How the Corsairs were created

Sid Meier in the 1980s; his “Pirates!“became incredibly popular, and deservedly so. Meyer captured all aspects of the life of pirates and implemented them at a decent level. Well, at least all those aspects that modern gamers imagine about the life of pirates are: boardings, trade, chases, treasures , dancing with the governor's daughter(???), dashing fights with captains, etc. Everything was implemented at a decent level for that time, and in 1993 there was even a remake with noticeably improved graphics.



This is the original…



…and this is a remake.

Then the story twists and intertwines so much that you are simply amazed. In 1995, the game “Sea legends“from Russian developers(!)”World Dialogue“on the MS-DOS platform. I bet you have never heard of such a company, although you probably know the founder, and a little later I will tell you about him. “Sea Legends” compared favorably with Sid Meier’s “Pirates” in voxel graphics and the presence of a plot. Implemented everything was at a very decent level – a full-fledged naval battle, where the player controlled the ship as if from the deck, changed the type of ammunition, aimed and shot. Boarding, however, almost completely repeated Sidmeier's, and the concept itself is very similar (on the other hand, why could games about pirates be fundamentally different?) “Sea Legends” was even published abroad by the company “Ocean of America“, which is now known as “Atari”. In fact, this is one of the first Russian games to hit the foreign market (we don’t count “Tetris”, it is still Soviet)! Unfortunately, the game did not gain much success abroad, although old-timers remember it “. So, let's return to “Mir Dialogue”. After this, the company broke up, and one of the developers of “Sea Legends” (who was also listed as a composer and sound engineer) Sergei Orlovsky immediately founded his own company “Nival interactive“, which is very familiar to you, because a good half of all world-famous Russian games were later released precisely under the auspices of Nival.



This is the interface the game offered

Let's get to the meat itself. Around the same years (1995), the company “Akella“, the founders Dmitry Arkhipov and Vladimir Kudr became its vice-presidents. Typically, the position of president in Akella never existed. The times were difficult, the 90s were still around the corner, so the guys survived as best they could. If you remember a company like “Fargus“, the legendary pirate localizer of those years, then you should know that at first “Akella” and “Fargus” formed a single whole. And only after foreign potential partners made it clear that there would be no contracts with such a background, the final demarcation occurred companies True, evil tongues say that all this was just a cover, but in fact… So, enough, let's stick to the official version.



Dmitry Arkhipov, vice-president of Akella

Vladimir Kudr, vice-president of Akella

Dmitry Arkhipov recalls that the official path began with localizations – they simply translated several iconic games of that time like Myst And Full throttle, and with the finished translation they approached the copyright holders, but they turned on total ignore (that’s why the games were released underground, illegally, as pirates). The situation changed in 1996, when Ubisoft entrusted Akella with the localization of PoD – “planet of death“, a futuristic race that did not win any laurels, but sold about 20k copies and became the first officially published game in Russia. It is noteworthy that the first partners were Ubisoft, although later their publisher abroad became… more on that a little later.

Screenshot from the first officially localized game

Akella wanted more than just becoming a localizer – she wanted to become developers and release their own games. And then, as usual, a lucky chance turned up. Two programmers with their ready-made concept for the game “Archipelago”, Krasnozhenov and Colombet, approached the vice-presidents. Also some kind of semi-criminal story, they were fleeing from the Chechens, from whom they took money for the development of the Archipelago. Along with the programmers there was a small team of three people, five in total. Arkhipov paid the Chechens and took the whole team to work on the game. As he himself admitted, this was a mistake – there was no smell of any game there. There was a concept of some kind of archipelago with villages and sea voyages, the game was supposed to be a mixture of RPG and strategy. Six months later, a conflict arose in the team; Krasnozhenov and Colombet began to insist on firing and dispersing everyone; Arkhipov, after listening to both sides, chose to get rid of the scandalous programmers. Then they periodically surfaced on various forums, introducing themselves as the developers of “Corsairs”, and even seemed to appear in “Buk”. As a result, Dmitry “Lucky” Demyanovsky becomes the lead developer, the concept of the game changes, and it is decided to make a game on their own engine about pirates (there is a story that this was influenced by the vacation of Arkhipov and Kudra in the Cayman Islands, where they dived to the remains of a pirate ship).

Dmitry “Lucky” Demyanovsky

This, of course, was another adventure. RPG about pirates(!), in an open world(!!), on its own engine(!!!). But they decided to take a risk. They rented a basement and got to work. Six months later, a demo mode was ready on their own engine”Storm Engine 1.0“, literally put together on the knee. And then the finances run out… It’s too late to retreat, and Arkhipov is attracted 1C, their sworn friends and competitors, they will be publishers in Russia. Looking ahead, I will say that after that they will cooperate in tandem for a long time and successfully. But there was still not enough money, and then Arkhipov went to Western publishers with a demo version of the engine. By that time, the collaboration with Ubisoft had already ended, although they showed clear interest in Corsairs. At the presentation, the bosses of the company even made a poster where they promised online battles, but Ubisoft’s policy by that time was such that they stopped taking third-party products into development, and that was the end of the cooperation. Activision asked for some enslaving conditions – all future Akella projects must first be shown to them, and only if Activision refuses, then can they be shown to others; in general, not a contract, but some kind of slavery. As has often happened, chance helped. The small company to which Arkhipov delivered the demo “Sea Dogs”, “Interactive Magic”, brought it to E3, the largest gaming exhibition, where the director was stuck at the Akella stand “Bethesda Softworks“Vlatko Antonov. He really liked the presentation, where a pterodactyl, flying over the sea, grabbed a ship by the mast and dragged it into the sky. Yes, that was one of the first concepts of the game! Besides, it was not a feature, but a bug – this was not intended initially. It’s hit or miss! But the publisher took it all seriously, and collaboration with Bethesda began (according to Arkhipov, he drank vodka with Todd Howard more than once). Later, all this mysticism and fantasy was cut out (until subsequent parts ), because there was simply no time left to study battles with such monsters.

One of the monster concepts in the game



One of the early concept presentations. As you can see, they lured me even online (!)

You should also tell a short story about the name. After “Archipelago” the working Russian name became “Corsairs”, in English “Corsairs”. Soon at one of the exhibitions it turns out that the French company “Microids“(who will become famous for the series of quests “Siberia”) have their own project almost at the final stage of development, “Corsairs: Conquest at Sea“, which is also graphically very similar to the early concepts of Akella! Of course, this came as an unpleasant surprise. Arkhipov himself believes that there was no plagiarism, just a coincidence, ideas are in the air; I am inclined to believe him and agree. The name was changed to “Sea Dogs: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea”, in the Russian version of “Corsairs: The Curse of the Distant Seas”. By the way, I played the game from Microids almost at the same time as “Corsairs”, and it is… normal. Very looks like Pirates! from Sid Meier, without a special plot, graphically cartoonish, with an interesting boarding mode in the style of RTS. It was because of this mode that Akella completely redesigned the boarding, and it came out the way it came out – a one-on-one showdown with the enemy captain, and HP serves as the number of commands.

Very nice. I've played enough of it to say it's a decent game.

And this is what the boarding process looked like.

And now, after almost 4 years of development, “Corsairs: The Curse of the Distant Seas” is released and immediately produces the effect of a bomb exploding. Not only were the graphics at that time world-class, the water physics were the best in the industry, the first in its genre of pirate 3D RPG, but the final finishing touches were the soundtrack and voice acting. “Akella” immediately demonstrated who is now the boss in the RU segment of game development. I declare with full responsibility that what the composer composed Yuri Poteenko for “Corsairs”, is included in the worldwide golden fund of soundtracks for games along with “Morrowind”, “Gothic”, “Hitman” and “The Witcher”.



Himself

In the main menu you were greeted by an absolutely stunning orchestral composition, immediately bringing to mind thoughts of salty splashes in the face, the wind of wanderings and buried treasures… I specifically tested this melody on people far from video games, 7 people; and that's it, ALL of them said that it sounds like the sea itself. Of course, for games of that time, when it was difficult to allocate money for some kind of electronic sound, “Corsairs” played in a different league, and the gap was huge. Read what a professional musician writes about this composition, consider it a kind of mini-review:

The game's sea theme is reminiscent of a passacaglia (a song of Spanish origin), which cleverly references the rich history and culture of Spain. The passacaglia genre is a farewell song, the three-beat meter of which sways like waves, and the tragic-heroic character is revealed by the solo instruments. First it is the English horn with its achingly gloomy timbre. Against the background of swaying figures of orchestral accompaniment, the theme of wanderings calls from very far away. Wide melodic melodic moves on the fifth, fourth, minor sixth and octave, whimsical melismas paint a romantic, exciting picture of adventure. The dotted rhythm on the first beat provides a proud support for the melody. The subdued accompaniment imitates lute chords. The introduction of the horns, the ostinato descending rhythm of their exclamations complements the heroic nature of the theme, and the tutti (the moment when the entire orchestra enters) of the flutes and clarinets are like restrained sighs for something distant or long experienced, but still exciting. The call of the horns is answered by the powerful tutti of the strings. Thematic development develops and unfolds across the entire breadth of the orchestral texture. Ostinato (multiple repetition of a melodic phrase or rhythmic figure) is picked up by trombones, whose brilliant timbre even on the piano reminds us of knightly images. The theme passes through the double basses, as if in the very depths of the seas – and rises with a magnificent wave in the introduction of the choir. The beautiful symphonic development of the development is a bit reminiscent of German late romanticism; this is also clearly an intentional reference by the author to Wagnerian images, perhaps meant to remind us of the storm scene in The Dutchman. The ostinato takes place in the grandiose power of the orchestral tutti – storm and waves to the skies. And it breaks off fortissimo…



Main menu

As we remember, it’s the 90s, there’s not much money, and everyone is looking for a way to earn money on the side. An accountant introduced Arkhipov to Poteenko, and Dmitry immediately jumped at the chance. Moreover, Yuri Poteenko had access to the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra. As a result, a masterpiece really came out, which is not a shame to still play in the best halls in the world. But not only music became the calling card of “Corsairs”. Voice acting! That’s what else made the project stand out! As Dmitry recalled, their office was located not far from Ostankino, and actors from television could be taken away for literally half an hour to voice a phrase for a little money. By the way, the famous “IIIIIIIISPANIANS!!!!” voiced by none other than Peter Glanz! The phrases turned out to be so unique that they survived several iterations of “Corsairs”. Who doesn’t remember such phrases as “The starboard side is ready for a salvo!”, “Cats on board!”, “Take no prisoners!”, “Dobychchchcha!” And he voiced the main character Vladimir Konkin.



IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIYYYY!

And he did a great job in his role. The opening screensaver turned out to be wonderful, where we are introduced to the situation. The plot is simple: Nicholas Sharp dreamed of the sea as a boy, he grew up, the war between England and Spain began (apparently, this is part of the Thirty Years' War), the situation allowed him to equip a ship with gunpowder in La Rochelle. His mother gave him his father's medallion and said that his father had disappeared into the sea. Nicholas never made it to his destination—the watchman screamed “IIIIIIIII SPAINIANS!” announced that something had gone wrong… The ship was boarded, and Sharpe’s comrades were sent to a plantation with slaves, from where he and several comrades escaped a year later, capturing a small boat and killing the guards. On this boat you will start the game in the mysterious Archipelago.

It is interesting that the developers do not remember why it was decided to make a fictional Archipelago, and not the real Caribbean. Or they remember, but don’t voice it. Renat Nezametdinov in an interview with DTF in 2018 says:

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what the real reason for this is. I remember that there were problems with displaying large islands at a suitable scale due to the technical limitations of the technology at the time. We never found an option on how to make the coastline of the continent beautiful enough, although we also experimented with this. But what is the reason for choosing a fictional archipelago, alas, I do not remember.


The map was implemented very nicely. With real fog!

So the game came out in 2000 and it was completely crazy. I myself remember that time – college, work, and at night I would go to a fellow student and work until the morning, sleep for an hour, and then go back to college. How to complete this or that quest, where to find the first mate, is it possible to capture a frigate on a 5-6 class ship… It was a complete success, despite the fact that it took 7 patches to bring the gameplay to mind, and the pirate line from the start in general was impassable. But everything was forgiven. We said goodbye to the sea, to the ships, to the spirit of exploration and adventurism, when you could try to stop a merchant ship on the starting sloop, to the opportunity to find a wife in the game and found your own independent brotherhood Libertalia… Yes, as they would say now, “Akella” is notable hyped up at the time. Their credibility has grown incredibly; however, within a few years they flushed everything down the toilet, but that’s a completely different story.

Apart from the fact that from the very start there were already 4 quest lines available (although not all of them worked stably), the best decoration of the game were, of course, the ships. 6 ranks, more than forty pieces, very beautiful and well-designed. I still remember this moment when you look through a telescope from the deck (crappy and cracked, to find a better one, you had to sweat a lot), and in the distance the outlines of an enemy ship begin to emerge from the fog; you realize that you can’t defeat him, and you begin to set all the sails and catch the wind to escape. Yes, all this was realized – the change of weather (in a storm, lightning could set a ship on fire and even sink), and the change of day and night, and the wind! The battle plan had to be built based on the direction and strength of the wind. 4 types of weapons: knipples – to knock down masts and tear sails, cannonballs – to pierce the hull, buckshot – to mow down the enemy team, and bombs – to do this fun and with fire. The balance has been delivered. The older the ship and the higher in rank, the more crew and guns it can accommodate, but maneuverability begins to suffer. So it’s quite possible to dismantle and even board a frigate on a low-ranking ship. After the sinking, various barrels and planks float at the crash site, and you can pick up various goods and consumables.

Chic ship models at that time

View from the deck

The role-playing system is quite primitive. To drive large ships without penalties, you need to upgrade your ranks, of which there are 12 in total. You can also hire assistants, such as a gunner, a boatswain, a carpenter… The most valuable of them is the first mate, it is difficult to find him on the archipelago, but it was with his appearance that it was possible deliver the captured ship to the port and sell it there for good money. Of course, the 3D environment contributed to the atmosphere, giving a hundred points head start. Hehey, you can walk around the island yourself, go to the store, visit the tavern, pay a visit to the governor, repair the ship at the shipyard and install more powerful guns there! And each nation also has its own musical theme, which immerses you headlong in what is happening… Boardings, a shootout with a fort, where one unsuccessful maneuver and your ship is already sinking, an attempt to capture a convoy! How many sleepless nights were spent watching the monitor… “I have no rivals at sea!” said one of the characters, and he was one hundred percent right.



The interface is very convenient and informative

Of course, there were problems. Well, I already talked about 7 patches. And by the way, then the Internet did not become as widespread as it is now, and you had to wait for patches on the disks of “Gaming” and other magazines, which cost money. The engine, despite all its beauty, regularly broke down (this, like a curse, then haunted the entire line of “Corsairs”); the text of the dialogues contained errors, the design of the cities was… so to speak, minimalistic, just boxes of houses. The animation was wooden, there was no facial animation at all (they weren’t included in the following parts either). Despite all this, sales abroad were around 200k copies, which instantly recouped all costs and allowed Akella to ascend to the very Olympus…

Cheap, cheerful, tasteful and in 3D

Now, from the height of the past years, we can say that it is unlikely that “Corsairs: The Curse of the Distant Seas” has stood the test of time. “Akella” itself is partly to blame for this, with its scandals in the second half of the 2000s. True, then the voice acting and music were mercilessly exploited in almost every subsequent series… On the other hand, I was surprised to learn that a certain foreign (!) community in 2023 released an extensive add-on, which had been in the works for years, specifically for the first “Corsairs”! They also want to transfer them to Android. Naval battles look cheerful even now. Modern gamers, remembering “Black Flag” and its graphics, may wrinkle their noses, but still these are different games, a little different. But mod building is a completely separate story, if readers like this text, then I’ll write a sequel, there’s something to tell. So I say goodbye, write comments, play good games!

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