The Ballad of the Long Beach Invasion

What’s the magic of pirate gatherings? I suppose answers vary. For some it’s the music. The food. The chance to deck up a right foul swab and carouse about town. But then, you don’t really need a pirate gathering to find and do these things (and I have the pix to prove it). Then there’s the rarer gems—the merfolk and live shows and vendors slinging swag. All good things, but I’d suggest they’re still not the true magic of pirate gatherings.

The true magic is right there in the back of its name. The gathering. The too rare occasion where like-minded roughs get together, belt out “yarrrs” free of irony and partake in all the aforementioned attractions piratical. The bands, the food, the merpeeps and rum. Usually more than a little rum.

Of course, not all pirate festivals are created equal. But after my first trek to Pirate Invasion Long Beach this past June, I’m pleased to note it measured strong on all counts. For me, it was damned near overwhelming, being my first true foray to piratedom in a long spell, and my first ever in Southern California.

Continue reading

Sea of Last Chances

This isn’t a review, per se. Actually, it started in my head as a rant. After-all, I feel more than a little salty at the release of Sea of Thieves. It looked to be such a gorgeous game built on the wonderful premise of letting friends crew up, explore the ocean and do some plundering. And as a bare-bones platform, that’s what the game is, albeit only just. After years of following the game’s development, of salivating over the idea of countless islands full of mysteries to explore, an immersive world full of colorful characters, and the ability to customize your pirate and their ship to make them truly your own, Sea of Thieves proved to be a classic case of over-promise and under-deliver.

Sea of Thieves is a classic case of over-promise and under-deliver.

The crazy thing about it all is that the ideas are there. I’ve read through the Art of Sea of Thieves and many of the other companion materials, and clearly the creative departments had been working overtime to bring everything to life. But in execution, so much of it failed to manifest. NPCs are shallow and dull. Hidden locations are empty and unworthy of exploration. Customization options—one of the biggest selling points touted time and again—were minimal. And “Pirate Legends,” which had been promised as Sea of Thieves’ expansive end-game, when the “real” fun would start, were all hype and minimal substance.

Many reviews of Sea of Thieves have shared these observations, while many of the more forgiving fans have suggested patience and talked about how more is coming. And maybe that’s so, but it doesn’t change the fact that people paid full price for a half-baked game. One in which there isn’t enough to do, and so players grow bored with the tedium and instead wind up killing anything that floats just for the LOLs; and everyone else winds up killing anything that floats in preemptive defense. That’s not piracy—that’s paranoid anarchy. And on a fun scale of 1 to 10, it’s adrift in uncharted waters.

This isn’t piracy—it’s paranoid anarchy.

So yeah, things are off to a rocky start. You can tell that the game’s developers are well aware the clock’s ticking before they’re declared this year’s No Man’s Sky from their regular podcasts, in which they always put a sunny outlook over the thinly-veiled subtext of, “please bear with us while we sort this shit out.”

And now it’s May, the month in which we were promised a massive update full of new content. I hope it’s true, because patience and sunny outlooks aside, I think players need to finally see Rare making real strides to deliver on the game that they sold us in the promos. One in which we have vast options for customizing our pirates. One in which the islands are actually worth exploring, where mysteries are more than empty riddles (and krakens more than just tentacles), and where pirate ships aren’t engaged in endless, pointless battles out of shear boredom.

Through it all, I’m still a sap for Sea of Thieves. I believe in the dream, and I’m convinced that the creatives at Rare have brilliant ideas that were intended for launch day, but for whatever reason couldn’t be released on schedule. But now’s the time for it all to start coming together. We’ve seen a tiny trickle of new outfits as of May 1st, which is a good start, but only a fraction of what’s needed. Hopefully the trickle is about to turn into something more substantive, because if Sea of Thieves under-delivers this month, I suspect many fans will consider it a last straw.

Secret of Monkey Island – SOLVED (for realz this time.)

So just about a year ago, I boldly stated that I’d solved the secret of Monkey Island. In truth, all I did was finally get an ingame joke that had gone over my head all these years. But this time, I mean it. I think I’ve actually discovered something significantly game-changing about Monkey Island that I’ve never seen discussed elsewhere.

First, some backstory. Yes, the original game was called The Secret of Monkey Island, and yes, the game revealed that the ghost pirate LeChuck had been hiding out on Monkey Island, which could, clearly, be considered the island’s secret. But the series creator, Ron Gilbert, has claimed that there actually is another, greater secret—one meant to be revealed in the trilogy’s never-created final chapter.

“But Bilge,” you say, “you’ve gone daft. There’s no ‘never-created’ third chapter. After The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, we had The Curse of Monkey Island, and then Escape from Monkey Island, and finally Tales of Monkey Island. And besides all that, in Escape the secret of Monkey Island was clearly revealed to be that the giant monkey head was actually part of a giant monkey robot.”

“You’ve done your homework,” says I. “And you’re correct on all counts, but you’re forgetting one important detail. Ron Gilbert wasn’t part of those further releases, meaning only the first two of the series are OG Monkey Island. Everything that followed was more of an extended alternate timeline, and doesn’t reflect Gilbert’s vision for the true trilogy—or its secret. In fact, he’s even said as much in interviews.”

“Good point,” says you.

So, what’s the true secret of Monkey Island? Some days I feared we might never know. I did have hope a few years back—albeit briefly—when Gilbert announced the release of a non-Monkey Island pirate game called Scurvy Scallywags. It’s a fun match-three type game that revolves around the quest for the Ultimate Sea Shanty. I’d thought that just maybe Gilbert had pulled a sneaky and made this the “secret” conclusion to his Monkey Island trilogy. But no such luck. I’ve played the game through, collected all the verses for the Ultimate Sea Shanty, and aside from one very over-powered feather duster, narry a single Monkey Island reference was to be found.

So, back to square one, with little-to-no hope of learning the secret. BUT… then I made a discovery that blew the lid off the whole affair—the final piece of the enigma that is Monkey Island. Yes, it’s big. Yes, it’s devious. And yes, Ron Gilbert has pulled a sneaky. Perhaps the greatest sneaky of all time. Continue reading

Pirates vs Ninjas vs Zombies vs… Pandas. Yeah, Pandas.

Pirates, Ninjas, and Zombies are three of the archetypes of modern society, with the other two being Robots and Chuck Norris. So why on earth we now have a game of Pirates vs. Ninjas vs. Zombies (so far so good) vs. Pandas is beyond me. But there it is, and here’s a demo of the gameplay:

I don’t have a smart phone, so I guess I’m out of luck. I buy my phones for their milspec rating – mine is clear for vibration, dust, and impact. No dice on the moisture, though, which rather sucks for a pirate. But I couldn’t afford the phone you submerge. Plus, it was about the size of a submarine and looked ridiculous in my pocket on my belt. Click “read more” to see an additional video illustrating how this four-way war got started. Apparently, it was all the pirates’ fault. Figures. Continue reading

After Action Report: St. Augustine Pirate Gathering 2010

The U.S. is full of great pirate festivals, large and small. But there are a very few locations that can nearly claim to have been doing piracy since the Golden Age itself – Key West and Gasparilla come time mind, and St. Augustine does as well. Being the oldest city in the country, and certainly well located to have seen its fair share of piracy, I’d always been under the impression that the St. Augustine Pirate Gathering was one of the “old guard” – but in this I was quite mistaken. The Gathering is in fact only in its fourth year, although thanks to a fine, piratey location, plenty of local flair, and the strong support of nearby crews and piratey businesses, it’s nonetheless a festival in full stride. Continue reading

After Action Report: Southern Pirate Festival 2010

The Brigands, surprisingly, CAN do a family friendly show (when properly bribed).

The beautiful thing about hosting a pirate festival at a museum is that it’s already largely predecorated. Actually, that only works if it’s the right sort of museum – Burlingame Museum of Pez Memorabilia, for example, might be a poor fit. But the National Civil War Naval Museum provided a splendid backdrop for 2010 Southern Pirate Festival, which their website accurately described as “One Day of Family Fun & History” followed by “One Night of Debauchery.” Truly, something for everyone! Continue reading