Heave-ho! 'Sea of Thieves' Gets Players to Work as a Pirate Crew

LOS ANGELES -- The Xbox booth at the E3 trade show features a lot of the usual.

A new "Forza Motorsport" racing game. The latest "Madden" and "FIFA" sports games from Electronic Arts, looking much like last year's editions. Other titles that put you behind the barrel of a gun, bow or spear -- standard entries in video gaming's most popular genre.

But there's also something different going on.

Groups of players on a bank of Xbox game consoles are doing tasks that, on their face, look pretty mundane. Digging into the sand in a cavern. Hauling in a set of ship sails. Walking through an island village or across a ship deck.

But they're working collaboratively, small groups of players on the same mission, hunting for treasure (or trying to protect it from others). And they're occasionally breaking into laughter along the way.

They're inhabiting the same game world in "Sea of Thieves," Microsoft's upcoming pirate adventure cooperative-play game. It is one of Microsoft's biggest bets from its set of game studios and a break outside the safe genres of big-budget games.

 

 

"Sea of Thieves" invites small groups of players to work together on a ship, hunting for treasure, forming alliances or plundering the craft of other live players in the game world. This take on a pirate's life is more silly than serious.

Ted Timmins, a designer with Rare, the Microsoft-owned studio in England that's building the game, said the entire studio attended a screening of "The Goonies," the 1985 film about a bunch of misfits on an adventure for treasure. Other points of inspiration are classics of the genre: Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" and Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," Timmins said.

This is not a simulation. For one, you can shoot yourself out of a cannon.

Whimsy, and a certain British humor, comes through in half-hour game-play sessions here and a separate lengthy trailer of a treasure hunt.

There are missions to go through and steps along the way, but Rare's goal is that players take away something unique from the experience of completing tasks with the community.

"We're giving them the tools to write their own stories," Timmins said.

Some of the tens of thousands of gamers participating in an early trial of "Sea of Thieves" have taken that advice literally, he said, posting lengthy recaps of one adventure or another on the game's online forums.

The game is set for its official release sometime early next year. Timmins says the aim, as with most multiplayer experiences, is to continue to build out the game universe after that.

"We're all very passionate about this game lasting for years," Timmins said.

Matt Day: 206-464-2420 or mday@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @mattmday ___

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