My favourite genre of games, and where some of my fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). I am going to take you down my memory lane as I explore my origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 16 I will be discussing 2007’s Pirates of the Caribbean Online based on the popular movie franchise.
Catch up on previous entries in this series:
Part 1 – Ultima Online 1997
Part 2 – EverQuest 1999
Part 3 – Asheron’s Call 1999
Part 4 – Anarchy Online 2001
Part 5 – Dark Age of Camelot 2001
Part 6 – Star Wars Galaxies 2003
Part 7 – EverQuest II 2004
Part 8.1 – World of Warcraft 2004-05
Part 8.2 – World of Warcraft 2005-06
Part 8.3 – World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade 2007
Part 9 – Wildstar 2014
Part 10 – Guild Wars 2005
Part 11 – Dungeons & Dragons Online 2006
Part 12 – City of Heroes 2004
Part 13 – Matrix Online 2005
Part 14 – Vanguard: Saga of Heroes 2007
Part 15 – Lord of the Rings Online 2007
Following on from my last article in this series, there had previously been three MMORPGs based on previous books/movies with Star Wars Galaxies, Matrix Online and Lord of the Rings Online; next came Pirates of the Caribbean Online (POTCO) on October 31, 2007. This was the first pirate-themed game in this first 10 years of the MMORPG genre. Developed and published by Disney Online in conjunction with SilverTree Media, The Walt Disney Company first announced development of POTCO in 2005. This was after the hugely popular first movie in the series, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
I loved this movie, as well as the other movies in the series. The second was Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 and then came At World’s End in May 2007. Pirates of the Caribbean Online had initially planned to release in 2006 at the same time as the second movie, but delays in development meant it released after all three movies in October 2007. I myself didn’t hear much about POTCO at all at the time, nor did I hear of Disney’s first MMO Toontown which was released in 2003. I assume they weren’t marketed as well here in Australia and may have been aimed at younger audiences. I loved the movies and likely would have jumped into the game had I known about it. I can only assume I was too heavily invested in Lord of the Rings Online and other games such as World of Warcraft. I also trekked the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea over the month of July 2007, so I was consuming a lot of WWII content during those following months.
Launched on PC and Mac systems, Pirates of the Caribbean Online allowed thousands of players to fully experience the adventures made famous in the films and explore beyond these boundaries in a quest to become the most legendary pirate on the high seas. A portion of the game was available for free initially and players could get unlimited access for a monthly subscription fee. Disney Online offered new players subscriptions to Unlimited Access for a first-month fee of USD4.95 and continued with a USD9.95 monthly fee. This was priced cheaper than other games like DAoC, LOTRO and WoW. A lot of advertising for the game was done within American Disney tv channels so that would be one of a few reasons why I didn’t hear much about it in my MMORPG travels.
In Pirates of the Caribbean Online, players can create and customise their own pirate, captain various ships and assemble a crew of their fellow pirate scallywags and take over the seas, or at least try to. Straight away you get to interact with Jack Sparrow himself, voiced by Jared Butlet who does a great job as the character. Later I met up with Captain Barbossa and his little monkey, and further into the game we meet the likes of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. The ultimate goal is to recruit nine sailors to crew the famous Black Pearl which is hidden. Once you recruit all the sailors, Joshamee Gibbs reveals the location of the Black Pearl that is being guarded by a huge naval fleet of frigates, including the Goliath. It all sounded very exciting, and interest would have been heightened at the time releasing just after the third movie in the series.
Outside of the main quest storyline, players could embark on ship and land-based quests to locate buried treasure, exploring lush jungles, volcanic caves and vast tropical islands. There were thousands of ways you could customise the look of your pirate with the general modifications in the character creator, to having specific barbers, tattooists and tailors/clothies that could let your imagination run wild to make some amazing looking pirates. You could also master a variety of skills including sword fighting, card playing, and treasure hunting. Players used a variety of weapons such as cutlasses, grenades, pistols and cannons and can unlock more powerful weapons as they improve their reputation.
The game felt like any other third-person MMORPG, though you swing your weapon with the left mouse button and parried attacks with the right mouse button. If you timed your sword swings correctly, you’ll perform combo moves and do extra damage. If you wielded a gun, you would have to aim and shoot with the mouse. Your health is shown with a green bar and mana is measured as voodoo power. Voodoo magic is used to heal, travel and cast curses on enemies. Quests occasionally had yellow icons and waypoints on the in-game map to show you where to go, but a lot of the time you had to remember where specific npcs were in the towns as their names weren’t shown on the map. Sometimes the quest helped by telling you which building they were in, but otherwise it was up to you to learn and remember their locations.
When launching your ship into the high seas, you start on the deck of your ship. The size of the ship determines how many crewmembers it can hold. This meant if you had friends or guildmates, they could join you on your ship and run around the deck, manning the mini-guns and repairing parts of the ship. The ship’s owner is the Captain who controls the movement and the below-deck main cannons. Crew members in your group control the upper deck guns and can aim at specific parts of enemy ships. Aiming at and destroying sails will slow the enemy ship down, as an example. I imagine this would have been one of the more fun parts of the game and makes me think of the current-gen game, Sea of Thieves. When the Captain takes control of ship wheel, the game switches to a zoomed overland (well, over sea) third person view of your ship. You can see various islands in the distance and all around you are varying levels of ships, from pirates to the french and other nations.
You control your ship’s speed and direction with the mouse and WSAD keys. Your ship has damage meters for the port and starboard sides, with bigger ships having fore and aft reinforcements. You also have port and starboard cannons that can be upgraded. Ship combat is initiated by approaching an enemy ship, and it’s best to try one around your level. I had a hard time finding ships my level and aggroed a few high-level ones that finished me off quickly. I imagine this would look pretty busy with lots of players around back in the day.
There were mini games for making potions and for making repairs to your ship to save you some coins. Making potions is a match-3 style of minigame to craft various potions, providing you had the ingredients and recipes. There were multiple minigames involved with repairing your ship. You had to cut a plank of wood along a line with a saw, brace the hull by shifting blocks into a line, plugging leaking holes with tar, hitting nails with a hammer and finally bilge pumping. It’s an interesting way of repairing your ship for free, though I imagine at higher levels when you have a lot of coins built up, you’d just pay the shipwright to fix it instantly.
You could also play cards in the game’s numerous taverns. Through gameplay, you can loot various playing cards which you can use to cheat and swap out during a game of poker. It was cool to break up the combative gameplay by playing a few rounds of cards and earning some additional gold. If you’re caught cheating in cards or if you get knocked out in general combat, you will wake up inside a jail cell and must kick the door down to escape. Your health and voodoo will take some battle damage that can be restored during further combat.
Disney followed POTCO with Pixie Hollow in 2008, an MMO where you could play fairies and pixies in the same world that Tinkerbell from Peter Pan lived. A World of Cars game was also created in 2010 where players could customise their own car, chat with other players, decorate their car yard, race against friends and complete different quests with all of their favourite Cars movie characters. World of Cars closed shortly later in 2012, around the same time as another MMO, LEGO Universe shut down. The following year, it was announced that Disney would shut down all its MMORPGs on September 19, 2013, including Pirates of the Caribbean Online.
“The Walt Disney Company is committed to offering high-quality, entertaining play experiences in both online virtual worlds and mobile apps. At this time, we are shifting our development focus towards other online and mobile play experiences, such as Club Penguin and a growing selection of Disney mobile apps.”
Club Penguin was another MMO I hadn’t heard of before, and probably because it was more aimed at kids aged 6 to 14. Club Penguin became publicly playable in 2005 and when Disney bought it in 2007 (for USD350 million I might add) it was boasting some 30 million user accounts. In July 2013, Club Penguin had over 200 million registered user accounts and so this looks like the catalyst to axe the other ‘underperforming’ games. Having not heard of most of these Disney MMO’s, they probably weren’t advertising much outside of the United States, but I’m not expert on that matter. As odds would have it, Club Penguin ended up closing down in 2017 anyway to make way for Club Penguin Island, but that reportedly only lasted a year before it too was shutdown.
As is the case with some MMORPGs, some of which I haven’t chronicled in this series yet, there were enough dedicated fans at the time to spawn a couple of emulators for Pirates of the Caribbean Online. Both Pirates Online: Retribution and The Legend of Pirates Online (TLOPO) took it upon themselves to play around with the game’s code and working hard to recreate the game and their memories. Retribution appears to have either stopped production or not received many updates since 2018. TLOPO however is running with regular content and in-game updates and is how I was able to play the game for this article. The below is an excerpt from their website.
“The purpose of the project is to recreate the original game, using the original files that we have, to return the game to the state it was in on its very last day. In addition, we will be continuing to add new features and gameplay that honor the spirit of Pirates Online while keeping things fresh. We went into Open Beta on September 19th, 2017, exactly four years after the closing of Pirates Online. Since then, we have added back most of the existing features that were present in the original game, as well as some of our own elements, like new caves, weapons, and quests. However, our top priority is to fix as many bugs as we can and get the remaining original game features finished up and ready for full release!”
Their most recent updated upgrading the game to utilise 64-bit which has given us crisper graphics and smoother gameplay which was a noticeable update. You can keep up with the team’s content plans here. I’ve enjoyed experiencing Pirates of the Caribbean for myself, though can see it was aimed at a younger audience. Like always though, playing in an emulator like this at the Australian peak times that I do, there’s very few other players running around. The quests and combat systems, both on land and at sea are great fun. I just wish I could have experienced this game when it was at its peak with hundreds of players running/sailing around at once. I imagine it would have been cool to be part of a guild and plunder loot together, particularly when the original trilogy of movies were still fresh in people’s minds.
If you have memories of playing Pirates of the Caribbean Online, or have played the Legends of Pirates Online emulator, I’d love to hear about them! You can find me in the Game on AUS – God Mode Facebook group or on discord where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis