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Journal #16 – From Merchantman to Frigate 5 July 2024

Each month we take a moment to talk with you about the development process and progress from the past month, while also highlighting contributions from the Ahoy community.

Kleos’, 28-gun sixth rate frigate

Over the past Journal updates we’ve been teasing our latest addition to the Ahoy fleet. Some of you have correctly guessed which ship she might be, while others have been waiting to discover which ship she she is.

We are happy to present Kleos, a 28-gun sixth-rate frigate based on the French merchant ship Ménagère, who later became a frigate within the Royal navy as Albemarle.

HMS Albemarle began her life as the French merchant ship Ménagère, launched in 1776. The French Navy purchased her in 1779, and she soon found herself as part of a convoy destined for Cap-François. In September of that year, a British squadron captured the convoy, and Ménagère was taken as a prize off San Domingo. Renamed HMS Albemarle, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy, with Captain John Thomas as her first commander.

Captain Thomas Taylor succeeded Thomas on 12 June 1780. Under Taylor, Albemarle was part of Sir George Rodney’s fleet during the Battle of Martinique in April 1780, but did not herself take part in the battle.

She was later commanded by a young Captain Horatio Nelson. Nelson took command in 1781 and led the ship on various missions, including a convoy escort to Quebec and operations along the North American coast.

We are lucky to have a small record of Nelson’s thoughts on his new command:

According to my promise I sit down to write you an account of the Albemarle. Yesterday I went down to Woolwich with Maurice, and hoisted my Pendant; and I am perfectly satisfied with her, as a twenty-eight gun Frigate. She is in dock, alongside the Enterprise, and in some I think, excels her. She has a bold entrance and a clean run.

Nelson, comparing HMS Albemarle to HMS Enterprise

One significant event was Nelson’s unsuccessful attack on the French garrison at Turk’s Island in 1783. Despite Nelson’s capable leadership, the ship’s service was short-lived. She was paid off and sold by the Royal Navy in 1784, ending her brief military career.

Albemarle then returned to her origins as a merchant vessel, disappearing from records for several years. In 1791, Albemarle re-emerged as part of the third fleet transporting convicts to Port Jackson, Australia. Under the command of George Bowen, she embarked 282 male convicts, suffering a mutiny attempt during the voyage, which resulted in the execution of the ringleaders.

After arriving in Port Jackson and disembarking the convicts, she sailed to India to pick up a cargo for the British East India Company. However, on her return journey to England in 1793, the French privateer Duguay-Trouin captured her and took her to Morlaix, France, marking the end of her career.

So why Albemarle?

Why is Albemarle (named Kleos in Ahoy) our latest ship? Well, the story of her selection goes back to the end of last year. We were in talks with a museum who were initially enthusiastic around the idea of collaborating on the construction of a ship for Ahoy which highlighted the interesting story of Indiaman in the late 18th century.

Unfortunately, for reasons beyond our ability to explain, the collaboration itself had fallen through at the beginning of this year. We had committed to producing Albemarle at that time and the initial work (partly to show our eagerness to begin) had already started internally. As a result, even though the partnership did not persist, we determined that she was a good candidate for inclusion in Ahoy anyway (hence her initial selection) and that having a ship which served as both a British and French merchantman AND frigate was an interesting way to expand the fleet and include two very different types of playstyle within the space of a single hull.

We hope you agree that her history, albeit not the most noteworthy out there, is also quite interesting to read about. Her time as Nelson’s command is certainly an attractive element of her story. We’ll be sharing more about this new ship in the coming months.

Crowdfunding Update

We wanted to give you a brief update on our crowdfunding plans. Initially, we planned to launch the campaign in August this year. However, after considering the extensive preparation required and an overlapping external marketing deadline to reach a new audience, we have decided to postpone.

Some team members were working extremely excessive hours to try to meet the deadline, which contradicts our commitment to a healthy, crunch-free team culture. We realized we needed more time to create content that would best showcase Ahoy to a new audience. Thus, we’ve made the tough decision to extend our preparation period.

Our cinematic and history trailers are progressing well, and we’re excited to share them with you at the right time. However, we will not release these trailers in August. Production will continue in the background, and we are hoping to find an event or opportunity for an end-of-year campaign that aligns better with our internal timelines and allows for a simultaneous crowdfunding launch.

We will keep you updated on our progress and announce the final campaign date when we’re ready. Thank you for your understanding and support.

Answering Your Questions

On NPC Development:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
Creating routines and behaviours for NPCs can vary in complexity depending on the desired level of sophistication. Unreal Engine does provide us with substantial support in this area, but fundamentally there are a lot of unique systems in Ahoy that will require a unique implementation.

NPCs, whether on land or at sea, will need to determine the paths they can take around the environment. Traditionally this is something which is achieved through the creation of "Nav Meshes", or geometry which defines the acceptable areas an NPC can access at any given time. These used to be far more rigidly defined, but we're seeing more and more dynamic tools which can update these navigational limits based on changes during the gameplay. That doesn't, however, solve some of the more complicated navigational issues, such as navigating on a moving ship, or crossing naturally between two ships during boarding.

Additionally, we have behavioural or state "trees" which determine which state or action an NPC might begin, continue or complete based on the world and players around them.

For Ahoy, we're talking about NPCs which can talk, fight, follow orders, climb, navigate tight spaces, sail ships, and more... These challenges will really be what requires significant work within the team to solve for Ahoy.

On Ahoy’s Fleet:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
For Ahoy we're certainly focusing our efforts on the ships built and operated by the playable nations included in the game (That is - British, French, Spanish, Dutch and American). This reduces the overall scope of the fleet to a more manageable slice of ship rig types, for example. Excluding ships that were fundamentally designed and operated in the Mediterranean, Baltic, East Indies or Pacific allows us to specifically focus our efforts on the historically accurate inclusions within the West Indies and the Atlantic passage.

This still doesn't narrow down the number of ships to an amount that would be feasible to implement within the game. Thousands of ships still remain, and it's a question of choosing the particularly well documented and sometimes more notable vessels which each try to fill a different role within the Ahoy fleet.

It is important to remember that every nation will be able to build, capture and operate any ship within the Ahoy fleet. While we're trying to include ships that are historically from all of the playable nations, those national origins won't limit which ships a player can build, trade or sail. So in this way, 'Phoebus' (HMS Pandora) will represent our 24 gun sixth-rate, whereas our latest ship 'Kleos' (HMS Albemarle) would represent our 28 gun sixth-rate.

However, both Phoebus and Kleos have alternative potential use cases. Phoebus, historically, operated as a post ship, while Kleos started life as a French merchantman (Ménagère) and ended life as a British Indiaman.

So a French player might operate Phoebus as a French frigate, while a Dutch player might choose to sail Kleos as a merchantman. The functionality will shift slightly, and the performance of the ship will be adjusted based on those outfitting decisions, but fundamentally it's the same root ship being used in different ways by different people.

So at this time, there is one main focus when considering a new fleet addition:

"Does it add something new to the game? Is there a gameplay difference between this ship and another?"

When it comes to balancing ships, this is really something that is hard to design for because how certain ships might experience benefits over another is very difficult to understand on paper. Of course the first thing people might think about is that one ship may have more guns or a faster average rate of travel, or a tighter turning rate. These are very impactful elements of a ship's intentional design and likely will be the main area of focus when trying to balance ships against each other.

However, there are other less obvious things to consider. We're a first person game, and moving around a ship is part of operating her. What impact does the interior plan of the ship have on it's performance? Does one ship benefit because it's slightly easier or faster to traverse between the decks. Does one ship have an easier way to limit access during boarding than another? The list is endless, really. This will be an ongoing effort throughout Ahoy's life.

On Modding Plans:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
As Ahoy is a multiplayer experience (both the more casual "Arena" mode, and the open world experience), it would be functionally impossible to allow mods on a large scale. We'll keep an eye on this though and look for opportunities where players can customise their experience in ways that do not jeopardise the multiplayer focus.

On Ship Reputations:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
Great question! Reputation will be seen through the Spyglass UI. When viewing a ship through a spyglass, you will receive some basic information about the ship, such as it's name, the nation it (visually) belongs to, as well as the ship's reputation status. The data discovered within a spyglass is not always 100% accurate, and there are efforts a captain and crew can take to disguise a ship which will influence the spyglass result.

One other benefit of ship and player names being built from a catalogue of existing, pre-added names is that we might, in the future, be able to have NPC crew callouts when particularly famous (or infamous) ships enter your local area. This would be a really awesome way to integrate the player choice behind ship naming into the more immersive call and response style of NPC crews and crew orders.

As for newspapers, that's something we'd love to explore. We're considering how we can build a system whereby players can appear in newspapers, or potentially even be called out by town criers in a convincing and meaningful way. This might be one of the ways we reveal bounties to players as well, which creates for a more dynamic discovery of missions rather than simply speaking to an NPC and skipping the quest text immediately to continue :)

On Flag Customisation:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
Firstly, changing flags will certainly be an element of the customisation of your ship. Choosing from many pre-existing historical flags will be possible for some of the flags on your ship, but not all flags will have the same level of customisation. National flags, for example, are limited to sensible options that either represent your true allegiance, or fake the allegiance to another nation temporarily.

With each mast having it's own flag (and each flag having it's own historical purpose), we must preserve the functional purpose of these flags where necessary. Outside of this system, however, it might be possible to enable custom flags which represent (for example) a particular guild of merchants, or a band of pirates. These flags, if included, would provide a level of customisation to design something that represents your group or you as an individual without enabling people to create overly modern, or potentially offensive designs.

On Ahoy’s Narrative:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
There are really a few different answers to this question that we could give. Initially, there is no significant plan for an overarching narrative for the world of Ahoy. What we have in the historical backdrop is more than enough to be going on with.

That being said, there are many opportunities to tell historical and semi-historical stories within the world of Ahoy which can add new aspects to the game. The player's personal story may see you picking up longer-term missions with particular NPCs or historical figures, for example.

Additionally, the career paths will introduce some story for the player depending on the route they take. This allows us to tell a more linear, branching narrative for each player to explore as they navigate around the West Indies and meet new characters.

The truth is that the story of the region will largely be told by you. We want to create Ahoy as a world to get immersed into and create your own rivalries and tales of victory and defeat.

On Marketing:
– Respondent, Journal Questionnaire.
It is certainly one of the hardest parts of the project for the team, the community and for myself personally as project lead. There is a constant battle between spending time developing and spending time marketing and finding financial opportunities.

What I can say is that our plans to go towards a crowdfunding campaign were not by any means a first choice. It had originally been our ambition to find financing through a mixture of heritage/museum collaborations and traditional games industry investment. This has been difficult in the current climate the games industry finds itself in, where publishers and investors are adverse to taking risks on projects as ambitious and in some ways as unexplored as ours.

That does come with it's benefits, however. Working towards our crowdfunding campaign has highlighted that working directly with those who want the game to exist, rather than those just wanting the game to succeed financially, is a huge benefit in preserving the overall vision for the project.

So then it comes down to finding ways to broaden the audience for Ahoy and improve marketing efforts to ensure when we do go to crowdfund, the support that is necessary is there, is eager and is confident in the vision we're proposing. That is why we have decided to delay our crowdfunding campaign, as explained earlier. We really feel that if we are to go that route, it cannot be rushed through. We have to come to you, our community, with a powerful message for what Ahoy could be with that financial support and also prove that we are fundamentally capable of achieving the vision.

As for ways to expand that audience, we do have some opportunities to showcase Ahoy lined up. This will coincide with our crowdfunding campaign launch and hopefully therefore ensure a maximum possible impact at the moment where it really matters for the project.

Please do keep sending in your questions about Ahoy. If you have more questions for the team and would like them answers next month, please submit your questions below.

Submit your questions:
https://forms.gle/1w9MRgU3qrvTNkqn7

Until next time, good day!


Sincerely your most humble servant,

Tyler – Project Lead

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