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The Spyglass

A Letter from the Captain: Ten Years of Puzzle Pirates!

In recognition of the ten years since Puzzle Pirates opened for Alpha testing, Captain Cleaver has penned a brief note on the game's development and legacy. Enjoy, and thank you to everyone for supporting us over the years!


Dear Pirates, Past and Present,

Around twelve years ago, I was an unemployed game designer with an idea for a game. It would be a sandbox MMO in which the player would play a Pirate and sail the seven seas in search of treasure. Each basic activity in the game; sailing the ship, or battling a foe, would be accomplished with a Puzzle, usually an action-puzzle akin to Tetris.

This idea, unlike most of my deranged issuances, had various merits. Pirates make for a great MMO theme; they are exciting, adventurous, have great outfits and fraternize in rowdy Crews. Plus there is lots of treasure (and grog), and other mythological elements (skeletons!) are easily co-opted.

Puzzles also have their merits; they require skill and focus from the player, lending a pleasing fun and flow to the core activities of the game like travelling and combat. This was to stand in stark contrast to the math-fighting and drudgery that, alas, is still at the heart of MMOs today.

There's a fun historical interview with more detail on the origins of the idea here. If you're curious, you can also view some of my early sketches here.

The merits of the idea, or perhaps a temporary outbreak of lunacy following the collapse of the dot.com boom, allowed me to recruit a small band of doughty fellows to join me. Principal amongst these was Michael Bayne, co-founder and CTO, and I would like to thank him again today for making Puzzle Pirates possible (and to a significant extent, actually building it, line by line). I would also like to thank the early team that, ten years ago, were each instrumental in bringing us to alpha: Walter Korman, Rick Keagy, Jon Demos, Ray Greenwell and Eric Lundberg.

We were fortunate that we had some time, space (Michael's poor loft was cluttered with nerds and computers) and money to make our strange new game. We should thank our investors, friends and family who had the temerity to fund such an unusual project. We sequestered ourselves in July 2001 and began building the game.

Around a year and a half later we had built something that could be played and appeared to be fun -- but of course, we had been building it for too long to be particularly good judges of our own offspring. It was past time for us to shine the light of real, unaffiliated players on our creation, and for us to receive a sign as to its future prospects.

Which brings us to a decade ago today. We had announced the game six months earlier and a few brave souls had signed up on our forums and to be e-mailed when the game went alpha. We put up our first 'production server', emailed a handful of folks with account credentials, and waited nervously at the docks on Alpha Island.

The first player to login was called 'Ely'. He was a little bemused that the developers of the game appeared to be his welcoming committee, but soon hopped on a boat and started puzzling. He was soon joined by a number of other folks; I recall a 'peak concurrent' of 13 around this time, but probably not on the first day. By November 5th we had 62 players and 84 pirates, but more importantly, people were definitely having fun. We saw the same names return day after day, a number of crews had formed (notably the 'Terrible Turbies' from developer Turbine, who actually inspired the Dread Ringers' name) and players were buying all the clothes they could get from the backs of non-player pirates at the docks (no shops existed, yet.)

The feeling of those days was extraordinary: we had taken a big risk making an unusual game, and it turned out that people liked it and wanted to play it. It was a relief, but also tremendously exciting. Invigorated, we pushed on through the spring of alpha's remaining 'Underpants' period before we hit 'Question Mark' Beta in July, and 'Profit' the following October-December (although to be fair, actual profit took a bit longer ;)) We were lucky we had that extra time, as the economy, blockades, extra puzzles and other polish we included doubtless secured Yohoho's long-term fun and economic viability into the future.

It's a real pleasure to look back, ten years later, and remember that moment when we realised we had a fun game. I'm very glad to share this celebration with you, the players and true makers of the world of Puzzle Pirates. The game has always been centered on and driven by its players, like any good sandbox world. We only built the venue, it is you that have brought it to life.

Someone once asked what I would consider a success for Puzzle Pirates, I said something about making a game players loved (and something else about needing X customers to stay viable!) To be here, looking back on a decade of fun, and confident that we can look forward to another decade and beyond -- that was the measure of success I was looking for. Thank you.

- Capn Cleaver aka Daniel James, co-founder of Three Rings.

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