What Do We Do With A Drunken Dead Sailor? My Time With Pixel Piracy

Pixel Piracy

Roguelikes tend to work best if there’s a dangerous journey to be had, because then you can die, which forces you to restart again (if permadeath is in place). The benefit of starting again is being able to put into practice what you learned from last time. Therefore, most roguelikes are a series of cycles in which you become a more knowledgeable player and are able to progress further and further, with a bit of luck.

Pixel Piracy gets this. At the moment, it’s just a tech demo, and while playing it, I had to ask how to do certain things as there’s no tutorial or helpful hints as of yet. Other than that, I was on my own, trying to figure out the game’s cycle, and what, if anything, is compelling about its gameplay to encourage you to want to play it over and over again.

To illustrate Pixel Piracy’s cycle, and my own idiotic mistakes, I tracked my attempts at playing it, and you’ll be able to see how I get better each time.

In short, Pixel Piracy is a pirate-themed roguelike in which you build your own ship, hire a crew and explore the many dangerous islands of a randomly generated world. There’s ship-to-ship combat with cannons. You can board ships, go fishing, cook meals for your shipmates, have them scrub the decks, and much more is planned for the game’s final release.

Attempt #1

Pixel Piracy

I’ve been told that I can pause the game by pressing Space, and from there, I can design my own pirate ship, which is something I’m really eager to do. The editor works pretty well, although in the future, it would be nice to be able to drag the same block across by holding the mouse button down. For now, I grab the square blocks of wood for my hull and then click where I want them to go, drawing something that resembles the outline of a ship. For a nice finish, I use the half blocks of wood to smooth out the sharp angles. Beautiful!

With no labels, the next bit got rather confusing. I can place masts, what seems to be a propeller and a fencing around my ship. So I do that. Then there’s another tab with decorations, which include the sails for the masts, which don’t seem to want to go where I put them. Then I figure out that I can put in background walls so that my crew can waltz around inside the ship. Excellent. I place some things and decide I’m done.


““AAAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH,” he lets out a blood curdling cry as his body explodes into red guts when hitting the sand.”


There! A pirate ship, I guess. Built in about five minutes, it floats, has a deck and some masts. Voila!

Now, about that crew. There’s a guy, my captain, stuck on some desert island. Right clicking on him brings up a little menu, and there I see the option, “Grapple.” Before playing, I was told that grappling is how the pirates get onto ships, but this will be changed out for something else in the future so that grappling is only used to board enemy ships. So, I press it, and my little guy grapples onto the ship.

Wahey! A pirate on my little pirate ship! Woo!…now what? I press “Grapple” again, and he gets back on to land.

“AAAAAGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH,” he lets out a blood curdling cry as his body explodes into red guts when hitting the sand.

O…kay? I’m completely lost. What, did he land on a mine or something?! Um, on to Attempt #2, I suppose.

(I now know that my guy died of hunger. His hunger bar just happened to fall to zero at the exact same time he touched ashore.)

Attempt #2

Pixel Piracy

Right, so now I know how to build a ship, sort of, I guess I should try to figure out how to hire a crew. Actually, let’s take it a step back a second. How do I even move my captain around?! WASD and the arrow keys scroll the camera left or right, so it’s not that. Maybe if I right click on him to select him, and then point somewhere with my left mouse button, he’ll travel there. *click* Nope. Right mouse button to travel? *click* Sigh.

(At this point, I start clicking on just about everything, pressing every key and getting in a right tiz. I then accidentally click and hold the left mouse button and notice that it paints a line…)

Oh, so, to move my guy around, I simply have to left click on his body, and then drag a line out from him that he’ll then travel to the end of. Sweet.


“the whole tavern of rough-looking pirates now hates him and attack him. As expected, he’s dead in seconds”


With this new discovery, it’s time to head past the shop on the island and into the tavern, where I should be able to recruit some crew. How do I do this? My instinct tells me to draw the line from my captain onto another guy in the tavern to get him to talk. Let’s try that.

(My captain walks over to the bearded pirate in the tavern as I instructed, but instead of greeting him with a friendly peck on the cheek, he smacks him around the face with a sword.)

Err, is that how pirates say, “Hi,” to each other, maybe? Ah, nope. They’re just fighting now.

“AAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHHH!”

Cripes, when someone dies in this game, you really know about it. Luckily, my captain managed to defeat the other guy. Not so luckily, the whole tavern of rough-looking pirates now hates him and attack him. As expected, he’s dead in seconds, and with yet another deafening cry of pain. The best thing was that the marimba music came in immediately after the deafening scream of death. Oh, how I laughed!

Attempt #3, here we come.

Attempt #3

Pixel Piracy

Folks, I made a boat! I know; I know; I did that before, but that one was shit. Look at this magnificent vessel! I still couldn’t get the sails to hitch up to the mast properly, but whatever, what kind of ship needs sails anyway?!

You’ll notice that there’s a whole bunch of food lying around the deck. I put that there in the hopes that my crew would eat it, rather than starving to death. I’m hoping the AI is designed to try to survive without my input; otherwise, they’re screwed, basically. But enough of staring at that ship. I need to actually hire a crew this time around before my captain starves to death again. I’ve learned my lesson from last time, about fighting pirates in a tavern, and to make sure it doesn’t happen again, I found out that what I have to do is to click on the “Hire” button. It makes so much sense now.

Anyway, below, you can see the result of clicking on the Hire button, which is neatly attached to the wooden sign flapping about outside of the tavern.

Pixel Piracy

As you can see, I have a list of pirates, all of them Level 1 (except one at Level 2) with varying degrees of experience, and all available at seemingly random prices. I’ve got 600 gold to spend, and so I want to spend it wisely and get only the decent pirates. The most interesting thing, you’ll notice, is that the pirates all have two attributes. One of them is blind. Not being funny, but I want my pirates with at least one eye (especially if they have a patch).


“The food just sat there, looked at them. Nobody even tried to eat it. They just died.”


I can scroll down and see more pirates than what the little menu shows me, and just to be on the safe side, I stopped myself at hiring just two pirates for my crew, because I really don’t know what I’m doing. If we’re being honest here, and I am because of all that rum I drank to get into the role of a pirate well and truly (that’s a lie; I only drink whiskey), I’ll confess that I’ve never been a pirate in my life. I know; I tried to be. I TRIED! But dammit, being a pirate is hard and smelly.

Where were we? Oh, yes, I have two pirates, great. The third is my captain, so I tell them all to grapple onto the ship. And there they are. Three pirates on a pirate ship. Um, let’s go somewhere! Fortunately, I found out how to do that too. I simply right click on the captain to bring up his menu, then click on “SAIL.” *click* It didn’t work.

Pixel Piracy

Oops. My captain is telling me I need to pick somewhere to sail to first. Blimey. Onto the pause menu, I see a world map, where I’m able to plot a course to other islands, via more islands. I pick a random island that doesn’t seem too far away, click on “SAIL” once again…and, oh, OFF WE GO!

(Some time passes.)

Folks, I’m glad you’re back. I’m down to just one crew member. The other two died of starvation for some reason. The food just sat there, looked at them. Nobody even tried to eat it. They just died. And at the worst time too. I’ve found a much smaller ship out here in the ocean, but upon it are three pirates. THREE! I had three pirates once, and then two died. Now I have one, and he’s nearly dead anyway.

So, fuck it. I just told my little survivor to attack the three guys by grappling on to their boat. Oh, Porfirio, I am so sorry you died, and such a yelp with it, too.

I don’t know if I can continue playing Pixel Piracy if this is going to be the saddening result every time.

Attempt #4

Pixel Piracy

Alright, alright, I’ve gathered my thoughts and cheered up. I’m back for one more try. As you can see, I have a crew of four this time; I’m ready to kick some ass. Even better, I realized that if you right click on a crew member, you can assign them a role, and then you can instruct them to do the activity related to that role. For the captain, it’s “SAIL.” We know that. For the cleaner, it’s mopping; for the cannon guy, it’s firing cannons. So, I got one of them to be the ship’s chef, told him to cook, and now he’s chopping up all of the food I laid out on the deck.

Pixel PiracyEveryone else is eating it, too! They’re no longer going to starve to death!

I’d also like to point out that my masts now have birds nests on top. Still no sails, though. Fuck those things.


“as if these couple of notes manage to capture the lonely, maddening experience of sailing the ocean with a bunch of psychos.”


Back to business. The world map to the right-hand side shows you my “more ambitious” journey this time around. It’s ridiculously tiny on the map, which is huge. I’d be happy just to make it from one island to another without starving to death or being killed by other pirates. So, you know, we’ll see how this goes.

When you’re sailing, by the way, it’s quite odd. Time passing is indicated by the screen fading out, and then fading back in. Sometimes, there’s nothing. You just see your crew standing around, maybe eating some grapes, another looking at the ocean with a bottle of rum at his feet. When nothing happens, you get some weird, ethereal chimes come in just before it fades out again. It’s strangely fitting, as if these couple of notes manage to capture the lonely, maddening experience of sailing the ocean with a bunch of psychos. Cool.

When nothing doesn’t happen, that means something happens, and in Pixel Piracy, for now, that means a boat with three guys have turned up and started blinking at your ship. Naturally, being a pirate crew, you send all four of your men down, and they kill them. In future versions of the game, I’m told victory will give you loot, like treasure or more pirates for your crew. There will also be epic fights with cannon ball fire and all that malarkey.

I managed to kill the pirates on my first encounter. The second encounter, well, let’s just say I’m leaving this as a Thelma and Louise ending. My pirates were victorious, and I want you to remember them as the free sailing drunkards that they are (the director’s cut version, much like that of Thelma and Louise, involves them dying horribly).

Pixel Piracy

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