Crossbones was originally a game which had very little known it, apart a mention way back in 1987 in “Happy Computer” magazine.
It was in an interview with Brian Fargo and Bill Heineman of Interplay where they first mentioned that they were working on a pirate game called “Crossbones” for Activision, and it would come out in the autumn of 1987.
Nothing else was ever heard about the game and that was the end of that.
Bruce Schlickbernd was a producer on the game and got in touch to shed some light. He confirmed that the C64 conversion was well into production and infact was almost complete and fully playable at the time it was cancelled.
Why did it get cancelled? … Well, Sid Meier’s Pirates! game beat them to it, mainly because Activision were messing around and asking for things to be changed and tweaked all the time and delaying the release. Had the game been left alone and finished, Activision may well have beat Sid’s successful game by a month or so.
Unsurprisingly, both games were very similiar with cannon fights, sword fights and sailing around a vast ocean. The main difference between the games was that whilst sailing on Crossbones, you remained in a deck level view of the seas (referring to a map to get an idea of location). The game covered basically the same physical area as the Caribbean.
There were broadside views for ship-to-ship fights. The general closeness of the game unfortunately gave reason for Activision to cancel and prevent them potentially being taken to court and accused of copying Pirates! (which no doubt they would have done). It was a shame the game couldn’t have been changed enough to prevent any court cases.
The C64 conversion was done by none other than Troy Miles, who programmed Necromancer on the C64. Unfortunately Bruce no longer had anything of the game and sadly neither did Troy…
“I don’t know how much help I could be concerning Crossbones. It was never released and I don’t have any source code or artwork from the project. It was over 20 years ago on a machine I haven’t developed for in an equally long time. In fact, I very surprise that you found out that it existed.
We were working on it for Activision. We were actually pretty close to completion, when they canned it. It wasn’t the only project which ever got canned, it was a pretty frequent occurrence in those days.”
Huge progress and steps into finding more out about this game though, and exciting one! Could this be another enjoyable Pirate game to discover? Time will tell.
Troy Miles speaks about work on Crossbones:
“Crossbones was a pirate game created by Interplay for Activision. It was basically complete and playable at the time it was cancelled It was cancelled simply because Activision kept dicking around wanting things tweaked and changed and they dragged things out until Sid Meier’s Pirates! came out, and then seemed to lose interest. The games were very similar in what they did: cannon fights, sword fights, buried treasure, sailing about in a vast ocean, going into town for missions, supplies, repairs, etc.
The primary difference was while sailing you remained in a deck level view of the seas but could refer to a map to get a better idea of location, and a broadside view for ship-to-ship fights. It wasn’t put to shame or anything by Meier’s game, though I preferred the top down sailing view of Pirates. The C-64 original version was programmed by Troy Miles (Neuromancer programmer). I’m not entirely sure what Bill Heineman had to do with the project, but I know the infamous “Burger” tag applied to Bill came about from Troy while they were doing some work together. I came onto the project somewhat late as Associate Producer and worked on development of the title, which is how I am familiar with it (and was simply looking on info for the new TV series Crossbones when I stumbled across this).
I can’t say I recall how big the games was – it covered basically the same physical area – the Caribbean, but I don’t recall the number of physical locations or number of discs (C64 floppies held less than Apple if I recall correctly). Vaguely the same size and exceedingly similar concepts. Didn’t keep anything from it, alas. It was a different look physically, and of course didn’t progress over years to the lush late version of Pirates!
Making computer games was kind of like making sand castles. You made them, people enjoyed them, and then the next big wave (computer) came along and it wouldn’t even work any more. Watching animations I did for the original Battle Chess is just painful, and those were hot stuff for their time.”