PAX Aus 2017: Sea of Thieves makes waves as it gets ready to set sail

Feature article

Sea of Thieves was at PAX AUS this past weekend where many convention goers got to be amongst the lucky few in Australia to get hands-on with this game before its release early next year. But it wasn’t just the early hands on that made this particular game preview so special. Sea of Thieves also had a one of a kind hands on; it was on an actual ship! I mean it’s not every day you’re allowed to come and play a pirate game on an actual ship after all.

The ship in question was none other than Melbourne’s very own Polly Woodside and myself and a few other members of the Checkpoint team were lucky enough to get our own time with Sea of Thieves aboard this nautical wonder and we are all in on this open world pirate game by developer Rare, hook, line and sinker!

Being so keen to set sail, Luke and I decided to sit down with the executive producer of Sea of Thieves Joe Neate from Rare to tell us more about the game and what to expect when it does release in early 2018. This was Joe’s first time in Australia and he mentioned to us that originally he was hesitant to come due to extensive work load and distance. However when Xbox mentioned to him that the Sea of Thieves event would be held on an actual pirate ship he knew he had to jump at the chance.

Polly Woodside Sea of Thieves

Polly Woodside ready to sail the seven Sea of Thieves!

So what is Sea of Thieves? Well it’s a ‘Shared World Adventure Game’ which if you didn’t notice the acronym of which happens to be a SWAG, something Joe and the team at Rare are particularly proud of.

The team at Rare had a vision well before they had a theme, which was “players creating stories together”, Joe explained that this was actually the name of the original pitch deck (a basic black and white powerpoint). So once they had this theme of players experiencing adventures together they started looking at themes and ideas; someone put up pirates to the idea board and it all just sort of fell into place.

The theme of pirates is a bit unexplored in games (particularly of late) and the team looked at Red Dead Redemption and what Rockstar had done with that for Cowboys, and wondered if they could be “the pirate game”. No one had made a massively successful cowboy game until Rockstar and they “absolutely nailed it” according to Joe.

sea-of-thieves

All Aboard!

Ships were obviously going to be a massive part of the game so during development the Rare team visited actual pirate ships in London for their research. The Cutty Sark and Golden Hind were two of the ships visited and the development team toured to help get a better understanding of the daily running and life aboard a ship. Getting to know how a crew worked together was key to bringing Sea of Thieves to life, and in making sure that the multiplayer aspect of the game was not only accurate but a workable concept.

Speaking of Multiplayer that was one of the other struggles facing the team, can we make life on the ship fun but can we also make strangers willing to work together… To aid this Sea of Thieves will be crossplay across console and Windows 10 PC however we all know it’s simple for friends to log on and play together but will players log on to work with a group of strangers?

Making sure of this was key to the development team so they implemented a few pirate code or parley agreements into the game to keep things civil. All pirate booty is shared between players so there really isn’t any incentive to betray your team mates for extra loot. A voting system was implemented where should a crew member be actively disrupting the game for the rest of the team, they are placed in the brig by a team vote until they are once again voted out because they’ve apologised or made a mends.

If all this pirate talk has you looking to sail the seven seas but you aren’t quite ready to take on a full crew with multiplayer then the small ship which was recently added to the alpha might just be more your style. Able to be operated by one or two people it has all the same mechanics as its bigger cousin but with more manoeuvrability which will definitely come in handy out there.

“Lets not patronise and lets assume our players are smart and they can figure stuff out and they’ll enjoy it and it will be rewarded…”

Whichever way you choose to play this opens up so many possibilities for players to role play the pirate life, in fact it’s this ship life which is a big part of the game, and where some of its true beauty can be found. After all sailing the seas is where you’re likely to spend most of your time when you aren’t drinking in a tavern. So the realism here is not only important but actually stunning, sailors never had a mini map or the ability to see through sails and in Sea of Thieves neither do you! During our conversation with Joe he said “Our assumption, and it has been proven right is that players will almost be refreshed by the lack of hand holding and the lack of almost overbearing guidance”.

I have to say that during our hands on with the game I was so drawn in to ship life that this statement holds true for me. I was so entranced with raising the anchor, reading the charts and keeping watch from the crows nest that I never once questioned the lack of a mini map or loss of sight due to the sails of the ship.

Joe also went on to say “Lets not patronise and lets assume our players are smart and they can figure stuff out and they’ll enjoy it and it will be rewarded”. After playing Sea of Thieves I couldn’t agree more!

When it comes down to raving about Sea of Thieves, there’s no stopping me. It’s definitely a pirates life for me. But you can’t talk about all this and not mention how visually beautiful the game looks, Rare truly has a certain flare that goes hand in hand with their games and that’s really all thanks to art director Ryan Stevenson. He worked previously on another Rare title I loved Viva Pinata and it’s fantastic to see him back here again working on Sea of Thieves.

For me a games art style can make or break and thankfully Sea of Thieves is stunning, Joe mentioned when we spoke that when looking for an art style for the game it was important to the team to find something that was instantly recognisable as Sea of Thieves but also something that would be timeless and wouldn’t need constant updating. In the end they landed on this slightly wonky painted art style which if you ask me is pure perfection for a game like this.

Sea of Thieves is due out early 2018 and we hear at team Checkpoint cant wait to start scavenging, and plundering our little pirate hearts out.