This story is about a game which I call ‘The Russian Duke Nukem Forever’. The game has started its development in summer 2003, so it seems fitting to talk about it on an approximate 10 years anniversary of the project. This is the story of Age of Pirates: Captain Blood.
I really like Sabatini’s Captain Blood novels. So, when I heard back in 2003, that Akella (creators of Sea Dogs and Pirates of the Caribbean 2003 game) was going to make a game based on all three books, I was really excited.
What I didn’t know at the time is that behind the closed doors things weren’t going exactly great already. First, the project (and, by the way, all inside information is based on the stories of one developer from inside the studio that were posted on a Russian forum) itself wasn’t exactly the developers’ first choice. They already did several pirate-themed projects and wanted to change the setting, but, in the end, kind of decided to go with it anyway. Plus, a lot of people (most of them from the art department) have left the company and were replaced by newbies (which, by the way, is not an insult to anybody, just that those people were not that experienced at the time). More than that, by the end of 2003, the project leads Dmitry Demyanovski and Andrei Ivanchenko have left to form their own company, .dat. The project was taken over by Renat Nezametdimov and Yuri Rogach, and essentially restarted.
For the first time. Oh yes, there will be many more.
However, 2004 was a really productive year for the project. The new guys got the hang of things, stuff started going forward, the project shaped to be a mix of EA’s The Return of the King on landside missions and a more action-paced Sea Dogs combat on sea-based missions. And things were looking good, the game was presented at E3 2004 slated to be released in 2005, and I look at the footage now, and, you know what? I still would like to play that 2004 game version. It’s nice.
Oh, and also, the team started adapting the game to the new awesome Storm 3.0 engine. For anybody who doesn’t know, in the early 2000s, Akella was the go-to company for some damn best water-based engines that the game industry has ever seen. It’s kinda funny, but in a nostalgic way, looking at that 2004 Captain Blood footage and remembering how the press just went nuts with phrases like ‘we haven’t seen water like this EVER in a game!’, when there’s… well… when now there’s stuff like this, for example:
But. By the end of 2004, something has happened. There were other newcomers in the team, and they secretly were working on a new concept for a game. Much flashier, much more grotesque and brutal. And they showed it off to the company management. And it loved it. So everything what was done, except for the engine, was scrapped. And the development restarted over. For the second time. And the team got split into ‘SeaDogs’ team and ‘SeaWolves’ team, with SeaDogs getting to work on Sea Dogs 3 (known as Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales in the west) and SeaWolves team (consisting of those newcomer revolutionists) started working on the new Blood.
And it basically became God of War with a pirate theme and ship battles. Which, you know, in and of itself is nice, but… Captain Blood… Okay, so, here’s what I think about adaptations. I don’t necessarily mind when changes are made, a lot of times they are necessary, and, you know, sometimes changing like 90% of the things (like How to Train Your Dragon movie did with its source, for example) leads to an incredible product. But what I think should always stay intact, regardless of how much you change things, is the spirit and substance of the source. And it was just not there in the new version, so when I saw the new screens, I’ve lost interest.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it still could be a great and fun game, just not for me anymore. Still, behind the closed doors, things were pretty hectic. By the accounts of one of the SeaDogs team member (don’t have any accounts from any of the SeaWolves members, though), SeaWolves didn’t seem to have a clear idea of where they were going. They had lots of ideas coming out of them, and they were working energetically to implement them, and even got the project on Xbox 360, but there was no clear goal and it isn’t known if there ever was one definite design document, or anything like that.
Also, at this time, a deal with Playlogic was signed; it would act as the publisher in Europe and US. This is important, because there will be a legal shitstorm later down the line based on this fact.
Now, there are no exact clear accounts on how the development went after that, only that the developers switched a lot, the project leads weren’t constant, and things were generally speaking very hectic. Oh, and the project was restarted again. That’s, third time, I think? Anyway, here’s a video how it looked at the time.
Now, there wasn’t any project actually restarting after that, but there were overhauls (at least from the art side), so I’ll keep them on the same counter, just for fun. This year marks the fourth overhaul.
One of the things that happened is that Akella got into a legal fight with Playlogic over some of the IPs, including Blood. Nobody knows the exact details, but things seemed to cool down, and the SeaWolves team was sold to 1C. Who previously acted just as a publisher in Russia. The game was slated to release in 2008.
However, in 2008, there again were changes in developers and leads, and again there was an overhaul, the fifth one, and, really, the last one. At least, noticeable one based on how the game plays and its art direction. And though seemingly the team has got its shit together, the project was set back to be released in 2009. Oh, and the team size lowered from 32 people to 18, because some developers were unhappy with the transition from Akella to 1C and left.
The game didn’t get released in 2009, it got pushed back to 2010. But at least it got finished. The project was given to TriHorn Productions and Gajiin Sounds to make the voice acting and soundtrack, and by the end of 2009 the actual testing of master candidate started commencing. Things were looking good, right? The game will finally be released in 2010?
Well, not really. Because, Playlogic got out of its hibernation or whatever it was in, and continued its fight over the Captain Blood IP, now with 1C, but based on their disagreements with Akella before 1C even got involved, and… basically, people don’t really know what’s going on with the lawsuits, actually. The what and whys are unclear. But, what is known, is that the game was actually printed, retailers were even prepared to get it, but never did. In the meantime, pretty much all of the game’s developers have left 1C, most of them got into Mail.ru Group to work on Skyforge. 1C, in the meantime, has launched a new Captain Blood website, stating that the game is going to release in 2011.
Only it never did, because the lawsuit is still going on. Actually, we don’t even know if it’s still going. There is absolutely no information, just speculation. And silence. It’s 2013 now, and the website is still open, still saying that Captain Blood is going to see the light of day in 2011. Only nobody knows if it will actually happen, or when it’s going to happen. Or maybe when things will finally settle down, the game is going to be so old that another project restart is going to be required. Who knows. (NOTE: as of 2016 when I post this on Gamasutra, nothing has changed)
And… it sucks that this happened. Age of Pirates: Captain Blood may not be the game that I originally waited for. And its development wasn’t the smoothest one. But people have spent years of their lives working on it. And the game doesn’t look bad. And, it’s finished. Hell, I’m of the opinion that even unfinished cancelled games deserve to see the light of day in some form, so the hard work wouldn’t have gone for nothing, and this… the game was printed, for crying out loud! (though, the exact number of printed copies before the print run had to be abandoned due to lawsuits is unknown) It was ready to be sold. And it exists there, in a fully playable state, somewhere. Only people may never get a chance to play it. And that's sad.
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