I enjoy playing combat simulation games and when I discovered that Wolf Pack Games was working on one that takes place on the open seas I know that I needed to know more about it. Lets face it, who hasn’t had dreams of becoming a pirate or the captain of their own vessel in their lives? Add the tagline Player vs Player, Nation vs Nation and the intrigue only increases tenfold. We recently got to talk to Jehremie Woods of Wolf Pack Games and discuss their upcoming game Letters of Marque.
GC: Judging by the title, the influence of the game was based off the novel by Patrick O’Brian. Were there any other inspirations?
WPG: Though Patrick O’Brian novels are nearly required reads for our group, the name comes from the widespread use of the Letters of Marque and Reprisal by nations throughout the golden age of sail and the use of them as a unique mechanic in the game itself. Players have to earn and purchase Letters of Marque from nations in order to unlock that set of ships and specialties as well as certain battle locations. Each Letter they get will open up more content to explore and ships to customize.
GC: Players will be able to go sailing on ships. Can you give us some insight on that?
WPG: Shipboard play will be mostly in a 3rd person view with the ability to go ‘on deck’ for a better view aiming the guns or gathering information on enemies, as needed. Players can choose the realism level of their play to range from near historical accuracy all the way to a more arcade feel. This can affect how the ships respond to wind and seas as well as how quickly they accelerate and turn. We understand that player’s interests will range from quick and dirty battles to long drawn out engagements so our goal is to let the players choose their play style and join or host the game type they most enjoy.
GC: One thing I thought was really interesting was that players can purchase addons using XP rather than just gold. What made you decide on that?
WPG: In the heyday of sailing a Captain would be able to get priority at a shipyard of their nation by being well known, higher ranking, or simple being in a rank longer than another Captain. We have decided to turn those into a mechanic for ‘purchasing’ items using the renown of your Captain. It can lead to a player getting access to better and more experienced crew and officers which is where the real power in the ship lies. A player can then ‘spend’ their renown as though they were calling in favors. Their overall earned XP count will remain, as that is used for their advancement in rank for the current nation.
GC: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the ship upgrades?
WPG: Upgrades fall into two primary categories: cosmetic and practical. On the cosmetic side, the player will be able to make their ship take on a unique appearance through the addition of items that will make their ship all their own. On smaller vessels this may be limited to only a couple of items that are customizable such as ornamentation, paint colors (limited to their nations standard color schemes), sail colors, sail logos, and new figureheads. On larger vessels such as a 3rd rate, they will have many more options like being able to upgrade their stern gallery, fancy handrails, gilded bow ornaments, and a slew of sail color choices with special flags able to be flown from their ships. Before long it will be common to recognize a Captain for the ship they are sailing. For the practical side, the first thing to understand is that more items does not necessarily mean better. A ship’s hull will only be able to handle a specific amount of weight before becoming unstable. The player will need to balance their upgrades to stay under this limit in order to minimize losing their vessel the Vasa way. Guns, rigging, hull upgrades, deck upgrades, and extra boats launches will be available. In order to tailor a ship to their play style the player can increase their gun calibers, and add hull thickness (increase armor) and those upgrades cost added weight. To offset it they may lighten their load by only carrying light sails and no studding sails at the cost of taking more sail damage through lessened durability. Their type of play may be as a damage tank that leads their group into battle with extra Gunners, less Marines, and the minimum amount of Sailors. As the weight nears the load limit a ship will increase the draft (hull amount underwater) and will therefor increase drag so the ship accelerates slower, turns slower, and will not have as high of a top speed. On the other side, another player may choose to thin their hull out, carry lightened sails, and use their lighter weight to increase their maneuverability at the cost of taking more damage. Their crew may be more tailored for quickly getting close to enemies and boarding with minimal Gunners, more Sailors, and a large amount of Marines. Through their choice of upgrades they can make their ship unique not only in appearance but also in performance without giving one player any particular advantage over another. One of the unique segments of our system is that it does NOT limit the player to a hard cap on the weight. If the player chooses to overload their vessel with extra ammo, powder, and repair materials then they will be able to do so. Crew also adds weight and the player may decide that the extra weight will be lowered through losses and uses throughout the battle and accept the risk of starting overloaded. However, it may also be very plausible that a heavily overloaded vessel will capsize on game start, so again, the Captain’s discretion is the key.
GC: You’ve mentioned that there are 3 types of crews, but the only one I’ve read about was the Marines, can you give us some insight into the other 2?
WPG: The crew consists of 3 unique classes. Sailors, Gunners, and Marines. Sailors are your standard crew and they can perform all duties on board ship including gunnery and boarding, however they are best suited for sailing duties such as trimming the sails or repairing the ship. Gunners are specialists that have one goal, to damage the enemy ship as much as possible at a large distance and keep their guns functioning as long as possible. They too can perform all other duties aboard ship, as they are still sailors though there is a penalty for them doing so since their specialty is not in the rigging. Marines are highly specialized forces that are near useless at sailing or gunnery but are extremely adept at boarding other ship and fighting boarding parties on their own. One of our unique mechanics is through crew fatigue. A 3rd rate ship would run at 100% efficiency in battle with a crew of around 600. A Captain may decide to carry as many as 50% more as replacements during battle, though there is no hard limit in our system. As the crew is depleted through battle then the duties will start to take their toll and fatigue sets in making actions slower. Gun crews will take longer to reload, sails will take longer to set and strike. Choosing special actions (quick reloads, fast sail changes, boarding other ships) will deplete the crews fatigue faster and might leave your ship vulnerable over time. In long running battles a Captain will be able to ‘secure from general quarters’ to give crews time to rest, however this puts them into a low response state and will have to be roused should danger come near and it takes time for crews to man their stations. Should a ship begin to flood, a Captain can order an All Hands order to manage the flooding and perform repairs. Doing an All Hands order will reduce all other activities to their slowest response rate while repairs are underway.
GC: How do you feel about possibly having Mod support?
WPG: We would love it, however, initial releases will not likely have player mod support until after the dedicated server system is released. Once players have the option to host their own dedicated games then it will be easier to manage the balance of play with mods on their own servers. We are always open to player suggestions and adding content based on feedback, so we hope the desire for mods is limited in the beginning.
GC: There will be weather changes during different moments of the game. How will that affect the way players play the game?
WPG: Weather and time both continue to change throughout a battle and the host determines at what rate they do so. As weather changes it can take the visibility of the level from low to high and vice versa. Some ships rely on speed and distance to win battles, whereas others simply rely on short range power. The visibility changing can affect which ships have advantages by even changing the current wind speed. Heavier ships will have a harder time maneuvering in light winds so the smaller vessels can have a distinct advantage on calm days. Heavier seas will affect gunnery and in larger waves a bigger, heavier ship will have less pitch and roll where they can have more shots hitting against a lighter, faster vessel that is rolling more. As light fails, ships will have a harder time distinguishing friend from foe and ranges will close to point blank before battle resumes. Also, harsher weather will have an impact on your crews fatigue levels so colder or hotter weather can wear them down faster. Heavy rain and seas can also have an effect on the ability for gun crews to fire their guns using ignition systems. The systems available at those times were very dependent on being kept dry so driving rain will slow the rate of fire or even keep guns from firing temporarily.
GC: Since players will be receiving XP throughout the game there will more than likely be a leveling system. If so, how much of a grind will it take for players to obtain xp?
WPG: XP is obtained through any action that damages their enemy. Some actions will be fairly straight forward such as simply hitting the enemy with a cannon shot. Others such as boarding will be more involved but with a higher payout. Since some of the XP is used as a currency, it will be easily obtainable but also easily spent. The overall earned XP will be the amount that has been earned in the lifetime of the player while sailing as that nation which is used to determine their rank for that one nation. Each nation that they fight for will have their own ranks to advance through, so it won’t be a challenge to obtain the lower ratings, though the higher ones will take much longer.
GC: A pre-alpha release is planned within the next couple of months along with other betas during development. Do you have planned phases on when they will be released to the public?
WPG: Current plans are for an pre-alpha release with basic gameplay in Q3 2015. After that will be the ability for upgrades and addons, crew management, and some advanced damage control to round out the Alpha stage in another ~2-3 months (Q4 2015). Beta stage is expected to take a good bit to finalize the networking and distribution channels as well as get the marketing into full effect with finalized UI and gameplay mechanics taking around 3 months more. All times are subject to changes due to development hurdles but we anticipate no major issues. Our first full release is anticipated around Q2 2016. Further development will continue with added features and assets for as long as the game remains popular with players.
GC: Where can all of our readers find out more information about Letters of Marque?
WPG: Our website is up at www.lettersofmarquegame.com and contains a forum for the community to give feedback. We also have a Facebook, Google+, and Twitter that we post our latest updates to.