When Windward creator Michael Lyashenko played Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, he spent most of his game aboard ship.
"I was just sailing around the whole time," he recalls. "I didn't do assassin things."
Subsequently, he made his own game about the Age of Sail. Called Windward, it eschews any landlubbin' activities and is almost entirely about sailing. Lyashenko is a fan of all things piratey, and says Windward is inspired by games he loved. While many of those games included land-based action and non-sailing mechanics, he's sticking strictly to the ocean wave.
"I was inspired by Sid Meier's Pirates," he says. "I really liked the game but there were certain elements that I found were missing like multiplayer and procedural generation, which would allow the player to play the game over and over again. And there were some things that really shouldn't have been there, like the dancing mechanics for example, which broke the flow of the game."
While games like Pirates included swashbuckling swordplay, city sieges and, yes, dances, Windward is honed to seaborne activities like sailing around, completing quests, fighting pirate enemies, upgrading ships and securing trade routes. Like Pirates and Black Flag, the core ship combat mechanic is about lining up vessels to volley terrific broadsides, while making use of supplemental cannons and special weapons with various cool-offs.
Much of the game is spent sailing from point to point, building up XP and riches while securing territory for trade. If you enjoy the age of sail, it's a lot of fun.
"I like the atmosphere of just sailing around," says Toronto-based Lyashenko. "It's very peaceful and then you see a pirate and it becomes very hectic and you are trying to stay alive, positioning your ship to line up your guns."
Windward was originally in development over three years ago, but Lyashenko became unhappy with progress and scrapped the project. "I didn't like the way the game was headed," he says. "Back then it was very arena based so you had the same maps that you could play over and over and there was no procedural generation. It just felt a bit repetitive. I wanted something more vast, something that players could get lost in."
He spent some time working on user interface solutions for game creation tool Unity, before restarting Windward last summer. The new game offers a large map to explore, one which changes every game. And there's an opportunity to team up with other players online.
Windward was released in Early Access late last year and has picked up a devoted following. The full game is out in a few months. Lyashenko, also known as Tasharen Entertainment, is constantly updating the game. He wants to add some more polish before launch as well as a story-based tutorial.
As it stands, the game feels pretty slick with an engaging trading and RPG vibe as well as loads of nice little Caribbean sea-life art and audio touches. Lyashenko has taken one of history's most interesting periods and avoided the trap of trying to create a monumental mini-game simulation or an overly fussy physical simulation of sailing ships.
"I stay on the side that is entertainment," he says. "For example, you can sail into the wind in Windward, but only at 65 percent speed. Obviously, in the real world, you cannot sail into the wind, you have to zigzag. But it was not fun in the game and so I decided to just reduce speed."
He says he's happy to make a game for fellow fans of the pirate era. "Seafaring is a fairly niche genre," he says. "In order to not be niche these days a game has to have zombies and it has to have survival. But pirates are an inspiration for me, for sure. There is so much to the Age of Sail that a lot of people overlook."