I have a very stream-of-conscious sort of thinking. I’ll be in the middle of something like watching a video, listening to music, playing a game, then suddenly think about something related to what I’m doing right now, like information on a movie or song. It happens to me very often, leading to me going on weird tangents about silly stuff. In some cases, it can lead me down a rabbit hole I wasn’t expecting, such as how a jingoistic military FPS lead me down to a pirate mod.
Plunder & Pillage is a standalone modification for the Build engine where, naturally, you play as a pirate sailing the high seas. From creator Jesse Petrilla, he seemed to be a bit interested in modifying the old Build engine long after engines like Unreal Engine and id Tech 3 were available.
I could give you the plot summary, but I’ll just quote the modification’s readme file:
You are Capt. Jess Murdock, a renegade pirate who has lost everything in a shipwreck on the high seas. You wash up on the shore of an island inhabited by pirates of other gangs, you must fight your way through the island, and plunder and pillage all that you can in an attempt to regain what was lost and make a name for yourself as the most feared pirate on the high seas.
Yeah, it’s a simple game, this isn’t Secret of Monkey Island levels of story complexity, it’s a by-the-numbers first person shooter. There isn’t anything wrong with that.
After I downloaded Plunder & Pillage and gave it the proper tweaks for it to work in DOSBox — as of this writing, no Build engine source port supports this abandonware — I stepped into the boots of Jess Murdock, “arrrrrr”ing like the rest of them.
Plunder & Pillage shows three episodes, but in reality there’s only one episode with three short, quick levels. In the first level, Murdock kills some pirates to get a new ship. The second level involves him going through Parrot Island and… plundering the place? I guess that does fall right into the game’s title.
Unfortunately this has all the hallmarks of a Duke Nukem 3D total conversion, and not done very well. Enemies will do devastating damage even at range, and a lot of the items and weapons are just identical to the base game. Murdock starts out with a flintlock pistol and can get more weapons like a blunderbuss that works like a shotgun, and an explosive crossbow, which acts like the game’s rocket launcher. Even the setup menu references stuff like the Holoduke and Jetpack, something our Cap’n doesn’t get the opportunity to use.
At one point, finishing the second “episode” lead to a cutscene from Duke Nukem 3D plays, the one where Duke Nukem kills the Overlord boss. I’m genuinely surprised 3DRealms didn’t get on his ass. Guess they were too busy “developing” Duke Nukem Forever to care.
Plunder & Pillage is surprisingly short. There’s only three playable levels, and as far as I know the only version available is this three level demo. It would’ve been nice to see some more levels with interesting designs, but I think Jesse Petrilla should’ve gotten some level designers, because all three levels here are unremarkable and rather straightforward.
You think that would be the end of this saga, which would make for a fairly short article. But now here comes the twist, and it’s gonna go in a way that you don’t expect.
After the tragic events on September 11, 2001, Plunder & Pillage designer Jesse Petrilla completely switched gears and was hard at work on a new game. Sticking with the aging Build engine, he changed the premise: going from fighting pirates to fighting… the War on Terror.
Quest for Al-Qaeda: The Hunt for Bin Laden was Petrilla’s next game, with a significantly different premise compared to Plunder & Pillage. In this mod, you now play as as an unnamed soldier who infiltrates what I can assume is Afghanistan, playing through blocky levels with some rather offensive Islamophobia, making fun of their language, their looks, you name it. Even the protagonist says some rather offensive things, sometimes with an unsettling chuckle. I felt like I’m playing a psychopath rather than a soldier.
All the weapons are now replaced with realistic variants stolen from various sources. For instance, the pipebombs from Duke Nukem 3D are now the proximity/remote dynamite from Blood, the machine gun I’m pretty sure is from NAM, and there’s a few others I couldn’t quite place. There’s a lot of stolen assets in this TC, enough that Petrilla could’ve gotten sued, but somehow he dodged that bullet.
Not surprisingly, he did another one that same year called Quest for Hussein, with a premise now against the other notable member of the “axis of evil,” Saddam Hussein. Same premise as Quest for AlQaeda, even down to making fun of Iraqi soldiers. There really isn’t much to say about this one, it’s more levels of killing Iraqi soldiers saying stereotypical gibberish making fun of these people, complete with some rather crude war jokes of the time.
This wasn’t the end, though. Eventually working with a more “modern” engine, he remade Quest for Hussein, now titled Quest for Saddam, with a lot of particularly offensive advertisements making fun of the middle east. Petrilla’s game would eventually get noticed by mainstream press, such as an interview for the game on MSNBC back in the day.
It gets weirder, though: Quest for Saddam got a mod courtesy of the Global Islamic Media Front, an Al-Qaeda propaganda organization. Now called Quest for Bush or Night of Bush Capturing depending on where you look, you now play a soldier of Al-Qaeda who now must eliminate American soldiers, with the final boss being George W. Bush instead of Saddam Hussein. It’s the same levels as Quest for Saddam, just modified to make jokes at the President rather than Hussein.
It’s really weird, when you think about it. I found this YouTube video — which has been removed since I last originally wrote this — that featured Night of Bush Capturing, which sent me down a rabbit hole of looking at the original Quest for Saddam, then Quest for Hussein, the respective Build engine TC that was inspired by it; which then lead me to Plunder & Pillage. To think Jesse Petrilla could’ve stuck to making silly pirate games, but tragedy can affect us in more ways than one.
Plunder & Pillage has since been uploaded to the Internet Archive, and is worth a play in DOSBox despite how short it is. The other games, Quest for Al-Qaeda: The Hunt for Bin Laden and Quest for Hussein, are also available online, though I caution that these are definitely a byproduct of their time, and might be difficult to play through now. These are all standalone executables and do not require any Build engine game to run.
I honestly don’t know what Petrilla does these days, and I honestly don’t want to. While Plunder & Pillage is a fascinating little FPS, I can’t recommend any of his work beyond that. A lot of his later games fuel right into that jingoistic American Patriotism that still lingers to this day, and it genuinely makes me uncomfortable to play them to a point. But if you can look past that, you’ll find some relatively unremarkable Build engine levels. You’d have more fun playing random Duke 3D levels than Quest for AlQaeda.
I feel like I need a retro FPS palate cleanser. Something like Redneck Rampage. At least country bumpkins are funny, compared to middle eastern terrorists.
Update 5/12/2020: Rewrote this whole article, and added some more images of Plunder & Pillage, Quest for AlQaeda and Quest for Hussein to break up the article more. It had been over 7 years since I last played these, and at the time I didn’t realize how bad Jesse Petrilla’s Quest for games were until I played them again, now older and more aware of current events.
I usually don’t dabble much in political content on the site, but I can at least say with confidence that those war games are hard to play now knowing what I know about the infamous “War on Terror.” While military games are still prevalent today, they’re not nearly at a fever pitch like they were around the 2000s.
Seriously, someone should do a deep dive on stuff like SOCOM: US Navy SEALs, the Conflict games, or even the janky budget stuff like Navy SEALs: Weapons of Mass Destruction. That would be an interesting read, honestly. Maybe I’ll get around to them some day.