Skull and Bones: How Exploration Works

With the waves beneath you and the wind in your sails, the Indian Ocean is yours to fully explore in Skull and Bones. But, as we recently learned, most of Ubisoft’s upcoming pirate simulators are set at sea. So how much is there to discover out there, other than water, water and, well, more water? We spoke to the developers at Ubisoft Singapore to find out.

On earth

Although the majority of the Skull and Bones map is ocean, you can get off your ship and walk on land. Not all of the islands you see are explorable, but you can drop anchor in dens and outposts; two types of special locations that have everything a pirate needs to prepare for new adventures.

“Gameplay on land is all about socializing, crafting, building your fleet, and taking on in-game contracts in a den or outpost,” says Ryan Barnard, Game Director on Skull and Bones.

“The special idea of ​​earth is that it gives you a safe zone where no one can attack you,” says Elisabeth Pellen, Creative Director of Skull and Bones. “The role of the pirate is to go back and forth between the safe land, where you can build and customize your ship, also exchange resources, before [going] over the ocean to steal valuable cargo that you can then bring back.

“So from the land, in addition to building and training, you can also take contracts to earn money from other pirate stalwarts,” she adds. “As your infamy begins to spread across the Indian Ocean, you will gain access to your very own pirate lair from where you can start your ascent to the Pirate Pillar by crafting and smuggling illegal goods and great value.”

Skull and Bones – concept art and screenshots (2022)

The world of Skull and Bones was designed as a living space that changes as frequently as the tides. Some characters won’t stay in one place forever, so you’ll need to explore the map to find the right people with the right opportunities.

“Spread all over the world, you will find outposts where you can encounter smugglers or local rebels fighting against mega-corporations,” Pellen reveals. “We call them Ephemeral Zones, because the NPCs you encounter in these outposts won’t always be the same. They also travel. They move from place to place.

“When you log into Skull and Bones, the first thing you need to do is look at your map and see where the trade routes are, where the merchants are, before selecting the right ship and supplying and selling it. ‘gear up and set sail in the direction that most interests you,’ she advises.

Sailing, trading, and smuggling are all important aspects of a career as a buccaneer. But what about treasure hunting, perhaps the most famous of all pirate pastimes?

“There are plenty of hidden treasures in every outpost,” promises Pellen. “You have to board some ships and steal treasures, or you can also scavenge shipwrecks to find other map pieces. So [by following clues in] some drawings and some landmarks, once you find the correct island you can also use a land compass which will help you find the location of the treasure.

At sea

While there are many important things to find and do on land, the core gameplay of Skull and Bones takes place at sea. With this in mind, Ubisoft Singapore has put a lot of effort into making the ocean a interesting and challenging place to explore.

“Our water is essentially a warping mesh, and that warping mesh informs physics,” says Kris Kirkpatrick, Senior Technical Director of Skull and Bones. “So the boat actually interacts with the waves.”

“We have other physical properties that every ship will read,” he continues. “So there is buoyancy and there is drag. It affects how far the boat will go in the water, how fast it will go through it. Each ship should be different based on its size and weight. »

Since sailing is such a goal, the naval mechanics had to evolve beyond what we saw in Assassin’s Creed. Things like the weight of items in your hold and the direction of the wind all need to be considered.

“Of course the wind should be important for sailing and navigation. The direction of the wind actually affects the speed of your ship,” says Kirkpatrick. “So the player has to go with the wind, and a good player will sail better with the wind at his back, and tack better, and therefore be a better sailor.”

But while the systems are more detailed now, Skull and Bones is certainly not a hardcore sailing simulator. “You don’t have to be a sailor to play Skull & Bones and be able to figure out what to do,” Barnard promises, “but as you learn to better use the wind, and [learn about what your] weight means and your cargo and the type of ship you have, you will see that there are benefits to being a better captain and a better navigator.

Indian Ocean waves can often be calm and beautiful, but Skull and Bones has a complete weather system that can totally transform its waters. “We want to make sure there are different types of weather conditions,” says Kirkpatrick. “So you can have light rain, you can have incredibly crazy supercell storms, and they will feel dynamic. We want the player to be surprised by this and feel the threat.

A storm can be as dangerous as a 100-gun galleon, so one of the biggest challenges in Skull and Bones will be learning how to navigate when the water is determined to break your hull. “As you enter the storm, the waves obviously get a lot bigger,” says Kirkpatrick. “That means the certain size of the ship you have could affect you. You could flood, you could take damage. Visibility will change. It will be much darker, so maybe you won’t be able to see threats. Other ships might jump on you. This forces the player to make sure [they are] properly equipped for the voyage with the right ship. Maybe they have enough food and weapons in case they hire someone.

Most open worlds create variety across different biomes and environments, but the ocean setting means Skull and Bones can’t quite do that. Instead, the developers paid close attention to different water states and iconography from the Golden Age of Piracy to ensure that every area of ​​the map looks new and interesting.

“Wind affects water, terrain affects water,” says Kirkpatrick. “So if I’m in a coastal sea near the shore, the waters will be suitably different. I can go inland then we use river tech […] So more than ever, the world needs to feed the water and then feed the player to help them decide how to act. Not only that, we have the biodiversity of the Indian Ocean. So when I go to Africa the water will look and feel different than when I go to the East Indies. We really wanted to show the diversity and realism of water.

“As you travel through different territories for factions, you’ll see the colors change,” Barnard explains. “The flags, the iconography change around you, so you’ll be aware of ‘Oh, I’m in Farah territory’ or ‘I’m in French territory.’ Color schemes and all that will change. [are] dynamic events. The things that lead the player to investigate are really important because you don’t want to just browse for an eternity while you move around, because it’s a big game and a big world. So that’s basically what we’re trying to do, split the passage with different things that you can engage with: helping a merchant, fixing a ship. »

“You can be distracted by broken map pieces you find in a bottle, and it will lead you to treasure,” Pellen teases. “On a remote island, you may find a ship seeking help. You may decide to escort that ship first, before returning to the prey you started following.

“Something we’ve implemented in the game is that sometimes, depending on the value or properties of the cargo you’re carrying, you can attract specific enemies, such as thieving pirates,” she warns. “Rivals will try to eat a slice of your pie.”

Survive the waves

The massive open world of Skull and Bones is beautiful, and you’ll want to explore just to see its many sights. But exploration is also key to staying alive, thanks to the survival mechanics that fit into the core gameplay loop. You must constantly search for new resources and gather raw materials to build better ships, feed your crew, and level up your infamy.

“In the world of Skull and Bones, you’ll evolve from being a castaway stranded on a desert island, to being a go-between working for other pirates, and then to being a kingpin,” Pellen says of the central arc. Game. . “To go from zero to hero, you will first need to collect the resources that will allow you to build your ship and craft your weapons.

“In the game, you can use a small boat and a harpoon to fish for sharks and even crocodiles,” says Pellen. “You can also use a lot of tools to cut down trees or collect iron on a cliff. You can also collect rags and steal ship pieces. And, of course, you can loot the rich merchant company and all their forts to collect a [large] amount of resources. Resource value is based on high risk and high reward. With all these resources, you can cook rations to feed your crew on your long journey. You can use wood to craft a large ship.

If the term “survival mechanic” fills you with dread and memories of thirst meter depletion, don’t worry; Skull and Bones is not that kind of survival game.

“As captain, you have no status,” promises Pellen. “You don’t need to drink or consume food yourself. [But] if you don’t feed or provide water to your crew after a while, they might turn on you and kick you out of your own ship and drop you on an island. If you feed them properly and cook food providing additional temporary buffs, you can increase your ship’s speed and the damage you deal because they have more energy.

Its massive map may be mostly water, but it seems there’s still plenty to explore in the world of Skull and Bones. For more on Ubisoft’s pirate sim, check out the seven things you need to know about Skull and Bones.

Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.

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