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Pirates Online: Dead Games Tell No Tales

Some savvy pirates wouldn't let a thing like their favorite game getting shut down stop them.

Some players don't take defeat easily. And neither do some pirates apparently.

Originally announced by Disney Interactive in 2005, Pirates of the Caribbean Online was planned to release in 2006 to coincide with the second and third Pirates movies. The MMORPG was set in-between the films, likely being made to help maintain fan buzz as well as be a part of Disney's Online Theme Park.

Players portrayed customizable pirate characters and interacted with NPC characters from the films. The game included a single-player story with cinematic cut scenes, player vs. environment and player vs. player action, sailing, plundering and numerous mini-games.

However, due to multiple delays it didn't open until October 31st of 2007.

Despite the setbacks, a dated graphics engine, some starting bugs and what appeared to be a somewhat unfinished product, Pirates Online was fairly well-received by players and critics.

It won the Game Industry News' Online Game of the Year and a Parent's Choice Foundation Award.

But, long times between updates and fixes, a notably short single-player story, growing problems with player hacks and what was perceived as limited customer support meant more and more pirates hung up their cutlasses.

Those that stayed until the bitter end, however stood loyal before the mast, ever hopeful to what waited beyond the horizon. There were even petitions to try and persuade Disney to let the voyage continue.

Out of the Mouse House

Disney Interactive had created a series of MMO games including the original ToonTown (2003), Pixie Hollow (2008) and World of Cars (2010). However, on September 19th, 2013 - all of them were closed for good. Disney had made the corporate decision to get out of ALL in-house game development. Opting instead to license their properties to other companies.

This greatly reduced their financial risk and obligations while still generating income due to their popular products. 

But, some fans of ToonTown didn't take it lying down and resurrected the game on their own private servers; the most popular being the free-to-play ToonTown Rewritten.

You can read more details about their efforts in this 2014 Bloomberg article, "Disney's Defunct Toontown Remade by Unsanctioned Teen."

Attempts have also been made to bring back the popular Pixie Hollow. And Disney games are not alone. Sure, many games have seen their share of fan-made mods and hacks but quite a few titles have been re-born because dedicated players did not want to see them go.

Notable among them is Black Mesa, the Half-Life hi-res reboot, Thief's Dark Mod and fan favorite GoldenEye Source; which took the original James Bond first-person shooter and built it into a Half-Life engine.

In the three year interim since Pirates of the Caribbean Online closed, several groups have tried to resurrect their own beloved game. Now, two such groups, The Legend of Pirates Online and Pirates Online Retribution seem to have come the closest.

All Hands on Deck!

The process of bringing a dead game back to life has numerous struggles; the coding and programming being just one facet.

Your GameSkinny pirate amazon had a chance to interact with the Legend of Pirates Online and Pirates Online Retribution teams about what's it taken so far. They took some time out to field questions and give feedback.

Eliza Creststeel: To start off, what are your team member's background in game development?

Pirates Online Retribution (POR): "We don't want to disclose too many details for the sake of protecting the identities of some of our staff members. That said, myself, and the co-founder are both Business CIS students at prestigious universities. Two of our developers are MIT students, and the others (as mentioned previously) do not wish to disclose this information."

The Legend of Pirates Online (TLOPO): "Assuming you are asking the experience of all individuals on our staff that are working to create the game, I will start there. Several team members have a solid background in graphics and animation, either because of school, work, or just a hobby. Others have a background in customer support for the same reasons. Many team members enjoy writing and have been added to our Storyline Developer team. The developers all come from all kinds of technological backgrounds. Many of them have a dying passion for Computer Software and/or Hardware and have a natural niche for programming."

EC: Are there any potential legal or copyright issues?

TLOPO: "There is because we have not contacted Disney for permission to copy their game. However, we are doing the best we can to not step on Disney's toes, such as making the gameplay completely free of charge so that we don't profit off of their idea."

POR: "[No.] In fact, Disney encourages emulation projects as it keeps their fan-base in the loop without costing them a penny. Furthermore, two of the original developers for ToonTown have actually joined ToonTown Rewritten.

We hope that in the future, we will be able to convince some of the original POTCO devs to join POR!"

*NOTE: The consensus among groups recreating Disney's MMOs is that as long as their projects are non-profit, the company would not pursue any legal recourse to cease and desist. So far, this has held true.

EC: What are the struggles working on your own time and money?

POR: "It's very challenging at times balancing and managing expectations since this is completely non-profit. We work as hard as we can, whenever we can."

TLOPO: "We have a few members of the team that have volunteered to pay for the expenses. Those members have faithfully been doing so, and have stated that they will long term... Pretty much every member of the staff has to work around school, or work, or family obligations, or a combination of those. Where one staff member is lacking because of these priorities, another will step in and help out."

EC: What did it take for the team to obtain the materials Disney created?

POR: "We had to de-compile the original Pirates Online client. All of the server code was written from scratch, and the vast majority of the client had to be completely reverse-engineered."

TLOPO: "Much of it was obtained thru the files that were downloaded onto one's computer when installing POTCO. This is known as the "client side" of the code. All of the "server side" was written from scratch by our developer team."

EC: Pirates Online was not a huge financial success, but the player base is very loyal, how do you balance satisfying the original players?

TLOPO: "By recreating the game just as POTCO had it. However, in some areas we are making improvements. For example, we are fixing bugs and glitches that Disney never got around to fixing. Also, we are putting a lot of hours into customer support to make sure that the community's questions and emails are answered truthfully in a timely manner."

POR: "We immediately made the game available to everyone without any restrictions. We have already implemented several brand new features that did not exist in POTCO such as factions, dual cutlasses, boarding axes, Jolly Roger Island, and Davy Jones."

EC: Your games will be Free-To-Play, do your teams have any thoughts about developing an original commercial product down the road?

POR: "POR will always be free-to-play. We are currently working on a second project called PO2 (Pirates Online 2) which will be a revitalized version of POTCO made on a newer gaming engine. However, this game will also be free-to-play."

TLOPO: "No. This game is Disney's idea, not ours."

EC: Are there elements in the original game you cannot bring back?

TLOPO: "Some things may take a lot more hours and effort to bring about, but they will be in TLOPO."

POR: "We won't be able to restore your old pirates that you had on POTCO since we do not have access to Disney's Astron or mySQL databases. However, everything other than that will be in POR!"

EC: Also, older versions of Pirates had different versions of islands as well as other elements. Was there anything in the previous versions the team wanted to bring back or might?

POR: "Yes. We intend to bring these back. We intend to have some servers designated for the old islands, and some for the new islands."

TLOPO: "Those are always a possibility. Our goal is to make TLOPO as smooth, and lag-free, and fast as possible. When Disney at some point had two different ways of, say, creating a building, we will most likely choose the one that fits the goal mentioned above."

EC: Will you be able to complete things like The Kraken, which never saw live play? Or Jolly's Island, etc.

TLOPO: "Right now, we are primarily concentrating on creating TLOPO to be just like POTCO was when it closed. [We're adding a new] island containing its very own storyline, new enemies, etc. I am unable to provide more details on it at this time."

POR: "Yes. We intend to implement these things within a few months."

EC: What parts of the original did the team members love most?

POR: "SvS, PvP, Guilds, Sailing, Looting."

TLOPO: "PvP, SvS, quests, looting, and being on the leader boards."

EC: Any parts you didn't like about the original?

TLOPO: "Ha ha, pretty much only those features that are difficult to create code-wise. The team enjoys POTCO as it was just like any other fan, otherwise they wouldn't be here sacrificing their time and money."

POR: "The gaming engine (Panda 3D) is extremely outdated and somewhat obsolete, which makes it hard to find people willing to want to work on the project."

EC: What other games do you team members play?

POR: "ToonTown Rewritten, Elder Scrolls Online, Total War series, etc."

TLOPO: "Quite a few. Star Wars: The Old Republic, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, Minecraft, etc."

Give Us That Horizon

Legends of Pirates Online and Pirates Online Retribution were not the only teams trying to recreate their favorite game. Other groups made similar efforts. But, it appears that TLOPO and POR may have made the most progress and continue to move forward.

In fact, players can try Pirates Online Retribution's open Alpha right now. Legends recently finished their alpha test phase and will be releasing a Beta test in the coming weeks. You can find more information on either game at their websites and forum pages:

And if you were a Toontown fan, check out Toontown Rewritten

Do you have a favorite game you would like to see rebooted? Did you play the original Pirates Online? Are you awaiting it's return?

Published Oct. 29th 2016

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