From Concept to Cosmetic: Collector's Pets
The time has come once again to dig through our cosmetics chests and see what secrets we can uncover. In the past we’ve delved into the mighty Orb, punk fashion and Plunder Pass assassins, while the previous instalment in this series grilled our teams on the thinking behind the keystone of all Captained vessels, Ship’s Crests.
Now we’re turning our attention to a somewhat livelier aspect of a pirate’s loadout: their pets! Specifically, we want to mark the recent release of the delectable Chocolatier’s Companion Alsatian and Parakeet by delving into the development process behind Collector’s Pets. These weird and wonderful variants on a pirate’s loyal pals have come to the Sea of Thieves in all shapes, sizes and colours, with a range of unique designs that put our artistic teams to the test.
So to find out much more, we’ve shuffled some key contributors into the usual interrogation room for questioning. Let’s go!
One of the most universally recognised symbols of a pirate is a colourful parrot companion, regardless of any naysayers decrying historical inaccuracies. Inevitably, then, in a sandbox game intended to allow players to live out their dreams of piracy, animal companions were going to be in high demand from the get-go.
In response, a variety of pets have been gradually arriving on the Sea of Thieves since monkeys and parrots first made their way through the Devil’s Shroud back in 2019. Several years later, the ranks have now grown to incorporate cats, dogs and foxes. For Esther Smisdom, Senior Concept Artist, the inclusion of animal companions was an inevitability:
“I think pets have always been in mind from the beginning. You can’t really think of that classic pirate archetype without a chatty parrot on their shoulder.”
In a world as magical as the Sea of Thieves, however, we weren’t about to be content with the limits imposed by our real-world furred and feathered friends. That’s where Collector’s Pets come in. These unique variations have included pets touched by the Gold Curse, frozen in ice and morphed into dark magic constructs, amongst a broad swathe of other diversities.
The Collector’s Pet trend kicked off with the Skeleton Marmoset and Cockatoo during late 2019’s Fort of the Damned update, and now there are over 30 to choose from (including a full set of Skeleton Pets, traditionally only available during spooky season) across more than 10 collections.
What might not be immediately apparent is that the distinction between regular pets and Collector’s Pets is down to more than just design; there are technical considerations too. As Esther tells us:
“We quickly realised the Collector’s Pets needed to be their own category because of how we handled pet outfits. By separating them, it gave us the freedom to really push the themes of these pets. Initially the Collector’s Pets were defined by the classic Sea of Thieves Curses (Skeleton, Gold etc.) but as time went on, anything that added new meshes, unique animations or new species would be considered a Collector’s Pet.”
Among the latest additions to this menagerie are, of course, the Chocolatier’s Companion Parakeet and Alsatian. Bringing together Ancient-inspired artisan work and some of the finest confectionery available, these two pets arrived on the scene as part of the June 2023 update. Nailing down their final design took a few iterations, as Senior Concept Artist Tom Mahon explains:
“The original spark came from wanting to explore an Easter tie-in. We went down the rabbit hole (pun intended) of the traditional Easter bunny ears and bow ties, but they just didn’t feel very Sea of Thieves, so after that we looked at a pet fully made from chocolate. Originally they looked pretty smooth, like modern chocolate moulds. There was even a concept with a bite taken out of the pet... maybe that went a bit too far.
“In order to push the design to be more embedded within Sea of Thieves lore, we finally settled on an approach that brought in design motifs from the Ancients in the game – with the idea being that the Ancients love chocolate, so they’ve crafted these chocolate effigies brought to life with magic.”
Of course, designing these pets is only half the battle; with such distinctive shapes and exclusive styles, actually making each Collector’s Pet presents its own unique challenges.
Due to the sheer variety of designs involved in Collector’s Pets, it’s fair to say that there’s no single way of approaching their creation. Each has a unique shape and design, introducing its own challenges and points of interest. For Esther, the most fun to develop was the Reaper’s Heart set:
“Funnily enough, they were originally meant to be Valentine-themed, as is apparent from the wings and heart motif. But we ended up using the parrot as a companion for the Servant of the Flame, so we had to rework them a bit to fit the lore and vibe of The Reaper’s Bones.”
Tom, in contrast, called out the earliest Collector’s Pets to arrive in Sea of Thieves as a personal highlight:
“For me, I think designing the Skelly Pets was the most fun. It was a challenge trying to bring different skeleton anatomies into our style. Just like our enemy skeletons in-game, there’s a level of simplification and stylisation that we implement. Skeletons are such a staple of the pirate fantasy, it's always satisfying when we can tap into that core idea of a pirate world.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however. According to Principal Character Artist Lorenzo Melizza, some Collector’s Pets have been harder to wrangle than others:
“The Chocolatier’s Companion Pets and the Gold Curse Pets proved to be difficult due to the shared animation between pet types. Having pets with a ‘hard skin’ is always a challenge, since the animations can show how soft those hard shells really are.
“Your brain has to go the extra mile to interpret those surfaces as gold or chocolate, but I think the design of these pets, in conjunction with the work done by our partners, really allowed us to keep the problem to a minimum.”
Fortunately, the team could put all their accumulated knowledge to work in ironing out such challenges when the Chocolatier’s Companion Pets arrived on the scene. Lorenzo elaborates:
“The Reaper’s Heart Pets and Gold Curse Pets were a huge help on these, due to their common base feature, solid shapes, not being heavily detailed with fur and so on. It meant they had to work more as puppets than standard animals. This, of course, drove the texture work as well to reflect the connection between the limbs and the other sections.”
With the designs and models for the Chocolatier’s Companion Pets completed and looking duly delicious, it was time to get them into the Pirate Emporium.
Pets certainly made a splash when they first arrived all the way back in 2019, filling the Sea of Thieves with colourful sidekicks to accompany pirates on all their adventures. Collector’s Pets have only added to the ways in which players are able to customise their personal experiences, and they’ve really enabled our teams to express their creativity in unique ways.
They inspire creativity in our players too, as Social Media Lead James Bowden points out:
“One of the best things about Collector’s Pets is the clear naming angles they offer up, which we often see appearing on social channels with great delight. A Lodestar Cat named Luna, Rattles the Skeleton Cockatoo and a Diabolical Dog called aPAWcalypse? Just a few of the thousands of beloved pets out there accompanying pirates on their adventures. And we definitely take as much joy in seeing their thematic (and often pun-tastic) names as our community members clearly have in applying them.
It’s no wonder, then, that players have really taken to Collector’s Pets as a concept. Of course, as with all Sea of Thieves cosmetics, some enduring favourites have emerged. Taking a covert look at the Pirate Emporium’s books, Associate Producer Olivia Arnell revealed:
“The Ashen Curse Pets have definitely been the most popular group of Collector’s Pets to date, the Ashen Curse Ragamuffin most of all!”
Good kitty. This trend of creative and unique twists on traditional pet designs has shown no signs of stopping, but with only two animals available so far in the recent Chocolatier’s Companion set, it begs the question: are we likely to see more chocolate creatures roaming the seas any time soon? In fact, do we start each set of Collector’s Pets with a plan to include one of each species eventually? According to Olivia, it depends:
“We usually like to start off with a few options to gauge players’ reactions to the Collector’s Pets before we decide whether expanding a certain style out to other animals would be worth the time and work that goes into them. Personally, I would love to see a chocolate cat or an icy fox in the future!”
Of course, pets don’t necessarily have to be limited to the animals currently available in Sea of Thieves. We revealed during our fifth anniversary celebrations that owls would be making an appearance in future, but are there any other animals or species on the horizon for piratical pet lovers? Tom hopes so:
“We worked on different dogs for a while, which was an exciting challenge as a dog enthusiast myself! However, there was one that got away. Metaphorically, of course. I had designed a Bulldog so cute you wouldn’t believe it. But because of how pets are set up, they have to share an animation rig and with the Bulldog being so different in size and structure, we didn’t proceed past the concept phase. We have plenty more pet species that we want to look at in the future, so maybe the Bulldog will return someday.”
Esther agrees: “I feel like our most popular pet has yet to arrive, referring to the long-awaited owls! There was a lot of hype around foxes as well. It was great seeing players spot them when we snuck them into the Season Seven main menu.
“We are always trying to push what we introduce with pets. Even though we concepted them early on, we always assumed that foxes and owls might be pushing the limits of our templates too far, making it all the more exciting when we did find ways to make them work. So regarding new species, it’s not so much if we will, but more if we can.”
One of the most notable absences from the current Collector’s Pet selection are our vulpine friends, the foxes. The latest additions to Sea of Thieves pets, foxes weren’t introduced until 2022 and thus haven’t had the same time to develop and expand as the other animals. As a result, we’re still waiting on our very first Collector’s Pet fox.
When pressed on whether or not we can expect that to change, Esther was tight-lipped with a simple: “That’s classified...”
And that brings us to the end of our latest cosmetic deep dive! Since their release, pets have become a hugely exciting part of a pirate’s loadout, and Collector’s Pets really open the door to some unique styles. If you’re interested in seeing the full selection on offer, or if you’ve got your heart set on one design in particular, head on over to the in-game Pirate Emporium to admire the menagerie. You can also check out the most recent additions in any given month on our Pirate Emporium webpage!
Do you have a favourite Collector’s Pet? Are there any variants you’d really like to see? You can let us know – and keep up to date with everything going on in Sea of Thieves – via social media on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitch and TikTok, or by dropping in on our official Forums or Discord server. Or if you’re itching for more of these development insights, check out previous entries in the From Concept to Cosmetic series in our News section. For now, it’s probably past time we let our artists get back to business – until the next instalment!