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Sea of Thieves Interview: Exploration, Solo, Customization and More

We recently got in touch with Mike Chapman, lead designer on Sea of Thieves, to discuss the upcoming open-world pirate-themed exploration game. Various arrays were touched, and there’s plenty of information to go around.

Sea of Thieves Interview With Mike Chapman

SegmentNext: One major pillar underneath Sea of Thieves is the shared world where players can come together on the high seas and plan their own adventures. With such heavy focus on cooperative gameplay, what is in store for players wanting to go solo? Lead Designer Mike Chapman has mentioned that opting to do so would reduce the overall experience. Can you give us more details on those limitations?

Mike Chapman: Players will be able to adventure on their own small ship, embarking on the same types of quests, taking advantage of emergent opportunities and progressing to the point where they begin to customize both their ship and character, just like players who may prefer to play in larger groups.

I fully expect players to play on the small ship for a whole host of reasons. Maybe their friends are offline, maybe they just want to sit back and relax on their own, maybe they want to play with one other friend or even several other friends on that small ship. The small ship is designed for small crews, including crews of one. The fact that it has one mast, fewer cannons and is easier to sail while alone just feels natural and intuitive. It can still be upgraded and customized and for many players it may well be their first step in Sea of Thieves. Whether they decide to ever play on larger ships with bigger crews is up to them.

SegmentNext: Can we expect a single-player campaign mode for Sea of Thieves, featuring a deep story dipped in some of that Rare magic? If so, will an offline mode make the cut?

Mike Chapman: Our goal is to build a world rich with lore, legends and most importantly, the charm and magic of what makes a Rare game truly special. There will be a sense of story but crucially it won’t be linear since each player’s journey through the game will be unique to them. Being part of a vast and immersive world, along with our beautiful art direction, affords us almost limitless potential in providing a charming and magical place to get lost and spend hours in.

Being in a shared world is also a fundamental part of what makes Sea of Thieves unique and what keeps the gameplay emergent and ever-changing, so no matter what ship you decide to play on, you will always have the chance of seeing another ship on the horizon.

SegmentNext: Can you give us a fair idea on the scale of which the game’s open world is built on? Just how large is it and what’s the ratio of landmass to sea?

Mike Chapman: Our world is tailor-made to provide the right balance of adventuring on your own or with the crew and then emergently coming across other ships. The world itself will have different regions and different sizes of islands, some of which will be clustered together, whereas others might be separated by the vast open sea.

Crucially, the world itself is completely seamless, allowing players to choose whether they want to island hop on a short voyage or perhaps adventure over several hours, taking in multiple regions of the world. Players will visit islands for many reasons but the only way they can move through and explore the world is to sail their ship. It’s the crew’s home.

SegmentNext: Is there an element of procedurally generated islands to surprise explorers with different layouts and terrains every time?

Mike Chapman: This relates perfectly to your earlier question about capturing that Rare magic and charm. We believe that hand-crafted islands will play a big part in ensuring that these places are a joy to explore and to share adventures upon.

Islands should be memorable for a variety of different reasons, they should be a feast for the eyes and ears and they should invite exploration by having an innate sense of place and history. This desired attention to detail made it more important to us to design and build islands specifically. However, the advantage of being in a shared world is that the adventures play out differently each time, ensuring that what players experience will be more memorable and unique to them.

SegmentNext: Will Sea of Thieves feature towns in safe-zones where players can get together to trade wares, socialize, check the black market, or hire new crewmates? After all, every captain will require a safe area to dock his/her ship for repairs.

Mike Chapman: We want to fulfil a wide range of player motivations, whether that be trading, exploration, socializing with new crew mates, upgrading their ship etc. Look out for more detail on our forum ( and in our video diaries ( where we’ll be sharing more in the future.

SegmentNext: Let’s talk about the ships; can we purchase new ones or are bound to upgrading our present one? What’s the largest crew-size that a ship can hold in the game? Do you plan on adding Galleons for players to front as a flagship for their armada?

Mike Chapman: Players will be able to own a variety of ships in the game and upgrade both their functionality and customize their look.

Players will also be able to play in a variety of crew sizes depending on how they want to play. We aren’t talking specifically about numbers, such as the exact crew and ship sizes, only because our goal right now is to get the game into a Closed Beta. We have our vision for where we think we should take crews and ships, but ultimately we want to build our whole experience alongside an engaged player base with whom we have a two-way relationship

SegmentNext: With such a vast world, there surely are legendary lost treasures waiting to be found. Is Rare adding unique weapons, ships, or other items in the game?

Mike Chapman: Yes! All of the above!

SegmentNext: What kind of a character progression system are we looking at here? On that note, how deep does the customization process go for both characters and ships? Can we create our own Jolly Roger?

Mike Chapman: Players will be able to customize a lot of aspects about their character, such as their clothing, their trinkets and how they look overall. Players will also be able to progress the things they have such as equipment and weapons.

However, we want to encourage players to perform different roles on the ship based the situations they find themselves in, so we decided not to lock players into defined roles, such as always being better at operating the sails or firing the cannons. The difference between good crews and excellent crews will be how well they work together on the ship and how they decide who does what in any given moment, just as you would expect if you were on a real ship.

Players will also be able to customize and upgrade the ships they own. Playing on someone else’s ship is always very compelling, since you get to see the choices they’ve made and try out their upgrades.

Sea of Thieves is releasing on Xbox One and Windows 10 sometime next year.