Sea of Thieves updates are usually pretty big. That can mean giant shark battles, massive PvP modes, or even grand story adventures. While the newest update does have a big addition—a difficult “fort of the damned” with rare loot inside—it also has a smaller, sillier feature: the ability to change the color of your underwear.
Cosmetics form the core of Sea of Thieves’ progression system. Grind enough reputation or gather enough gold and you can gather a variety of dashing hats, golden swords, and exclusive “Pirate Legend” gear. Through it all, there’s been one boring constant: dull, drab underwear.
Finally, you can change the color of your smallclothes and, in theory, change out your ragged and well-worn breeches. It’s all thanks to a simple little widget that dyes clothing with a range of basic colors.
It’s as simple as accessing the clothing chest on your ship and selecting a bottle of dye. No hassle, no bizarre quest to steal the ancient underwear potion of Captain Dread Pants, and no need to spend gold on colors. It’s a pretty limited system for the moment, but I’m hoping that an exciting range of designs and colors become available. A captain usually wears a heavy coat or fantastic dress, but every now and then you need to intimidate an enemy crew by running around half-naked. And at least now, you can do it with a little more style.
The original Yooka-Laylee attempted to capture the magic of 3D platformers like Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, but instead it felt more like a pale imitation of those great games. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, Playtonic’s 2.5D platformer follow-up, is much more successful at capturing the spirit of its old school inspirations, feeling like a redone classic in its own right while also introducing new concepts to the genre.
This piece was first published on October 3, 2019. We’re bumping it today for the game’s release.
In other words, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a much better Donkey Kong Country than the first Yooka-Laylee was a Banjo-Kazooie. Rolling and jumping and swinging through the whimsical-yet-challenging levels of The ImpossibleLair massages my nostalgia glands in such a way that they are fooled into feeling like I’m playing a beloved favorite, but also one that’s somehow brand new. It’s the same vibe I get from the recent Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon remasters. I remember playing this game, though I never have and never could have. Weird, right?
It helps that Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair has unique features that set it apart from most old school platforming games. For one, the game’s final level is accessible from the very start. The evil Capital B has set up shop at the end of an incredibly brutal platforming challenge filled with flames and spikes and enemies. One might say his lair is impossible, but there is hope. Yooka the chameleon and his bat sidekick must travel the Bee Kingdom, rescuing 48 members of the queen’s Beettalion. Each rescued bee is an extra hit the duo can take in Capital B’s lair. The lair can be challenged at any time.
Theoretically, a player with enough skill could win the game without ever stepping foot in another level to rescue a bee. I am not that player. I’m going to need all the help I get, so I’ve been scouring the overland to open up new levels and collect new bees.
Only half the game is a 2.5D platformer. The overworld is positioned from an overhead perspective and is its own adventure. Rather than moving along a set path from level to level, Yooka and Laylee can scour this 3D world for secrets and items, uncovering new paths, solving puzzles, and occasionally paying off that wily snake, Trowzer, to open up new areas.
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair also gives players the ability to manipulate levels in the overworld, transforming them into different versions of themselves. By hitting a switch, Yooka and Laylee can divert water into one of the storybook levels, creating a flooded version with a completely new layout, including new collectibles and a new bee to rescue.
The video below shows the same level two ways. First I run through it in its original form. Then I grab an ice berry from a nearby bush and toss it onto the puddle of water the level’s storybook is sitting in, transforming it into an ice-filled wonderland.
The levels are challenging, but the game is also very forgiving. Should a player die five times in a section of any level (excluding the Impossible Lair), the game allows them to hold down a button and teleport to the next checkpoint, skipping the tough bits. Considering the amount of spikes and hazards scattered about the levels I’ve played through so far, I could see my kids making use of the skip feature so they can enjoy the cute visuals and charming music without the frustration of endless death. What more could a parent ask for?
One of my sons got hooked on the original 3D Yooka-Laylee. Sometimes he’d hand me the controller and ask me to help, and I’d wander about the bright and happy world without a clue of where I was supposed to go or what I had to do. He’d get antsy, I’d get snappy. It wasn’t a good scene. Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible door has all the appeal of the first game but it’s more straightforward, more compelling, and most importantly, feels less like a homage and more like its own game. I can’t wait for him to play.
Today some Sea of Thieves developers did a livestream to discuss the game’s new store and purchasable pets. They were joined on stream by a monkey. The monkey threw up on a developer.
For most of the stream, Antonio the spider monkey seemed content to sit on people’s shoulders and eat mealworms thrown to him by his handler. He seemed like a chill monkey, and his handler said that he’s very relaxed around humans. He took a particular liking to developer Rare’s video manager Jon McFarlane, who was sitting on the far right.
As senior producer Joe Stevens joined the stream to go over the features that are being added to the game along with pets, Antonio the spider monkey hopped over to McFarlane’s shoulder and threw up on his face, chest and arm. He then jumped to McFarlane’s other shoulder to throw up some more. “A great choice to wear a grey t-shirt,” McFarlane said after he cleaned his now monkey puke-stained shirt with a napkin. Check it out in the video below at around 27:46.
You know when you see something and you think, “They must have prepared for a particular scenario that is very likely to happen,” and then they just haven’t, like that kid trying to cut open an apple with a samurai sword next to an inflatable pool? The people involved must have known something would go wrong, but no one stopping it makes it all the funnier. “That is what we expected to happen,” one of the developers even says as everyone smiles politely through the situation.
Wild animals do not give a shit about human decorum, and monkeys, who are especially smart, love to fuck with people. I love this clip and will cherish it forever. Hopefully Rare picks up McFarlane’s drycleaning bill.
Today, developers have a huge variety of ways to create and manage enemy AI. However, back in the 90s it was much more difficult to create sophisticated enemy AI. It was even harder to do so on the N64 due to its limited power and resources. But Rare, the developers behind GoldenEye, pulled it off and did such a great job that after playing GoldenEye, developers at Valve actually changed the then-unreleased Half-Life and its AI.
The wonderful YouTube channel AI & Games recently uploaded a new video covering how the AI enemies and NPCs in GoldenEye actually work and how Rare was able to create enemies that felt smart and complex on limited N64 hardware.
One of the ways Rare was able to create such impressive AI was by building the entire game around the AI enemies. This allowed players to actually see and interact with the AI. As Martin Hollis, the producer and director on the game, explained in 2004, “The important thing is to show the player the AI. There’s no point having sophisticated AI that the player doesn’t notice.” This meant every level and gameplay mechanic was built around the AI, making sure players were constantly encountering and dealing with the enemies and NPCs that populated the various levels.
Another developer on the game, David Doak, later explained in an interview that in 1998 at a video game trade show in the UK, he met the folks from Valve. They told Doak that after playing GoldenEye, they felt forced to “redo a bunch of stuff on Half-Life.” This is most likely a reference to GoldenEye’s AI systems. Half-Life employs a similar system for its baddies and NPCs.
The entire video is a really great deep dive into how a classic video game works and how difficult it was to make smart AI back in the day.
There are two halves to Sea of Thieves’ anniversary update. The first is a collection of story missions that offer some much-needed structure. The second is the Arena, a player versus player combat mode where crews compete to gather chests and sink each others’ ships. It’s a blast of high sea action, but maybe not the best thing to hop in and play by yourself.
In the Arena, four crews of four players sail around a small island chain in an attempt to gather as much silver as they can. Each team is given a handful of randomized treasure maps to lead them to potential riches. While you can also gain booty for killing other pirates or sinking ships, the earliest parts of a match are a frantic rush to dig up chests. That slow pace feels a bit like the early game of a battle royale, where players gather weapons and armor. In Sea of Thieves, Arena matches start in a similarly quiet way before bursting open into chaos. There’s joy to be had in the resulting fracas, but don’t get your hopes up for a come-from-behind victory if you stumble. I did see some potential avenues for surprising strategies, but those granular tactics often get washed away in Sea of Thieves’ chaotic waves.
In the first couple of matches I’ve played in the Arena, a pattern has emerged. There’s always one ship that grabs treasure fast and then proceeds to hound everyone else. Makes sense; once you have your plunder and turn it in for rewards, you might as well stop everyone else from doing the same. Knocking folks out of the lead is tricky, though, at least in my experience; that’s because larger battles tend to devolve into mad-cap displays of cannon fire and ship ramming.
In my initial rounds, I’ve taken my chances with random players, and the results haven’t felt as tactical as I like. The promise of the sneaky opening round dissolves into a slipshod, bumper-boats bonanza of battles and boardings. That’s fine, but it can feel like wasted potential. Part of the issue is that, like anything else in Sea of Thieves, the Arena is really best if you’re playing with your buds and not, say, joining in with some random buccaneers from around the globe. That’s arguably true of any online game, but it feels especially true here, as there’s far greater benefit to tightly managed crews. If you’re hopping in solo, you could get anything. A crew of canny Pirate Legends, a bunch of mic-less buffoons, or (as happened in my first match) a slur-slinging edgelord who just wants to watch the world burn.
Which is to say that the Arena has all of the good and, unfortunately, also all of the bad of Sea of Thieves. It has the flashy battles and fantastic japes, but it also has the random assholes and the feeling that there should be something more to it. It’s great to board a treasure-loaded ship, blast the crew, and make off with their loot. It’s less exciting when four galleons bonk into each other in the middle of the ocean, or when your captain tells you to eat a cock. But hey, maybe that’s just the pirate life.
The Arena might not quite live up to its full potential, but it does bring a welcome change of pace to Sea of Thieves. Completing matches earns you reputation with a new faction and unlocks fresh gear, giving players a new way to progress towards pirate legend status and engage in some havoc along the way. It won’t be everyone’s cup of grog, but for the mad pirates eager for something a bit bloodier than exploring tombs or fishing, it should provide plenty of fun. Just make sure to sail with pals or be ready to mute some mics.
Sea of Thieves’ Anniversary Update is live. The pirate game’s ambitious expansion brings activities from competitive player-vs.-player battles to fishing and cooking. Largest of all are the “Tall Tales,” a lengthy chain of cutscene and exploration driven story missions that are designed to be completed in a group or by your lonesome. The first—hunting down the treasure-studded Shores of Gold—finally gives Sea of Thieves the structure and direction some players have been craving from the start.
Before the Tall Tales, there were two things to do in Sea of Thieves: tirelessly grind missions to become a pirate legend or sail around to hunt down other players. That was all right in short bursts, but the charm of hunting down skeleton bounties or delivering chickens wore off quickly. Instead, wouldn’t it be great to hunt down a lost island, delving into booby-trapped tombs and coming face to face with evil skeleton lords? The first Tall Tale, “Shores of Gold,” offers just that, and while I’ve only scratched the surface of it, I’m really enjoying the adventure. The story involves a meeting with the Mysterious Stranger lurking in Sea of Thieves’ taverns. They share the story of the Shores of Gold, an island packed with riches that is caught behind impenetrable fog. To reach it, you’ll need the Shroudbreaker, a hidden artifact that can lead the way.
“Shores of Gold” is something you can tackle with friends or by yourself, an entire series of riddles and missions that tells a story of greedy pirate lords and ancient tombs. I played the first part of the questline this afternoon and spent about three hours on a mission that sent me all around the ocean to follow the last crew that searched for the Shroudbreaker. All I had to start with was their journal, which outlined a ruined journey that left them shipwrecked. I’ll admit that for this first part, I sort of cheated the puzzle. I set sail to where the crew had voyaged and ran into other players around a small island where the wreckage was found. Because you can’t turn Sea of Thieves completely offline, it’s possible to be spoiled by simply noticing where players are congregating.
Thankfully, the rest of my journey was a more interesting challenge. After recovering a log from the ship, I was forced to chart their course and find where the crew abandoned their cargo. This part of the story is randomized for each player crew, meaning that you can’t simply look up hints online. The result looked like this:
So, I’d already hunted down a shipwreck, and now I’d tracked a ship’s course through the ocean. My reward was a chest—one I plucked out of the ocean using Sea of Thieves’ brand new harpoon gun—which contained a magical totem that unlocked the door to a hidden tomb. The first leg of “Shores of Gold” felt a bit like some of the exploration events that Sea of Thieves has held before but with much more drive and mystery. Instead of finding a few trinkets, I had one goal and a series of puzzles and complications to overcome.
The most involved of these was the tomb itself. After lighting a series of braziers, I was locked in the room and needed to solve a puzzle while it filled with water. When I spoke with Sea of Thieves’ producer Joe Neate last month, he mentioned films like The Goonies and the various Indiana Jones adventures as an inspiration for the Tall Tales. This definitely felt like an old-school adventure movie puzzle-tomb. I managed to disarm the trap, find hidden medallions on the island, and grab the Shroudbreaker. I fled the island pursued by coral-studded skeletons. By that point, I’d been playing this Tall Tale for around three hours.
This was only the first part of my journey, and I want to continue the rest. The Shroudbeaker is apparently missing some jewels held by a dangerous Pirate Lord who has killed everyone with whom they’ve crossed paths. That sounds a bit dangerous, so I decided to try to tackle that part with friends.
The opening hours of “Shores of Gold” feel fun. It’s astounding how much Sea of Thieves benefits from having even a little bit of narrative context and some voice-acted quest givers. I’m fine with not grinding to become a pirate legend, and time will if the new arena PVP mode holds interest. For now, having a genuine pirate adventure with a clear goal and neat puzzles is fantastic. If more stories and treasures are to come, I expect I’ll be sailing the sea more often in the future.
Sea of Thieves’ first year had as many ups and downs as a boat in a storm. A rough launch gave way to numerous updates and events that expanded the game world. The Anniversary Update, to be released April 30, will add a story mode and competitive PVP. I spoke with the Xbox One and PC game’s executive producer Joe Neate about what comes next for Sea of Thieves, the lessons learned from the rocky launch, and how Rare plans to keep its designers happy and healthy.
When I spoke to Neate last week over the phone, he was enthusiastic about what’s in store for Sea of Thieves. For its second year, Rare aims to round out blind spots that players have been eager to see addressed. The first is the introduction of Tall Tales, a questline of nine stories that tasks players with locating the legendary Shores of Gold. To get there, they must find the Shroudbreaker, an ancient artifact that allows them to pierce through thick fog hiding the island. Locating the relic will involve tracing the efforts of lost pirate crews, delving into ruins, and interacting with characters in a much more comprehensive fashion than the game has done before.
“We’ve tried to make it so each tale triggers different emotions,” Neate said. There’s a tale of fear, a tale of love. We really wanted to try different things with each of them.”
To help with this, the team consulted films like the Indiana Jones series and The Goonies to interject some feel-good adventuring into the mix. Tall Tales are meant to introduce new rewards and mechanics, such as a collector’s chest that allows players to haul tons of loot at once, but it’s also a chance for Rare to add a lot more character to Sea of Thieves. Quest givers will speak directly to players, walking through the world and guiding them. And instead of Rare’s developers voicing the characters, it’ll be pros.
“As much as we love the charm of NPCs voiced by development team members, this is professional voice actors, so it really takes it up a notch,” Neate said.
To complement these adventures, Sea of Thieves will add extra mechanics and new factions to the game world. The Hunter’s Trading Corps brings fishing and hunting to the game, allowing players to track down dozens of fish to sell for reputation and gold. A cooking pot can create cooked fish worth more value. It’s a chance to add a slower, more relaxing activity, although players eager for something more hectic can hunt down meat from creatures like the dangerous Kraken or sharp-toothed megalodon and exchange that for reputation as well.
Players looking to become Pirate Legends won’t need to max out all five factions, just three. If you’re tired of Merchant Guild fetch quests or constant treasure hunts, you can turn fishing into a pathway to Legendary status.
Sea of Thieves has always been, in part, about embracing your inner asshole as much as enjoying quiet moments on the open sea. Ship battles and thievery are common. The Sea of Thieves team aims to capitalize on the excitement of ship battles by adding a full-blown PVP mode called the Arena. Teased earlier this year, it provides 24-minute matches where players compete to find treasure and sink each other’s ships. The idea is to provide quick bursts of excitement, instead of meandering voyages.
“If you’re playing Sea of Thieves, you might need a morning or afternoon,” Neate said. “There’s nothing short for a half an hour before dinner or you’re heading out.” Arena, he said, will provide that missing quick-hit experience, with “relentless pacing and action and intensity.”
Five teams of four players each will compete in Arena, sailing galleons around to locate treasure using maps granted at the start of the round. Digging up treasure grants silver, and turning in chests at designated stations will reward even more booty. You can gain small rewards for killing individual players, but the idea is to push players into an experience that’s both a race and massive naval battle instead of a simple deathmatch. Between matches, players will spend time at the Sea Dogs Tavern, a massive social area run by another new faction, the Sea Dogs. Players can chill in a hot tub, hold up parchments with their score, and turn in rewards for unique cosmetics. It’s meant to provide downtime after the rush of victory.
To add tactical depth and flair, ships can now be damaged in unique ways. Aiming at the mast might knock it over and slow down ships. Blasting the ship’s wheel can limit maneuverability. In addition, new weapons like harpoon guns can help with boarding, enable ships to turn quickly, or even let dead-eyed pirates snatch booty from their enemies’ hands.
“You always feel like you have a chance of coming back,” Neate said. There’s a real good ebb and flow. It always feels like you could make a decision. Winning feels a lot like that PUBG or Fortnite kind of success, but in a very different mode.”
Rounding out the Sea of Thieves experience with story and PVP brings the game closer to the varied experience that players wanted. At launch, players criticized Sea of Thieves for a lack of content and ways to make progress. It was a grind, one made more fun with friends, but still slow and repetitive. The launch itself was plagued with server troubles and even hackers.
Neate was open about the lessons learned during those difficult first months. “It has been a roller-coaster ride of all different kinds of emotions,” he said. “It felt like you were in the Jurassic Park control room, and the gates were down, and you needed to find out how to get them back up.”
Part of the solution to overcoming pitfalls has been to communicate often with the player base, both through blog posts and weekly livestreams with the developers themselves, he said. It was a learning process, as designers adjusted to spending time in front of cameras. Sometimes changes occurred without communication, such as when adjustments to inventory management and ship barrels led to angry feedback. Those changes were implemented to help make it easier to manage Tall Tales’ new items and goodies, but a lack of communication left players feeling the decision was arbitrary. Neate and the Sea of Thieves team have been careful to communicate their decisions more clearly as time moved on.
“We acknowledge when we get things wrong,” Neate said. “I love the relationship we have with our community and how we can talk about pretty much anything or change our plans because shit happens. Because it does.”
Rare’s designers didn’t have much experience with live service games before Sea of Thieves, and the adjustment has been rough. Numerous content updates have required teams to rotate members in order to release new monsters and activities. The first year was tumultuous and draining, as the team worked to get Sea of Thieves where in the state they wanted, he said.
“We haven’t found the right rhythm as a studio about working sustainably as a team and what that right balance is,” Neate said. “We want to be focused on players and the experience and what we bring in next, but we need to be learning how to run these teams sustainably.”
“We haven’t quite struck the right balance in the last year, but now it’s a conversation we have in the studio and we want to do better as we move forward,” Neate added.
The Anniversary Update is ambitious, bringing in many of the things players want. Moving forward, Neate envisions that releases will be smaller and more manageable for the team: a new story chapter here, new voyages and missions there, special cosmetics from time to time. The second year aims to round out the Sea of Thieves experience, but it will hopefully also be done in a way that’s less taxing on the team. It’s a way to make players happy and the workers behind the scene healthy. The end result will hopefully offer an experience that offers something for all kinds of players.
“There should be no reason not to fall in love with Sea of Thieves now,” Neate said.
After an intriguing but worryingly barebones launch in March 2018, Rare’s ambitious pirate opus Sea of Thieves found itself lost at sea. There just wasn’t enough for players to do, causing many to fear that the game would never live up to its potential. Late last year, that began to change. Now, Sea of Thieves is improbably scaling Twitch’s mast, getting closer to the top every day.
For the past few weeks, it hasn’t been uncommon to see Sea of Thieves in or hovering just outside of Twitch’s top 10 most-viewed games. The past handful of days, though, have seen it rocket all the way up into the top three at peak hours, with an especially strong Monday showing putting it in second place with 102,000 viewers to Fortnite’s 217,000.
It was only a matter of time before other popular streamers—ever vigilant for the next big thing after Fortnite, whose constant changes have caused consternation—clutched their knives between their teeth and boarded the ship. Over the past week, battle royale superstars like Dr Disrespect, TimTheTatman, and even Ninja have dipped their toes into Sea of Thieves’ shark- (and kraken-, and skeleton ghost pirate-) infested waters, generating everything from comedic highlights to themed production gimmicks to simmering faux-rivalries with Summit. This, alongside Summit’s continued success, has boosted the game’s Twitch numbers and led to what fans believe is an influx of new players. Some longtimers believe it’s their duty to help these fresh-faced sea puppies, while others, true to the pirate spirit, suggest robbing them blind.
Developer Rare, too, has taken notice, with executive producer Joe Neate describing the upswing in players and streamers as “incredible” in a recent developer update video. He specifically noted that, based on Rare’s metrics, monthly active users, sales, and streaming numbers are all on the rise. And sure enough, the PC version of Sea of Thieves is currently the second-best seller on Microsoft’s store. (The Xbox version is still far from a top-seller.) Neate also said that more changes are on the way, starting with combat balance tweaks and measures against cheaters.
Some streamers, however, have expressed trepidation over this rising tide. Hero of Oakvale, a smaller streamer who made Sea of Thieves his primary game months before Summit and crew elevated its profile, is worried that big names will sponge up all the potential viewers. He recently wrote about this in a thread on the Twitch subreddit, with other users telling him to do everything from “ride the waves (pun intended)” and try to stream during hours bereft of big streamers to find another game.
In a Discord DM, he told Kotaku that he’s seen his viewer numbers drop from 12-14 people to “maybe 5-7 viewers peak” since Summit and others have taken over, but he plans to stick with the game nonetheless.
“I will stick with Sea of Thieves because I enjoy their game overall,” he said, expressing his appreciation for Rare and its ongoing support of the game. “I haven’t had one bad stream while playing their game. I may not be getting as many views as I would like, however I think the game is wonderful, and [I’m] very happy to see more people picking it up for the first time.”
At this point, Sea of Thieves could wind up being just another flash in the pan on a platform prone to giving games 15 seconds of fame and little more. Right now, it still seems like big streamers, Summit aside, are feeling curious rather than committal. In another week or two, they could easily jump ship back to Fortnite without so much as a tear shed over their short-lived seafaring days. But Rare’s promised more support for the game, and if it can keep things fresh, this might be just the beginning for Twitch’s latest major player.
One thing Sea of Thieves definitely has going for it, though, is an open, socially focused environment that allows players to just chill—as long as they’re not being marauded by pirates, anyway. Given that Fortnite became a phenomenon in part by functioning as a hangout as much as a competitive game, it’ll be interesting to see if people start using Sea of Thieves in a similar way.
Sea of Thieves is a constantly evolving game with an expanding roster of monsters to battle and islands to explore. In a blog post yesterday, Rare announced that it’s nerfing a dangerous foe: file size.
Executive Producer Joe Neate announced the changes in an official blog post. Following an update on February 6, Sea of Thieves’ installation size will be greatly reduced. Here are the new file sizes:
Xbox One – from an install size of 35GB to 10GB
Xbox One X – from an install size of 47GB to 25GB
Windows 10 PC – from an install size of 47GB to 27GB
Sea of Thieves launched in choppy condition. Server stability was a major issue and hackers plagued the seas for a time. Since then, it’s expanded with bug fixes and a series of free content releases. This size adjustment, which will require a larger than usual patch on the 6th, will help the game continue to expand.
“Changes to how we generate game updates/patches will better enable us to manage future content being added to the game,” Neate wrote. “This might mean that patch sizes increase slightly in the future, but the benefit is that the game install size won’t increase significantly. If we didn’t make this change, the game install size would continue to increase, taking up more and more of your hard drive space.”
If Sea of Thieves is going to keep growing and as more and more games use lots of disc space, taking up less real estate on players’ drives will be crucial. It also means that if you ever want to install and check out the seas again, you won’t wait as long. It’s a little random—I can’t think of the last time I’ve read an announcement like this—but if that means clear skies and clear hard drives, then sure.