On Wednesday the Sea of Thieves community team hosted a Q&A with the Tall Tales design team.
I’ve collected all of the answered questions below, lightly edited. You should note that a small handful of questions were answered only with smiley faces – these have been omitted from this roundup due to their overly ambiguous nature, but you can go looking for them here.
I’ve arranged the answers by topic for your convenience:
Tease + future content
Q. Has the team considered adding elements of the tall tales (traps, following constellations to treasure, hidden vault rooms with timed puzzles) into the emergent gameplay of SoT organically without the need of a story questline to lead you to them?
Mike: Yes, in fact while we chose those specific mechanics because they could form the basis for interesting stories, they were also considered in terms of how they could bring value to the rest of the game. We’re actively working on ways we could enrich the existing Voyages with some of the Tall Tales mechanics. So much potential and [we’re] very excited by this. Tales can showcase mechanics in a cool way, but can become more replayable as part of the Voyages.
Q. Mike, you made reference to a Masters of the Universe / Portal link for future Sea of Thieves content. Can you tell us more?
Mike: So… it’s not the portal bit that everyone thinks. There is an interesting, visually impressive moment when you first see He-Man that would be pretty amazing to see in the Sea of Thieves.
Q. Any plans to [include] the merfolk in tall tales ?
Mike: Looking forward to diving into the lore of the merfolk and the origin / purpose of the mermaid statues. It’s part of a future story that’s had a lot of thought, but [it’s] not the focus on the tales we’re planning right now. There is a grand story that links future tales together over many characters and events. Merfolk are part of this. Just to set expectations though, this is for the future, not this year.
Q. Just wondering when we’ll get to “dive” into Bell and Nura’s story, and how long will it be before we understand more about their connection to the Sea of The Damned [and] the Ferryman?
Mike: Would like to explore more of Bel and Nura’s story, as well as the Sea of the Damned all up. There’s a flow of a wider story we want to tell, with tiny hints in the monthly activities right now. Obviously future Tall Tales will flesh this out further.
Q. I remember talk of an island that would only be accessible via a rowboat through a tunnel, something like the journey to the center of the earth… ?
Mike: Use of a rowboat to row into a location is definitely the basis of a future feature. Its better than just a normal island and it’s not a monster…
Q. How [long until] we get a new area in the Sea of Thieves?
Mike: New areas would be awesome and would like to do more than just expanding out again Nothing to confirm though. It takes a lot of time and would like to do more with the gameplay, rather than just change the look of islands.
Q. Now that we have working hatches can we get working doors on the galleons?
Mike: Doors are a little more complex but we had them in the Sea of Thieves prototype in early development and want to bring them to the game. Would be great to slam the door in a crewmate’s face!
Tall Tales (questions, comments, ideas)
Q. Could the Tall Tales books be collected somewhere (like a bookshelf), with an option to vote on them “on the spot” to start a tale?
Mike: Love this idea. Something we’ve discussed extensively, but we’d lose the specific cutscenes that happen at NPC’s. However, for completionists to show you’ve mastered the tales, its a nice idea…
Q. Do you think we’ll be seeing a short Tall Tales series for Pirate Legends, maybe based on the crew of Athena’s Fortune? It would be a great way for players to be able to earn the ghostly eye curse of the Mysterious Stranger!
Andy: Would love to build some tall tales exclusively for Pirate Legends, would be very cool to build something custom for our most engaged players. Also love the idea of building a curse around the Mysterious Strangers eyes!
Q. Will we see more curses in the future? Can we get an idea of when the next Tall Tale will be released and will they become more consistently released like the Bilge Rat monthly adventures are rolling out now?
Mike: Yes, the curses that were delivered as part of Shores of Gold is just the start. While we have some new stories that we are excited to tell, a lot of the work we’re doing at the moment is trying to ensure we can make them a regular thing for players. Lots of opportunities for episodic storytelling!
Q. Will new Tales release with 9 every time or will there be mini stories like a set of 3? To add on: how often will we see Tales?
Mike: We want to make the release of them regular and predictable and as I mentioned earlier, there’s so much potential with episodic storytelling. The nine tale arc worked well for Shores of Gold but I don’t think we’re tied to this. We could do 3 tale arcs, 5 tales arcs, as well as self contained stories. Wouldn’t want to tie us into a limiting format.
Q. In the heavy trap sections of the Tall Tales, would you consider setting up a lever, or something similar, that would allow the first person to make it through a trap sequence to deactivate the traps (maybe just for a limited time).
Andy: This sounds like a cool idea; the traps and mechanisms system is very flexible and will be improved further in the future! Ideas like this sound great!
Q. Did you anticipate Briggsy being such a fan favorite?
Andy: Personally didn’t expect Briggsy to be a fan favourite as I was setting up how difficult she was for a 4 player crew haha but did think Rose and George would become a fan favourite. I love all the artwork the community make of Briggsy and the other characters; it’s incredible to see!
Mike: She is hands down my favourite, hence the focus of the story being on exploring important characters in Briggsy’s memories. I love the fact that Briggsy has gone down well with everyone!
Q. Are there any plans to add more checkpoints in future tails, similar to tale 9?
Andy: We’ve been discussing players progress through Tales a lot recently in the studio, and we hear the feedback loud and clear that some of the Tall Tales are quite long. This however is a tricky problem to solve in a shared world. Who ‘owns’ the progress through the tale and how do we ‘resume’ a tale in an approachable way? I see this being something we continue to think about for the future!
Mike: Yes, we’ve discussed some options here about giving players limited abilities to safeguard their items as well as how we could implement a checkpoint system. Obviously longer tales allow us to take the story to more interesting places, but we know this is a barrier for players to enjoy the tales.
Q. The idea of darkness and using teamwork to progress through areas [like trap] really appeals to me personally, is this something you have given thought of since?
Mike: Really like the idea of using darkness as part of a ‘trap’. One of the ideas for the Gold Hoarder fight early on was that he would turn out the flames in the treasure room and send Shadow Skeletons after you… the idea of sets of eyes just coming towards you in the darkness would be so creepy. Also the room with all the masts and spikes as part of ‘Belly of Gold’ was known as the ‘dark room’ during development where the idea was that players would have to navigate precarious platforms while using their lantern.
Developing Tall Tales
Q. Did you folks ever play with the idea of a Giant Boulder (à la Raiders of the Lost Ark) chasing you down a pathway on Tribute Peak and, if yes, why did you ultimately discard the idea? How many more unrealised trap concepts are still out there – what crazy ideas did the Team come up with?
Andy: Haha, this is a cool idea, we didn’t specifically have the boulder chasing you but we did play with the idea of a large boulder dropping from the ceiling of some rooms! We also had prototypes of trip wires and some other traps as part of development; and have some new ideas for future traps and mechanisms that we’re very excited about! Both as part of new Tall Tales but also to enrich the emergent sandbox further.
Q. There once was a time where Rare’s designers used to lay out their ideas on sticky notes. I was wondering if you could detail your own process when it comes to laying out/pitching an idea for the Tall Tales.
Andy: Sticky notes are still a massive thing here at Rare we use them daily to design and illustrate ideas. We also use a mixture of digital to mock up UI elements in Photoshop or block out level design ideas in Maya. I did block out all of the 3D meshes for all of the swing traps for The Art of the Trickster to get them in early and test before 3D made the pretty version that are in the game today!
Q. Which Tall Tale did you find was the most challenging of the bunch to develop?
Andy: Shores of Gold was without a doubt the hardest Tall Tale to develop. Designing and building the island and making sure that we could fit it in the game was a big technical challenge. There was also a lot of considerations with other crew contending certain elements of the Tale which took a lot of thought and planning; but ultimately I’m extremely happy with how it turned out!
My favourite Tale to design was The Art of the Trickster as it involved creating lots of new gameplay with the new traps system. My favourite Tale overall though has to be The Legendary Storyteller; We really want to put in a tale with a strong life message; about not growing cynical in old age and always keeping that child like view of the world. Tasha’s story over this tale is beautiful and I’m very happy with where it landed. The Quest Book is also amazing!
Q. Has there been a Tall Tale that changed radically though its development? If not, are there any sort of things to look out for when it comes to seeing the vision of the Tales through to completion?
Mike: The original pitch to the Tall Tales team involved 10 tales, from start to finish in terms of the story and the use of mechanics. Ultimately 10 tales felt like one too many as part of that story. But really, that’s the only thing that changed. The specific puzzles were fleshed out and we iterated on difficulty and specific pieces. Generally though, the broad strokes were there in that early pitch fully formed.
The challenge is always telling the right story but tying it to interesting gameplay that still works as part of a shared world.
Q. When anniversary launched, myself and another community member discovered “Lords of the Sea” and decoded the message of the book’s front-page. So, any teasers about this?
Mike: Lords of the Sea was the 10th tale that was just too much to achieve in the time, and was also the tale that tied the least into the direct Shores of Gold quest line. The cool story aspects of this will still see the light of day in future tales.
Q. Throughout the Shores of Gold chain of Tall Tales, we come across a myriad of Ancient relics and tools with unique properties and purpose. What inspired you when creating these, visually and narratively?
Mike: There are a bunch of themes that we wanted to get across as part of the Shores of Gold story, most notably information around the Ancient Civilisation that existed before pirates reached the Sea of Thieves (spyglass, puzzle vaults etc).
Q. Mike, you suggested the possibility of dropping a tease or two in this Q&A session, so I’d like the chance to ask if you could tell us about any juicy tidbits you can recall that were cut from the Tall Tales setlist?
Mike: There was an idea that involved tracking down a Rum Runner. The quest book was clearly written by someone who had drank a few Mechanically it involved looking at a ‘drunken version’ of the constellations – players would have to get drunk themselves and look through the spyglass to see ships, tankards and treasure chests in the stars. Ultimately, it felt too similar to Stars of a Thief, but the story aspect was fun.
Q. If there is one thing you can improve on from the Shores of Gold Tall Tales, what would it be and why?
Andy: There is always ways to improve! The main 3 areas we could have improved would be:
Tale Length – Giving players the ability checkpoint through tales.
Tale Balance – Ensuring the puzzles and encounters had been balanced better.
Tale Discoverability – Making it easier for more players to find and discover Tall Tales!
Q. What is the mechanism introduced by the Tales that you prefer the most? I was also wondering [what inspired] the Tales stories?
Mike: All the Tall Tales begun as stories that focused on specific emotions, such as a ‘Tale of Love’ (Wild Rose) ‘Tale of Wonder’ (Legendary Storyteller), ‘Tale of Revenge’ (Revenge of the Morningstar) etc.
We started with the most ambitious idea we could, which was telling a love story in a pirate game, and that is where the story of Wild Rose began before the wider Shores of Gold story was created around it.
So many of the mechanics are ideas we’ve wanted to do for a while – enchanted compass, spyglass, lantern etc. I’m particularly fond of the Enchanted Spyglass as the idea of using the stars to navigate was such a romantic notion, especially with players being able to look up and know what a collection of stars meant, even without using the spyglass. This is why we used the constellations to the North, South, East and West for the medallions on Shores of Gold as it would make sense if you’d made the journey through the nine tales.
All of the stories were fictional and chosen to flesh out the world and existing characters. The original brief for the ten tales (that became nine) were written during one week where I just stayed at home and worked at the kitchen table surrounded by post-it notes. Quite an exhausting process and clearly the real work was just beginning as then we had to go make them and fully flesh them out.
Really keen to unlock the quest variety in Tall Tales as part of standard voyages!
Q. Was there any design inspiration for the Gold Hoarder’s appearance and Character personality?
Mike: The Gold Hoarder as a character has been around since before even the Gold Hoarders Trading Company and was explored in early concept art. Personality wise, when we cast the actor that voiced him, we wanted him to sound very ancient, as if his mind had been corrupted by the ancient gold that surrounds him. I wanted him to subtly cry/moan under his breath as you approached him on the throne – he hates what he’s become, but can never let go. We’ll try and get the cry in at some point
Q. What the most challenging part of designing the Tall Tales was for you, and how you were able to overcome it and make it work?
Mike: The hardest thing with telling a story is that the overall flow and sequence of events is ‘locked in’. You have little wiggle room to adjust events or change the scope of mechanics if they’re proven to be extremely complex (even more pressing in a multiplayer shared world) as the story just won’t make sense. As designers, we’ll naturally feel the pressure of implementing the original vision for what we designed and had in our head. This pressure is magnified when it comes to telling a specific story as you need certain events to play out a certain way to land with players with the impact you had in mind. The actual Shores of Gold quest (tale 9) was the culmination of all of this. The island was huge, it was hard to fit into memory at the time, BUT it was the very basis for the whole story and the culmination of the epic journey we wanted players to go on.
Q. Did this first set of Tall Tales has lived up to your personal expectations? What it has been like incorporating feedback from players to improve the Tall Tales?
Mike: I vividly remember playing all nine tales back to back in one sitting at Rare a few weeks before the Anniversary Update went live. The feeling of relief when I got to the Pirate Lord’s speech at the end was so immense! Genuinely, I teared up as I left the island. I’ll never forget that moment. As I was driving back down the drive at Rare to head home. I could have sworn I heard the Shores of Gold version of becalmed ringing in my ears…
All that said, gauging the right difficulty and playtime for each tale is very hard. We really wanted to push and deliver more than anyone was expecting, so might have got a little carried away in parts. We also didn’t add the level of polish we wanted for some of the key moments, so you’ll see some of this get added with future updates. The Pirate Lord speech moment in particular has received some extra love and I’m so proud of how much improved that pivotal scene is.
Q. As a composer myself, I could hear the influence from the Shawshank Redemption end credits theme in the Shores of Gold Becalmed arrangement. Very charming! Robin Beanland is brilliant!
Mike: Robin and I sat and listened to the soundtrack to Shawshank Redemption a few times, so it undoubtedly became inspiration. ‘Becalmed’ had already become a little bit of an anthem and it has always been a special track for the design team. I was keen to embrace this and of course, Robin exceeded even my expectations, as he normally does.
As a lover of music, but not a musician, most of our conversations start with “remember Marion’s theme from Raiders of the Lost Ark, or remember that scene in Gremlins, I want you to feel like that!
Q. Others are starting to finally believe that Duke is the Dark Lord, have I been right all this time? Is Duke the Dark Lord?
Mike: I can confirm that Duke is not a Dark Lord However Duke still has a story to tell in the future.
Q. Can you lay out the timeline for when Tales From the Sea of Thieves, Athena’s Fortune and the comics in relation to current Sea of Thieves?
Mike: Generally the event of Athena’s Fortune are 35 years in the past and the events of the Sea of Thieves comics are 10 years in the past, obviously before Demarco and Lesedi founded the Sea Dogs.
Q. When can we expect the official release for the Trade Company comics?
Mike: No plans currently to release the Trading Company comics, but would like to, as well as new related stories.
Q. In Sea of Thieves, there’s no mention of the Pirate Lord’s real name. As far as we know Demarco and Lesedi don’t know about their father in game or him becoming a pirate lord ghost. Do they know about their father or are they unaware of the pirate legend tavern?
Mike: Demarco and Lesedi are aware of their Father as a ghost and know of the Athena’s Fortune Tavern.
Q. Is the Silver Blade cosmetics from the Insiders represent what Captain Flameheart’s ship the Silver Blade?
Mike: Yes, the Silver Blade is the same design as the one featured in Tales from the Sea of Thieves!
Q. In Tale 8 Revenge of the Morning Star you find the Chalice of Resurrection. So is the Chalice of Resurrection from that tale the same chalice that Cursed Flameheart into being a Skeleton Lord for all eternity?
Mike: No, it isn’t the specific chalice, but the same concept. There are numerous chalices that possess this power. Flameheart’s chalice is in the hands of some very interesting individuals that you’ll meet in the future!
Q. What does the Order of Souls do with captured skeletons and the skulls of captains and other noteworthy undead? We know that they gather knowledge through magical interactions with them, but do the undead come back and re-manifest themselves again, somehow, or are they then gone forevermore?
Mike: The nature of the Order of Souls and how they ‘read the minds’ of the skulls of dead pirates… this lore was always a planned part of the design of the characters and Order of Souls quests even before launch, but Shores of Gold allowed us to explain this as part of your interactions with Madame Olivia and Madame Olive.
In terms of the difference between pirates and skeletons, pirates who are living will be returned to life by the Ferryman, whereas pirates who have become cursed do not. The soul of each skeleton is trapped inside the skull, making it a valuable object to the Order of Souls, given their ability to extract this soul and its memories, therefore giving them power in the Sea of Thieves as the Order would know the location of the lost hoards of these skeletons.
Q. Are there any plans for or a sequel to Athenas Fortune? or Can we expect another Novel soon?
Mike: Yes, we’re discussing where we could take a story, but nothing to outright confirm right now.
Q. Where is Stitcher Jim and has he decided to side with Captain Flameheart Jr. after finding out what’s in the Box of Wonderous Secrets and realizing that Captain Flameheart Jr. is a better “boss” to follow than the Rathbone?
Mike: I hear a bunch of ragtag pirates defeated the Gold Hoarder… clearly, nothing comes of greed. But beyond this, what could truly change Stitcher’s heart? All I’ll say is that his allegiance has changed.
Q. Is the Box of Wonderous Secrets being sent to Captain Flameheart and who is his keeper? Will we ever find out more about his father who adopted him?
Mike: The Box of Secrets are related to Flameheart and you will find out what’s inside. The origin of Flameheart and Father will also be explained.
Q. What happened to the other Mysterious stranger Gloria?
Mike: When the Pirate Lord heard about Briggsy reaching the Shores of Gold, he tasked George (Mysterious Stranger) with recruiting some would-be future legends into stepping into one of his unfinished adventures. Gloria has her own lead she’s investigating. She’ll be back!