on Mar 7, 2017
Despite my better judgment I’m playing Caribbean!, and have just finished crafting my ultimate wish fulfillment character: a brittle, penniless grandmother. I’m also playing on the hardest difficulty, which will make it all the more fulfilling when I transition from “ragged nobody” to “pursued, reviled, and heavily in debt.”
The only grace-giving box I checked was the one that lets me save whenever I want. Basically, I’m stupid enough to jump naked into shark-infested waters, but not quite stupid enough to leave the motor running on the boat.
After I’ve signed off on all my terrible choices the game provides a brief backstory:
So there I was, breaking my back and hip for seventy years in the countryside, sweating and toiling and raising a family, when I decided, hey–you know what’d be the perfect investment of my twilight years? Let’s do that again, but with tropical diseases and literally murderous working conditions. Nothing says “a promising new life” like a labor pool generally filled by chattel slaves and political prisoners.
So rather than serve out my full contract of indenturement, which could be of a few different lengths but would most likely comprise the rest of my ancient character’s natural life, I grab some terrible starting weapons, some terrible starting troops, and hop in one of those newfangled disintegrates-before-you-start-the-game boats. A classic swashbuckler’s tale. I’m like Captain Blood, but sexier and without the confrontationally terrible “Irish” dialect.
There’s just one more option we’ve got to address before we can start:
I usually don’t even think about this question–yes, I’ll have more game, please–but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier with a non-adult game because it had adult content slotted in. It’s not that I expect it to add much besides sex appeal; the real problem is that it’s never actually sexy.
There’s something strangely unhot about porn designed as a bullet point and implemented as a committee effort by an art team in the middle of crunch. There’s a lack of personality, which is a big problem, but there always seems to be an equivalent lack of commitment–like the painstaking effort put into every other facet of the experience awkwardly skipped over the horny parts.
“How do you like this sound effect for the gladius? More satisfying than the dirk?”
“I feel like the whoosh needs to be louder. Oh, there, that one was good–when I hit that snake thing, that felt really powerful.”
“Uhuh. Okay. And how do you feel about the coquettish, sultry part of the sylph queen’s kimono?”
“Wider? Narrower? Would a sketchpad help?”
“Please describe the effect of this sylph on your groin.“
But I want to be thorough. So I am going to turn adult content on; just don’t expect it to turn us on.
Oh, hey, we’re here! We’ve arrived at the videogame now. Let’s see what we’re working with.
|Did you--did you see a tutorial box just there? Only for a second? No? Guess it's just my imagination.|
That little horsey on the map represents me and my party of six hapless Englishmen. We’re currently standing on the island of Hispanola. For some reason, it’s 1670There’s never been a clear range for the golden age of piracy, but with the exception of Henry Morgan none of the pirates you can name were even alive in 1670. For reference, Blackbeard wouldn’t take a prize until more than forty years later.. I have very little money, some ragged clothes, a bad pistol, and a squat knife called a boucan.There used to be these beach-dwelling sea hermits who barbecued feral cows and salvaged wreckages. When the Spanish started evicting them, they turned to shallow-water piracy. They’re called buccaneers because they cooked on boucans, or special wooden frameworks. Somehow, the word “boucan” was generalized to refer to the crude wide-bladed knives buccaneers used. Getting this fiddly detail right required a great deal of research on part of the developers. This kind of detail makes nearly everything else about this game very confusing.
Here you can see as much of the gameworld as I can fit on one screen. There’s all the major Caribbean(!) islands, plus parts of South and Central America offscreen. You can see the Spanish in yellow have it pretty much their own way, stretching from Hispanola to Cuba to Florida and dominating much of South America. The English in red, the French in blue, and the Dutch in orange pick up what they can everywhere else. As for the Bahamas, they’re occupied by the pirate faction–purple, called the “Brethren of the CoastA real thing in the sense that it was a term historically used to refer to certain pirates and privateers in the Caribbean(!). Not QUITE a real thing in the sense of being an objective faction. But if you’re going to have one, it’s as good a name to choose as any..” These factions consist of towns, plantations, patrols, and standing armies on land as well as various merchants and naval vessels at sea.
Alright–I’ve given it some thought, and I can’t think of any classic swashbuckling stories that start with a grandma going camping. So let’s head into town and see what kind of trouble we can get into. Onward to Santo Domingo! By which I mean, “let’s click on Santo Domingo and wait for the little horsey to get there!”
After a bracing bit of loading clunk, I find myself looking at this picture of the town, and also this tutorial message:
|Oh, I'm sorry, were you reading that? Because SO WAS I.|
About that tutorial. All these popups appear for like a minute apiece before popping back down forever. The first time this happened, I hadn’t made it past the first few sentences because I was having trouble processing what they actually meant. After that, every time one appeared my fight-or-flight response kicked in and I’d speed-read it all, then realize I hadn’t actually digested any of it–at which point the message would self-destruct and all I’d be left with is a lingering sense of insecurity. Then I tried screenshotting the tutorials and alt-tabbing to read them, but alt-tabbing seems to crash the game, which is a fun little twist and in no way a grave portent.
Let’s cut to the chase: even as you read this, I am unsullied by the game’s attempts to teach me to play it. I have processed zero actual instructions thus far. Which, fine. There’s only tutorial I need, and it’s in my heart.
Luckily, there’s not too much I actually can do to mess things up yet. The options available from the town overview screen are pretty straightforward. I can click on structures to visit them in person, click the leftmost icons to open various buying and logistics menus, and click the bottom icons to exit or actually wander around the streets. There’s usually no reason to do that last one in Mount and Blade games, unless you like running errands to immersively waste your only life, but let’s do it this once–just to see what the town actually looks like.
Reasonably Caribbean(!)y. I try to talk with one of the people walking by, and this happens. If for some reason you can’t watch the video, here’s my best description:
The maid walks up the street toward the cathedral. I approach and get her attention from behind.
Without turning she launches herself through a fissure in time and space. Now she is standing twenty yards away within a manor–not inside the manor, but within the idea of the manor. She no longer walks complacently, but crouches, wary and militant, inside a strange kneeling pugilist. Then she unfolds bravely and crosses her arms. “Good day, madam.”
Slowly, the mind’s eye wanders back across the cobbled plain. I stand disaffected. “Farewell, for now.”
Then the spell is broken, and there I am–alone. It is as if the maid never were.
So I guess there’s a few kinks in Blood and Gold: Caribbean!‘s final build.
On the bright side, you can tell the developers put a lot of effort into making the town’s architecture interesting and colorful. Now, let’s go back to the practical menu and never look at it again.
On to the tavern!
It looks like the majority of the game’s hooks, recruitable NPCs, and miscellaneous merchants can be found here. I’ll give you the ten-piastre tour.
|A place where no-one remembers your name, or his wife's name, or his own name.|
Here we have a few specimens of sexworkicus videogamae, or the common abstract videogame prostitute. I’m guessing this comprises some part of the game’s “adult content.” No reason to get into it now.
At the bar is a publican who can be bribed to raise my reputation in town or approached to hire captains for my as-yet theoretical armada. In another corner there’s a named gambler who won’t play with me, very probably because my reputation’s too low. And over here, we’ve got the friendly neighborhood Suspicious-Man.
|Suspicious-Man, Suspicious-Man. Does whatever is none of your fucking business.|
It looks like you go to the town’s SM to get one-off quest opportunities, instructions on how to sell trade goods to smugglers, and directions to the horse races wait what?
Okay, so people do race horses in the Caribbean(!). Today. I can’t find any sources who claim it was common for people to lug prize racehorses down to the remote, inhospitable 17th century Caribbean(!) just so they could race in front of their bourgeoisie friends, and that is the least stupid thing this man could possibly mean by “horse races.”
So yeah, obviously we gotta check out those horse races. Where are they?
Great. I’ll rush over there, just as soon as I have, uh, a means to cross bodies of water.
Speaking of which…
At the harbormaster, I have access to all the one kinds of vessel currently available, the “armed boat.” A tip for any nautical novices in the audience: if the craft is called a “boat,” you probably don’t want to try attacking any major governments with it.
The kicker is that it costs fifteen hundred piastres. I’ve got one thousand. Looks like I’m not getting out of Hispaniola just yet.
At the goods merchant, I can buy and sell bulk cargo. It looks like trade goods are kept either in your supply train or in the hold of your ship. This is an interesting change from Mount and Blade, where you store any trade goods in the same saddlebags you keep your books, extra arrows, and backup horses in.
Alas, my current cargo amounts to a mound of bananas that I’m pretty sure is our meal plan for the month. Let’s save Wall Street for more auspicious times.
Anything good on the job board?
Looks like the town’s provided four procedural opportunities. There’s some mercenaries I’m not rich or famous enough to hire and a couple jobs that require, you know, ships. The Caribbean(!) job market really is harsh on the shipless octogenarian.
Screw it, let’s hit the bricks and start knocking on doors. And since there’s literally only one other door in town to knock on:
You can tell he’s the governor because his embossed frizzen is worth more than my life. I am saying that as a grandmother who, as part of indenturement, got her life literally appraised.
Any jobs to throw my way, Luke?
Fifteen-hotcha-thousand piastres? As in, ten times the cost of the best ship I can buy? That would be a great start to my career. Where is the Tuxpan Estuary?
Across the–oh. Right. Well, thank you for your time.
Still got it.
Still, that was lucrative. Let’s head over to the nearby town of Petit Goave and see if their governor’s got anything comparable.
The answer is yes! Very comparable. Very, very comparable.
I’m starting to see why they say “tribals or bandits.” It’s because it’s the same quest whether you’re being sent to the heart of the jungle or Des Moines, Iowa. Either way, I’m starting to suspect I lack more than just the obvious means to complete this quest.
So screw it, guess we’re going back to the Suspicious Man. What’s cooking with the shady side of town?
I’m not going to lie. This looks like everything I’ve ever wanted in a videogame.
NEXT WEEK: HABITUAL OFFENDER
 There’s never been a clear range for the golden age of piracy, but with the exception of Henry Morgan none of the pirates you can name were even alive in 1670. For reference, Blackbeard wouldn’t take a prize until more than forty years later.
 There used to be these beach-dwelling sea hermits who barbecued feral cows and salvaged wreckages. When the Spanish started evicting them, they turned to shallow-water piracy. They’re called buccaneers because they cooked on boucans, or special wooden frameworks. Somehow, the word “boucan” was generalized to refer to the crude wide-bladed knives buccaneers used. Getting this fiddly detail right required a great deal of research on part of the developers. This kind of detail makes nearly everything else about this game very confusing.
 A real thing in the sense that it was a term historically used to refer to certain pirates and privateers in the Caribbean(!). Not QUITE a real thing in the sense of being an objective faction. But if you’re going to have one, it’s as good a name to choose as any.