Sea of Thieves – Interview with Executive Producer Joe Neate

I miss the ocean.

I miss it so much that I dream about it, from time to time. I’m in Melbourne, and like everyone else in Melbourne, I’m pretty much jack of this lockdown. I long to fly the coop, to Thelma and Louise my way down the coast. I would, in short, kill to be on a boat right now, skimming along the waves, the salty air filling my lungs.

But I’m also an avid Sea of Thieves player.

So, naturally, I’ve been turning to fictional oceans to escape this interminable but utterly necessary debacle.

Sea of Thieves

I’ve spent countless hours with my crew, plotting and stabbing and shooting our way across waves which look and feel so real that sometimes, in my weaker moments, I feel like I really am there. On the ocean. Instead of trapped indoors. That’s the magical thing about Sea of Thieves.

Moreso than almost any other game, it is an utterly transporting playground which allows you to truly go somewhere else.

I’ve been playing since launch, but I had some burning questions. So I sat down with Joe Neate, executive producer of Sea of Thieves, to get to the bottom of them.

PowerUp! – Joe! Thanks for talking with me. During this time of lockdown, what do you think Sea of Thieves can do to help gamers relax, unwind, escape their couches?

Joe Neate – At its heart Sea of Thieves is about escapism, heading into a fantastical shared world to have adventures with your friends. The freedom of setting out on the open sea, the wind in your face, and just feeling like you’ve stepped into a different world is what we believe lets players escape the real world for a while.

PowerUp! – Sea of Thieves has gone from strength to strength. How much of your roadmap of content was always planned, and how much was shaped by feedback, criticism and admiration?

Joe Neate – It’s fair to say that at launch we had a lot of feedback, and that has continued throughout the journey we’ve been on. We definitely listened long and hard to our community at launch and shaped the plans for the first year directly on their feedback.

As we’ve moved forward, we’ve learned so much about what players enjoy, and how to continue surprising them. We are always listening, and in particular, our Insider audience is super valuable in terms of how they engage, how they test upcoming features and ensure that we meet the expectation of our wider audience.  

PowerUp! – What is it about the ocean that appeals to you as game makers? Because if there’s a main character in this game, it’s the ocean.

The ocean in Sea of Thieves was always going to be a huge part of the game.

We spent a long time early on in the project making sure it felt “right”, but without making you seasick 😊. The team did an incredible job making sure the gameplay feel, visuals & audio feedback gave you that feeling of being out at sea, the roll of the waves, the glint of the sun on the water and the spray as the boat cuts through the waves.

The ocean is endlessly fascinating. If you have a boat you can set out and head wherever you want, not knowing what you’re going to find, and at any point you can stop and dive in the water, not knowing what you’re going to find beneath the surface.

This applies in real life and in Sea of Thieves.

PowerUp! – Escapism is driving people to open worlds of late, but none of those worlds is quite so salty or wet. What is it about Sea of Thieves that you think draws people in?

Joe Neate – I’d refer you to my earlier answer, in that Sea of Thieves has always been about escapism. It’s why we try to have as little HUD and in-game info displayed on screen as possible and why it’s a first-person perspective, we want to immerse you in our world as much as possible.

I think that combined with the ability to socialise with your friends, plus the freedom to do whatever you want at your own pace, is what has led to so many people setting out on the open sea together.

PowerUp! – What are some features of the game world that you’re all very proud of but that you feel simply don’t get enough credit?

Joe Neate – A mildly silly answer, but I actually really like The Credits themselves.

We added loads of photos from throughout the early development, including our incredible prototype, and a suitably piratey team photo.

Seriously, if you want to see some fun photos of both how the game and team have evolved through the development, head into the settings on the front end and watch the Credits!

Read our Sea of Thieves Review here

PowerUp! – I’ve a friend, Andrew McClelland. A proper dandy.

But he’s also studied piratical history at length, and he wants to know when you plan on bringing in, and I quote, “real elements such as shipboard democracy and constitutions and scurvy and kick-ass pirate fleet owning ladies and keelhauling and privateering?”

Feel free to address one of those insane points at a time, or all together.

Joe Neate – An amazing question. Sea of Thieves is a fantastical world, inspired by, but not limited to piratical history. We will continue to be inspired by the things your friend Andrew is, and whatever we bring in will be suitably Sea of Thieves.

The beauty of a service like this is that there are *so many* things we can do, it’s just picking the right ones.

Keelhauling might be a step too far though…

PowerUp! – There you go, Andy. Joe, what role do you think music plays in Sea of Thieves? Have you considered making shanties a part of the game?

Joe Neate – Music is HUGELY important to Sea of Thieves and plays a huge role. From the music that rolls across the sea when nearing skeleton forts and fleets, to the instruments you can play together and sing along to. We have an incredible music and audio team, their talent blows me away every day.

PowerUp! – Would you consider adding a single-use grappling hook for players, one that can be used to spiderman up to a high ledge, pull a weapon from an adversary’s grasp, swing over to an opponent’s ship mid-fusillade? You could reload it each time you return to your ship, like a flare gun!

Joe Neate – Ha!

We’d have to consider how to ensure it was balanced against other weapons and mechanics, but I like the idea of the single reload so it’s a one-shot deal.

Love the idea of the hook appearing on the side of the ship and you having a chance to spot it and defend against it. Never say never!

PowerUp! I will never say never, then!

Have you considered a tool to let players name their ships? Maybe a name generator. The (adjective) (noun), and there it is, emblazoned on that ribbon above the door on each ship!

Joe Neate – Totally, and this will be possible at some stage. It’s currently tied to our long-mentioned plans around Ship Captaincy and ownership. We’ll get there!

PowerUp! – And finally, Joe, Pie in the sky, what’s some insane features you’ve been yearning to implement?

Joe Neate – A Painting canvas.

We had this in our prototype, it was INCREDIBLE. You could whip out the canvas and make a painting of whatever you were looking at, but it was hard to time it properly (think taking a photo with a two-second delay on a moving ship). You could hang it up on the ship, or gift it to a friend.

We loved adventuring together and seeing what paintings we’d made at the end. It was SO GOOD but we’ve not found the right justification to invest the time in it yet, it’s a pretty complex system for various reasons.

We’ll get it at some stage, I promise. If I keep mentioning it in interviews I’m sure it’ll help.

Just look at how much fun it was!

Image: Joe Neate

Sea of Thieves is available for PC on Steam and Windows 10 stores and on Xbox One.

Thanks to Joe Neate for his time.

Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven
Writer of Loose Units for Penguin. Host of ABCs Steam Punks. Host of 28 Plays Later. Unicorn enthusiast. Unicron enthusiast.

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