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Created by famed video game studio Rare Limited, Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer adventure title and important addition to Xbox’s Game Pass subscription. During NYCC 2019, a team of Rare developers hosted a panel at NYCC titled “A Year on the Sea” and discussed the game’s latest updates and the expansion of its rich world to comics and other media.
The panel opened with discussion about the extended universe of Sea of Thieves. The game creates a rich world that has been expanded upon through several books, a comic book series, and a role-playing game releasing later this month.
Most licensed work only relates tangentially to the core storylines of the material it’s based on, but Rare wanted more for its Sea of Thieves tie-ins. The developers went into detail on their concerted efforts to make the characters and plot lines from the game weave into the tie-ins and vice versa.
When working with new partners on Sea of Thieves content, Rare explains the rules of the world but also gives them the creative freedom to create new and interesting characters and storylines. For the Sea of Thieves comics written by Jeremy Whitley, Rare would read the scripts and they’d go back and forth everyone until happy with it, after which it was handed to the artist. Whitley’s comics and the Tales From The Sea of Thieves novels expanded the world of Sea of Thieves in unexpected ways, and Rare in turn canonized aspects of the comics directly into the game.
Rare created a timeline that includes every event introduced to the Sea of Thieves universe. Doing so sometimes requires a bit of massaging, but they make it all work. Wherever the game currently stands is the present timeline, so the comics and other tie-ins expand on past events. Rare described them as different windows into the same world.
The biggest absence in tie-in material is the appearance of the most central characters of the video game. To change that, Rare announced Sea of Thieves Origins, a graphic novella given to every member of the audience. Written by Whitley and illustrated by Rhoald Marcellius, the comic reveals the origin of the trading companies.
Here’s a photo of my copy:
Rare moved discussion to its Tall Tales, a series of story missions added to the game as part of the Anniversary Update. The team said this presented the perfect opportunity to bring more of the expanded universe into the game and to enrich the boss characters.
Rare believes gamers largely fit into one of two camps: players who want a cinematic experience and players who prefer multiplayer where every experience is unique. Sea of Thieves mixes the two gameplay experiences as an adventure title that exists in a multiplayer world. The narrative spans 10-15 hours, but there’s plenty to do beyond the central journey.
Shores of Gold is the storyline that runs through the Tall Tales. The studio loves the Indiana Jones stuff, but was eager to tell a love story in the world of Sea of Thieves. Shores of Gold will span at least nine Tall Tales, and possibly more.
Rare explained how it designed the quest books, journals which provide clues to help players progress through the Tall Tales. The developers started with pen and paper because it was the fastest way to capture their ideas. If a pen and paper prototype goes horrifically wrong (and several did) they at least didn’t waste weeks of development time.
The team wanted the quest books to feel like part of the story, not just like puzzles to solve. They labored a lot on them, filling the quest books with detail. Near end of project, however, they realized they left no room for translation. In order to accommodate other languages they had to cut out months of work from the quest books. It was a very hard but Rare was proud that they managed to retain the emotions and story in the shorter versions.
The team was asked if they have any time to develop other projects, a pertinent question for the many hoping they’ll release a sequel to Banjo Kazooie or remake the original. The team answered that, as a creative company, Rare always has its eye on the future, but Sea of Thieves is just getting started and it has so much more it wants to do with that game. Quoting the words of the game’s Pirate lord, panelists said there are always new stories to tell.
It was a fantastic panel at NYCC. The audience could sense the developer’s excitement for Sea of Thieves, especially for the love story they crafted. The team members clearly put their hearts and souls into the ongoing project. In an industry full of burnout, it warms the heart to see them just as excited (perhaps even more so) about the game a year after its launch!