"There ain't no such thing as too many pirates, matey. Arr..."
Those were Steve Ince's words when So Blonde prequel/spin-off adventure Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle was first announced and people expressed concerns about the originality of the pirate theme. Set in the same world as So Blonde and its darker “what if?” Nintendo alternative Back to the Island, Captain Morgane reveals how Morgane Castillo, the female ship captain we met in those two games, became one of the most fearsome pirates of the Caribbean. The developers from Wizarbox thought she was such an interesting character that she deserved her own game, so they contacted Ince, who wrote and designed both So Blonde games, and asked him if he wanted to work with them again. He did, and at the gamescom in Cologne we got the chance to look at a few scenes from the game, which will be released on PC, PlayStation 3, Wii and DS later this year.
Morgane is the daughter of famous pirate Alessandro Castillo, and as the game starts we see her as a carefree young girl exploring Bounty Island with her friends. This serves as an introduction to several characters, including her playmates Nell and Bobby. When her uncle Eduardo is lost at sea, Morgane is inconsolable, refusing to believe he is really dead. Shortly after, her mother dies and her father doesn't have any other option than to take her with him on his travels. This unusual upbringing causes Morgane to grow up wanting to be a pirate herself.
Ten years later, she is still friends with Nell and Bobby, who are now lovers, and when Bobby goes missing Morgane promises Nell she'll help find him. Her father realizes he can't go on protecting her forever, and wants her to take on some more responsibility. This means she'll have to go on a treasure hunt of sorts, to find two things: cargo and a crew. As this is the 17th century, initially most men are quite reluctant to serve under a girl, but she eventually manages to get a crew together, and cargo is also found when merchant Thomas Briscoe charters her boat to search for a legendary artifact. Thomas has been looking for the Golden Turtle for years, following a trail of clues left by adventurer Buckleberry Tanner, and he suspects it is hidden on Turtle Island. He is not the only one to look for the treasure, however, as the villain Hilary Simpkins is also searching for it.
The journey takes players across fifty locations through five different tropical islands. One of the islands we visit is Forgotten Island, where the two So Blondes were set, but the other four are completely new. Each island will have a distinct look and feel, with plenty of attention to funny little details, such as blinking animal skin rugs and small creatures on Bounty Island. These kinds of details are never distracting from the main objective but are fun to discover for the meticulous observer. More effort has also been made to make the characters blend in with the backgrounds this time.
The Wizarbox team claims to have listened carefully to reactions from players and reviewers, and they promise not to make the same mistakes in Captain Morgane. One issue they have tackled is the amount of backtracking required. Once you have found a map, you will be able to use it to fast-travel to any previously visited location on that island, and from the docks on each island you can instantly reach the other islands. This also eliminates most of the loading screens that annoyed a lot of players.
The developers claim there will be more optional 'sidequests' here, and the game will be less linear. Like in the Wii/DS exclusive Back to the Island, there will be a diary function that lists the current tasks to help you remember what you should be doing next. The hotspot highlight function also returns, making interesting items sparkle at the press of a button. Focus tests have been held to ensure that clues provided by other characters are not too obscure or too obvious, and the puzzles will be more intuitive than in So Blonde. Obtacles will be mostly inventory-based again, and the difficulty level will be about the same as the original So Blonde.
There will also be minigames similar in style to those in So Blonde, but these will once again be skippable for any who don't like such sequences. If you do so on the PlayStation 3, you might miss a trophy here and there, but otherwise bypassing them will have no consequence. Speaking of the PS3, the game will have full HD graphics and support the Move controller as an optional means of moving the cursor, though it will also playable with a normal gamepad.
With the noise at the fair we weren't able to hear much from the soundtrack of the game, unfortunately, but we heard enough to know that the voice actress for Morgane is different than the one used in the previous games. She had a Spanish accent in the two So Blonde adventures, but she now speaks very British English, which will certainly take some getting used to. (Update: Since time of writing, Reef Entertainment has revealed its intention to re-record English voiceovers in response to negative fan feedback of the new direction. See the Comments section below for the initial announcement.)
I enjoyed both So Blonde games, but even with Steve Ince behind the story and design for Captain Morgane and the Golden Turtle, I'm not entirely sure the pirate theme hasn't been exploited too much lately. The game does look promising though, with its beautiful graphics, optional sidequests and more logical puzzle solutions than its predecessors, so we'll just have to wait and see if Morgane’s coming-of-age tale is enough to carry her through her own game. In the meantime, AG Editor Jack Allin caught up with Steve for a little behind-the-scenes insight into Morgane Castillo’s (first?) solo adventure.
Adventure Gamers: Going back to the So Blonde world once more is certainly welcome, but two words leap immediately to mind this time: Pirates? Again?
Steve Ince: You can never have too many pirate stories.
Really, the stories are about the characters and their situations. The fact that we set the stories in a pirate world simply gives us an opportunity for a more exotic and fun quest to drive this. Good characters will always present opportunities for good stories.
AG: That may be true, but there’s still a danger of over-saturation, isn’t there? How do you make this game stand out among the many other similarly-themed adventures, some of which are considered the genre’s standard-bearers for greatness?
Steve: You could argue the over-saturation angle about any type of story – detectives, historical mysteries, horror, etc. The trick is to endeavour to deliver a good story and a good game that can be judged on its own rights. If people want to compare it to the “standard-bearers” then I’d hope they do so favourably. I’m well aware of these other games (who wouldn’t be?) but I don’t hold them at the front of my mind when creating.
AG: We met Morgane in the first two games, but she didn’t really have a significant role. What was it about her that made her a natural for her own spin-off adventure?
Steve: Between the two So Blonde games I created quite a back story for a number of the characters in order to be clear on the history of Forgotten Island and its people. Morgane was an ideal choice to centre the spin-off on, partly because she looked like such a good character, but mostly because of her history with One-Eye and how she became captain.
AG: Not unlike Sunny Blonde, though in a much different context, this is really a coming-of-age story for Morgane as much as it is a “pirate adventure”, right?
Steve: Yes. There are a number of different sub-plots feeding into the main story, but the challenges Morgane faces all add to her development as a strong woman in a man’s world. All good stories are about the growth of the protagonist, so it’s not really surprising that I’ve approached it this way. When the character is a teenager these stories are invariably called coming of age stories.
AG: What can you tell us at this point about the new islands we’ll get to explore? What kinds of hijinx await when we get there?
Steve: We’ve tried to design the islands so they’ll have a different feel and be something new to discover as the player makes his/her way through the game. Sometimes, developers and publishers give away too many locations in trailers and screenshots so I’m pleased that Reef and Wizarbox are holding back a little on that score. Having said that, we start the game on one of the new locations, Bounty Island, and we see it from two viewpoints – that of a seven year old Morgane and again ten years later.
Morgane ends up on the trail of a famous explorer as she searches for the fabled Golden Turtle. As you can imagine, she’s not the only one searching for this treasure and she must beat her arch nemesis to the prize.
AG: Morgane is obviously a much different character than Sunny. Was it harder or easier to write a feisty pirate captain or a spoiled débutante?
Steve: The most enjoyable part of writing is when I have a variety of characters to write for. Writing for a single character is a lot harder so I tend not to think in terms of characters on their own. Sunny was a challenge in the way that I had to start her out as a spoilt, dumb teenager yet still make her someone the player could identify with as she grew as a person. Morgane was less of a challenge in that respect as she’s pretty smart from the beginning, but she’s more feisty and hot-headed with more authority.
AG: When did Morgane have time to train with an elocution coach? She seems to have dropped her Spanish accent for British this time around.
Steve: The recording of the voices was controlled by Wizarbox and the actors we’d used in the So Blonde games were not used, which is a real shame. I loved the previous voice and certainly had this in my mind when writing the dialogue for this game, so when I heard the voice I was a little surprised myself. I hope this doesn’t spoil people’s enjoyment of the game because it’s still a great game, although I am a little biased.
AG: Captain Morgane is an ambitious cross-platform release. What kinds of efforts are being made to tailor the game to the PlayStation Move on one end of the spectrum, the Nintendo DS on another, with the PC and Wii in between?
Steve: Ultimately, the controls are not very different between the different platforms and that’s the real beauty of the recent developments in interfaces – adventures can now work on multiple platforms with little adjustment to the gameplay and interface. This means that we maximize the gameplay experience for all players on all platforms. What this gives the player is the ability to choose the platform that best suits how they like to play adventures. Personally, I’d love to see the So Blonde and Morgane games on the iPad, too, particularly as Broken Sword demonstrated how well the platform fits the genre.
AG: So Blonde: Back to the Island had a tough time finding major English markets, never getting a widespread release in either the UK or US, so thank goodness Reef Entertainment stepped up for this game. With publisher support once again, do you think we’ll see more adventures of Captain Morgane in future, or is this a one-time deal?
Steve: I must say that Reef has been fantastic with its support and the way the people there have got behind the title – it’s been a pleasure dealing with them. As is often the case, I guess it will depend on the success of this title but I’d love to write more Morgane games. I already have an idea for a sequel but so far I’ve not taken it beyond that.
AG: Any final thoughts to stoke the hype machine a little more while we wait?
Steve: Not really. I’ll leave the hype to the marketing guys and just say that it was my intention to write and design an adventure game that the genre lovers would enjoy. The Wizarbox team have done a great job putting it together with some fabulous graphics, so I think players will have fun.
AG: Thanks very much for your time, Steve. Glad to see you’re still keeping busy in the genre, and looking forward to seeing more from you in future.
Steve: Thank you. You’ll definitely be seeing more in the coming year.