of the original Pirates to a more visceral, action-packed stage. “Gameplay-wise we wanted to create the same feeling as intense, emotional and fast-paced arena shooters provide,” says Severin. “We took some parts Pirates and some part Quake 3, added some ships and water, and there we were.” The WASD keys steer your ship, while mousing and clicking attacks enemy ships. The team quickly realized that to give the game the depth it needed (no pun intended), players should be able to choose and individualize their own play style. As such, it implemented a series of Borderlands-like RPG elements that give players the freedom to do so.

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At the start of the game, you’re given three types of ships to choose from: Destroyers are powerful and fast but extremely weak, Protectors can withstand massive damage but are exceedingly slow, and Engineers are best used as support ships, as they provide repair crates to other ships in larger battles. As you level up and gain skill points, you'll extend your ship's strengths in whatever ways you see fit.

Your ship will also have an impact on the way the way you play PvP, and the modes will be varied. Domination, for instance, is a capture-and-hold mode in which teams have to find and secure five ghost ships placed randomly around the map. Each team collects their souls until one team accumulates 2500 of them and wins.

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To realize its ideas, the team turned to Unity. “We had Unity on our ‘watch list’ for quite a long time,” says Severin. “During our internal ‘lab days,’ we give our employees the chance to work on their own projects. Over a year, they kept experimenting with the engine and developed a bunch of small, fun projects with it. From the very beginning Unity was our favorite choice for a browser-based 3D game—the install base of the Unity plugin is nothing short of impressive.”

> Our goal is to once again push the limits of what’s possible in a client-free browser environment.

The Kartuga team is currently up to 24 people, but didn’t start out that way. “A small team of four people was able to produce a first prototype with presentable graphics and multiplayer support within eight weeks,” says Severin. “We started with a SmartFox server and a very basic Client/Server architecture. Our main goal was finding out what was fun in the key elements of Kartuga. We tried various control schemes and camera perspectives within the first couple of weeks.” The resulting prototype was used as an internal pitch at publisher InnoGames, and forged the path forward for the game. “In many ways, the core gameplay of Kartuga remained very similar to what it was in the early prototypes,” says Severin. “It got a lot more varied and way cooler, of course.”

Severin points to Unity’s editor as a key point of differentiation from the other options on the market. “The powerful editor is easy, extendable and saves us a lot of work. The level designers were able to create large game worlds within a short period of time, and iteration could be done extremely fast. We love working with it.”

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Looking back on the development process, Severin notes that one of the team’s biggest hurdles was its customized export pipeline not being able to recognize an authoritative server. “All game relevant objects must be known by both client and server, and in addition to that, streaming assets and large terrains were a huge challenge for us,” he says. Still, the team managed to overcome these obstacles and create a Unity-based browser game that, despite running at 60 FPS most of the time, is still very light and can easily be played on older PCs. “We found Unity to be an extremely powerful and versatile tool,” says Severin. “[Our biggest request] is just improved support for asset bundles.”

The decision to release Kartuga as a browser-based game using the Unity browser plugin has helped in terms of upkeep. “With Windows, Mac OS and Linux we have a potentially huge playerbase, so we’re focusing on providing the best experience possible for those players before we think about creating other, platform-specific versions,” says Severin. Of course there are several features we were not able to squeeze in until the upcoming closed beta, but that’s the beauty of a browser-based game: As long as Kartuga runs, we’ll support it with updates and new features.” Since the heart of the game is class-based PvP, he ensures that players can look forward to plenty of new game modes and playable classes.

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Indeed, its this aspect of the game that the team has been having the most fun with. “We still love the team-based PvP very much, since this was one of our core ideas: a game that you can just pick up and enjoy with a group of friends very easily,” says Severin. Combined with the ability for in depth customization of individual ships via various skill trees, the resulting pirate opus is nothing short of ambitious, immediately engaging yet deep enough for long-term play.

Kartuga

For now, the team is focused on current closed beta of Kartuga. An open beta is slated to start in June, with a wide release coming shortly thereafter. But that’s not all the team has on its agenda: “We’re already looking forward to developing our next browser game with Unity 4,” says Severin. “Our goal is to once again push the limits of what’s possible in a client-free browser environment.”

Read more about Kartuga and Ticking Bomb Games and Inno Games

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