The 2004 version of the game features a high-end 3D engine
, a feature impossible to deliver with the original 1987
Sid Meier's Pirates! is a computer game created by Sid Meier first published by MicroProse in 1987. The game is a simulation of the life of a pirate in the Caribbean in approximately the 17th century.
Pirates! is a single-player game. The player does not in fact take on the role of a pirate, but rather that of a privateer, in the service of Spain, Holland, England, or France (though his loyalties may change over the course of the game). Gameplay is open-ended; the player may choose to go after enemy shipping or towns, or hunt pirates, or seek buried treasure or long-lost family members, or even avoid violence altogether and seek to increase his wealth through trade. The game also has no pre-determined end, although as time goes on, it becomes more difficult to recruit men for your crew. The game ends when the player retires, at which point he is given a position in his future life, from beggar to King's Adviser, based on his wealth, land, rank, marital status, and other accomplishments.
The game tests a wide range of skills: hand-eye coordination during the fencing sections, tactical ability during the land and sea combat phases, and strategic thinking, for everything from choosing a wife to deciding when to divvy up the plunder. Moreover, each game will have a different course, as various events early in the game can greatly affect future strategic options. Also, the game is, by computer game standards, fairly educational. Reading about naval tactics in the age of sail is one thing, but when in the course of the game a player may try to beat up wind in a frigate in order to run down a pinnace that's less than half his size, but was fortunate enough to have the weather gage, this will give the player an appreciation unobtainable from books.
Pirates! was a groundbreaking game in its era. Although other open-ended games had already been released (such as Elite in 1984), the style of player-directed game-play in Pirates! lead it to be the spiritual predecessor of countless others since, both by Sid Meier himself (Civilization, Railroad Tycoon) and many others, notably Will Wright (SimCity, The Sims). Not surprisingly, Pirates! won many awards at the time of its release, being named game of the year in its genre by at least three gaming magazines, and has continued to earn accolades ever since, having been voted one of the top 20 games of all time by Computer Gaming World Magazine. Pirates! won two Origins Awards, Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1987 and Best Screen Graphics in a Home Computer Game of 1987.
Screenshot from a game of Pirates! In this Macintosh version, graphics like terrain was painted with special glyphs in a font.
The original 1987 version made by MicroProse was widely ported from the original Commodore 64 version. It was ported to the Amiga (1990), Apple II (1987), Atari ST (1989), Macintosh (1988?), Nintendo Entertainment System (1991) and as a PC booter (1987).
The Amiga version featured a copy protection scheme requiring the player to identify the first pirate ship they encountered by their flag. It also featured the best graphics and audio of any of the 1987 versions.
The last release of the game before a decade-long absence was in 1993. MicroProse developed a 256-colour version called Pirates! Gold for MS-DOS, Macintosh, Sega Genesis, and Windows 3.x featuring an inspired MIDI score and mouse support (in PC versions). The PC versions contained a copy-protection scheme similar to that employed on the 1987 Amiga port. Sea-to-sea, Sea-to-land, and Land-to-land combat were done in a real-time strategy screen. Sun sighting was not present in this version, and there were no special items.
The IP associated with Pirates! is currently owned by Sid Meier's company Firaxis Games. In November 2004, Firaxis released a enhanced remake of the game for Windows, which was published by Atari. Overall, the gameplay remains similar to the original game. Some unpopular elements such as sun sighting have been removed, with additions such as a Dance Dance Revolution-style ballroom dancing mini-game and an improved turn-based land combat system. The remake features a modern 3D game engine (NDL's Gamebryo).
- Firaxis' site for the new Pirates! (http://www.atari.com/pirates/pirates/home.php?lg=1)
- MobyGame's entry on '87's Pirates! (http://www.mobygames.com/game_group/sheet/gameGroupId,43/)
- The Lost Tavern (http://frigate.free.fr/index.html), Pirates! fan site
- Cutlass Isle (http://www.cutlassisle.com) and Addicted to Pirates! (http://www.addictedtopirates.com/), Pirates! 2004 fan sites