Recently Rare hosted a panel at San Diego Comic Con giving a slew of new information about the game, its art style, character customization, death penalty and much more.
Art Director Ryan Stevenson mentioned that when the studio started to work on Sea of Thieves, they set themselves the challenge to re-imagine a Rare game today, using all the knowledge built upon their past games, while embracing all the new technology available to them.
We hear about the art of the game. While single objects are simple and painterly, visual complexity is achieved through combining them in various ways. Visual separation is done via color and tone. If you squint, you can still tell objects apart due to how colorful the game is.
When you look closely at objects, you can still see the brush marks, giving them a painterly quality. The team wanted them to feel as much an illustration as they possibly could.
Another element the team considered important is that “everything can tell a story.” Nothing looks new, and everything is weathered and looks like it has been used for a long time.
This is achieved in three ways: things look wonky, wear and tear is added, and everything looks patched and repaired. This is not done just to objects and ships, but also to characters.
Sea of Thieves is also a game about motion. The world is constantly in motion. There is night/day cycle, weather, wind, waves and more. Clouds aren’t textures: they’re massive three-dimensional pieces of geometry, and they’re all physical, moving through the world. Changing the pressure in the atmosphere actually changes the clouds dynamically.
Ships can look quit different. They can have “liveries” with different color schemes, and even display the insignia of the crew on the sails. There are also figureheads to customize the prow of each ship.
There are mermaids, but they’re done rather differently form the classical mermaids. First of all, they’re not maids, they’re merpeople. They have stages of weathering: some look almost human, while others are more alien-looking and ominous creatures.
The game also includes ghosts, and even a ghost ship. Player loss is a very important mechanic in the game, not just when a character dies, but also when a ship gets sunk. The team wants to make sure that there is consequence for dying, but they also want players to be able to continue their adventure and not be turned off by permadeath or similar mechanic. There’s is a “very interesting” mechanic around the ghost ship, which is kind of like the waiting room in Beetlejuice, where people go queue up to get back into the world.
They want to make death fun too, and they want it to be part of the journey. That said, there will be consequence and loss, but they’re still tweaking it.
The Secret of Monkey Island was mentioned as a source of inspiration, even because it was permeated by humor, which is very fitting for Rare games. The show Black Sails was also brought up. The crew also went to visit the Cutty Sark in Greenwich and the Golden Hind replica in London. During those visits they learned about the fact that rats go to the top decks of a ship when it’s sinking, and that’s a mechanic that will be in the game to tell you that your ship is in trouble.
The team is looking at the new Looking For Group feature of the Xbox platform, and considering how to integrate it in the game, as it’s “perfect” for Sea of Thieves. How to integrate that mechanic is deemed “super important.” They were actually planning to do it themselves, but then the Xbox platform team created it for the whole console, so that worked out.
There are no legendary pirates of ships in the game, because the team at Rare wants the players to become the legends and create their own story.
Developers know that players love character customization, and they want to deliver on that expectation. They are still finalizing the details, but they want to build a big character experience that people can explore and “be the pirate they want to be.” We learned that the team has a tech under the hood named “I.P.J.” and while they opted not to reveal what that stand for (inviting fans to speculate), they’re really excited about its potential for character customization.
last, but not least, one of the core goals of the game is “make life on the ship fun.”