Thursday, March 4, 2021

The rapid escape of the “pirates of Sid Meier!”

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Sid Meier a one of the most well-known names in the video game industry. But who is he beyond a name on a box, anyway?

A recent thread On Reddit, asking the community about the first game they played garnered over 45,000 comments, with classic names like Tetris, Super Mario Bros., and Spyro at the top of the list. It got me thinking about which video games had the most impact on me as a kid. These days they’re a part of my life, but it hasn’t always been that way. I was born in the mid-90s, so I missed the first consoles, and after the loss of our beloved Gameboy Color (stolen in the prime of life), the technological heart of my home became the family desktop computer.

Courtesy of MJ Lewis

It was my dad’s domain, and I sneaked past the dial-up modem to watch him play classic daddy games like Football manager and Airline Tycoon. Usually I was just watching, until one game managed to promote me as a player: the 2004 release of Sid Meier’s pirates!

Looking back on the game now, it’s easy to see why it appealed to me so much. You start out as a buccaneer, navigating your ship across an open world map of the Caribbean in search of fame, fortune, and your lost family. Encounters on the waves lead to real-time naval battles, where players use the numeric keypad to fire their cannons at an enemy ship while attempting to skillfully maneuver through their cannonball assault. It’s surprisingly tactical: you can choose the type of cannonball your ship fires, with different types inflicting specific damage to the enemy ship or its crew. Reducing crew numbers makes it easier to win the ensuing sword fight, a tense battle against the enemy captain on the deck of his (hopefully) half-wrecked ship.

It might seem unnecessarily belligerent if it weren’t so fun – and profitable to boot. Taking an enemy ship earns you crew, goods, and gold, but could damage your reputation with whom the ship was affiliated. A good reputation will see you welcomed to faction settlements to sell your goods and, most importantly, dance with the impossibly busty daughter of the governor. The dance mini-game takes place on the number pad and is essentially a rhythm game, requiring quick reflexes and an impeccable sense of timing. My dad didn’t have either, and I clearly remember him calling me to the computer to help him get the full combos he needed to impress the courtiers.

Until there Sid Meier’s pirates! has open world exploration, sea battles, trading and reputation systems, and fighting and rhythm mini-games, but I haven’t even touched on the turn-based strategy parts of the game This game absolutely refuses to be constrained by one genre and offers players a veritable assortment of game mechanics. For some, that was too much. But why were these choices made?

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