Naval Action, for sure the most accurate and beautiful game on sailing warfare, is unfortunately losing the interest from many players it targets to, only few months after the game’s official release. The open world is rather empty. Many enthusiast gamers who spent hundreds of hours quit the game a long time ago, mainly because the lack of ‘content’ in the game. The development has been slow and some players regret that developers only integrate few of the many suggestions posted in the forum.
Even if I have been following the development of NA since its very beginning (as I am an enthusiast of the sailing warfare period), I only recently acquired a ‘gamer’ PC and began to play the game. I am still at the very beginning of my ‘career’ as a captain (still struggling with the exams !) and I haven’t experienced all the aspects of the game yet. Moreover, I am not a ‘gamer’ (I don’t play any other video game) and I am completely useless in IT, so I am ignorant of the complexities and constraints of video game development.
So apologies if some of my remarks are in fact irrelevant or based on totally wrong IT/game conceptions or at the contrary already implemented in the game ! Moreover, I am sure many of them have already been suggested, but maybe not in a synthetic post.
Whatever my level of understanding of the game, I think that one of the reasons to the limited success of NA is that the game is still searching its core objective and thus its main audience. Developers tried to merge 3 kinds of game in one:
- - Simulation (at least in some aspects) of naval combat in the age of sail (battles)
- - OW strategy game (conquest and warfare between nations in open world at the scale of Caribbean sea)
- - Economy game with trade, craft and exchanges (without many connections with sailing trade).
So, the game aims to attract three kinds of audience: those interested in simulation of naval combat and tactics in the age of sail – at the scale of a single ship or fleet in battles –, those interested in general sandbox war/strategy game – through the general map and the open world –, and those interested in economy & craft-game – through the ‘shop’ and ‘craft’ interfaces. Of course, you might be interested in all the aspects of the game, but they are sometimes difficult to conciliate. And it might be that many players prefer only one aspect of the game.
The ‘simulation part’ of the game is beautiful, rather realistic in some aspects and detailed, even if it could be more realistic and developed further, without becoming a real hardcore simulator. The ships modelling, sailing (manual and auto-skipper sailing), gunnery and boarding are very convincing and immersive, even if some compromise are, understandably, taken with history.
By contrast, the navigation in the open world is rather unrealistic (as real-time navigation is not an option, in such a big map) and boring (except maybe from a contemplative point of view), consisting mainly in moving the ship from one place to another in a straight line.
Finally, the ‘economy/craft’ part of the game is quite complex and doesn’t reflect neither the historical reality (even if it includes historical elements like ships, goods and now historical currency). Indeed, many rules, features and concepts do not try to imitate the way economy/trade/shipbuilding were conducted in the period and interfered with warfare. Of course, some crucial aspects of historical economy in the Caribbean could obviously not be implemented in the game (i.e. the slave trade).
How to try to reconcile those approaches in one successful game ? I don’t have of course a silver bullet, as all players have their own vision of the ‘perfect’ NA. However, it seems to me that inspiration from the reality in the historical period could make the game more coherent and attractive, without losing all its dimensions (battles, strategy and economy). The key, in my opinion, would be to connect them more tightly, inspiring from the complexity of warfare in the age of sail.
In my opinion, an idea could be to develop a new NA server (kind of ‘NA History’) in parallel to the main PvP and PvE servers (like you did with ‘NA Legends’, if I’m not mistaken ?), in a more limited map, which would focus on all historical aspects of warfare in the age of sail, from the point of view of a captain or a fleet commander. Players would play missions alone (duels, single ship missions) or together (as a fleet, including IA friend ships) against IA or other players in pre-edited or self-edited missions, like in DCS World 2.5 or ARMA III. Moreoever, opening the software to the community would allow the development of new ships, interesting add-on and mods, maps, etc. ; the economy aspects would be here less important.
The idea is not to create a real hardcore simulation (although some of us would surely be interested in, including me), but rather a more complete and exciting picture, yet playable and fun, of warfare in the age of sail (not only naval combat), in all its dimensions, including trade and shipbuilding (in shipyards), but in a more realistic/historical perspective (yet keeping it fun and easily playable without being an expert of the period of course !). In my opinion, the complexity of real sailing warfare is per se an endless source of inspiration for improving the game and making it fun and successful.
Here are some specific suggestions in this regard (inspired by excellent books like: Sam Willis, Fighting at Sea in the Eighteen Century: The Art of Sailing Warfare (2008); Bryan Lavery, Nelson’s Navy (1993); The Battle of the Nile (2005); J Harland, Seamanship in the age of sail (1985);…) that could be introduced or developed further (if already in the game), in this specific server. I know that some or even many of them would be difficult or even impossible to implement for IT (fps, etc) or gameplay reasons, I am ignorant of, sorry for that. In my opinion, efforts could focus on: :
o Intelligence : as intelligence was, historically, a sine qua non condition for success (eg the difficulty for Nelson to find the French navy during the Nile campaign in 1798), developing the aspects of collecting intelligence on the enemy position and intentions (eg from neutral ports or from merchant ships or fishing boats); introduce an interface on intelligence (reports, maps, dispatches, letters, etc.); create intelligence missions for lower rate ships ; etc.
o Contact with enemy and identification of strange ships as friend or foe: as identifying strange ships was one of the main challenges for a ship or a fleet at war, all aspects of identification could be developed: reduce the possibility to identify the ships through chat or tags with names ; introduce possibility to use private signals specific to a fleet (flags, night lanterns and signal gunshot) ; vary performance of spyglasses; introduce possibility of tactical deception through painting, false flags/colours and other devices or keeping gunports closed until the last moment; simulate the curvature of the Earth, which implies that at long distance only the upper part of the rigging will be visible above the horizon, the hull being ‘sunk’ because of the distance (this made difficult to identify the strange ships spotted)
o Communication between ships (signalling and other means of communication): introduce optional Popham signalling system (with automatic translation but limited vocabulary) between the members of a squadron/fleet ; hailing (vocal) communication when ships are close enough; possibility for fleet captains to meet in flagship to get fleet instructions (through free chat, using specific interface with a map to sketch a tactical plan of battle); allow IA lower rated ships to be used as means for communication between higher rated ships ;
o Fleet command (fighting instructions, etc.): Introduce the possibility for a commander/admiral of the squadron/fleet to issue fleet tactical instructions before battle ; possibility to share them with players (and/or IA) from a same squadron/fleet through a specific interface (map, arrows,…); introduce the possibility to provide additional fleet instructions during battle with specific signals (translation by (IA) signal officer); reward in XP points for cooperation and cohesion within the fleet; …
o Crew management:
§ Evolution of experience and motivation of the officers and the crew; distinction between officers, petty officers, able seamen and landsmen in the crew ;
§ Increase influence of crew experience on speed control, manoeuvrability, gunnery (accuracy, rate of fire,…) and repair
§ Crew water, food and health management (scurvy and fever outbreak, frequent in the Caribbean; etc.)
§ Officers management (including petty officers) : discipline, reward, career with impact on motivation and courage (in boarding eg)
§ Introduce a new kind of reward/incentive: captains’ fame evolution in relationship with his success in combat and courage; famous captains would progress more quickly in their career and influence the morale of his crew;
§ Possibility for a captain to be sentenced by (IA) court martial (at the Admiralty) in case of a lost battle when bad decisions were made that lead to damage and loss of crew or friendly fire; possibility to loose a ship or a grade
o Ship management and performances : could be optional (IA management otherwise); would increase the complexity and fun in open world and in battle;
§ Limited ammunition and powder for tactical considerations (with impact of training)
§ Spare for repairs (yards, sails, rigging, guns,…) management;
§ Stores management: limited water, dry and fresh food resources; management of resources quantity and quality (with health consequences for the crew); impact of battle damage on available resources;
§ Introduce missions to get/trade fresh water/food resources places on the coast (with maps);
§ Introduce the possibility to copper (expensive; durable) or scrape (less expensive; not durable) the hull for more speed
§ Introduce the possibility to trim the hull for better sailing performances
o Tactics in battle:
§ Introduce the possibility for a commander to issue specific instructions before a battle to his captains (through specific interface: map, arrows, timing, signals…)
§ Include more tutorials on tactics (weather gage, relative angle, line of battle, ‘crossing the T’/breaking the line, gunnery, boarding, special manoeuvres, etc.)
§ Introduce fire ships (‘brûlots’)
o Seamanship and sails
§ Anchors – possibility to fight while being anchored (with a spring in order to move the ship)(see Battle of the Nile 1798; Copenhagen 1801) ;
§ Calm - Storm seamanship (influenced by XP) :
· Introduce the possibility to adapt the rig to avoid damage from strong wind conditions: options for storm sail/mast configuration, decreasing manoeuvrability and requiring much crew
· Introduce possibility to tow a ship with boats in dead calm or by another ship when disabled or in bad weather (see Nile campaign 1798 when disabled Nelson’s Vanguard was towed to Sardinia after a sudden storm);
· Introduce studding sails for light wind situation
· Individual control of bowspritsails (eg to compensate damage to foremast)
§ Influence of crew experience and training on fire rates and accuracy (see below)
§ Decrease the ‘auto-stabilization’ of guns in the actual game and increase impact of roll and heel on gunnery, according to sail plan (especially topsails and staysails), weather and damage to the rig (eg loosing a topmast would increase the roll effect), as effective roll effect will reduce (or even suppress if gun ports are to be closed) gun accuracy at long and mid-range (but damage should be increased, see below), forcing ships to close for point-blank fire;
§ Introduce the possibility to train the crew at gunnery for getting more accuracy and rate of fire (with impact on ammunition stock !)
o Chase and escape
§ Possibility to throw away guns to gain more speed (stores can be jettisoned already in the actual game)
§ Close-haul specific performance of ships (not only between square /fore and aft rigs but also between square rigs) should be finely simulated, to allow to escape at equal speed
o Damage, repairs and consequences
§ Increase impact of rig damage (sails and masts lost) on: 1) roll, and thus on gunnery; 2) speed and manoeuvrability (especially close-hauled)
§ Increase the global impact of raking fire on crew and guns (compensated by lower accuracy at long or mid-range); one rake could disable a ship for the entire battle (eg raking broadside by the British 74 Goliath at the Nile on a French frigate which was sunk consequently);
§ Increase impact of the loss of bowsprit and shrouds chains on rigging/masts stability and manoeuvrability
§ Falling masts should not always sink : they should more often stay entangled to the ship, making impossible to fire, increasing the heel on the side where the mast has fallen and impacting manoeuvrability and facilitating boarding
§ Impact on rigging should strongly decrease the performance of the ship when sailing close-hauled (speed and direction)
§ Make the enemy damage control panel optional in order to increase importance of visual damage evaluation (conditional to better graphic visual damage model !)
§ Include rig damage due to strong wind conditions
§ Longer time for repair; no possibility to ‘re-mast’ at sea (only topmasts); for important repairs and re-masting, only in port
§ Include damage to the hull (leaks) and rigging (falling topmasts) in case of running aground on shoals and reefs
§ Include impact of wounds on crew (disabled crew in battle but possibility to heal after battle)
§ Possibility to save the crew if the ship wrecks or sinks (damage to boats have impact on crew rescue)
§ Introduce flood risk to lower deck when gun ports are open when ship rolls or heels suddenly
§ Striking colours should be much more frequent than total destruction of a ship, especially when BR are uneven; consequences on the crew should be developed (prisoners of war for a certain time; possibility to exchange prisoners in the port UI)
o Diversifying combat missions : include cutting out missions ; reconnaissance/ intelligence missions (for lower rates) ; develop individual and fleet chase (I read that Patch 27 included chasing missions) ; privateer ; combined operations with land army; traders convoy protection/attack; etc.; develop the possibility to edit missions (in a dedicated server, see below);
o Developing optional aspects of navigation:
§ introduce more realistic marine (and tide?) charts (with depths and shallows);
§ In battle, square-rigged ships should not be able to sail closer than six points to the wind (with variation of max. ½ point in performance according to ship characteristics) !
§ Introduce realistic coasts (lower land masses/elevation; lights), sun, moon and night skies for visual navigation
§ Possibility to hire local pilots and buy detailed maps/charts for navigation in sand banks /shoal / rocky/ reef water areas (+ tutorial to learn to use them)
§ Impact of currents and tides ; info through simplified maps and charts
§ Shoals/rocks/reefs/currents: maps ; (automatic) probing the bottom to measure instant depth and nature (sand, mud, rock, reef,…) as this was a constant attention in the period
§ Introduce tutorials and exams on specific navigation aspects
§ make possible to know the approximate location with the help of the (IA) master (‘navigation’ petty officer): indicate the position of the ship (fleet) on the general map with an ‘accuracy envelope’ (circle of uncertainty) with:
· latitude margin of error variating according to XP of the master and quality of navigation instruments (possibility to buy better ones)
· longitude margin of error increasing with the distance from port (without chronometers (rare before the beginning of XIXth century), the margin of error increases exponentially with the distance from the last point of known longitude)
Actually, it is not possible to spot the approximate location of the ship on the map, although we should expect that the captain and the master have the skill to determine approximatively the ship’s location (with the margin of error mentioned above) at least in Auto-Skipper mode; Manual Skipper mode could be maintained to leave the player navigate himself.
o Increasing the interaction between wind/weather/sea/night & day alternance and warfare, more than in the actual game (esp. in gunnery and manoeuvers):
§ eg gales and storms crippling the rigging if not properly managed ;
§ darker nights allowing chased ships to escape;
§ impact of currents and tides ;
§ info through simplified maps and charts;
§ Introduce optional apparent wind (see Sailaway sailing simulation)
§ More types of (Caribbean) weather (fog, hurricane, calm, etc.) and waves/swell
§ Realistic change in wind direction in open world and during battle
§ Impact on sails of being in the lee of a (big) ship (less wind)
o Re-think the trade/crafting part of the game around, on the one hand, the shipyards and ports and, on the other hand, international trade, especially traders convoys (from and to Europe, N and S America), trying to recreate in a more realistic way the economy of the period. Focus could be set on :
§ Developing the strong relationship between local and transatlantic trade and warfare through specific missions (convoy escort/attack; pirates and privateers; treasure fleet; mercury trade as a condition for silver mining (Spain);…) and bring the economy aspects at a ‘nation’ scale, not only at the captain’s scale
§ Developing the logistics aspects of spare and resources management in the port / shipyard
§ Developing the management aspects of the personal fortune of the captains, especially prize money, from capture to sale and sharing the prize money with the crew
o Enhance immersion through:
§ Introducing (IA) human characters in the game, eg commissioned and petty officers of the ships, spies, Admiralty, Navy Board, etc. who will transmit orders, information or reports to the captain, who will decide according to those orders, messages and information;
§ Introduce curvature of the Earth/ocean (supra)
§ Better (graphic) damage model
§ Optional graphic/animation improvements (even if this has consequences on FPS: each player decides whether he activates them according to his hardware)
§ More realistic weather and wind (supra).
An attractive feature would be to introduce the possibility to choose, at the beginning of a mission, the level of simulation (low (higher speed and rate of fire, lesser or no impact of weather/tide/currents, few technical decisions, no resource/amo limits, auto-skipper, chat, etc.), medium or high (lower speed and rate of fire, visual identification friend or foe, many technical decisions, manual skipper, limited communication through fleet instructions and signalling system, limited information on the location of the enemy (through intelligence reports), limited resources/amo, realistic navigation, impact of roll/swell on fire accuracy, etc.).
Sorry for the long post…