Playing in the Pacific northwest, on the Northwestern…
It’s mid-May in Seattle, and there still hasn’t been a streak of sunshine longer than a couple of days; honestly, where’s the sun, this weather is horrible.
A little bit of overcast, and a few drops of rain can get under a land dweller’s skin pretty easily, but it takes 40ft waves, frigid, icy conditions and streaking rain to make Alaskan crab fishermen even flinch. While millions of people around the world tune-in to watch the fourth season of Deadliest Catch from their living rooms, we had the opportunity to take a trip onto the deck, and into the galley, of one of the show’s most notable vessels, the Northwestern.
While on board, we not only had the chance to speak with the captain of the boat and part-brainchild of the game, Sig Hansen, but we also got to play an early build of the upcoming 360 version of the game, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm, with a few additional members onboard—some fans of the show might recognize the names: Jake Anderson, Edgar Hansen and Matt Bradley.
It may seem like an odd pairing—crab fishing and videogames—but with the popularity of the Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel, and eager fans wanting to know what it’s like to work on the boat, a game was simply a logical step for people to experience what it means to be a captain, battling the Bearing Sea for profit.
Luck befalls the lucky…and the hardworking…
As more and more fans wrote to Sig, it only fueled an idea of producing a game about Alaskan crab fishing. But quality and authenticity were his biggest concerns, “[A game] is like your reputation: If you don’t come out and do it right the first time, you’re screwed.”
By happenstance, the captain met someone interested in producing the game, while also being introduced to the development team, Liquid Dragon. The original idea was to market the game as, “Captain Sig’s Alaskan Storm,” but after getting Discovery on board to license the name of the show, for additional recognition, the team had their brand.
However, even though the game carries the Discovery Channel moniker, Alaskan Storm is a completely independent project. The publisher, Greenwave, have overseen the development of the game, bringing in every member of the Northwestern, as well as other crewmembers of the show’s other boats, to guide the development team in re-creating every element of the hazardous job. Between Liquid Dragon designers getting seasick from trips out on the rough waters, to Edgar pointing out pots being loaded incorrectly, Sig’s vision has been authentication, through simulation.
Living two lives (kind of): 99% fisherman, 1% gamer…
When asked if he was an avid gamer himself, and where the inspiration for producing the game came from, Sig revealed that he didn’t have much time for games, but that he understands what they’re about—although he does play games with his children.
As for the rest of the Northwestern crew, they enjoy their off-time and a break from the harsh sea. But while there is an Xbox 360 Elite on-board, there’s no rest for weary, as Sig says, “If you’re leanin’, you could be cleanin’.” When the crew does get a break, however, their staterooms are fitted with monitors, for both movies and games. They might not have all the time in the world for playing games, but they know how to fish with style.
So, it’s a game about catching crab, eh?...
For Sig, the game is his baby. While there are numerous other marketing deals utilizing the Northwestern or Sig’s name, including coffee and a line with Helly Hansen, creating a top-notch game is an unparalleled endeavor for the crabbing veteran. The team’s goal is to give the player the opportunity to be a captain, in-charge of keeping things shipshape in-order to catch crab efficiently and effectively.
The point wasn’t to make an action game, but to focus on the strategy involved when it comes to piloting the ships and finding crab. Sig and the others routinely made sure to point out details from steering lag, to the way the boat maneuvers through waves; even the Coast Guard gets an unprecedented appearance, with detailed interaction between the “Coasties” and the development crews.
Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm Preview…
After taking his time to answer more than a fair share of questions—not to mention engaging in some jokes at the expense of the interviewer—it was time to play a little bit of Sig’s “baby.” On-hand to participate in the preview (Xbox only) was Jake Anderson, one-time Northwestern greenhorn-turned-deckhand.
After the kit booted up, we were introduced to the show’s Bon Jovi theme song, “Dead or Alive”—much to the crew’s excitement, as they had just landed the license to use it. From the main menu, you have a choice of playing through your Season, 30 unlockable Missions or a few Extras.
Season mode is touted to span 50-60 hours of play, with an ultimate goal of beating Sig’s lifetime record of 20 million pounds of crab. We were told that each season would get harder, with worse weather and wave conditions, to go along with an increased difficulty in finding crab. Before you even have a chance to shoot for the big leagues, however, the game gives you five tutorial “Days” to get used to how to maneuver the boats, kick your crew into gear, operate different equipment in your wheelhouse, and just crab.
I’m just glad it’s a virtual ocean, with virtual waves…
We had the opportunity to play through the tutorial, which gave us a taste sense of what was to come for the entirety of the game; and judging from our first five days on the water, virtually fishing for crab isn’t easy.
When Sig said he wanted authenticity as the theme of production, he wasn’t kidding around. With the help from the rest of the crew, the game is shaping up to be a heavily involved simulator. From what we saw, this isn’t going to be a game where you just pick up and play, you’re going to have to deliberately make choices, and play the laws of averages to successfully progress through the game.
To play, you have your choice of the real ships and 20 real Dutch Harbor fishermen; naturally, the tutorial missions use the Northwestern to get you acclimated to the game.
When asked if he would use any other boat except the Northwestern when playing, Sig replied, “Maybe Phil’s boat (the Cornelia Marie)…just so I could sink it,” but quickly followed up, “No, I’m just kidding, but I’m sticking with my boat and my crew.”
During our time with the few tutorial missions, we learned the basics of fishing. A quick-time function has been implemented, so after setting your course, players can speed ahead in time without getting board with hours-worth of ferrying between locations.
As the boats lumber to their destination, it’s up to you to call out your crew, prep the pots and dump them in highlighted areas of the sea. When it’s time to pull the pots, you have to skillfully get the speed right to efficiently move from pot to pot, while keeping them close enough to the right side of the ship so your deckhands can wrangle them in. It certainly wasn’t easy, however, as the surprisingly-realistic waves push you around; add to that the fact your ship isn’t the most nimble of vessels, and you have an engaging experience while trying to grab your pots.
It’s not a boating sim, it’s a fishing one…
Finding crab is a game in itself as well, since the developer has instituted a crab tracker on the GPS system for suggested hot-spots. We spent a good bit of time using the GPS in the recreated virtual wheelhouse of the Northwestern. Although it’s possible to use more of a third-person view behind the boat, we suspect hardcore fans will be spending their time literally behind the wheel of their favorite boat.
Progressing through the game isn’t for just making it through each season, however. Added bonuses in the form of exclusive, on-boat footage, map to locations throughout the game’s Virtual Tour of the Northwestern. It was a bit creepy to experience first-hand what Matt, Jake, Sig and Edgar had been saying the whole day: How everything mimicked its real-life counterpart. Walking into the galley, in-game, while playing in it in real-life, showed off how dedicated and truthful the team was about authenticity.
Seeing a real, live person play as themself in a game is just weird…
We also had the opportunity to play a few of the mini-games offered in Alaskan Storm. First up was Jake’s Challenge, with the real Jake taking a stab at the game first. The challenge involves throwing a hook to the crab pots in the sea, while your boat cruises by them; but each time you miss, a little Jake-alike in the top right corner loses an article of clothing. As fans will know, the game is created after a challenge Sig put to Jake in an episode of the show.
The final bit of the game we got to check out was the Skiff Race. Just as the name suggests, you pilot a small outboard motorboat through buoyed-gates, in the shortest amount of time possible.
For those who get seasick, you might want some Dramamine…
It was in the mini-game where we actually got to sit back and experience what has been done with the wave mechanics in Deadliest Catch. From what we’ve seen so far, the game offers some of the most amazing wave physics to-date on a console game, if not in general.
Instead of predefined animations, random waves are generated with what looks like fluid mechanics. It was an early build, and although it doesn’t rival BioShock in how the water looks, from what was offered, in an independent project, we’re more than impressed.
While it’s possible to marvel at the gorgeous wave effects for hours, it was still an early build and there were some bugs which will hopefully be ironed out for the final product. There were times we got stuck in black-hole-esque parts of waves while in the skiff, and there were some clipping and animation details which need some nitpicking.
Originally, the game was scheduled for an April release to coincide with the fourth season’s debut, but in deciding that things just weren’t up to par, the team pushed back the release to mid-May, and is now set for June 10. Able to be pre-ordered from GameStop for a full retail price of $59.99, Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm isn’t a product simply looking to capitalize off the popularity of the show; it’s a fully independent product meant to showcase what it’s like to be the captain of a crabbing boat. It’s not set up for a fast-paced thrill ride, but Alaskan Storm is shaping up to be an in-depth simulation title, full of strategy. We’re eager to see what Sig and team have in-store for us in the final game.
Expect a full review in the coming weeks, but for now, get your first glimpse of the 360’s Achievement Points, courtesy of Liquid Dragon: