But of course, there will also be combat. When ships meet and cannons fire, there is genuine tension as players shout orders and scuttle about the craft, attempting to sail into the best position to fire on an opponent. If your ship is hit, it’s also possible to send a crew member down to board up holes in a damaged hull or even start sloshing out water with a bucket. Rare hasn’t completely finalised what happens if or when you sink, but the studio has said there’s no DayZ-style permadeath – you won’t forfeit everything. It’s likely sunken players will lose, say, their last haul of treasure before their galleon respawns somewhere safe on the map.
One question that emerged from E3 was whether players would be able to take part alone. Rare has said that it is currently prototyping smaller one or two person craft and has plans to allow a single-player approach to the game – its emphasis, though, is very much on the shared experience. Rare has also confirmed that there will be ports and taverns to visit, but hasn’t yet expanded on how this will work (although apparently there will be very few NPCs, mostly shop keepers and bar staff – everyone else you meet in the world is an actual human). One thing is certain, with its visual comedy and array of lighthearted player interactions, it’s going to be very big on YouTube.
At a packed Xbox showcase event, on the Monday night before E3, Sea of Thieves was the game people were clambering to play, it was the game people were talking about, it was the game that had us sharing stories and experiences. That seems to be exactly what Rare is going for and what, really, the Midlands-based developer has always excelled at. Player stories, player imagination. There has been room in every great Rare title for the individual to exert their character and curiosity into the experience.
This also feels like a regenerative project for Rare, a labour of love. Chapman is so incredibly enthusiastic about game, the ideas it contains and the prospect of people getting their hands on it. At one point during the demo on that Monday night, he stands watching as a group of new players awkwardly sail their ship out into the open water for the first time. It is night and the sea shimmers under the blueish moonlight. “If you look up there,” he says, “you can see the North Star. It’s actually in the right place. You can really navigate by it.”
It’s a little touch, something many players will never notice, but it’s there and it adds something to the world. This is how Rare makes video games.