During their presentation at E3 last week, Microsoft announced the ultimate pirate cross over; a huge new Pirates of the Caribbean themed expansion coming to Sea of Thieves on the 23rd of June, 2021 AEST. Unfolding across five brand-new Tall Tales, A Pirate’s Life invites players to join the infamous Captain Jack Sparrow in an epic quest to save the Sea of Thieves from the diabolical Davy Jones. In this free update, you’ll explore brand new destinations, uncover secrets and battle surprising enemies that are bound to feel familiar to fans of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise and the Disney theme park attraction.
As of right now, Sea of Thieves players can head to Castaway’s Camp to start an all-new adventure in the game’s brand new expansion: A Pirate’s Life, launching June 23rd on Xbox and Windows 10 PC and you can watch the official trailer below:
We sat down with Creative Director Mike Chapman and Lead Designer Andy Preston and heard from Executive Producer Joe Neate from Rare to chat about the newly released expansion as well as how the developer’s collaboration with Disney came to be, what it was like to work with the entertainment giant, what we can expect from Sea of Thieves in the future and more.
Collaborating with Disney is a huge and exciting new venture for the game. How did the partnership come about?
MC: So Disney reached out to us around the time of E3 in 2019, they approached us as Sea of Thieves fans, essentially like “we’re fans of the game, we spotted it in 2016 when you guys started talking about it at E3 shows, we’re big fans of the studio, we love what you’ve done with it and just want to say first that we’re huge fans of the game,” which is like, Andy [Preston]’s a Disney fan, and I’m a Disney fan and to hear that from a Disney team is like, “okay, we can walk out on cloud nine, nothing else needs to happen“. You’ve ticked a box, it’s wonderful to get that recognition. The real kind of quote, which kind of made the year was the wish that they had, like “We’ve always wanted to do something with Pirates of the Caribbean. We looked at your game, we looked Sea of Thieves and we essentially want to do something like that. So, with how hard it is to build teams and to build something of that scale, why don’t we just work with you?” So the idea here of ‘let’s not do something small, we’re open to doing a full integration’ and then we left it at that.
So, E3 2019, we left that meeting, just like “We talk the same language, we’re creatively aligned, we’ve both got love for each other’s worlds“, and then it was like a door had opened, where do we want to take it? The following August, the same team that we met came over to Rare, so they came to the studio and it was just a like a let’s have a working session, let’s explore the idea a bit more, but also being us and being ambitious, we actually presented a presentation to them about a series of what-if scenarios; how we could bring their world and characters to Sea of Thieves in an authentic way. So we went through some different kinds of concept images, and they were absolutely blown away. The key thing, which was amazing at the time, was that nothing seemed to be off the table. We were keen to kind of push on the boundaries of what we could do to create something really surprising. And they seemed incredibly open to it.
How did you manage to keep such a huge project a secret and from leaking?
MC: I mean, we have our Insider Program where we’ve still been releasing content as part of our seasons and as part of our updates, so we’ve had to basically maintain these two versions of the game because part of the risk is if any of the Disney content ends up in the build there are things called data miners and they can discover code names and basically piece it all together. So, just from the build itself and how fans of Sea of Thieves and players of Sea of Thieves engage with it, that’s one key area that we have to be so careful with. So, all of these characters have been codenamed. We spent the initial part of the development, referring to them as code names and Disney would be called Dreamland, to make sure that it didn’t get out accidentally.
Then even within internal teams at Xbox, it’s just been a really closed group of people. The last thing I’ll say is just that when we had the creative pitch, we love that idea of just coming out of nowhere with it because it’s kind of unexpected but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Just this idea of surprising and delighting people, you know, a bit of showmanship of coming out of nowhere. I love that idea of surprising people, especially Sea of Thieves fans, that have been with us for so long, to just like, knock them out of the park with this. It’s been wonderful to be able to keep it secret and the reception so far has been mind-blowing.
AP: It came with its own set of challenges because we’re obviously working from home for the first time, due to the global pandemic. Rare has been phenomenal at supporting the team, getting everyone their equipment from home, making sure everyone feels at ease with how they’re continuing doing their work, which has just been unbelievable- but problems that were so simple in the office, like, “Let’s sit down together and play the game together, and let’s review the content and, you know, provide feedback about animations, or about level design or about how, how the characters look, or how the stories go”, they all become a little bit more complex because we need to start using new methods to share and review the game like doing that over calls with our big big teams and recording videos of footage, and then time stamping and critiquing certain parts of it.
But like Mike said, We codenamed everything, we actually didn’t put this out to our Insiders either. We have an internal insider program for Sea of Thieves where most of our content, we push out to a group of insiders who have access to early stuff, and they can provide the development team with feedback on features, on balance on mechanics, which has been a huge resource for us when building out all of these content updates. But with this, we had to selectively put bits out to try and not give it away like we put the Phantoms AI out there with no context. So it was very, very strange for them, I think, to play the new AI threats like “Yeah, these are cool, but WHY?” and it’s like, oh, you’ve got to bite your tongue and not say what the bigger picture behind this release is. I think, all in all, it was all worth it for that moment, like Mike said. E3 last week when we just dropped the trailer and then just seeing everybody’s reaction. A bunch of the team just watched for about half a day, just the trailer reactions on YouTube where people have just sat there when Jack Sparrow is revealed, and then a second bump again, when Davy Jones is revealed a bit later in that trailer, it just fills you with energy again, as a developer. It’s just amazing.
Jack Sparrow is such an iconic character. Who is the voice actor that will be playing the role in the upcoming expansion?
Joe Neate: So it’s Jarred Butler, the actor that plays Jack Sparrow. We worked with Disney character voices really closely to make sure that, for all of the characters, that we capture the real feel and the sound and the characterisation that everybody knows and loves from the Pirates of the Caribbean universe.
We caught a glimpse of Davy Jones in the announcement trailer. How did you decide to include him as the primary antagonist? Should we expect to see any others on June 22nd or in the future?
MC: Yeah, I mean, great question. I mean those kinds of questions are exactly what’s turning your mind thinking about this. Looking across the five movies looking at the attraction, what elements do you take that makes sense as part of an original story? Davy Jones makes sense for a lot of reasons. Fundamentally, this was so perfect. Fundamentally the role he performs; you go to Davy Jones locker when you die. He demands servitude aboard his ship, the Flying Dutchman. It’s a big part of the movies, but also Sea of Thieves had Krakens in before. It is a world where nautical legend comes to life, so Davy Jones even before Pirates of the Caribbean, is a legend that you hear them talk about in the original attraction. So, the idea of bringing that legend to life in Sea of Thieves, and by him coming to the Sea of Thieves is that he wants to destroy our Ferryman and to create a locker in the Sea of Thieves. We’ve got a fundamental story here where the Sea of Thieves is threatened and you team up with Jack [Sparrow] to ultimately save The Pirate’s Life, so it made sense, for a lot of reasons. Above all else, what a fantastic bad guy anyway, what a wonder, like probably my favourite. I think he is so wonderfully played, do iconic in his look, the music that accompanies him is fantastic. He just did such a fantastic kind of adversary for Jack.
Apart from Captain Jack and Davy Jones, which other Pirates of the Caribbean characters will appear?
MC: So, alongside Gibbs, there are other crew members from the Black pearl. If Jack got to the Sea of Thieves, presumably he’s come on the Black Pearl so his crew has accompanied him. This isn’t really a spoiler but there’s Anamaria from the first movie, there is also Scrum who was introduced in the fourth movie alongside Gibbs and there are other Pirates of the Caribbean characters from the movie but also from the attraction that you will see but there will be spoilers if I tell you which ones.
How will progress work? Will players be able to start the campaign, finish a session and then pick it up from where they left it at a later time?
AP: Yeah, we’ve added in a system very recently in Sea of Thieves where when you play these cinematic quests, the Tall Tales, we have a new checkpoint system in, so you don’t have to play it in one sitting. You can do that if you want to, if you have the time and you’re swept away with the story, you can, you can totally play it through in one sitting. We have discrete checkpoints throughout each of the Tall Tales to make sure that when you’ve done a sizable chunk it saves that checkpoint as a voyage. Then players are safe to quit out of the game and the next time they load it up, whenever they’re free, they can put that voyage back down on the table, vote on it, and then carry on from where they left off.
Does the content scale depending on how many players are in a crew?
AP: I mean, that’s something that we’ve kind of honed in more and more, I would say as we’ve built out these Tall Tales. You want everyone to have that same consistent experience but obviously, the number of players and the skill of those players directly influences the difficulty or the ease of getting through combat encounters within the experience. So, we have like things going on behind the scenes that look at the difficulty of the enemies that you face and the number of enemies that you face and that all naturally kind of scales based on the number of players that you have inside your crew, with the aim of trying to make it feel like one consistent experience, no matter whether you play it on your own, or whether you play it with like a full-sized crew.
MC: Yeah, definitely a big focus for us, like, ‘Today, we’re gonna do a solo balanced test, or yeah, we’re gonna do two-player or let’s do a full crew test,’ so each one is kind of a different balancing challenge. Like for solo, you don’t want to remove all of the enemies because then you haven’t got that cinematic flair with all of those set pieces, so you just got to take it on its own merits. But this [A Pirate’s Life] is completely playable solo but if you play with more players, by virtue of the fact that you’re sharing it with other people, you’re going to get an enriching experience as well.
If you start the campaign with your crew are you able to finish it solo and vice-versa?
AP: Yes, you can start solo and invite them during play or you could start the adventure solo quit out and then go to pick up from where you left off and invite people in. It’s very flexible in terms of who you want to play with and how you want to experience those stories.
How long will the campaign take to complete?
MC: Honestly, every time I answer that question I massively underplay it because I’m always imagining how long it would take me having played hundreds of hours. I would say, to play them through, all five tales, end to end, just doing the core critical part of the story, it could be anywhere from 8-10 hours for players. It is a real sizable campaign and epic original story that we’ve created here. I think if you want to get all of the rewards for the tale and discover all the lore, it will take a lot longer. Some of those side quests are quite involved, it’s a lot of new content we’re adding in A Pirate’s Life.
Should we expect to see more cameos and features from other characters in the pop culture universe in the future?
MC: I think anything’s possible. I hope it’s come across in what we’ve talked about and what you saw in the showcase that it just comes down to the story. We’ve got to unlock the right story and have it makes sense because it’s content that we want to exist in Sea of Thieves for as long as people are playing it. So, it’s got to get over the honeymoon period and then become a consistent part of the game and become a beloved part of the game forever. So, it has to internally work with our world. So, there are undoubtedly other ways we could do that but yeah, I think it has to be the right story.
Does the team have a rough idea of how much longer you plan to keep working on this title?
AP: No, not really. Sea of Thieves is bigger than it’s ever been. The team’s bigger than it’s ever been. It’s more popular, there’s more awareness about a game. There are lots of people out there that truly love what we’ve built, which is incredible, having worked on it for so long. So, I believe in and I know Andy does, it definitely brings something unique and it’s definitely a unique experience and it definitely makes you feel things that no other game does. So, we just want to keep expanding this game and it’s a fantastical pirate world, I don’t think we’re ever going to run out of ideas to keep enriching this world.
Do you plan to shift development to a sequel at some point?
MC: No, no plans about that. The plan is to just keep enriching the existing world. I mean, it’s got so rich now since our original launch in 2018 and And this feels like another phase of Sea of Thieves that we’re heading into this big, impactful partnership. So, no, we’re still looking at just enhancing this core experience and the whole as you know, the way progression works like anyone can join Sea of Thieves and play with people. That has been there since the start. So we just want to keep growing the community and the love they’ve got for the game.
Can you pat the doggo from the trailer?
MC: Yes! You do pet the dog and take the keys from his mouth in the very first tale. We couldn’t not have that in there, could we? It wouldn’t be complete without it.
Sea of Thieves is available on Windows 10, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and is included as a part of the Game Pass subscription on all platforms. Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s life is a free update coming to all platforms on June 23rd and all players, including brand new players, can get straight into the action on day one without any requisite experience.