Developer Updates

  • Hi, I'm the Technical Director on the Engine Team at Rare.

    Firstly, I wanted to address a few key points:

    • The optimisations we’ve made in the patches have been non-destructive algorithmic improvements made by our Rendering Wizards. We’ve not made any changes to intentionally degrade graphical fidelity, on any platform.
    • Our streaming system has always loaded the high detail versions of the islands at the same distance on all platforms. This avoids any gameplay imbalance caused by players on higher-specification PCs being able to see things that players on some dual core laptop with a couple of gig of RAM can't. The screenshots on this thread are either far-off islands with their lower-fidelity LOD (level of detail) loaded or higher-LOD islands where the view is not close enough to display the highest-detail terrain. The second scenario is one where we are investigating a potential improvement for platforms running a higher detail level.
    • The rate at which an island streams in is variable and hardware dependent. If the game is installed on a mechanical disk then the fragmentation of that disk and the layout of the game files on the disk will have an impact on the speed of loading. Differences in loading speed due to this or other I/O work the system is doing will cause the higher detail LOD to appear at different distances.

    However, we take any reports of issues from the community seriously, and we've taken a little time to look into the data around this.

    alt text

    This is the distance in meters from the island at which we make the high detail LOD available – this example is Devil’s Ridge, and the data is taken from Xbox One players on the retail game. There’s no change in the average distance at which we make the island visible across the title’s lifetime. This consistency is the same for all islands on the game, and across all percentiles. The distance you see in game will not always be this value - there is considerable variance dependent on what other loading the I/O system is doing at the time - but any trends would be visible.

    The optimisations we’ve made should not cause any change to the appearance of the game. If you notice any significant changes for the worse, then it’s definitely unintentional and we’d want to fix it! For any specific problems, we’d appreciate any detailed information you can give us! Submit a support ticket with screen-shots, and what hardware/quality settings you’re running with.


  • I’m excited to announce that thanks to the hard work of our Engine team, we’ve finished some work to cut loading times on PC!

    Myself and Mark (Mr Great Water) have been working hard to get the last bits in place so you can finally see the benefit of this work, and this will set sail to you in the second Scale Test!

    To do this, we made a conscious decision to slightly increase the size of the PC install and download by an additional 3GB, but in some cases this has the benefit of more than halving our loading times on some devices.

    The biggest benefit we’ve seen so far has been a machine previously taking over 95 seconds to load being reliably cut to 29 seconds. 28 seconds is the fastest time we’ve seen at the studio. Do you think you can beat that on your monster PC? :)

    This will also cut the time taken to return from the Ferry of the Damned and decrease the ‘streaming’ time for islands in the background as you sail around, reducing stuttering on lower-end PCs.

    So why is this PC-only and not on Xbox too? The simple answer is that the Xbox has some magic hardware to make this last batch of work unnecessary there. PC might not have a magic chip, but that’s fine, this works pretty well too.

    Increasing our download size without adding new content may seem strange, but the benefits this brings should hopefully be obvious when you next get to play. We’ve still got work ongoing to look at reducing the size of our updates going forward, but with so much else to do this may not happen for launch, unfortunately.

    So, what’s next? Our PC team is working h*****n getting the game ready for release. This includes security work, lots of bug fixes such as fixing launch and install issues, plus further compatibility work.

    With lots of work still left to do, the PC team is focused on ensuring as many people as possible get the best possible experience of our great water. Smooth sailing everyone!

  • Hi everyone,

    So it’s been another interesting month! I’ve only just managed to find some time to sit down and finish this. Apologies for the delay, I know people are keen to hear from us.
    Obviously the focus has been the Closed Beta, and everything that happened during this, but there’s been a lot going on outside of that too. It has been an intense month for everyone at Rare, and a big step on the road to launch. Things are only going to get more hectic from here on in too. So I’ll kick off with how the Closed Beta went, what we’ve learned, and some plans we have moving forward.

    Closed Beta
    So the Closed Beta was a huge milestone for the project. We had a couple of key goals:

    • assessing what would happen with an increased scale of players. What would we learn, what improvements would we need to make?
    • With the NDA not applying for the Closed Beta, understanding how watchable & shareable the game was and would it grow awareness and interest?

    Closed Beta Learnings
    Store Issues
    Unfortunately for some players who had digitally pre-ordered, we had a very unexpected issue where they couldn’t immediately access the game, and received a “you’re too early” message. This was obviously super frustrating for those players affected, and we apologise unreservedly. We eventually managed to resolve the issues, and extended the Closed Beta by a couple of days, but I know that doesn’t make it up to those that had taken time off to play etc.

    Player scale
    We had more people turn up to play than we’ve ever seen before, by a significant amount. We also saw increasing numbers every single day, so more and more people were turning up to play. This was a clear result of us lifting the NDA, allowing players to create videos and share their stories, and it drove a lot of new players towards the game. Over the course of the beta, we saw more and more new players turning up.
    Due to the amount of people who turned up to play, we learned so much about our services and capabilities. Some of these we could address on the fly, some of them we could attribute to plans we already had to do before launch, and some identified completely new areas to work on, so these have been added to our list to address for launch. If there were times where you couldn’t start the game, or sell items at outposts, this was where the biggest bottleneck of data was seen, and it’s where our areas of focus are now.
    Since the Beta, our services team have been assessing their plans for launch to ensure the game stands up to the amount of interest we’re expecting to see. As a result of the explosion of interest during the Beta, we decided on running a couple of Scale tests between now and launch, with the first of these just gone during the weekend. The goal of this was to test a lot of the work we’ve done since the Closed Beta, and to try and hit a higher number than we’ve ever seen before. With these added scale we expected – and hoped – to see issues, so that we can learn from and address them. The key goal of the scale test was to hit a high player number and learn lessons that allow us to improve on the road to launch. We did see more players than before, and experienced some issues, which is great. We’re going to regroup this morning to review the results, and decide on our approach for the next scale test.
    Because this is a scale test, it’s not about testing the game experience, so we limited it to the Gold Hoarders trading company again. There were a smattering of new features for players to experience but the key goal for us was hitting scale here.

    Streaming, creating & sharing
    We always believed that due to the unique experience that Sea of Thieves is, it was always going to be really fun to watch. By not having the NDA apply for the beta, we wanted to test this out. How would the game look in player videos, and what types of stories would we see? It’s fair to see it went pretty well. On that first day, we watched as we appeared in the Twitch top 10 pretty quickly, and as the afternoon progressed we started to climb. By about 6pm, we had actually made it to No.1, which was incredible. The buzz and excitement in the studio was incredible, and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. As the Beta progressed, to see us at no.1 or no.2 on every single day, was astonishing.
    We’ve never seen as many videos, streams, and articles about the game, and it has been incredible to see the stories and videos coming out of the beta. This has been our dream since we began work on this project, and to get a glimpse of it has been unbelievably rewarding. We love to see players coming to Sea of Thieves and approaching it with imagination and creativity, and when you watch people do something amazing I think it sparks that thought of “what could I do in that world?”

    The Brig
    Broadly speaking, the Brig does a good job at allowing people to manage their crews, and toxicity or undesirable behavior within it. However, we have seen it being mis-used in a couple of ways.
    One is by a player staying in the Brig and going AFK, but still earning rewards. There is now an AFK solution in place to remove players who are idle for a certain period of time.
    Two is the case where three friends are playing together on the large ship, and don’t want a fourth crew member, but with the way matchmaking currently works you’ll always get that fourth slot filled by a stranger. We see these three players using the brig to place the new player in it. This is currently the only option for three friends playing together, so we have done some work to allow three players to crew the large ship together for launch.
    Beyond launch, we’re also looking at giving players more freedom as to how they choose to play at the start. So if you want to take a large ship out but wait for your friends to come online, and then invite them, we’ll make sure you can.

    What else has been going on at Rare?
    So aside from the Closed Beta, there has been a LOT of stuff going on. On Monday 29th January, we kicked off six consecutive days of press visits to Rare. We had media from all over the world come in to play the game, and ask us questions in a bunch of areas. We played a later version of the game than was in the beta, and we also showed a bunch of new stuff around the studio. The embargo for this lifted on the 13th February, so you’ll have already seen a ton of articles around this.
    We’ve also had video teams who are working on marketing videos and campaigns visiting the studio to work on ideas and capture footage, and very recently had Major Nelson and the Xbox team visiting for a special show that’ll appear a bit closer to launch.

    Across the teams
    It’s been a while since I’ve written a summary of the different game teams and their focus, but thought it would be good to give some insights here on the run to launch.

    • Game Experience
      The game experience team have been spread across a range of areas recently, and are currently hard at work on fine-tuning the Skeleton Fort experience. These are a real change of pace and intensity when it comes to the PVE experience (i.e. they’re pretty intense), and it’s going to be fascinating to see multiple crews going up against these. They’re also been working on the Pirate Hideout, which I love, and is a very exciting part of how Sea of Thieves is going to evolve as a service. They’re also delivered the NPC dialogue system, which allows us to give a bit more character to your interactions with NPCs and allows us to add more charm and lore to the world.
    • AI
      One of the AI team’s focus is giving Skeleton variety & depth to allow our designers to deliver a varied and evolving threat during Bounty Quests. Another is on our old friend, the Kraken. For those of you who have been following the project for a while, you’ll have seen it hinted at in trailers and imagery, and it’s soon going to be time to give players an (authorized 😊) glimpse of it.
    • Quests
      The quest team have been looking at the different quest types, with the Merchants being the focus recently, and they add a really different gameplay style, along with a ton of emergence from how the creatures function together. I’m looking forward to how this adds to the range of stories & memorable moments out in the world. They’re also looking at the light onboarding system we want to add, to enable players new to the Sea of Thieves to get their bearings before heading out into the world. We don’t want to lose the sense of discovery here, but it’s about teaching the things which aren’t logically discoverable (i.e. collecting quests from a trading company).
    • Progression
      If you played in the scale test, you’ll have seen how you can select your character in Sea of Thieves. Alongside this, the team is working on additions to your personal progression. This means earning Pirate Titles as you progress, and it also means cosmetic Ship customization.

    Datamining
    One of the recent things we’ve seen happening is that our updates have started to get mined for content update news. It’s fair to say this is a little disappointing, but it was also somewhat inevitable. We have had a few discussions about this at the studio, so I wanted to share some of the thinking here. For us, and especially teams working on upcoming features, it can be a bit disheartening to see the surprise spoiled, and I’m sure that’s the same for a lot of you too. Alongside things being spoiled like this, there are also things which we try out, or investigate, which might not be coming up soon, or may even never see the light of day. We’ve definitely examples of this in the lists that have been posted, so I’d stress to everyone that the only way you’re going to be sure of what is coming is when Rare shares official news on game updates etc.
    We’ve discussed the option of investing development time to make our updates harder to mine for information, but it would be a significant amount of work, and it’s never going to be 100% fool-proof. This could mean we invest a significant amount of time in improving it, but as soon as someone figures out how to get through it and start pulling the data again we’re back to square one. I would much rather spend our development time creating cool new features,
    With this in mind, we have decided a better approach is to take some internal steps to protect the mystery of what’s to come. What this means is, that for new features that we want to preserve the mystery for, we’re going to start using codenames. It’s a bit too late for some of our features, but moving forward you can expect to see a bit more mystery.

    Road to launch & beyond
    As we head towards launch, we know one of the key questions people have is what is the game content on day 1. We have spoken about this a lot with press during the studio visit, but we want to give our core community one place to find all this information, and an opportunity to ask us questions. With this in mind, we’re planning another stream from Rare where we will talk about exactly what you can expect to be playing at launch, sometime in early March. As before, we plan to have a live Q&A section in the stream.
    As we head towards launch, our focus has begun to shift to how we operate during the live period. At launch and in the window beyond, we have purposefully left space in our roadmap for listening to and reacting to feedback from our players. We will be open and transparent about the top feedback points, and what work we’re taking against them.
    Alongside this though, we will also have people working on what is to come. We’ve spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about the best way to talk about this, whilst still retaining some mystery so we can surprise everyone with new unexpected features. We’ll have more to share on this as we get closer to launch.

    As always, looking forward to the comments and questions.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  • It glints and shines with ancient history
    but where its from remains a mystery

  • Hey everyone,

    Just a small update from me, but something I thought was fun to share. Tonight we were putting the final touches together on the marketing art for our keyboard layout, and it made me all nostalgic - so much so I thought I'd take a look back down memory lane at how far we've come together...

    "PC Tech Alpha 1" - May 20th 2017
    alt text

    "Sea of Thieves v1.0" - March 20th 2018
    alt text

    Thanks to all the suggestions, feedback, comments and every other piece of input you've all had on our journey. We couldn't have done it without you and I for one can't wait to see what this is like in another 10 months time!

    Ted "Red Rage" Timmins
    (5 days to go...)

  • Hello all!

    Sarah 'Typhoonan' Noonan here, I'm a Software Engineer here at Rare. I work on the AI Team, mainly focusing on the skeletons. I'm new-ish to the team, having moved here from Ireland around 6 months ago. When I'm not programming I spend most of my time looking at pictures of dogs and missing Irish crisps.

  • Its been a while since I last wrote a detailed post that delves into our thinking, but I'd like to share our approach to the world of Sea of Thieves, especially the balance between the roles of players, AI threats and NPCs.

    As a gamer, one of the most powerful feelings that playing a great game can evoke is the feeling of inhabiting another world. When exploring its reaches, discovering its rules and interacting with its story and characters, it’s often the sum of these elements within that world that leave an indelible mark. The worlds in these games and the feelings they gave us are what we go on to remember, sometimes even many years later. Different games approach this in different ways; in some games, players step straight into the shoes of characters who already have detailed backstories, getting the opportunity to live vicariously through these characters as players ‘take control’ during the course of gameplay, living out daydreams, playing the hero and getting into all kinds of scenarios that provide a sense of escapism like no other. Some games provide a huge amount of freedom, with the game often being a backdrop to creative play where players bring their own imaginations, whereas some games set their own pace for players, feeling much closer to being in a movie. In some games you play alone, in some you play with others, with each traditionally being very different experiences.

    The Freedom Of The Pirate Life

    When we initially began work on Sea of Thieves, it was based on the concept of players creating stories. Through the idea of a multiplayer shared world and a great deal of freedom through gameplay, we believed this could lead to memorable stories between individuals and groups of players. We never meant story in the sense that they discover a piece of narrative that we created, but rather by giving players freedom over how they play the game, their own ingenuity and creativity would ensure that what they experienced felt unique. The story would be unique to them and may never play out the same way again.

    When we then took that approach and applied the world of pirates, we found that we could meet players half way. What I mean by that is even though we wanted to create a game with a great deal of freedom, at the same time people have a pretty good understanding of pirates, from the romance and freedom of being at sea to living the pirate life and having adventures, getting into all kinds of mischief. Indeed, we realised that the very idea of pirates would fill in the blanks for players and ensure that excessive teaching and tutorials were unnecessary. Using highly co-operative mechanics in order to sail a ship is so intuitive and so obvious since everyone knows that pirates travel in crews and work together to sail a ship. Using tools like a ship’s map, a shovel and compass, as well as drinking grog and playing instruments, not only felt natural, they encouraged an even greater sense of roleplay within the world.

    Based on the unique personalities of players within your crew, as a team you end up playing differently, having different strategies and priorities when meeting other crews of real players in the world. That’s what we mean when we refer to the magic of seeing another sail on the horizon. You’ll see other ships in this world and not immediately know what their intent is. In fact, they’re role playing their own adventure parallel to yours – are they actually panicked? Do they wish to confront you? Are they laying a trap? Right now, the physical chest of treasure acts as the catalyst to these kinds of encounters. Players frequently have something vulnerable to loss as a result of following maps and being treasure hunters, whereas some players may have otherwise decided to purposely engage in battle. This is the core that we wanted to demonstrate in our Technical Alpha first, however, beyond this, we’re working on expanding the roles and activities available to crews, further building on the potential of the interplay between players with differing goals.

    Interplay Between Roles And Goals

    We’ve already talked about the Voyage System through videos and on our regular podcast, but the general approach of Voyages was to provide more specific direction for players, in addition to being in a world rich with emergence. Ultimately, the vision is for there to be different types of Voyages that not only scale in difficulty and complexity based on players progression, but Voyages that also provide different motivations and objectives for players. Whereas the emergence of the world can serve as a dynamic backdrop to Voyages, ensuring that no two Voyages ever plays out the same, the Voyages themselves feel more akin to main quests – they frame a set of objectives that the crew can bond over in an effort to acquire gold. We’ve already extensively shown our Treasure Voyages, with our Insiders getting to grips with the first versions of these over the last few months. While we’ll be extending these and providing different ways to find chests and different challenges along the way, we’re also looking at providing completely different types of Voyages. It’s important to also stress that while the game will provide a great deal of emergent potential to players, a lot of the experiences that players will have will be part of Voyages, with these being an important future part of how players progress. Like many great pirate stories that start with a map, may of the adventures in Sea of Thieves will start with the choice of Voyage itself.

    In Episode 8 of the our Podcast, I mentioned briefly that players will be able to assume the roles of Merchants, ferrying different types of cargo across the world. While the world itself will pose dangers to players on these kinds of Voyages, the shared nature of the game also provides a great deal of potential challenge. Players aware of the active trade routes may very well decide to sail in those waters, on the lookout for a prize to seize, whereas players carrying merchant cargo may avoid the known routes all together and keep a low profile. I also mentioned Bounty Hunting as something that’s part of our future plans and this is another example of a motivation that players may follow, battling both PVE and PVP elements as a way to earn gold and rewards. Players on these different kinds of Voyages meeting in the world and having memorable encounters goes beyond emergence, in fact as you expect from a general knowledge of pirates, we can create oppositions and rivalries between these motivations and deliberately create opportunities for co-operation and conflict. What we’re pursuing in Sea of Thieves is a mix of emergence AND directed goals, with the interplay between these different goals being where the untapped potential lies. While Voyages can provide direction that showcases PVP encounters between crews of conflicting motivations, they will also do the same for PVE elements. .

    Seamless Merging Of PVE And PVP

    Personally, I’ve often explained Sea of Thieves as a game where PVE (Player Vs. Environment) and PVP (Player Vs. Player) seamlessly merge in a shared world. At the moment in our Technical Alpha, we’ve implemented the first skeletons in the game as an example of an AI threat, and while we’ve said that more kinds of AI threats are coming in the future, we’ve not talked about how these will be linked to Voyages. While the world itself will emergently provide AI threats to the player, the types of Voyages crews embark on, as well as a Voyage’s potential value, will ultimately affect the types and difficulty of PVE threats that they may face. We know very well that we can’t solely rely on players to create interest in the world, which is why Voyages and how they link to PVE elements will be so important. Skeletons as the first example of an AI threat felt appropriate because of the contrast when compared to real players. In the future, we intend to add new threats as well as build on what skeletons can do and the types of objectives they can provide beyond just impeding progress on islands

    When we talk about delivering a fantastical world of pirates, this is inclusive of both using players as part of PVP encounters at sea, but also using PVE elements to enrich that world. Thinking of pirate movies and literature, they often touch on more than just sea battles and the adventures for lost treasure, they also feature daring raids on forts, overcoming treacherous weather and uneasy alliances between pirate crews. Although part of the Sea of Thieves vision is that while out at sea, other ships mean real encounters with other crews, we still see an opportunity for fortifications that can be raided as part of Voyages or on the way to another destination. In the future, these may be crewed by AI threats or even taken over by real players, and while players will eventually face dangerous AI threats at sea, we believe that the distinction between the creatures that they encounter versus real players on their own ships is both desirable and provides the right balance of PVE and PVP. Rather than having a replacement for everything a player can provide, our goal is to make the most of what real people and AI can uniquely offer to this experience. When players see another ship in the world, our desire is for it never to result in a one dimensional story or a belief that the tables can never be turned. We never want to lose that sense of unease when spotting another sail and choosing the next course of action, whether that be confrontational or not. Different crews, each with their own ship, each on their own adventure, facing PVE threats and challenges as they embark on their own Voyages, but all with the chance of coming across other ships in the world and knowing that it’s a real, unpredictable encounter. This clear contrast between rich PVE scenarios and PVP encounters in the same shared world is at the very core of this game. That is what Sea of Thieves is.

    NPCs With A Purpose

    Of course, we already have some NPCs in the game at the Outposts and while at the moment these are fairly functional in terms of their purpose, it’s an area where we intend to expand in the future. We’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the lore of the game, what the world of Sea of Thieves represents and how NPCs and players fit into it. We called the settlements Outposts because they represent little pockets of civilisation in a hostile pirate world which is yet to have its golden age. With this in mind, we like to think of the Sea of Thieves as a place where would-be seafarers and pirates come to live out its promise of riches and untold adventures. This basic premise will be reflected in our NPCs with they themselves having come to the Sea of Thieves to stake their own claim and follow their own motivation Also, much like players, NPCs will come and go and rise and fall in influence as part of an ever changing world. As the origin of our Voyages, players will encounter groups of NPCs that represent different ways of play. Whether longer term you want to play Sea of Thieves as a lone explorer, a merchant, a black market smuggler or whatever else feels appropriate for this world, our aspiration to continue building Sea of Thieves with the community means that we can add additional content and areas of progression in an order that ensures maximum value to players. Even if you’re a crew that favours predominantly PVP or PVE, our NPC’s will be the gateway to progressing in these areas as part of the future progression plans.

    In summary, our goals involve expanding both the PVE and PVP elements of the game, making them richer through Voyages, but also ensuring that our NPCs get an expanded role. Rather than what is typically experienced alone in games, such as PVE style gameplay or more PVP focused multiplayer, we see the potential of Sea of Thieves being in merging both, all while allowing players to follow their own motivations based on being in an immersive shared pirate world. We’ll use NPCs as an important part of the player’s goals but where we can, we’ll ensure that players can roleplay as part of separate roles that enrich the world. One of the many advantages of working with the community is that we get to test elements that would otherwise be impossible to test in a game like Sea of Thieves. We have our vision and desire for where we want to take Sea of Thieves and shaping and evolving it with our community will continue to play a critical role in delivering it.

  • Hi everyone,

    It's Valentine 'Captain9of9' Kozin here. I am a Principal Technical Artist at Rare and you may remember me from such movies as "Short Haul #3: Creating Clouds" and "Inn-Side Story #13: Storms". I threatened a while back to leak some behind-the-scenes development GIFs, but slipping beneath the radar of the community team is no easy task!

    Today I'm bringing you an exclusive peek at something that, for once, is not related to clouds... or is it?!

  • Ahoy! Robin ‘Bilge Rat’ Beanland here! I’m the Music Director on the good ship Rare and responsible for composing all those little bits of music ye be hearing in Sea of Thieves.

    I’m not one for blowing the gaff, but I’ve just been going through me ditty box and thought ye might like a sneak peak of a bit of music I’ve been working on....Oooooh what could it be?...I best not say anymore else they’ll be getting me to dance the hempen jig.

    Well, that’s enough of my blethering...I’m off for me evening cackle fruit.

  • Hi everyone,

    So that was a pretty eventful December!
    Looking back over my last Insider Report, it’s good to see we managed to do pretty much everything we wanted to. We announced the release date, we did the progression live stream, we invited everyone to the Alpha and tested a bunch of the progression features. We even announced the custom controller!
    Doing all of this stuff together in pretty much one go wasn’t without its challenges, and I’ll go on to talk about those in a moment. Overall though, the month was a great success for us.

    The progression live stream
    This was actually something I was quite nervous about. I am more than happy to talk about Sea of Thieves forever, to do interviews, podcasts etc, but this is the first time we had done something like this, live, from Rare, and talking about such a big topic. Normally you’re going to shows, being interviewed, answering a lot of the same questions, and it can get a bit boring, but this was completely different.
    We were talking about probably the no.1 topic, we were revealing this information direct to our community, and taking questions directly, live. I think it turned out pretty well though, Mike’s section talking directly about the progression system was great, and it was exciting to able to show off so much we hadn’t shown before. The key element of the progression system is the fact we don’t want to split players, we want to always allow you to play with your friends, regardless of your personal progression, and we had to make some pretty bold steps to enable this. It was interesting to see how that was received, but the sentiment seemed to be positive (although we know that some people will miss power progression), but we strongly believe that it’s right for the experience, and from playing it a lot lately it just feels right. Voting as a crew, progressing together, helping your friends catch-up – it all just works.

    The December play session
    So this was the main focus of the team throughout December (and for a while before that). There was a lot of complexity involved in the work to get the trading companies in, to be able to grant players entitlements i.e. to know that you’ve bought something, the gold is taken from you, you receive the item, and it is yours from now on. It’s not just a simple save game, all of this information is stored in our services, and it’s taken a lot of work to get this up and running. Now that we have this, and the trading companies, it becomes easier for us to add new services & entitlements.
    For this play session, we added more features in one go than at any time previously. This is always a risk, as you are changing more code, sending more telemetry, more service messages, all in a big multiplayer online environment. For those that were experienced issues getting into or playing the game on the Thursday or Friday, you were unfortunately experiencing exactly the results of that. There were two issues that surfaced, one in terms of how many servers were able to spin up in time (an issue that was unexpected and out of our control) and the second in terms of how many messages were being sent through our services system. Ultimately one of the key goals of the alpha sessions is find these kind of issues, but we also hope to have predicted them & solved them in advance to give everyone as smooth a ride as possible. The issues we saw meant that on Friday evening, we actually made the decision to turn off all of the telemetry that was coming from the game to lessen the stress on the services, which immediately had a positive effect in that it started to let more people into the game and give them a smooth experience, but it also meant we lost loads of important data we were hoping to pull together from the progression test. As we proceeded through the weekend, and things had stabilised, we managed to turn back on some of the critical telemetry, so we got some crucial learnings from the weekend, but it certainly didn’t go as smoothly as we hoped.

    Key Learnings
    Alongside what I’ve talked about above, I wanted to share some of the key game experience learnings from the December play session. Despite the initial challenges, we did manage to learn a lot, and here are the highlights.

    Ship Encounters
    This is a constant focus for us, and we’re not currently seeing the desired rate of ship encounters in the world. This can be attributed to a range of areas, all of which we are working on to improve it.

    -Voyage Design
    Where our voyages send players is a crucial part of the design around ship encounters. Currently players are tending to start in one part of the world, and complete voyages in this area, return to the same outpost, and don’t really venture further away. We are working on encouraging players to explore more, raising the chances of encountering other players in other parts of the world.

    -Ship Visibility
    We are working on making ships visible more from further away, both in terms of the distance you can see ships, but also how obvious they are on the horizon.

    -World design
    We are also working on the world design in terms of island location, number & location of outposts etc

    Solo Player experience
    Currently our telemetry and feedback tells us that a majority of new players select this for their first session, but also that their sessions are shortest, and that a subset of these players only play once. We are investigating further as to what can cause players to only have a single session, but we can assume that the current lack of onboarding doesn’t help (i.e. there is no guidance for new players at all), and without anyone around to either help guide you, or for you to figure things out together, it can be pretty daunting. We expect once onboarding is added, we can expect to see this improve.
    We also know that playing as a lone player is generally more challenging. We will make some tweaks in this area so it doesn’t feel punishing, but it is always going to be a challenging experience. We have to make it clear in the front end where you’re selecting how to play that this the type of experience you’re choosing.
    Also though, we want to encourage new players to play with others – not just default to playing on their own. Sea of Thieves was always built to be a social game, fun, welcoming and a new kind of multiplayer experience. We want as many people as possible to experience that. I can understand that for some players, especially new to a game, they’ll choose the solo option to begin with. The interesting thing about Sea of Thieves is though, it is actually better to play with others the first time you play. You can learn from others, they can help you progress etc and this is all part of the design. We have to make this clear in the front end, and we’re also looking into other options to encourage more people to get into the social spirit.
    The more people we can encourage into socialising and crewing up with others, ultimately our game will end up being better for EVERYONE. We can see from all of our data and feedback that people who play the two or four player ship options have longer session, have more fun, and are more likely to play again. Encouraging as many people as possible – especially new players – to play socially is an interesting challenge, I’m sure you’ll agree. We’ve had a bunch of conversations around this, have some plans to implement, and am sure this will continue to be an ongoing work item for us. Always interested in hearing people’s perspectives & suggestions in the comments!

    Voyage variety / set-up
    In the December play session, this was the first time we were delivering progression, earning different voyages as you climbed through the ranks, rather than just randomly starting players with different quests. It was also the first time we introduced a different way to play with the Order Of Souls.
    We definitely recognise that our first attempt of bringing all these systems together feels a bit grindy / samey after a while, and that it needs work. It is great to see the things that do work well (the trading companies, earning quests with them, voting on voyages together) but that the variety & scaling challenge within the quests themselves need work. We also know that the game is currently heavily biased towards the Gold Hoarders, with emergent rewards in the world (i.e. chests found on shipwrecks) only rewarding you with the one trading company. We have worked planned to ensure that there are emergent rewards for all trading companies. The Order Of Souls quests also need significant work in terms of AI ability, balancing and tuning. They’re fun to play to begin with, but then become pretty samey quite quickly.
    Our focus is on ensuring that the quests are varied, progress in challenge as you progress, but also that there are enough emergent opportunities in the world aside from just encounters with other players. This will lead to each play session being fun, varied and rewarding. This is the absolute focus of the Quests & Progression teams through to launch.

    Upcoming Focus
    Since we got back in the new year, there has been a real energy and focus across the entire studio. All the hard work of the last few years has been leading up to this, the launch of the game, and I love this time on a project. There is always a buzz, also some angst, but always a real focus on delivering the best launch we can. It is a time when people can get a bit tired, there can be some arguments, but all with the best intent.
    As we head towards launch, we have a bunch of exciting things planned, including the upcoming Closed Beta. There are a few goals for the Closed Beta itself; with the initial one being ensuring we can cope with the scale of players. It is a big step on the road to launch, that we will learn a lot from about our readiness for it. The second one is that we want to test some changes and improvements we are making to the voyages, plus the odd extra feature. The third one is we want to use it to continue to build buzz and awareness for Sea of Thieves itself, outside of our core community. What that means is, for the Closed Beta, the NDA will not apply – so you can all stream, create videos, share screenshots, and anything else you can think of for the duration of the Closed Beta. We will be announcing this properly when we announce the date soon, but I wanted to give you all a heads up on this. Please keep to yourselves for now :-) I know a lot of people have been asking to do this for a while, and soon you’ll be able to do this. I am VERY excited about this. I can’t wait to see what people get up to, it’s been our dream since the start of the project and we’re finally close to realising it. For the Closed Beta build itself, it is going to be a limited feature set. If you’ve played the alpha, you’ll notice a few bits will have been removed (as well as a few new things). There are a few reasons for this; with the NDA being lifted, we want to keep some things back for the full game so as not to spoil the surprise for everyone, but also there are areas we will want to work on to improve before allowing players to show them off. I hope everyone understands the reasoning here. It was an interesting conversation to try and figure out what the right feature set would be for a Closed Beta for Sea of Thieves. It's not as simple as choosing a single game mode over a couple of maps, like a traditional multiplayer beta.

    Beyond all of this, we have really been looking at the post-launch focus for the game. As everyone should know, the launch of Sea of Thieves is just the start for us, and we’re excited to see where we can take it. We have a roadmap for beyond launch, which we will transition to after launch, but around the launch period we are going to be leaving time in our schedules to be listening and reacting to player feedback, alongside working on future features. We want to ensure as smooth a launch as possible, and react to any feedback around features not behaving as we expect. It’s exciting to even be writing this. Launch is coming!

    As always, looking forward to questions & thoughts in the comments.

    Cheers,

    Joe

  • Progression Team Art Updatet
    A pirate with gear but no idea, will come unstuck and dig in fear!

  • Hello! TheShipsBiscuit here - I'm the Lead UI/UX Designer here at Rare. I'm most often found rummaging through photoshop files, nudging pixels about, rattling interface prototypes around and muttering to myself whilst shuffling post-its around in mystical & indeterminate ways.

    I'm probably not supposed to share this with you - I've heard @mikethemutinous has a very specific way of dealing with people that leak things, but seeing as it's my birthday today I'm hoping he'll forgo the corporal punishment on this occasion...

  • Hi,

    I’m Hendrik and I’m part of the character art team here at Rare. We’re the ones responsible for all the characters and skeletons you’re either running around with, getting attacked by or selling your hard-earned treasure to!

    Lately, we’ve been doing quite a bit of work on the characters that inhabit the world of Sea of Thieves and we’re excited to share with you guys an exclusive sneak peek at one of our upcoming NPC’s. This mysterious lady will be a key figure in many of your adventures out on the high seas. Her “cursed ink” eyes are a testament to the many wonders and horrors she has seen and lived through, so she’s bound to have plenty of interesting things to share with you.

    alt text

  • Hi,

    My name’s Darren, the Level Art Lead here at Rare. My team are responsible for creating all of the islands you see in SOT. In addition to making the game look as beautiful as possible we also work closely with the design team to plan and implement the various experiences found on the islands. As part of the Quest team’s work we are currently looking at the creation of skeleton forts. Skeleton forts will offer a different experience to skeletons found on islands and approaching a fort will require some careful planning.

    So what are skeleton forts? Well, I guess a few screengrabs might help explain.

    They are smaller islands that have been occupied by a skeleton captain and his crew. Its structures can be found clinging to the side of cliffs and the use of the large central fort gives them a recognisable, if a little foreboding, look from distance. Fortification will form much of the perimeter of the island and battlements placed along the walls will mean careful consideration is needed when sailing close to the island. Lighting plays a major role in how these look and feel, and when darkness falls these forts take on a completely different character. These occupied islands can be found in all three of the seas and will all have their own look and challenges.

    Although the quest team are hard at work on these forts as part of future Voyages, we’re also keen for them to provide an emergent challenge in the world. We’re looking forward to providing scenarios where players happen across an occupied fort while adventuring and decide to make a slight detour in their current Voyage to take it on. Whether you get there before anybody else though is another question…

    So that’s it for my short update I hope that’s wetted your appetite for all things skeleton Fort related.

    Darren

  • Hi Ellen here, i'm a Principal Animator at Rare and all round hedgehog lover.

    The animation team are responsible for helping to bring all the awesome characters in Sea of Thieves to life and one of the ways we do this is through the use of emotes.

    Here's a sneak peak of one of my emote animations.

    Game Experience Team Art Updatet
    A message long lost
    A crewmate new found
    Around every corner
    There’s treasure abound.

  • Hi again everyone,

    It’s been a pretty hectic month for me personally, but for the first time, I now have a clear calendar in front of me through to the end of the year without any more events to attend. Going to PAX Aus and meeting Australian Press and Insiders was awesome, as was grabbing some drinks with @Pikaaroon and some of his friends. (Did I meet you? Are you on here? Say hi!).
    It’s honestly quite strange to be back at Rare, to be able to sit in the studio focusing fully on my day-to-day responsibilities, spending more time in the team, playing the game more and generally being able to influence the team’s direction in the way that I would want. They probably prefer me out of the office, not interfering, but whatever.
    What’s great right now is the momentum I can feel across the team. Every Monday we have an all-hands team update, where various members of the team present their progress to everyone else. It’s always exciting to see what the team is up to, to see the progress, and to be surprised by new things. The buzz across the team to make all of their areas sing, to deliver the features we’ve set out, and to generally have an awesome launch is really palpable. It’s exciting.
    Having said that, the rest of the year isn’t just going to be heads-down focused on games development. We still have some cool stuff to share with you this year, prior to Christmas. We’re just finalising exactly when and how we’re going to hit the following topics, but it’s going to be fun when we do.

    Firstly – we will be telling you a launch date. That’s right, I’ve finally caved and we’ll be less vague than just a window. It’s actually been really interesting to have gone so long without doing the ‘traditional’ thing and talking release dates early, and then inevitably moving it. Games development is hard to predict, and my belief is the release date should only be announced when we’re confident of hitting it, and with a quality product. We’ve learned a ton through the Technical Alpha, and it’s given us confidence both in the current experience, but also what we’re planning to add on top, that we will then have a strong launch, and also be ready to build on this with new features, ways to play etc.

    Secondly – we plan to share more on the goal of ‘becoming a Pirate Legend’. We know this is the main question, what is the goal of the game, what is progression in Sea Of Thieves, why will you be coming back to play it. We have a pretty interesting way planned of hitting this topic, hitting our show and tell mantra, and allowing for some discussion around it. Like I said, we’re currently finalising our approach for talking about this, but have every intention of talking to it this year. The progression & quest teams have been flying recently, and a lot is coming together now to really answer this question. This is probably the thing I’m most excited about for the rest of this year. Of course we won’t tell you everything because, you know #SeaOfTease but it’s going to be v.cool.

    Thirdly – we have a special play session planned for before the end of the year that we’ll be sharing news on before too long. We’ve got a bunch of stuff to test in this, and we’re going to rely on as many people showing up as possible. We want loads of data and feedback from this one. Look forward to an update on that before the end of the month…

    Alongside this, I wanted to mention last month’s hot topic, around us not sharing enough insights or giving our Insiders enough to chat / speculate about. Hopefully we’ve been doing better on that front, and I’ve particularly enjoyed the most recent post on this topic. We’ll continue to share and give you all things to talk about as we go forward. Please continue to give us feedback on areas that you feel we can improve upon.

    Alpha Learnings
    We had our biggest round of new invites for our Technical Alpha sessions during Paris Games Week, and we have actually learned (and in some cases are still in the middle of learning) from this alpha test.

    • We definitely had a higher crash rate than we’ve seen before. We have been spending this week tracking this down in the studio, running scale tests across the studio and we will be engaging the Pioneers ASAP to help in isolating this. If you have experienced significant instability during the recent Alpha, you may well have been a victim of this. Apologies if so, and please read of our Tech Director Pete’s summary of this here if you want additional insights!
    • The frequency of ship encounters have not been where we expected them to be, so if your world has been feeling emptier than usual, you were right. Some of our tech wasn’t quite working as expected, and we’ve now resolved this for future play sessions. This is one of the most important elements of the Sea Of Thieves experience, and one we’ll continue to track and iterate upon.
    • We also had a bunch of problems with our automated email system, where people weren’t getting invites when they should have been, and some people got second invites to a separate platform, alongside other issues. This was unintended, and we apologise for any confusion here.

    Team Update
    Game Experience
    Since delivering a wide range of features including the small ship, the brig, the non-verbal comms, and the scuttling ship feature, the game experience team have been picking up some of the slightly less glamorous stuff such as XRs (Xbox Requirements) to get us into a properly shippable state, and some of the first Achievements.
    However, there has also been time to begin work on some of the other more fun tools for players we want to get in there, including something that might help when it comes to identifying things in the distance. WHAT COULD IT BE…

    AI
    The AI team have been in full-on epic tease mode with this post from Steve on the team. When you asked for things to discuss and speculate on, I think the AI team heard you.
    Alongside this, there has been a lot of work going on under the hood to get a more sophisticated AI behaviour framework in place for our skeletons (and other AI), which will enable us to better support the Quest team needs, with different behaviours and different difficulty of AI as you take on different quests. I’ve also seen skeletons wielding swords, and I can’t remember if this is live in the Alpha or not yet, so this might be a leak. Who knows?

    Quests
    So hopefully you saw the Skeleton Forts post which is a super cool element of what the Quest team have been working on, but they’re also spread across various areas at the moment. They are working on different ways to play to complement the existing quests, and striving to get as much variety, emergence and plain old charm as part of these new ways to play as possible. We recently did a team update on our plans leading up to launch, and for me personally, the spread of work this team is delivering is the thing that makes me smile and chuckle the most Some of the animation work is absolutely brilliant. I can’t wait until you get to see some of this. Rare games have a special charm and I love it when I see even more of this coming in.

    Progression
    This team is flying at the moment. There is a bunch of exciting work going on around character selection, the ability to buy from different shops in-game, and our all up progression story. I don’t want to spoil any of this as it does form a large part of the story we want to show and tell before the end of year, so I’ll leave that here. We also had some great conversations around timed campaigns today (like the events we ran during E3 and Gamescom), and the plans for those as we grow and evolve the game. We’ve learned a ton from those we’ve run already, and it’s great to hear how we plan to take them forward. Like everything we do, we will do these in the right way for Sea Of Thieves. They will be part of the lore, and the evolving world, and just feel right as part of the game experience. We don’t want to do anything that breaks the immersion in the world.

    PC
    The best summary of what the PC team is up to, and will be up to, can be read here. I honestly don’t think I can add anything that Ted & Ian haven’t already covered. Please go and have a read & take part in the discussion here.

    Overall, we are feeling really good at the moment. We have a clear view of our plans to launch, the team is fully focused around their goals and ploughing through what they need to do, and adding that humour and charm to the work they’re on that we all love to see.
    Personally, I am hugely excited about where we’re at, and what is to come. Honestly, I just want to fast-forward time to launch…

    I look forward as always to your comments, questions and feedback in the comments below.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  • Little tease, a round of rhyme
    Up and up, the nest you climb
    Treasured sights, what a view
    But fair to say, its overdue

  • Hi everyone,

    I figured it was about time to share some more information on our plans for December with you. You’ll have already seen we had one last push for sign-ups, meaning the last chance to get signed up for the Insider Programme and ensure you receive Technical Alpha access before launch is today! I don’t know why I’m telling you this; if you’re reading this report you’re an Insider already, but whatever…
    Anyway, aside from that, we have a series of exciting plans for December, occurring in the following order.

    Release date announce…
    Like I mentioned last month, we will be announcing the release date soon. A clue as to when this date will be announced might already be out there…
    As part of this, there is going to be a short, fun new trailer which shows some of the stuff you’ve already seen, but also hints at some of the stuff to come. We’re just putting the finishing touches to that today, and as always the video team at Rare have delivered a mix of our trademark humour and tease. Looking forward to that being shared with you soon. This contains probably one of my favourite funny moments in one of our trailers for quite a while. It gets me every single time.

    Pirate Legend & progression overview
    Our next step in our slightly sporadic December Advent Calendar is to deliver some news on the goal of becoming a pirate legend, and the progression system. Our plan here is to hold a live stream from Rare, where we will talk through the progression plans (and showing a bunch of it), and then we’ll hold a Q&A / Panel answering questions from you, the community (I’m already looking forward to the opening question about loot crates 😊). The details on this haven’t been exactly confirmed yet, but it IS going to happen, and it’s going to be awesome.
    This is probably one of the most ‘secret’ things I’ve shared with you yet (so please keep it to us Insiders for now) and there a few things to iron out in the details, but I’m thoroughly looking forward to it. The main challenge we have is telling enough to inform and excite you all, explain why we have made the decisions we have, what is unique about our system, but also leave enough unsaid to surprise and delight you later. The PR and marketing machine is really starting to spin up as we head towards launch, so there is lots of info & reveals to spread across the early parts of 2018…

    December play session
    The biggest chocolate on our advent calendar (have I exhausted this analogy yet?) is probably the main December play session. The team is currently working super h*****n this, and there are a lot of pieces to pull together. This is going to be testing some of the key elements of our progression system (although not all of them). It’s really about us testing players going around the core loop for the game, how quickly they’re progressing and how. We will be looking to gather a ton of sentiment and telemetry data from this, and it’ll inform our focus on the remaining progression features and the overall balancing / tuning of the game. It’s great to be able to do this now, so we can be in a great position on the run through to launch. This is the single biggest amount of feature toggles we will have turned on in one go, yet (bigger than E3). They are a different set of features, but they are all heavily intertwined, and some have been in development for months as we get all of our service entitlements working (i.e. detecting who owns what, allowing players to buy stuff with gold etc). This means we are going to be running a few pioneer tests in quick succession as we test a few groups of these to build confidence in the stability. I think it’s fair to say, out of all the alpha tests, this is probably the one where we’re going to be putting in a wide set of features in their earliest state (minus some of the polish we usually pride ourselves on) so we can learn as much as possible, as I think this is the test where we could learn the most and want to make changes/tweaks based on the feedback. I’d rather test our features earlier and be in position to tweak and improve based on the feedback rather than take everything to near final and then invest lots of time if we need to change anything. A lot of the features we have tested with our Alpha audience previously we’ve tested a lot internally, whereas this is a set of features that we need to get out at scale to gather as much data and feedback as possible.
    It’s also probably the biggest change to the loop that our alpha testers will have had so far. Quests are acquired and delivered in a different way, progress needs to be ‘banked’ slightly differently and then you will be rewarded with more than just gold. It’s going to be fun testing it, and then it’s probably the areas you’ll see the most changes and improvements in as we move forward, based on the data and feedback we get. It’s an exciting and slightly scary time.
    It is also the biggest amount of new players we’ve invited in one go, which makes this doubly risky/exciting. What could go wrong?
    One of the biggest things to be aware of here is that as we are going to be testing a bunch of progression features, we are going to need everyone on a level playing field. This will mean that we are going to need to reset everyone’s gold. SORRY. We always knew we were going to have to do this, and for some of our most engaged players this is going to be a tough blow to take. We’ve been taking a look at some of the highest earners in the Alpha, and we’re already figuring out a fun way to reward them for their efforts. Ted will be sharing more info on this soon, but I thought it's fair I give a heads up.

    This is a slightly shorter insider report than normal, so I could get it out in a timely manner. I hope it whets your appetite for the month ahead.

    I’d like to end on a quick story from playing the game this morning (testing our progression features). Gregg and I were adventuring, approaching an island, when we started getting bombarded by a skeleton on a cannon on a hill in the centre of the island. We swung our boat and dropped the anchor so that our cannons were facing the island. I aimed the cannon, climbed in and fired myself up towards the skeleton so I could take him out before he did us too much damage. As I was flying through the air, I realised I had aligned my trajectory almost perfectly towards the cannon, as a cannonball from our skeleton friend was heading directly towards me in mid-air. I actually ducked in my seat, but the cannonball passed this close with the customary whizzing SFX in the air letting my know just how close it’d been. It would have been even more hilarious if it’d hit me, but even so, it was one of those moments where the systems combined to create a really memorable moment for me that felt unique, and was one I really wanted to share as a video clip or GIF. It also reminded me of the possibilities of all the moments and stories to come when players will be allowed to share theirs, and again, it’s the thing which excites me most about this game. I can’t wait until we let you all do that. More info to follow on that when we get December out of the way.

    As always, comments and questions welcomed.

    Cheers,

    Joe

  • A glimpse of the future that ye seek,
    Is here with feathers and a beak,
    This world's becoming full of life,
    But will they cause ye untold strife?

    alt text

    -Shelley "Pressgang" Preston

  • @JoeNineTee has posted a few Technical Alpha Insider Reports for the last few play sessions, giving you insight into the objectives and outcomes of our Technical Alpha play sessions. At the end of some of these reports we like to tell you some of the more fun stats that reflects what our players did in game.

    I love these little titbits, the numbers, data, and facts that show the heart of the game and it sounds like you’re enjoying it too. So, I’d like to know what type of stats would you be interesting in knowing from previous play sessions and future sessions? Things like total skeletons killed, total distance sailed, who drank the most grog, and who played the longest in the 24-hour session.

    Unfortunately, I won't be able to do individual requests, because otherwise that's all I'd end up doing and then who would work on campaigns? I'll go through the responses, pick some, and report back those juicy stats! I'll continue to check this thread and use it for direction on future fun titbits we report in other Technical Alpha posts.

  • Hi all,

    Another somewhat late insider report - apologies. There has been a lot going on, with the different shows we've had in the last month or so, with a lot of travelling. There have been a couple of hot topics in the forum recently I wanted to speak to, so please read on to see how we're planning to react to your feedback.

    Insider Programme

    Firstly, I wanted to talk about a recent post that has ignited a lot of passionate - and fair - debate within the forum.
    There are a lot of frustrations contained within this post, and within the thread that follows, and I’ll try and summarise my reading of it. I may have missed some of the comments, but these seem to be the key ones. If I have missed something you feel strongly about, please let me know in the comments.

    Insider Programme & access to the Alpha

    We have seen frustrations rising from people in the Insider Programme who haven’t yet made it into the Alpha, who have been signed up or active in the community for a long time.
    Compounded with this is the recent announcement of the Pioneer programme
    I’ll try and give my thoughts on this. Firstly, as with the game, we will always look to listen to feedback and improve. I can totally understand why some people are feeling this way.

    a. With regards the frustration about not yet making it into the Alpha programme, and how we select our alpha testers. We do take into account what we’re trying to test and filter our invites accordingly. This can change for each test, depending on what our goals are. I think it’s fair when we hear some people saying they have been active in the community, or around for a long time, and they haven’t made it in. We are looking at our filters for the next round of invites with this in mind, although we can obviously never guarantee everyone will get in.
    I’ll also explain our plans moving forward. Over the remainder of the calendar year, we plan to grow significantly our invited players, in bigger groups than we have so far, and eventually, before the end of the year, every eligible Insider will get a chance to play. There isn’t long to go before everyone will have a chance. I know you might have been waiting a long time, but there isn't too long to go.

    b. With regards the Pioneer programme, I wanted to explain the thinking behind it. At the moment, we have been getting features fairly polished & bug-free prior to releasing them to players in the Alpha. I’d say for the most part, we have been erring on the side of caution, due to our nature as games developers of wanting to get them right before releasing them to players. Alongside this, we have to spend a lot of time testing features internally to find issues, ensuring they haven’t broken the experience, prior to releasing. This might have delayed the release of features more than we’d like. With this in mind, we decided to investigate if there was a way we could use a small subset of our alpha players to expose them to features earlier that may be buggy / break the game experience, or validate that is a good enough user experience to reach our wider audience. By using our pioneers, we hope to be able to deliver features to our players at least at the same pace, and hopefully at an even quicker pace than we have in the past. The group is there to get us data at a wider scale than we can manage internally, to enable us to learn quicker, and ultimately be more effective at delivering. Alongside this, every feature we will look at and decide whether it goes to the Pioneer group, or can skip them and go directly wider. Not everything will go through this phase, it all depends on what we want to learn. If it’s bugs/stability for Feature X, maybe it’s the Pioneers, if it’s scale experience feedback, maybe we go direct to the wider Alpha audience.

    Insider Programme - are we providing enough value to members?

    The second main complaint has been the Insider Programme not really having enough value, outside of the chance to get into the Alpha. There is feedback that there have not enough meaningful insights shared into the game’s development recently to keep people interested and allow new discussion. This leads to a lot of duplicate threads and nothing really new to contribute to.

    I can totally understand this. We have had many good intentions about sharing development & design insights recently, but we have been somewhat overwhelmed by a combination of the amount of marketing activities we have had over the last few months, alongside our usual development responsibilities, that this has fallen by the wayside. It’s not an excuse, but it is mitigation. We have been to a lot of shows, and the main people who go are the spokespeople – including myself, Mike and others – and a lot of the Community team. This takes a lot out of us and our calendars, and we spend the time back at the studio ensuring we are caught up on everything and ensuring the day-to-day development is proceeding at pace. Regardless, we should have done a better job balancing everything, as ultimately keeping you all informed and with interesting insights is part of our role. I also think part of the problem is that we’re been working on bigger groups of features to talk about together (i.e. like the features we showed at NYCC), and it’s meant we’ve not really showed progress on them or talked enough about them during development. I think we can do a better job showing / talking about things in progress, without spoiling the news for a wider audience when we talk about the bigger stories. Emma, Deborah and myself discussed yesterday exactly this, as we were reviewing the post above and how we could do better. We are going to look into a number of things ASAP in terms of sharing more insights about WIP features, the individual teams’ progress and the kind of insights we have shared in the past (without relying on Mike to share one of his design opus’). Please leave this with us, and you’ll see movement on this soon. We’ll look to share responsibility out across the team to try and avoid the bottlenecking you’ll see with someone like Mike or myself. The plan here is definitely to give you more insights, and more things to discuss/speculate about.
    I’m going to leave this topic here – although happy to engage in the comments – and we’ll work on the improvements I’ve talked about. Happy to hear more suggestions on this.

    Team Update

    Game Experience
    The game experience team have been working super hard over the last month to land the features we wanted to show off at NYCC, amongst other things. The small ship, non-verbal communications and brig system will be making their way into the Alpha over the next few weeks for our Insiders to play with. They are now hard at work on the next set of features, and including looking at what fun, easy things we can add amongst the bigger more complex features to keep enrichening the experience and making people smile.

    AI
    The AI team continue to be split across their two main priorities right now, one of which is taking the skeleton AI and adding depth and strategy so players will have more scaling challenges through quests of different difficulties. This has actually mean that the skeletons have started to become far more challenging in recent internal playtests as they learn new skills, even without us making any specific changes to the balancing. It’s like they’re becoming sentient… Alongside this, the team continues their work on a new threat in the world I think I teased an update or two ago. It’s hard to talk about this without spoiling it too much. Sorry!

    Quests
    The quest team has been spread across various areas, continuing to iterate on the new quest type I talked about in last month’s report, but are also in the early stages of another quest type. It’s great to see things which are going to hit on very different player motivations coming into the game for players to pursue. We’re also very close to enabling the first version of quest voting for players. This will allow players to choose which quest they want to go on together, and is delivered in such an appropriate way for the game. Will be very interesting to see players deciding what quests to take on together.
    One of the best things to see here is the passion that the team has for delivering tone and humour as a part of the quests. In fact, something that was talked about caused an audible reaction from some team members in a recent team update when one of the new mechanics was being described. This has happened before (see drinking / vomiting / throwing sick at each other) but we like to push boundaries and make people feel somewhat uncomfortable. As long as we deliver the right tone and humour with everything we do, we’ll do great. I won’t talk about what it was here, but you’ll see it eventually coming in.. Suffice to say it was related to some elements in a new quest type, and the potential ramifications if you’re not paying attention.
    Related to the above post about sharing more insights into what we’re working on, we plan to get someone from the Quest team to give a detailed update on one of the cool areas they’re working on next week.

    Progression
    The progression team are still working on the largest remaining chunk of the game, which has lots of complex pieces. We’re seeing lots of the elements they are working on start to appear in the build, like the ability to buy stuff from shops, selecting different items etc. This is still definitely the BIGGEST story we have to tell, around the ‘why’ am I playing Sea Of Thieves, other than it’s fun (which is still a pretty good initial reason to be fair). We have been discussing with our marketing team exactly the best way to accomplish this, but it will definitely be this calendar year. I think we’re agreed on the way we’ll tell the story, but now it’s just when. You’ll see elements coming into the Alpha before then, but how it all fits together and what becoming a pirate legend will mean is the key to it all. I know people want to know this now, but we have to show and tell, and we’re still working on key elements of it. My belief is that the key questions people have will be answered this year.

    PC Experience
    There is a lot of the less glamourous, under the hood security & stability work going on at the moment. Alongside this, Text Chat is still in progress, and being able to remap your controls, which is a big piece of work but very high value. We’ve also recently started testing an FOV slider on Xbox One, which although not directly related to PC, is related to Crossplay, as it’s one area where we don’t want there to be an advantage, so this will be added for Xbox players in our Alpha soon.

    Events

    EGX
    So this was AWESOME to have our first playable event in the UK. It was great to meet so many Insiders at the show, and also to hold our own Insider event at the studio for a lucky 36 people. This was genuinely such a great day. Being able to show them around the studio, to play the game, but mostly to be able to chat about the game and hear people’s questions and ideas was so rewarding. Genuinely, our team went away buzzing as much as the Insiders who got to visit the studio and meet the team.

    NYCC - Panel
    Being part of the group showing off the small ship, the non-verbal comms and the brig system to a select group of excited and buzzing players was an honour. It was genuinely incredible to meet so many members of the community, to be able to give them insights into the game, answer their questions and talk about a topic that is really close to my heart. We’re definitely going to be sharing more in-depth looks at all the elements we showed in the NYCC panel over the coming weeks, starting with the video we released yesterday.

    Brazil Games Show
    I’m not there, but I love seeing the pictures and the excitement. Everything we hear is that Brazilian gamers are so excited and passionate! Also, I WANT one of these bandanas!

    PAX Australia
    Pretty soon, we’re going to be showing up at PAX Australia in Melbourne (and we’ll be playable.) I don’t think this is announced yet, so keep it to yourself until you see it announced by the Xbox official channels, but I am thoroughly excited about it, not least as I’m going to be there! I’ve never been to Australia before, so I’m very privileged to be going over there to represent the game & our team. Hopefully I might get a chance to meet one or two of you there?

    I think that’s it. Thanks for reading so far, and being patient with us. We’ll take the feedback about the insider programme and work to improve it. Thanks to everyone for being so open and honest.

    Look forward to your comments.

    Thanks,

    Joe

  • Hi everyone,

    Apologies for the late update! I have been extremely busy with both Gamescom, and then almost directly afterwards, PAX West in Seattle, and am currently on a train heading off for week’s holiday in Italy, where I’ll be playing cricket for a few days (could I be any more English?) and then a few days of motorbiking and relaxing around the lakes in the North of the country. So yeah, it’s a busy time, and once I’m back, it doesn’t stop, with EGX, NYCC and more!
    But anyway, enough about me, let’s talk about Sea Of Thieves!

    Gamescom & PAX West
    Gamescom was awesome. It was super cool to able to be able to finally confirm Cross Play, and that it is 100% supported by Sea Of Thieves. We love that this is how the entire game will be played from here on in. I genuinely believe this gives us such a great opportunity on both platforms, as we’ll have a strong, healthy and varied player base to either crew up with, or encounter out on the open seas. It was awesome to see players playing in the Alpha during Gamescom week, and to see a bunch of posts both on the forum and on reddit confirming how magical & seamless the experience is, even from people who were – understandably – cynical before playing it.
    It was also amusing to see how much coverage being sick in a bucket and throwing it at people managed to get. Turns out everyone else is as immature and easy to please as us 😊
    It was also really great to be able to run another campaign during the show for the players at home in our Alpha, and to try something very different to the previous attempt. This was a LOT harder than the E3 campaign, more cryptic, and definitely went down well. We have taken feedback on this campaign too, there were differently things we could have done to improve it. It’s all great learning for running campaigns from the full launch onwards, which is awesome, so thanks to everyone taking part and giving us feedback!
    Streaming from Gamescom was a great experience too, for multiple reasons. I loved that we could have our Insiders streaming the game from the show, alongside members of the development team who maybe haven’t done something like this before. I also loved streaming and answering questions from the community whilst playing, although I also can appreciate how hard it is to do! The amount of times I climbed the ladder on the ship and carried on running forward to fall off the other side because I was concentrating on answering a question was mildly embarrassing..
    Meeting insiders at both Gamescom and PAX was amazing too. There are so many of you! It’s great to able to chat face-to-face, to take people’s feedback, and to share our excitement for the game.
    One thing about Gamescom is that it is hard, hard work. The show is open each day from 9am to 8pm, so we end up there on our feet for about 12 hours a day. It is inspiring to see how hard the team that we take works though. They stay passionate, enthusiastic, and do a great job of getting people excited about Sea Of Thieves. Kudos to everyone from the studio who did such a great job.

    PAX was also awesome. It’s the first PAX I’ve been to, and it’s a really fun mix between a Gamescom, and E3, and a Comic-Con. It was also only 9am to 6pm each day, which was bliss compared to Gamescom. What was great about it though, alongside meeting loads of Insiders and sharing stories from the Alpha, was also the amount of video creators we met, whether they were streamers or content creators for YouTube etc. There is so much excitement about the game from the video community, and it’s great to meet people from this community and for us to build personal relationships.
    We learn so much every time we chat to video creators too, about how they perceive Sea Of Thieves, the type of content they want to make, and where they want the game to go. It really feeds back into our plans when we get back to the studio.

    Upcoming Shows
    Coming swiftly over the horizon is EGX, which is just down the road at the Birmingham NEC. We’ll be playable there, and if you’re an Insider and you’re planning to be there on the Saturday, we are currently trying to sort out something super special for you. Really hope we can pull off what we’ve got planned…

    Not long after EGX, a few of us are planning to head to New York Comic Con for a panel that I’m really excited about. It was so cool to do a panel last year at SDCC, and I’m really looking forward to this one. There is something really special about Comic Cons, and the topic for this panel is something we feel so passionately about as a studio, so I can’t wait! There will definitely be a glimpse at some new stuff there too. I am looking forward to meeting some Insiders there, and we’re also looking at if we can organise some kind of meet up on the Saturday night, so if you’re an Insider in New York, keep your calendar free!

    Inside the studio

    Game Experience
    The game experience team is working super hard at the moment across a range of areas. A lot of this is tied to the upcoming story we want to tell around our goal of a fun and welcoming multiplayer experience, whether it is the non-verbal communication, managing your crew and dealing with problematic players, or the option to sail the smaller ship and venture solo into our shared world.

    AI
    The AI team have been showing some of the most exciting stuff in our recently weekly team updates. I even sent a passionate, sweary email to Valentine, our incredibly talented tech artist, after this Monday’s update, because what he showed was IMMENSE. The ambition this team is showing is very exciting. There’s a way to go, but I love the passion and ownership they are displaying on their work right now. They are taking on some very challenging stuff, but backing themselves to knock it out of the park.

    Quests
    The quest team have been demoing progress on a new quest type recently, which is awesome to see. They’re working closely alongside the Progression team to bring this work in together. Alongside this, they have been continuing to add depth and polish to the existing riddle quests. I love the visual and audio work going into this, it is really adding to the fantastical feel of the world and hinting at the lore behind it all.

    Progression
    The team are making great progress, and @MikeTheMutinous talked me through some of the latest plans around what exactly it will mean to be a Pirate Legend in Sea Of Thieves. It was this, and the AI team’s weekly update, that prompted this tweet early in the week. I am so excited about the work this team is undertaking, and can’t wait until we are ready to talk about it, show it, and ultimately have you play it.

    PC
    Ted is on a well-earned holiday at the moment, and Jason is off in New York helping to demo the game, so I don’t actually have much insight into the PC progress at the moment (having hardly been in the office the last couple of weeks). We have definitely been gathering a lot of data from the Gamescom crossplay sessions, and assessing to see what tweaks we want to make to the experience. I’ll ask Ted or Jason to add a bit more detail when they’re back.

    I think that’s it. Work is flying along at the moment, the team has great momentum, we’ve got a bunch of shows coming up to show and talk more about the game, and everything is very exciting.
    Looking forward to meeting some of you at the upcoming events, and to your questions in the comments!

    Cheers,

    Joe