Ubisoft Singapore’s much-anticipated pirate game Skull and Bones will soon be sailing the high seas this November and we were able to get an interview with the captain of the game’s development team: Senior Game Director Ryan Barnard.
Before coming to Ubisoft in 2021, Ryan Barnard got his start as a quality assurance analyst and later game designer for the Ever Quest games at Sony Online Entertainment. He would later direct Tom Clancy’s The Division and work on the 2016 Hitman game as well as its sequel Hitman 2.
In the interview, Captain Barnard was able to give us more insight into the life of a pirate in Skull and Bones, using the different ships and what content players can expect when they set sail in The Golden Age of Pirates.
Pirate naval combat is a type/genre of game that’s rarely focused in other games, so what were the key ideas when Ubisoft was developing Skull and Bones? How did you want it to look?
Barnard: I joined the team about a year and a month ago so we’ve done a lot of improvements and touch-ups to the naval combat, but a lot of that has already been set in motion with the previous game director but I can tell you that there was a lot of inspiration from the original Assassin Creed Black Flag when we started.
We wanted to make sure that the game was much more reactive, combat was faster pace, and we made sure there was a greater variety of weapons and armor. Things like boarding and when you attack with your crew, all of those elements are things that we added in.
But in this genre, there aren’t a lot of choices. It’s a really slow kind of more realistic, say World of Warships type game which is definitely more like a simulator but is still a great game. There’s definitely some learning there but really, how does it work with a group? How does it work with ten plus enemies and all of that is just kind of learning and going through the boat and process.
Since the core of the game is online multiplayer, how does it also cater to those who wish to only play single-player? Are there things you will miss if you play only solo?
Barnard: Everything in the game up to a certain point can be played [solo]. That being said, we are a multiplayer-focused game because we know that, in all of these games, allowing players to engage with other players is just healthy for the community.
It allows us to engage with them and gets them more excited for the game, but absolutely, you can play single-player if you like. If you’re older, and you can only play for a certain amount of time, you can play the game completely solo. That being said, at some point, we think most players are going to want to hopefully engage with other players, and pirate with other Pirates so that you can take on some of these really tough challenges in the game.
The game is set in the Indian Ocean, but how big and far do we get to sail? Like how many total players can fit in a server/world
Barnard: For the service structure, there are 20 individual players on each kind of dedicated server. It’s actually the second-largest Ubisoft game to date behind The Crew 2. Because of course, when you have ships or clouds or whatever, you need to make big spaces.
If you think of open-world games, like Far Cry or Assassin’s Creed, or even another pirate game that you might know about (Sea of Thieves), there are about 85 to 95 square kilometers. Skull and Bones is 625 square kilometers so it’s quite a bit larger. So you definitely have a lot of places to explore and come across different factions. You know, get involved in different pirating activities as you build your Infamy in the game.
Can we meet exotic animals and historical figures in Skull and Bones like Blackbeard and sea monsters like the Kraken?
Barnard: So, first of all, we are definitely a fictional game. We take inspiration from this time period, from the region but everyone you come across in the game is going to be fictional. So there are a few references to actual Pirates that existed around this time but you won’t be meeting Blackbeard. We took inspiration from these famous pirates of course.
There’s a wide variety of wildlife that you come across in the game. Some of them are non-interactive, and then there are some that are very dangerous but essential for things that you will need to craft and make for your ships or different weapons. These include crocodiles, hippos, and sharks which you can hunt down with a smaller ship, which we call a hunter-gatherer, “the Dhow”.
For sea monsters, I’m not going to say we have a Kraken but it’s something the team is aware of. If it’s something that’s asked for by the community, who knows in the future?
Does the story of Skull and Bones relate to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, since it was supposed to be a spin-off title?
Barnard: We are very aware of Assassin’s Creed and its relation to Skull and Bones. A lot of the community has been asking about Black Flag. I think for the similarities, you’re going to find them when you’re in naval combat.
That was always something that the team has strived for, we want to be “Best in Class” for a naval pilot game. But we took the combat from Black Flag much further and much deeper. I think we’ve made it something very different so it’s not an Assassin’s Creed game. Don’t get me wrong, Assassin’s Creed is a great game and it’s a great inspiration and source but Skull and Bones is a very different game.
Other than naval combat and raising infamy, is there any other way to experience the pirate fantasy, like seeking treasure?
Barnard: Let’s be clear, Skull and Bones is a Pirate game. You’re interacting in combat in some way whether you’re trying to plunder a forge or just take down a merchant for the loot. Those are all pirate events, right?
But you can gain Infamy in a lot of different non-combat ways as well. The first time you craft a big ship, the first time you’re exploring a new area, you can discover treasure maps, and then follow these maps which are very non-combat-oriented. We want to make sure that there are enough quests to do these things. Most of what you do is piracy oriented.
You said that the ships have different play styles with different armor and weapons. How is the process of designing the ships itself, like choosing which one is the overall best?
Barnard: We don’t want a ‘best ship’ in the game. The whole point of the 12 ships at launch is to have players try to acquire and craft all of them. All the ships are really important because we think of them as more like selecting the right tool for the job.
There are a lot of areas in the game that you can only access with a smaller ship for instance. So if you want to be taking on plundering or pirating in those areas you need to have a smaller ship so it’s not always the bigger the better. It should be the right tool for the job. You need different sizes of ships and that’s done through the loadout and what kind of customization you choose for your ship.
So we have that mix, right? We don’t really want to have one be the best ship but once you’ve unlocked all of them, I’m sure you’ll end up with one particular ship that you really like to play or a certain weapon set that you like to use or load out.
The main mission is to raise our Infamy, but does it have a level cap? What happens if we maxed it?
Barnard: How do I say this? We definitely have a plan for the end game which will involve Infamy. It’s something that we can only communicate a little later, but there is no level cap at launch. There may be a time when you need to wait for the end game to come about. When that happens, then you’ll see the plans for how Infamy works in conjunction with the life cycle that we have for the game. So you’re definitely not stuck at level 50 like some other games.
Skull and Bones was first announced in 2017, meaning it’ll finally be ready to chart the ocean after over five years of production. That’s quite a long time for a ship to be in development but after all the Tom Clancy and Far Cry games, it’s cool to see Ubisoft putting so much effort into crafting this new IP.
We thank Ryan Barnard for speaking with us in this interview and wish him and his team the best of luck making their way through the final stretch of rough water before Skull and Bones is released. Here’s hoping it ends with them finding gold.
Skull and Bones will release for PS5, Xbox Series X, and PC via The Epic Games Store and The Ubisoft Store on November 8th, 2022.
For more information on Skull and Bones, check out our article on Everything You Need To Know about this latest sea fairing adventure.
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