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The Pirate 101 Beta NDA has been officially dropped!  (OK, it dropped last month… I’ve been busy.  Still.)

Consequently, I can show off some of the screenshots I’ve been able to get while I was tinkering with the beta.  I’m a fan of Wizard 101, and it’s been fun to see where King’s Isle has expanded on their multiverse they call the Spiral, and their art and game design has stepped up a notch.

And, well… combat in Pirate 101 is tactical, sort of a Pirate Tactics Lite, as it were.  I like tactical games.  I even made one.  (Yes, Zomblobs! still needs work, yes, I’m still working on it, yes, I’ve been busy… I’ve only played a little of this Pirate 101 beta.)  Wizard 101‘s card combat system is quirky but solid, and I’m a fan… but tactical grid combat?  Yes, please!

The Pirate 101 combat engine is pretty good, from what I’ve seen.  I’m a little disappointed with the Musketeer “line attack” special moves, but overall, it’s a very solid light tactical system.  (Musketeers function like artillery in most tactical games, namely move OR shoot, which is generally fine, but their special moves place higher importance on position, so it’s harder to make use of them.  Melee and magic characters have much more useful special attacks.)  You place your units on a square-based grid, and try to knock out the enemies before they defeat you, occasionally dealing with an optional or side target.

It’s worth noting that characters can attack and move diagonally on the grid, something that isn’t common in square-based grid games I’m familiar with.  This does make choke points a bit more vulnerable, or even impossible to set up, so you can’t count on one solid melee unit holding the line while ranged units blast the foes.  You can certainly do some of that, and such is just smart tactics, but it’s not as easy to use positioning against enemies as it would be without diagonal options.  That’s neither good nor bad, just a difference from, say, Final Fantasy Tactics.

Pirate 101 also gives you a ship pretty quickly (a dozen or so quests into the game), and a wealth of cosmetic customization options for your character and ship.  I love this decision to give players their own ships early.  That’s one aspect where I think Allods Online really dropped the ball, as they made ships endgame toys.  Puzzle Pirates (another great game) gives you access to ships fairly early as well, but Pirate 101 is even faster, and it’s a wonderful thing, giving a great sense of exploration and freedom.  Ship to ship combat isn’t quite as awesome as that in Pirates! Live the Life!, but it’s still nice and smooth, plenty of fun to play.

I haven’t seen a lot of the game, nor have I played all the classes with much depth (I focused on the Musketeer in the beta), but Pirate 101 is a great game from what I can see.  It will share the Crowns microcurrency with Wizard 101, and I presume it will have a similar setup for buying bits and bobs of content.  I am happy with this system.

I’m looking forward to spending some more time in the Spiral, and I hope that the game does well.  Once the beta phase is over and I nail down a permanent pirate name, I’ll add it to my roster of characters, if you feel like stopping by and saying hello.  I may well be hanging around this fascinating little shantytown:

Crazy Ship Architecture

Fair winds!

Oh, and for more perusal, here’s my Picasa album of the screenshots I’ve collected thus far.  It’s a bit of a mess, but there are some gems in there.

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Dear Kings Isle,

Thank you.

It’s nice to think that someone listened, even if it was just a coincidence.

You’ve also earned some money from at least one fan, and maybe another.  *waves at the good Cap’n*  This is effectively a lifetime sub for all current content, almost a Guild Wars sort of purchase.  I love that business model, and I really like Wizard 101.

Sincerely,

Tesh

(Scot Silverblade, Balance/Death Wizard, still enamored with Marleybone but now chasing elephant demons in MooShu)

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Dear Kings Isle,

I really like Wizard 101.  It’s a great game, and while I’m quick to point out some of its flaws, you have a great piece of work on your hands.  I also appreciate how you address concerns, like your recent revamp of the bizarre Bazaar and the ill-received boss encounter alterations.

I’m especially fond of Access Passes, since my casual gaming schedule makes subscriptions extraordinarily poor value for my money.

I know, some people get great value out of subscriptions, and your current sale price of $60 for a year of subscription is a fantastic value for those who like subscribing.

For the moment, though, my question is merely this:  When will Access Pass players like myself get similar bundle value out of Crown purchases?  50% off of the subscription price is a great deal.  For a time, there was a bulk bonus for Crown purchases (about 25% maximum, if memory serves), but even that doesn’t match the subscription deal.

Perhaps the fact that Crowns can be used for things other than Access Passes is a problem.  Maybe it’s time for an Access Pass sale, then.  Yes, that might mean different mechanics to keep those Crowns that would be spent on Access Passes from going elsewhere (though the current Crown gear is underwhelming, to be frank).  I believe it would be ideal in the long run, since Access Passes are one of your best ideas.

Why does it matter?  Simply, I’ve been on the edge of giving you more money, but at the moment, I’m waiting for a deal.  Valve established that bargain sales can be profitable with their price cut on Left4Dead. In a stressful economy, people are more price sensitive.

If you were to sell Crowns at 50% off, like the subscription deal, even for a limited time, I would give you some more money.  It’s that simple.  An “Access Pass-exclusive” package deal would be extraordinarily enticing.  It would be very much like buying a Guild Wars expansion when it went on sale, which I have also done.  Of course the margin isn’t as high on sale items, but you make it up on volume *and* on triggering sales that wouldn’t even otherwise exist.  Also, when you’re just dealing with bits and bytes, with no real storefront overhead or CDs to press and distribute, those margins look even better.

In the meantime, thank you for making an excellent product, a true gem in the morass of modern MMO mundane design.  I wish you the best of luck.

Sincerely,

Tesh

(Scot Silverblade, Balance/Death Wizard currently enamored with Marleybone)

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