At first glance, it's not clear what exactly Sea of Thieves is. The pirate aesthetic is obvious, as are the cartoonish vibes developer Rare has been flaunting since titles such as Banjo-Kazooie--but early trailers suggested MMO leanings, with a player-populated world and multiplayer quest structure. But according to Sea of Thieves lead designer Mike Chapman, that's not exactly the case.
"I've never thought about the game as an MMO," Chapman said. "When I think about an MMO, the mechanics are fairly abstracted. They're not immersive, they're not always intuitive. But us, we're not only trying to make the ultimate pirate experience, we're making this cooperative adventure game that's easy to grasp, and it's easy to see the situations that can result from that."
Chapman's description continued: ship upgrades, seafaring voyages, treasure hunts, reputation progression. "We want to find ways to meet every player's motivation. We want to make the most of living a pirate fantasy."
For the purposes of showing Sea of Thieves at E3 2016, Rare's demo focused on the ship vs. ship naval combat. My team and I boarded a ship and in under two minutes, figured out how to raise the anchor, lower the sails, man the cannons, and pull up alongside enemy ships as we prepared to fire. Chapman used the word intuitive, and I'm inclined to agree. Although gorgeous and vibrant, Sea of Thieves' art style is minimalistic--coupled with the simple user interface, this makes for a smooth introduction to the game's mechanics.
"That will be the case when learning all of the game's systems, we hope," Chapman said. "We're planning this massive world, but we still want it to be understandable. We want you to explore, but we want it to be obvious how you can do that.
"Maybe you're with a mate, and you're sailing by yourselves. You see a ship on the horizon, you're up in the crow's nest, looking through the telescope. You say "Oh, it's a three-man ship. But what flag are they flying? What upgrades do they have? Where in the area might be heading?'"
From there, Chapman described a tense moment when you don't know whether those pirates' intentions are good or not. This facilitates the kind of cooperative experience Rare is striving to create: a world where people can be your friends or, you know, actual pirates.
Sea of Thieves doesn't have a solid release date yet, as Chapman said he and the team are working to hone and combine each individual aspect in the "vast pirate world" in Sea of Thieves