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Journal #8 – Setting A New Course 3 November 2023

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.

This month we are reflecting on the results of the Community Census & Questionnaire, with the hope to highlight any decisions we’ve made based on your feedback, and to answer some of the questions which you submitted.

You’ll have to forgive us, this month is a wordy one!

First Music Release!

To start this Journal off right – We have our first official music release, now available on Spotify, YouTube Music, and Apple Music. Please take a moment to follow us on these pages for updates about new music releases (another is just around the corner!), and feel free to listen to one of our many playlists on Spotify while you read through this Journal. The music for Ahoy is composed by Jens Blankenburg and Nicolas Wohlleben. We’re so lucky to have them on board!

You can access the playlists from the official Ahoy artist page on Spotify:

These eight playlists cover various inspirations for the Ahoy soundtrack, as well as a unique playlist for each of the playable nations in Ahoy.

If you missed it, make sure to check out the Behind the Music video about the creation of this Veloce track on YouTube.

Now… Back to the main focus of this month’s Journal – The survey results!

Why A Survey?

Over the latter half of October, we encouraged you to fill out the Community Census & Questionnaire. We do a community survey like this each year. This enables us to hear your honest feedback as a community and make important structural, game design, or community changes to Ahoy. This year, the survey had 162 responses, which is approximately 9-10% of the total Discord community. We feel this represents the more active portion of the community today and therefore we decide to respect the result as representative of the community’s wishes.

Of course, we’re capable of making what we feel are the correct decisions by ourselves. Not every design decision or issue needs to come down to a community vote, nor should it. However, it is important to us (especially in the recent games industry climate), to always at least keep an ear open to the community and understand the desires you have for how Ahoy should be developed.

A Shift In Focus

This year’s survey actually did have an ulterior motive, in as much as we felt the need to shift priorities within the project. We wanted to have your feedback on this potential change, and ensure that our decision was supported by the majority of the community.

This decision was whether to maintain development of Port Royal, and the subsequent Port Royal Experience release. Or to postpone the Port Royal Experience and focus entirely, and absolutely on the Sailing & Combat Prototype alone.

The truth is that Port Royal has taken significantly longer to come to fruition than we had anticipated. Certain areas of production have not been able to progress as quickly as we has hoped. This is really nobody’s fault, it’s just a question of availability from volunteers, planning providing incorrect estimates, and similar timeline shifts due to other team commitments. Primarily, this delay has been about character clothing and animation, which is integral to creating a living, breathing port environment with many NPCs to interact with and fill the streets and interiors.

“Take your time…” – 54.9%
Sailing & Combat should take priority – 37%
Prioritise Port Royal Experience – 4.9%
“Taking too long…” – 3.1%

As you can see, there is an overwhelming majority of people who would either like us to take as long as we need to finish Port Royal, or indeed to ensure the experience in Port Royal is feature complete before it is released. We tend to agree with this sentiment. Port Royal is our first location with any great amount of depth to it, and we feel it will be best experienced in it’s most complete state.

While the experience of walking around the town itself is compelling, the town lacks any great functionality or gameplay mechanics. There is fundamentally nothing to do there. We feel showcasing this experience later on, when the town is full of life and activities, will be a far greater first impression for you to have.

The view over Port Royal. Impressive on the surface, but rather empty of life (unless you count trees)!

Additionally, there is a question of project financing, and gaining additional financial support from external investors, grants, and so on. We have found that in our conversations with other institutions, the showcase of Port Royal in the form of video has been enough to gain their attention. However, it has not been enough to acquire funding from within the games industry.

We had originally thought that having a functioning, playable demo of Port Royal would make all the difference to this, but in reality these games industry funds want to see gameplay (as do all of us). The fact that the Port Royal Experience was considered potentially enough to succeed in these funding applications was why it was our original priority, and why we felt it was also therefore sensible to offer it to Patrons as a donation reward in the process.

The interior spaces we really want to bring to life.

And so we come to a situation where the best possible route forward for the team, the finances of the project, and the progress towards first gameplay is actually not with Port Royal, but instead solely with the sailing (and later combat) experience.

Sailing & Combat – 72.2%
Port Royal Experience – 19.8%
Arena Release – 8%

Thankfully, it seems the community mostly agrees with this sentiment. As such, we’ve made the decision to move forward with a focus solely on Sailing & Combat from now on, with the Port Royal Experience taking a back seat. Additionally, we spoke with the existing Patreon supporters to ensure their support for this shift in focus.

The view of Port Royal on the horizon after a long voyage will be quite something!

The Port Royal Experience will, instead, be introduced as part of the Sailing & Combat experience at a later date. This enables us to get to sailing gameplay sooner than we otherwise would have, and Port Royal can remain there to explore in a future update.

So to recap: We are now focusing entirely on Sailing!
(Also, Patreon supporters now have the “Sailing & Combat Experience” as a reward instead of Port Royal)

Community Demographics

As part of the questionnaire, we also like to learn a bit more about the community, and individually, who we are making Ahoy for. This is why we asked you some (optional) personal questions in this survey.

18 or younger – 7.4%
19 to 21 – 10.5%
22 to 25 – 14.2%
26 to 32 – 25.3%
33 to 40 – 19.1%
41 to 59 – 15.4%
60+ – 4.9%
Abstained – 3.1%

We’re really proud to see such a diverse range of ages within the community. We’ve always aimed to build a place where everyone feels welcome, and in seeing these results that certainly seems to be the case so far!

North America – 39.4%
Western Europe – 28.1%
Northern Europe – 10.6%
Southern Europe – 6.9%
Other Locations – 15%
(Other includes Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Eastern Asia, Caribbean, Oceania, and Southern Africa)

Additionally, there is a nice variety of geography as well! It’s important to us that we encourage players to engage with all of the playable nations in Ahoy. So we hope that there will be a balance to the player base in this regard. The question of how to balance this in the event the community is far more dominantly interested in one nation over the others is certainly an interesting challenge that we’ll explore in the future.

Male – 93.2%, Other – 6.8%
(Other includes Female, Transgender, Non-Binary, Genderqueer, and Abstained)

Perhaps expected by some, but there is a clear majority of men interested in Ahoy so far. Of course, the original history, particularly maritime history, does tend to involve men most prominently. It will be interesting to see how this part of the demographics may or may not change over time.

Master & Commander: Far Side of the World – 82%
Pirates of the Caribbean Series – 57.8%
Hornblower TV Series – 46.6%
Black Sails TV Series – 43.5%
Last of the Mohicans – 25.5%

And, to absolutely no surprise for us – Master & Commander is the most popular on-screen representation of this period of history. It’s a good job that it’s such a key inspiration for the project 😉

Character Customisation Feedback

We also asked you some questions about the character creation process. Here is some of your feedback…

Spend a few minutes / I know what I like – 54%
Spend 30+ minutes – 32.9%
Spend 60+ minutes – 11.2%
Use Defaults / Skip Customisation – 1.9%

It seems that many of you love to spend time creating your characters. We’re happy to hear this, because it has always been the intention to provide a compelling, in-depth character creation system in the full release of Ahoy. Character creation can breath huge amounts of immersion and player engagement the more you feel capable to create a character you identify with. We’re really excited to share more about the character creation system in the future, and will take on much of your feedback from this survey in the process of developing it.

Let me opt out of some changes when they happen – 44.4%
Yes – 42%
No – 13.6%

The Persistent World really requires a level of player commitment and contribution in order for it to feel alive and immersive. Allowing you to create interesting characters and get involved with roleplaying is vitally important to this goal.

Dynamic changes to your character through your own narrative, such as changing weight, hair growth, hygiene, and even permanent damage, really help to bring a sense of persistence to the world we’re all hoping to inhabit. It is, however, quite clear that some changes should be optional when they become available throughout gameplay. This is something we’ll look into, though of course where character changes influence gameplay, we will be less inclined to allow people to avoid engaging with these systems. It’s important that while character creation provides variety and control, it also doesn’t influence the game design and balancing.

No, I wouldn’t scan my face – 65%
Yes, with changes made – 21.3%
Yes, as scanned – 13.7%

What IS clear however, is that there isn’t much interest in scanning your faces into the game. Understandable, of course. We’ll put this idea on the back-burner for a long time, but it may return as an option in another form or function later on. Something for us to keep in mind as we determine the options for customisation that we may choose to provide in future.

Single Player Ahoy

Okay, we know. Singleplayer. Solo ships. This is a VERY frequently vocal question and ongoing conversation in the Discord, as well as in the survey responses. We need to consider the actual audience size however, because ultimately features like this require enormous amounts of work to provide, and simply gauging this based on a few vocal voices would not be a viable decision to make.

Mixture of alone & together in the shared online world – 65.2%
Play alone, but in the shared online world – 15.5%
Only play together in the shared online world – 10.6%
Only play alone, offline (Singleplayer) – 8.7%

One of the other often discussed aspects of Ahoy is the reliance on multiplayer crews, and multiplayer in general. Some have expressed interest for a way to enjoy Ahoy alone, whether that’s offline, or simply being the sole player on a ship. It’s clear however, that those who prefer to play alone, either online or offline, are a minority of the current community. This isn’t to say their desires are invalid, but we would need to see a significant increase in desire for these solo/offline experiences for us to consider diverting development time towards it.

No, this sort of thing doesn’t interest me – 41.6%
Yes, if it was still online but lacking the engagement with the world – 34.8%
Yes, but only if it was totally offline / single player – 23.6%

There was however a slight majority of players who would enjoy some form of single player mode for peaceful sailing. The proposition here was to provide the ability to sail around Ahoy’s representation of the Caribbean without the ability to interact with (or perhaps even see) other players in the Persistent World. The result was fairly split between whether this solo sailing experience should be online or completely offline, and so this is something we will likely need to research and explore more in the future.

For the moment, we have not decided to make any changes to the core structure of Ahoy’s multiplayer-first design. As has always been the case, there are some things that players can do alone, and others that require a few players to assist you with. Primarily this comes up when we’re talking about the hopeful inclusion of Ships-of-the-Line later on, but even the existing ships have a minimum, recommended, and maximum player crew amount.

Anyway – That’s all for the survey responses for now. We will share other survey results via Discord over the coming weeks. Please join us there!

The Questions

And now onto some of the questions that were asked during the survey. We’ll also include areas of concern that people might have shared. While all of these questions have been anonymised, and potentially reformatted, the sentiment of the questions/concerns remains the same.

On Port Quality:

How can you guarantee that the bar of quality set in Port Royal will carry through to the hundreds of other locations you’re planning on producing without them all feeling like Port Royal, but laid out differently?

– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
This is an important question, and one that is actively being figured out behind the scenes. To put it plainly, if we were to hand-place as much as we did in Port Royal, it would simply be impossible.

Port Royal acts as a bar of quality for many areas of land-based content. The quality bar that we have set is now the target we will use when developing tools to improve the production speed of future ports. Whether it's creating tools to quickly place down fences and gardens, or to acquire more accurate terrain from real data, or to reuse existing buildings (along with their interior décor) across multiple towns of the same nationality. There are many ways to improve the workflow.

Additionally, many ports will not be as large, or as historically accurate. Not out of a need for simplification, but simply because the historically accurate maps may not be available. In these cases we can take some liberties to create an authentic space without the need to fact check multiple building plans, road maps, to create unique structures, and so on.
The rooftops of Port Royal, Jamaica.

On Accuracy vs Fun:
– Multiple Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
It is our belief that historical accuracy and fun are not mutually exclusive. There are of course more existing examples of this being false, than there are examples of it proving true. However, we started Capstan Games to challenge this notion, and so part of our mission is to create engaging historical experiences that both educate and fundamentally are enjoyable to play.

This is certainly one of those things where the 'proof is in the pudding', and we are already committed to making some changes for gameplay reasons, so we'll have to maintain a healthy balance as always. One area we can do this is by highlighting areas of the game for further historical reading, or to mention where we have departed from history and why.

First and foremost, the game needs to be fun. Fun while learning? That's the goal.
On Female Crew / Representation:

Will female characters be able to work on ships? (Similarly, if historical accuracy is your focus, why are you allowing female crew?)

– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
This is a really complex point, and something we consider a lot. As is evidenced by the survey demographic results, there is a very small minority of players who do not identify as male. As such this might appear to be a mandate to avoid the inclusion of female crew, or even female player characters.

The truth is, that just like the decisions to not allow players to trade slaves, and the decision to not include young boys within crews due to the violent content they would otherwise be subjected to, we have decided that it is important that captains are able to decide to hire female crew if they so choose.

For captains who do not wish to hire female crew, that is entirely your choice, and that will be made available to you as part of the hiring process. Additionally however, players can of course make female characters and choose to hire female crew as much as they like, and so there will always be some female characters within the world which are perhaps ahistorical in nature. This is a purposeful decision to allow for player choice and inclusion, and one we stick by. Games are for everyone, and not being able to feel represented in some small way feels like a backwards step. We put the choice to the captains individually, with no particular loss or gain for deciding either way.
On Release Quality:

Please don’t make the same mistakes as X, Y, Z game. Don’t rush releases.

– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
This has been one of the more frequent bits of feedback from this survey. We completely agree with the sentiment of not rushing the development of Ahoy at any stage, including early on. We don't want to rush, and have no plans of doing so.

The largest issue we have as a team is finances. We're a group of volunteers who dedicate our time towards Ahoy in our free hours, weekends, and whatever time we can get. The key issue is that the project is not generating any income for the team (Patreon currently covers operating costs), and therefore we are ultimately encouraged to find funding in order to both maintain a development pace, and also ensure people can actually dedicate that time to development without financial difficulty.

The only thing that would ultimately cause us to have a need to 'rush' towards some deadline or release, is the need to unlock the ability to generate more access to funding for the team. It's not something we want to do, but sadly it's somewhat of a necessity. Of course, the more support from the community we can receive, the less dependent on other work for hire and funding sources we become.

As for the mistakes made by other games, whether before, during or after release... All we can do is learn from these mistakes and approach them in a way we feel is better. With a project of this scale and ambition, it is clear that mistakes WILL be made along the way, but we are always listening to the community. At the end of the day, Ahoy is our dream. We want it to succeed and be positively received. Not just for the obvious financial reasons, but because it ultimately represents our creative legacy.
On Performance:

I’m concerned about the performance of the game – the visuals are incredible but slideshow levels of frame rate break immersion for me.

– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
Performance is really important. There are two main methodologies when it comes to optimising video games during development. You can either optimise as you add new things, or you can dedicate time at the end to optimise everything.

For Ahoy, our primary focus (especially now that we're targeting Sailing & Combat first), is to get gameplay functioning and fun as soon as possible. This will potentially mean that early release experiences might not be as performant or smooth as we like. With the small and volunteer team that we have, we feel our best possible chance for securing the necessary funding to change this, and build the team out as needed, is to get to a "viable product" as soon as possible. That doesn't mean a viable product for 'customers', but rather for showcasing the capabilities for investors and funds.

We hope that you will be able to enjoy these early experiences, and of course we will attempt to make them as optimised as we possibly can from the start, but we cannot promise they will be the quality you might expect in a final release.

While we are aiming to educate about maritime history with Ahoy, we also believe our open development style will also help to educate the community on how games are made. Games are often several hundred monkeys in a trench coat until very early release. You're getting to see under that trench coat far before you ordinarily would with Ahoy :)
On Difficult Subjects / Sensitive Content:

I don’t want to see the time period overly romanticized. Don’t ignore the messy and unpleasant parts of history.

– Respondent, Community Questionnaire 2023.
We feel a huge social and moral responsibility to represent things as they were. In particular, the slave trade, the treatment of indigenous peoples, women and the poor. These elements of history cannot be ignored. We are making some deliberate departures from reality in the form of female crew, no children on ships, and most obviously not allowing players to be involved with owning or trading slaves.

However, in terms of narrative content, and the general representation of these realities in and around towns, we will be looking to highlight the true stories of people at this time, and use this as a platform for education. Remaining true to history is of course a challenge when considering potential modern political leanings and sensibilities. We believe that if in the most sensitive cases, we can stick to primary sources, we can be at least sure that what we are showing is truthful, even if people do not necessarily agree with the content itself.
On Donations:
– Multiple Respondents, Community Questionnaire 2023.
We are so appreciative of the financial support the community provides towards Ahoy's development. We really would struggle without your support, as costs are only increasing as things continue.

In terms of one-off donations, it is possible to purchase Lifetime Platinum through Patreon and PayPal. This is a one-time donation which immediately provides you with Platinum tier rewards for the duration of Ahoy's development. PayPal also charges us less fees, which means this is the best way to support the project right now. Patreon takes between 5-8%. Currently Patreon is the only way to donate smaller, regular amounts. In future we will introduce alternative ways to donate and support Ahoy. 

We do not want anyone to feel left out simply because they cannot afford to donate. Neither do we want people to feel obligated to donate. Donating towards Ahoy is fundamentally taking a risk on our ability to release the game. We know this, and we never expect people to donate. ALWAYS make sure it is a financially sensible and comfortable decision for YOU first. There will be many competitions over the course of development which will provide you access to Ahoy. Additionally, early releases will become available to all players eventually. Donations simply enable certain people to get the earliest possible access in return for their generous support.

And finally, on discounts and/or getting the game as part of your donation. We do not want to encourage people to donate as a 'preorder'. Ahoy is still filled with potential risks throughout development, and it feels inappropriate to promise the final release of the game to donators without being 100% sure we can reach it. However, we do feel uncomfortable with the fact that donations of such a large amount are not gaining any progress towards the game's release cost. As such, we will soon be introducing a future discount on the game's release cost for those that have donated towards Ahoy's development over certain value thresholds. Please keep an eye on our news pages for more information soon.

Well, this is only a fraction of the 50-something questions that were asked during the survey. In an effort to avoid your scroll wheels wearing out by the time this Journal is finished (and to save my fingers from carpal tunnel), we will keep hold of the other questions and aim to answer them soon during our “Year In Review” video.

Other Goings-On

While this month has been focused on responding to the survey results, we feel it is important to talk a little about the rest of the project behind the scenes.

Firstly, we are preparing a new showcase video for Nemesis, which should be with you next month. Nemesis (French ship Tapageur) was originally the first Ahoy sailing candidate. However as Veloce (Speedy) progressed further, we felt it was a good opportunity to switch to Veloce over Nemesis. Regardless of this, it has always been our intention to provide a video showcase of each of Ahoy’s ships in much the same style as the Veloce showcase you saw recently. Make sure you subscribe on YouTube to see the Nemesis video next month!

The hundreds of interior decoration assets that fill Phoebus with detail!

Phoebus is now decoration-complete thanks to Ahoy’s master shipwright Loïc. She is now prepared for her eventual implementation (after Veloce and Nemesis of course).

Separately to this, we’re also in the process of a systems change for the team. As of today, we currently pay four-to-five separate services for our project’s operation. Whether that’s Google for our email and file storage, GitHub for our project file hosting and developer tools, our website host for and the Capstan website, and the software we use for project management.

We feel that we can reduce the overall outgoings for the project by consolidating this into a self-hosted ecosystem, where the only cost is the server the software is being run on. This will be an ongoing effort, and may result in some downtime (both in terms of the website, but also the development interruptions), but assuming this can be kept to a minimum, it is a far better place to be, both in terms of reduction in external systems reliance, and the financial impact on the team as everything grows.

Finally, and most importantly, we are making the first steps towards our shift in priorities towards sailing. Much of the technical implementation is our initial focus, and lots of discussion is ongoing internally about ways to solve these challenges. We’re looking forward to sharing more progress on this in the new year.

Podcast, Giveaway and “Year In Review”!

We’d like to also take this opportunity to talk about two other community initiatives over the coming months.

First, we were live on Saturday 4th November with for a podcast recording. You can listen to the full near-three hour long recording below:

Additionally, whether you missed this event, or have more questions to ask – Tyler, the project lead for Ahoy will be answering your questions in an upcoming “Year In Review” video which will release at the start of 2024. If you have any questions for Tyler about Ahoy, please submit them below. Sensible questions only please!

Submit your Questions for “Year In Review”:

As always, please join in with the discussion about this month’s update on the Discord server as well!

Until next time, good day!

Join The Discussion!

Our Journal updates are often discussed at length in the official Ahoy Discord server. Whether you have questions about the topics covered in this update, or you would like to leave your own feedback or suggestions, please join our Discord server to discuss!

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