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Let's talk boats: an advocation for realistic sail plans

I'd like to talk about in-game boats, and more specifically their sails. This may seem like a pedantic topic to some (and may be!), but I suspect that the people who will care the most about how ships look in-game will also be the sort of people who care about how ships work in general. To that end, I think it's worth having a look at the details we've seen about ships so far, and how they compare to how actual ships are laid out. I'm going to be doing a lot of critiquing of concept art and WIP assets, which are clearly not meant to be 1-for-1 with the finished products. This is intentional though, because it is much easier for developers to implement feedback before their assets are finished than it is afterwards.

For brevity, the short version of my argument goes like this:

I would like to make an appeal in favor of historical accuracy with regards to the sail plans of ship assets being made for this game. This is not because historical accuracy to our world is particularly important for an MMO in a fantasy setting, but because sailing ships function much like complex pieces of machinery. It's not always intuitive or obvious why they look they way that they do, and therefor it is easy (and common) for game designers to end up producing sailing ships that don't make much sense from a functional perspective, or even with regard to the laws of physics. The easiest way to avoid this is to find reference images of real ships, and copy how their sails are arranged closely. There are a wide array of interesting sail layouts already out there, so this shouldn't hinder attaining visual variety.

The long version of my argument goes like this:

I was recently looking at the May 2022 dynamic weather showcase, which contained a sailing vessel that looks like this:

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While it's pretty good aesthetically, I noticed an issue that I've seen before with video game ships. I'm going to try to be light with the nautical terminology (because it's all very silly, and there is a lot of it) but I'm going to have to use at least a little. In this case, here are the three types of sails you can see in the above image:

su4gvqdz4yds.png

In addition a "spar" is a long piece of wood that sticks out from a ship, usually to tie a rope or sail to. Different types have different silly names, but I'm just going to call them spars.

The problem with the ship in the stream can be better seen with the concept art for a backer ship called the Dragonborne's Maid:

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This is in general a good design for a ship. You'd call this a "topsail schooner", and you can see the inspiration from the real ship above. The problem comes from how gaff sails connect to a mast. Here's what it looks like up close:

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Notice that the connection wraps around the entirety of the mast, and that it has roller bearings, because it needs to freely slide up and down the mast to raise and lower the sails. Now notice how the spars are located on our real and concept art ships:

g38imdvasi17.png

In our real ship, the jaws of the gaff spar are below the square sail spars, because the square sail spars are pressed flush against the mast, and the gaff spar wouldn't be able to slide past. You'll consistently see this on every real ship that uses both gaff and square sails, it's just a matter of mechanical operation. On the Dragonborne's Maid you can see that the gaff extends above at least one other spar, which would make the gaff almost impossible to lower. One might argue that this is just a matter of the concept art being loose with the design, but the same issue is present in the weather showcase ship, which had at least made it to a 3d model.

The solution for the dragonborne's maid is simple: you move the spars a little to make it looks like the reference ship. For the showcase ship, you would probably need to change the design somewhat more. As best I can tell it was attempting to mimic a brig or brigantine:

z00qjs11dxy1.png

In these the rear gaff is smaller, to fit under the square sails, and the forward gaff is replaced with "staysails", the (usually) triangular sails often seen in the front of ships.

So having noticed this issue with the showcase ship, I set off to the wiki to see what other ship design had been advertised over the years. I'm going to bring some up here, talk about their issues, and give some recommendations based on real ships.

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These are the Glory Redeamed, the Gilded Galleon, the Trader Ship, and the Grimsail. The problem with these is all the same. They appear to be large, later european style ships, but only have square sails (the Grimsail might have a lateen at the back, it's hard to tell). This makes them look somewhat like a medieval Cog:

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If the intent is to have these ships look like early medieval trade vessels, then these designs are mostly fine. If they are meant to look like real age-of-sail ships, then they have a problem. The problem with cogs is that square sails only work well when the wind is at your back, so these sorts of ships spent most of their time in port waiting for favorable winds. Unless the concept ships above are meant to be ponderous, unmaneuverable vessels, they would realistically have some staysails, which would give them a lot more versatility in different winds.

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The Cygnus Galleon is the opposite, in that it's only appearing to use staysails, apparently to evoke the sense of "swan wings". This isn't actually much of a problem though. I've placed it next to a "Staysail Schooner", which also primarily uses staysails. The orientation of the staysails in the Cygnus is unusual, but I think they would still work even placed like that. It would probably want at least one other type of sail somewhere though, like how the above reference image has a "Bermuda" sail in the rear.

4mujnnpgt1zb.png

The "Eternal Guardian of the Dark Seas", and the Flamefin Frigate are both also trying to evoke the sense of wings, but their method is a lot less practical than the Cygnus. I'm pretty sure the extra masts protruding out the sides would snap under the forces they're placed under, and even if they didn't, they wouldn't be very effective at actually catching wind to move the ship forward (and I'm worried they would end up looking somewhat silly when fully in 3D). If you're trying to give a sense of "wings" I might suggest something like this:

jftz5janr2aa.png

This ship to the left here has a style of Chinese "junk" sails, which it has splayed out to the left and right in a butterfly style in order to catch the wind coming from behind it. It's about as close to dragon wings as you're going to get on a ship that actually sails. Notice that the right picture is the exact same ship though, just from a different angle and with sails reoriented. The ship still has its masts in the usual places, with the "wings spread" appearance only there when looking at it from the front or back. Mediterranean style "Lateen" sails can also do this if a slightly different look is desired:

qxgjpixo27wb.png

(These might also go well on the Cygnus)

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The Wind's Veil is obviously inspired after east-asian vessels. The frontal junk sail seems fine, though it's a little more crinkled than a real one, and it should have some sign of the characteristic rods which hold the sail in shape. In the rear there are two small junk sails, where a real ship would only have one (it is common to have a small one back there though). I think one reason you wouldn't have two sails out like that is that junk sails are usually "unstayed" which means that they don't have tensioning lines keeping the masts stable like in western ships. This means the masts on junks have to go through the deck and embed themselves into the keel of the boat in order to keep stable. I think the small sails in the concept might just snap off in a stiff breeze.

0x4bxaqvnu1c.png

The Star Chaser and the Shimir both look to be galleys. It's difficult to make out the sails on the Star Chaser to the left there. I kind of looks like the sails are being held up without a spar on their top edges, but that could just be a trick of the light. Otherwise no complaints. For the Shimir, it looks like they're trying to evoke the sense of a pyramid for this Egyptian inspired ship. The only problem I can notice is that the rearmost sail looks like a lateen sail that's been flipped around and placed so that there's no way it could balance against the mast. There's an easy fix though: if you move the spar on the top of the sail to its bottom instead, it becomes a bermuda sail, which would work just fine while keeping the pyramid shape.

I'd like to give a shout out to a similar ship though, the Xebec (shown in model because they don't really exist anymore):

tjccplbu6tkv.png

These were some of the most notorious pirate ships in history, and have an iconic, aggressive look to them. Note how the frontmost mast actually leans forward to let the lateen stick out farther.

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The Grave Galleon is in fact a galleon, meaning it has two square rigged masts and one lateen rigged mast. The masts are in the wrong order though. The lateen is supposed to be the rearmost one so it can be used to steer.

y8r4if4f61pc.png

Both the Twin Hunters and the Voyager Speed Skiff appear to be outriggers inspired by Austronesian vessels with crab claw sails. Unfortunately neither of these appear to have placed the sail correctly. The crab claw sail is a weird design, where to change direction you actually pick up and move the sail across the ship. The Speed Skiff appears have its sail fixed in place, and the wrong corner of the sail is attached to the hull. The Twin Hunter sails appear to be on the wrong side of the mast, and when there are multiple sails on one ship, I believe those sails should be on the same side of the boat. As an alternative, one could also take inspiration from the hawaian crab claw sail:

5dc6vvbjttxu.png

These ones actually function around a fixed mast, and don't require you to detach your sails to turn. They also look really neat. There is also the tanja sail:

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Which is maybe the weirdest looking sail still in use. Don't ask me how though, I'm still surprised they work at all.

a435bq0w2f8e.png

Lastly we have the Coral Corser, which appears to be based on a fever dream. The primary problem I see with this one is that a 3d modeler is going to have to model it in euclidean space. You might consider manipulating the local spacetime around this vessel into a hyperbolic curvature to make this more practical. Alternatively the sailplan as presented could be charitably interpreted as a "suggestion".


Now, what was the point of all of this nit picking? You could take it as just a collection of suggestions for the specific vessels as presented, and I suppose that would be fine. On the other hand I think both these and future issues could be addressed with a change in methodology. Ships are complicated. I don't expect the development team to get a degree on the matter (although, contacting a consultant with one might be useful). What I'm trying to express is that it's very difficult to invent a new way for a ship to function and have it appear reasonable to anyone who cares. The best way to avoid these kinds of issues for sails in particular is simply to copy a design that we know people in the real world have used. If it's been in use, then obviously it works to some extent. Hopefully I've shown that there are enough real sailplans out there that physics defying ones aren't entirely necessary.

And that way the boat nerds can remain mostly quiet and mostly happy.

Comments

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    OtrOtr Member
    Looking forward to building and repairing ships.
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    Otr wrote: »
    Looking forward to building and repairing ships.

    Ohhh You " WILL " be amazed of just how many, beautiful, amazing Ships there will be.

    Not just the ones which You would love to see. It's not just i. I just know others will be just as astounded.
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    I only got halfway through, but I am impressed Mr. Sail Guy. I hope the devs take a look, especially at the "Eternal Guardian of the Dark Seas" and your wing-like sail suggestions.
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    I think you went a little overboard.

    Heh heh ehh...
    The girl watched the last of the creatures die and murmured a soft 'Thank you' to her rescuer.

    The stranger's eyes lifted to the blood red cloud on the horizon.

    'We have to move. It's not safe here.'
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    LinikerLiniker Member, Alpha One, Adventurer
    edited March 12
    I wouldnt want them to add in extra development time/cost for this, over the years we get a lot... a Lot of very specific feedback from people that have expertise in different areas,

    from body anatomy, to medieval armor/weapon experts, to phisics, weather, veichles, food,

    if intrepid takes this on.. AoC will never see the light of day and will continue in perpetual development, not everything can/needs to be extremely realistic and detailed, we just want a good game
    img]
    Recrutamento aberto - Nosso Site: Clique aqui
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    FlankerFlanker Member
    Liniker wrote: »
    I wouldnt want them to add in extra development time/cost for this, over the years we get a lot... a Lot of very specific feedback from people that have expertise in different areas,

    from body anatomy, to medieval armor/weapon experts, to phisics, weather, veichles, food,

    if intrepid takes this on.. AoC will never see the light of day and will continue in perpetual development, not everything can/needs to be extremely realistic and detailed, we just want a good game

    True. The first post is actually cool, but it looks like something that should be implemented in the forthcoming updates after the launch. Not before the launch, as I believe the majority of player base would prefer to play AoC not from nursing home
    n8ohfjz3mtqg.png
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    Liniker wrote: »
    I wouldnt want them to add in extra development time/cost for this, over the years we get a lot... a Lot of very specific feedback from people that have expertise in different areas,

    from body anatomy, to medieval armor/weapon experts, to phisics, weather, veichles, food,

    if intrepid takes this on.. AoC will never see the light of day and will continue in perpetual development, not everything can/needs to be extremely realistic and detailed, we just want a good game

    My hope is that they are at a stage of development where ships have not been a priority, and therefor haven't had much work done on them yet. I think the only watercraft that's in a complete enough state that they've cared to show us up close is the caravan raft. Even the 3d model from the weather showcase is only seen at a great distance, which makes me think that it's really a low-res mockup.

    If that's the case, I don't think what I'm suggesting is really much additional work. Despite how wordy I've been, I'm really only suggesting that they use good reference images (of which I've tried to provide some), and not to take too many liberties with them.
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    CROW3CROW3 Member
    I’d settle for 3 boat types and a simple wind system similar to Valheim.

    Trust me, sailing is something I want to do in Ashes, but we still haven’t seen some core systems yet.
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    I love posts like this! It is truly remarkable how gaming brings together all kinds of irl expertise!
    PavlovDead wrote: »
    Liniker wrote: »
    I wouldnt want them to add in extra development time/cost for this, over the years we get a lot... a Lot of very specific feedback from people that have expertise in different areas,

    from body anatomy, to medieval armor/weapon experts, to phisics, weather, veichles, food,

    if intrepid takes this on.. AoC will never see the light of day and will continue in perpetual development, not everything can/needs to be extremely realistic and detailed, we just want a good game

    My hope is that they are at a stage of development where ships have not been a priority, and therefor haven't had much work done on them yet. I think the only watercraft that's in a complete enough state that they've cared to show us up close is the caravan raft. Even the 3d model from the weather showcase is only seen at a great distance, which makes me think that it's really a low-res mockup.

    If that's the case, I don't think what I'm suggesting is really much additional work. Despite how wordy I've been, I'm really only suggesting that they use good reference images (of which I've tried to provide some), and not to take too many liberties with them.

    I hope/believe this is the case! If your detailed post brings just one improvement, then your amazing post was worth it imo!

    Thank you for the time and effort you put into the post! <3
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    While my passion lies primarily in pushing for realistic sailing mechanics while on the water, that of course relies on realistic depictions of sailing vessels, so thank you for enlightening us all! My fear is that sailing a ship will just be posting yourself up at the rudder or wheel, depending on the size of the vessel, and steering the thing around using tank controls. It just sounds so silly to even imagine imo. I hope intrepid takes at least some of this to heart. While I don't particularly mind a bit of zaniness, things can obviously go overboard and make you wonder how in the world some in-game objects could ever have come to exist, simply because they don't have to abide by the laws of physics.
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    DiamahtDiamaht Member, Braver of Worlds, Alpha One
    What a fantastic post. Even if it doesn't end up affecting the game, it was a great read. Thank You
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    I very much appreciate your post. I enjoy reading/seeing passion about niche subject. And thank you for communicating it in a way I could understand with many great examples.

    As most have said already in this post though to be accurate in all subjects may prove to be too much of an ask when timelines may be at risk. But as you said maybe for future boat designs this is something that can be taken into consideration if they have not gotten that far in development.
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    Too serious for me, by me the sail could be even a kite up in the sky
    PvE means: A handful of coins and a bag of boredom.
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    MorashtakMorashtak Member, Braver of Worlds, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    Great post.
    One of the first games I dumped too much time into was Sid Meier's Pirates! (the original, before the dancing was added).
    Not only did you have to know which sail type your ship had but also the direction of the wind - Sailing downwind was relatively fast with square-rigged sails which caught more of the wind, while sailing upwind severely curtailed your speed unless you had staysails.
    Would like to see sails types and wind speed/direction added, if nothing else just at a basic level.
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    PavlovDeadPavlovDead Member
    edited March 14
    Sengarden wrote: »
    While my passion lies primarily in pushing for realistic sailing mechanics while on the water, that of course relies on realistic depictions of sailing vessels, so thank you for enlightening us all! My fear is that sailing a ship will just be posting yourself up at the rudder or wheel, depending on the size of the vessel, and steering the thing around using tank controls. It just sounds so silly to even imagine imo. I hope intrepid takes at least some of this to heart. While I don't particularly mind a bit of zaniness, things can obviously go overboard and make you wonder how in the world some in-game objects could ever have come to exist, simply because they don't have to abide by the laws of physics.

    Oh trust me, I'm a big fan of games like Sailwind, where you're pulling on individual ropes, but I've found that your average person is really put off by the idea. Even just the idea of tacking seems annoy of a lot of people. Any game that doesn't let you sail directly into the wind inevitably gets quite a few people complaining about it.

    I've come to the conclusion that these sorts of mechanics are best relegated to niche games for people who actually enjoy them, and that most games are better off with an "arcade" experience. Nobody seems to complain about real looking ships though, so that's why I'm hoping we can get some of those.
    Arya_Yeshe wrote: »
    Too serious for me, by me the sail could be even a kite up in the sky

    That's a real thing!

    https://youtube.com/watch?v=nHA9P3dQ4jY
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    MissionCreepMissionCreep Member, Braver of Worlds, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    Historical accuracy...?
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    ApokApok Member, Braver of Worlds, Kickstarter, Alpha One
    I like the idea of ships being more grounded in reality but playing Atlas showed that meta builds kinda kill it. it would be a shame to see a lot of time and effort being put into ships just for everyone to roll backwards facing canons on a Schooner (the ass blaster)
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    im just hoping theres some sort of wind mechanic like Atlas / valheim so you actually have to plan your trips and cant just go 100% speed all the time. this way heavier ships would move slower against the wind compared to a smaller attack vessel, this would open up the path for making fast ships vs cargo ships
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