Amanda Gurall writes from New York Comic Con 2017:
The end of a long comic con day can find fans exhausted and bleary eyed — but sometimes there are panels that liven the crowd and become a very positive experience. This was one of those panels, with a lot of friendliness and joy to go around — and I think this has something to do with the type of game that Sea of Thieves is going to be.
Sea of Thieves, produced by Rare and published by Microsoft Studios, was first announced in 2015 and has been in testing with over 100,000 players. It’s currently in alpha and is set for release in early 2018. It is availably on PC and Xbox and is cross-platform — team members can play on either platform simultaneously.
The panel featured marketing art lead Pete Hentze, design director Mike Chapman, executive producer Joe Neate, and denior designer Shelley Preston. They were in full pirate spirit while they excitedly told us a bit about the game and where they will be going with it.
Sea of Thieves is being marketed as a new type of multiplayer experience mostly because it is one that encourages positivity and cooperation and seeks to actually punish grievers. This isn’t just a marketing strategy; the creators at the panel were sincere about keeping the game open and safe for all players, keeping more in the line of a Goonies or Monkey Island feel. Multiplayer games have had an earned reputation for harboring toxic behavior, and Rare wants to do everything they can to prevent that from happening.
Your teammates do not have to invest the same time into the game to play together, since leveling does not determine who you play with. If you do not have three friends to form a crew, you can use the randomized match feature which will give you people with varying levels of experience or skills for a more interesting crew.
Crews are formed with only four people to try to keep the allegiances true and communication simple. Newbies are not used for cannon fodder, but instead are encouraged and trained by other players. Crew members cannot kill or hurt each other — although there is some room for misbehavior.
The crew acts as a democracy, sharing all wealth and voting on decisions like upgrading the ship and whether to attack or to run from an oncoming vessel. If a crew member is acting inappropriately, there will be a brig to throw them in. If someone in your crew is breaking the rules you all established at the beginning of gameplay, then everyone votes against them. Once they reach a certain number of votes, the offending person is placed in a literal brig. They then have to earn their way back into the crew. If the crew does not want them back, they will die in the cell.
Dying in this game is pretty interesting — you become a ghost and are sent to the Ferry of the Damned, where an NPC gives you tasks to complete before returning to your body. While you are in this afterlife limbo, your belongings — including your ship — can be plundered and destroyed. They don’t want players losing hope, though, so if your ship is gone, a mermaid appears to give you a salvaged ship to start over.
Some additional game play points:
- The world is not procedurally generated. Everything is handmade and interactive.
- There is no fast travel
- Tools like the compass function as they would in the real world.
- None of the ships are NPCs
- Krakens, skeletons and other mythical creatures will be enemies
- Want to sail alone or with one friend? You can take a small ship and do all of the same quests. Gameplay is different, but true to a small ship and a very small crew.
The developers have focused a lot on not only alpha testing, but also working with their online community, Reddit, and other social media outlets in an effort at transparency. They are very interested in the opinions of players and entertained quite a few questions at the panel and this should translate to a strong community within the experience.
By the end of the panel, I was excited about the game and left the con in an upbeat mood — there’s nothing so great as a room full of passionate fans talking about what they love. It’s a great weekend to be a geek.
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