OK, so I played this mod and honestly, the initial "wow factor" of the boats wore of pretty quick, though I'm not sure I have the latest version. I had an issue where my boat got stuck inside a bridge up near zendar on the river and that was it for me, I went and tried some other mods, but it looks like I totally missed the new seige mechanics, which I'd love to see. a few complaints and suggestions, so, here we go:
the boats are really low poly and drab looking. I liked the idea of shields mounted on the sides, and being able to damage the boat itself. for instance, it has no rigging modeled, just a big plane and a cylinder for the sail and mast, but if I could fire flaming arrows or greek fire into the rigging ropes and sails, that would effectively render the boat motionless, wouldn't it?
unless they had oars, which is another idea. tired of your hired blades standing there like dopes for the entire battle? have them man the oars on your boat for a major speed boost. your enemies could do the same, which could make for a more dramatic "chase."
instead of having the game render that ridiculously huge map, why not have the boats be static and give the "illusion" of movement, by having a wake animation at the front, sides, and back of the boat, and the water move by underneath? then, the boats move closer together gradually at a set rate and engage, like by dropping boarding grapples and planks or initiating ranged combat? it would be difficult to program, but might save some processing power/load time for the ship battles.
if thats no good, how about commands for the boat/crew? "Ramming Speed!" just feels right, doesn't it? and the "steering" idea sounds good too. why not have a point on the boat that lets you treat it like a mount, while the rest of the crew mans the other parts, like the sails, oars, weapons, and boarding options, which you can still control from the wheel with commands?
boat upgrades? tighter knit sails and oars for faster movement, redundant rigging and mounted shields for higher defense, a ramming prow and balista mounts for attack options, extra grapples and hooking planks that grapple opposing ships and initiate boarding acrtions, extra hold space (giving rise to the idea about the inventory chest on the boat, but also being able to move tonnage of trade goods as well, instead of 40 lbs at a time, or carrying more men on the boat itself). a crows nest to improve spotting makes perfect sense, I'd think, plus having an archer or two spawn up there would be great. plus, spotting become a much more important skill ona boat, since boats don't leave footprints to follow, right? having a higher spot modifier on a boat makes lots of sense, and is terribly useful.
how about new skills and specific items and units that grant bonuses to them? I think a "sailing" skill would be freakin' awesome, and could parallel the "riding" skill, except your "mount" is a 10 ton wooden beast with balistae and a battering ram mounted on the front that can move 50 to 100 men at a time. having "shiphands" in your party could improve the skill rating, which would have a bearing on the stats of the boat itself. heck, even special units like "marines" or "firehands" could improve defense, decrease fire damage, improve damage against enemy boats, and increase success rates for boarding operations.
touching on the idea of seafaring NPCs and factions, wouldn't it be just that much more awesome if you could encounter the dread pirate anthrax and his legendary smuggling ship with all sorts of expensive upgrades, then fight your ass off, and with some good command decisions and a bit of luck, capture that boat for yourself? fleet building should be incorperated on both sides, PC and NPC factions. that would also easily incorperate to the "mount" idea, as you could switch them out. having a "title of ownership," a "letter of Marque," or a symbol of the boat in your inventory would let you switch out which boat is your "flagship" and you could let cohorts captain your other boats in combat. or maybe use a "figure Head" symbol, and give the different boats different figure heads? or customizable figure heads? that'd be cool...
speaking of the "letter of marque" idea, you could have a group of non-specific boats that you can buy and trade freely, then some nation specific boats (obviously with better stats, since they're military vessels) that you can only aquire with a "letter of marque" from a lord of that nation. having a nord ship, for instance, without their consent, must mean you stole it, and would cause those units to be more hostile toward you on sight. then again, disguising yourself in an enemy ship to invade another nation's port sounds like a pretty sweet idea too, hm? that might be a difficult mechanic to incorperate, but you could say you can only "disguise yourself and sneak into town" in a port town if you have the right kind of boat.
speaking of fleets, a minimum and maximum tonnage/occupancy should be placed on the boats, so they move slower when loaded down with trade goods, requiring more escort ships (and bigger battles for the booty) and making you have to pick your targets more; if you've only got 50 men on a caraval, you're not likely going to pull off fighting through 2 ship-o-the-lines to get at that treasure gallion toting aztec gold... sorry, thinking a lil' too "Sid Maiers" today, but you get the idea. big boats carrying lots of marines and weapons should be more challenging to capture, and multiple-ship-battles harder still, and that could be done without modifying the native damage and weapon qualities.
something needs to be done about the way the characters and ship interact. ever had your character slide off the side in a turn? why do corpses float in mid air about where the deck is, and become stationary, clipping out the back of the boat as it moves and hovering there as we sail off? even if all the men just held formations alongside the boats edge until we bacame stationary, it would make things a bit more believable.
perhaps there's a way to treat ship combat more like siege combat? have an initial "battle" where you manuver your ship up to theirs (or they get away and you have to chase them on the map s'more if you fail) then after the ships mire or grapple, turn it into a kind of siege where you have to cross narrow planks to invade a boat, or destroy said planks and grapples to repel boarders.
on the subject of sieges, why can't I do something like jump the walls, fight my way to the gate, then OPEN the gate and have a flood of reinforcements come in, including mounted units? that shouldn't be just here, that should be a native improvement... along with battering rams and destroyable objects (like said gate, or the walls the enemy is covering behind, or the thatch roofed house they're in could catch fire, the grapple ropes and bridges on the boats, their siege engines/artillery, etc.)
as far as the types of boats and variations of upgrades and weapons available, why not be able to choose what era you're an active pirate in? if I want to be an early nord pirate, then technology is less advanced and fighting is more intense; if I want to be a new-world era pirate, technology is more advanced and stratagy becomes more important. just a thought, though likely really difficult to code and segment the game like that.
how about a more "Piratey" soundtrack? I have a few friends that compose on digital software, and I'm sure you have a few too, or can find them easily enough.
speaking of sounds, the water is very still and quiet, and so is the boat... where's the roll and pitch of the surf? the sound of the waves slapping against the hull and the rigging creaking and fluttering in the wind? the gulls picking at the corpses washed ashore? there should deffinately be some badass sound effects for a successful ramming or boarding grapple.
speaking of the water, it never shows up in my game. I always just see the shadow of ripples off the backs of the boats, and the boats themselves, floating a couple of dozen feet above some weird landscape that is appearently the sea floor... bug fix, perhaps?
another issue I have with "randomly generated maps"; if I initiate a battle close to shore, the shore should be in sight, on the PROPER SIDE OF THE BOAT! how about map facings incorperated into the battle map? if I catch the trade boat that was running from me, they'll need to come about to fight effectively, and that puts me at an advantage. or if I get jumped by a pirate ship on either side, I have to decide who I'm going to attack first, who's moving faster, and which one is the greater threat. again, this gives rise to more tactical gameplay that incorperates M&B's great combat system too. plus it gives oppertunities to use ramming and strafing and boarding more effectively, and at the player's option.
more boat upgrades/items; a telescope, compass, sextet, etc, to help measure enemy movement in combat (think of looking through a scope and having it tell you roughly how fast an enemy boat is approching across the map, how far they are from you, and about how many seconds/minutes you have before they reach you) and to improve navigation/map movement speed. triangular sails and a masterwork rudder to improve boat manueverability. citrus and other new food items to improve morale and prevent scurvy (more on that later). a depth-reading station to keep you informed of how shallow or deep the water you're sailing is (if you incorperate reefs, sandbars, and running aground as it was mentioned earlier). double and triple hammocks that improve crew capacity, but increase chances of disease (again, just a sec and I'll elaborate). medicines and a "sick bay" or sugical station onboard to help improve wounded party member recovery and reduce disease chances. fireproofing for the rigging and deck. repair supplies for making repairs to prevent sinking/recover lost movement speed after rigging is destroyed in battle.
Disease! if you're at sea for a certain number of days without specific items that prevent it, you're crew starts to get a scurvy/disease percentage, which increases the longer you stay out of port. gradually, as the disease score rises, you men start becoming wounded or killed and recovery is slowed, the same way men desert you when morale is low or food is short. events such as raiding a quarintined ship or exploring an island that turns out to be a leper colony would cause spikes in the disease score aboad ship, while having the sick bay mentioned above or spending several days ashore would cause a decrease in the disease score. this could be monitored through the "reports" page, similar to morale and renown.
mutiny! if food is scarce and morale is low, there's no place for deserters to go on a boat. this could cause hostile units to spawn on board your ship, making you and a few loyal shipmates have to fight off your own cutthroat crew, reducing party size, or worse, getting you marooned on an island without your gear while they sail off in your ship. this "customizable ship" idea actually parallels a "customizable horse" idea that has been kicked around the threads for some time now. then you could rebuild your gear and crew with a new boat and set off on a quest to reclaim your lost ship and gear!
well, I'm sure I can come up with more, but I've already typed you a book and given you plenty to think about. hope to se some improvements in the mod soon. link us when the new release is ready, eh?