Blood on the Sand: Pirate vs. Knight

April 28, 2009

Tonight at 10pm, Deadliest Warrior will pit Pirate against Knight, cunning against tradition, and lead against steel in a duel to the death.Before we get down to analyzing tonight's fight, I just want to thank you guys for making The Aftermath a success. We've been keeping up with all of your comments and feedback, and it's great that you guys are keeping the conversation going. I'm definitely looking forward to doing this week's, so be sure to leave a comment for us after Pirate vs. Knight premieres.

But on to the matter at hand: What makes this fight unique and interesting, and what sort of strategies will our combatants need to use if they want to best one another?

To begin with, I'm tremendously excited about the sheer range of possibilities in this matchup. Of all our fights this season, this is the one that came closest to actually occurring in history -- we've just taken the liberty of smooshing two sections of timeline, the High Middle Ages and the Golden Age of Piracy, closer together in order to see what results when they overlap.

You may already be thinking to yourself: "Well, this is pretty cut and dried: we still have gunpowder weapons today, but you don't see anyone using steel plate armor in modern warfare," but the history of the matter isn't that simple.

Gunpowder weapons first became widely adopted in Europe in the 14th century, first as cannons, and then quickly progressing to handheld artillery (the harquebus, or literal "hand cannons" in many cases) in the 15th century. However, plate armor evolved in kind, and early guns were ineffective at penetrating armor at a distance. But by the late 17th century, improvements had been made to musket technology that allowed guns to fire projectiles with greater muzzle velocity, and consequently, bypass armor.

But accuracy remained an issue. Early muskets lacked rifling in their barrel (simply put: a rifle puts spin on a bullet to give it a stable flight path -- think of what happens when you throw a football with proper spin. Now imagine throwing the ball without that spin. Awkward, isn't it?). To compensate for a lack of accuracy, armies at the time relied on massed firepower -- shooting became a numbers game more than anything.



Plate armor was still effective against gunfire, to a limited extent: European cavalry used plate armor through the 19th century (and in fact, up until World War I, where the motor and improved guns took horses off the battlefield). But there were drawbacks.

Plate armor is expensive and difficult to manufacture -- on the army level, it makes more sense to invest in the killing power of a platoon of peasants armed with muskets rather than equipping a cavalry squadron with the plate armor required to defend against that gunfire.

But we're not generals, and we're not running an army. We're here to see a one-on-one fight, and that strips the Pirate of the advantage of massed firepower, which makes any non-scientific prediction in this battle about as useful as a roll of the dice.

The Knight's crossbow, which is reliable and powerful, may actually give him a distinct long range advantage. His close range weapons are absolutely devastating. But closing the distance between them will prove to be the most dangerous zone in this fight.

The Pirate's flintlock pistol and blunderbuss may not be the most reliable weapons, but they do pack a punch. If the Pirate is smart, he'll wait for the Knight to close some distance with him so that he can make sure his weapons will hit. But at the same time, it's a terrible risk for on his part -- once he's close enough to shoot the Knight, the Knight is moments away from closing the distance and putting the Pirate into his killing zone.

This matchup is the biggest gamble we've taken yet on the series. Never has so much rested on the pacing of our fighters, and the rhythm of their battle: how they close the distance with one another has become just as important as why, and the arsenal they bring to the table backs that up.

I can't offer you a hint as to who will win, but I can say this -- every test we did on this episode had me holding my breath in anticipation and fear. Every weapon is a game-changer -- and if you think you can call this fight before you see all the results, you're in for a hell of a surprise.

Morituri te salutant,

Max Geiger is a game designer and graduate of USC's Interactive Media Division. You can follow him, and Dr. Armand Dorian on Twitter as @MaxGeiger and @ArmDor, respectively.