Less than two weeks to go before the Sea of Thieves anniversary update is released, Rare's biggest content batch for its community of avid buccaneers, which almost marks a new beginning for the studio's sandbox British. A couple of weeks ago we had the chance to try the new update directly in the English office of Rare: a visit that gave us some pleasant confirmation of the solidity of the next update, as well as a close look at the team's daily working life. A precious opportunity, which allowed us to peek behind the scenes of one of the longest-lived development realities on the European scene, animated by a contagious passion and a proudly old-school production philosophy.
Past and future of creativity " made in Rare "
Crossing the gates of the Rare estate, a red brick jewel set in the green of the English countryside, means venturing along an avenue studded with memories of timeless experiences. Memories that resurface with a smile at the sight of the grinning statue of good old Conker the squirrel being a protagonist of Bad Fur Day, lurking a few meters from the boundaries of the property.
Here, the first contact with the creative team of the British team fully sums up the atmosphere that reigns among the walls of the Twycross complex: a familiar, stimulating and dense environment with the echoes of a great past and a future more than promising. After greeting the dynamic Banjo-Kazooie duo guarding the threshold, the lobby of the study already reveals the total dedication of the men and women of Rare to their latest project, that Sea of Thieves that on April 30th will welcome among the waves the its most ambitious update. To greet the visitors there is in fact a "life-size" reproduction of one of the game's mascots, or Captain Bones the skeleton filibuster at the center of the very first adventure offered to the freshmen of piracy. On the other side of the atrium, as if to symbolize the close link between heritage and future that animates the internal "culture" of the studio, there is a small lounge where you can relax playing all the productions of the team, from GolgenEye to Viva Piñata surrounded by the awards received over the years.
This harmonic duality is a constant in the experience lived by visiting Rare's studios, with the celebration of creativity as a common thread: corridors and offices overflow with memorabilia and concept art, and even in the mess hall dominates a bookcase full of memorabilia of all kinds, between Famicom in perfect condition and special editions not found.
Resisting the temptation to take home some precious pieces is a challenge of no small importance, and we have personally weighed the possibility of "kidnapping" a massive Battletoad disguising it as a visiting journalist. The impression is that every detail of the shared environment is designed to constantly stimulate the experts, immersing them in a mosaic of references to the imaginary universe created by Rare. This is why, when the studio's core team started working at Sea of Thieves, the Leicestershire site turned into a sort of hyper-technological detachment of the Caribbean of the sixteenth century . It is indeed difficult not to notice, on the outer wall of one of the buildings, a row of cannons pointed towards what, at the time, was the operational headquarters of the team at work on Rare Replay, on the other side of an artificial lake on which it stretches a platform complete with a rudder and corsair artillery pieces.
All physical manifestations of a disruptive passion, which is reflected in every aspect of the daily working life of a studio that still interprets videogame production as something handmade, a distillate of pure creativity.
It is not surprising then – not too much, at least – that every single sound present in the Sea of Thieves has been created "in-house" with the typical methods of the old cinema noise. In one of the rooms of the complex there is an unimaginable quantity of objects that would not look out of place on the set of a "Pirates of the Caribbean": sabers, boots, bones and tankards lying loose on a floor that hides small sandy niches, used to reproduce the trampling of real buccaneers.
A universe of effects put together by the composer Robin Beanland, who also took care of playing every single instrument in the game, making sure that the melodies were never too "clean", so as not to betray the pirate premises of the title. In his study, Beanland told us of the difficulties associated with using the hurdy-gurdy, an instrument as particular as it is complex, or the correct rendering of melodies in the context of a rum-like intoxication.
A development model that finds strength in the continuous sharing of ideas and feedback, both between the different departments of Rare, as well as between the studio and its affectionate community. Sea of Thieves has indeed marked a net change in the policies of the study as far as the involvement of the users is concerned: if before the developer was known for the secrecy that characterized every videoludic enterprise, in recent years the communication with the public it has become an essential part of the creative process. In addition to the frequent livestreams in the tavern built for the occasion on the second floor of the main building, the complex houses a large number of cubicles designed both for internal testing and to accommodate the community during dedicated events.
During the tour we spent an hour dealing with the Arena mode and the first mission of Absurd Stories, while the eye of a camera showed the team our expressions during the gameplay, interpreted as a kind of map litmus of fun.
And between a bold bombardment and an assault on the white weapon, we have had lots of laughs, even if at the end of the games our crew failed to bring home the special prize offered for the best crew of the seven seas: a personalized pirate-themed controller. Not surprisingly, returning to the Birmingham metropolitan area, we couldn't wait to get back to sailing with our adventure companions, towards a horizon that, thanks to the news of the next update, seems even more inviting. The right conclusion for a day to remember, lived in the walls of a "family" studio that, at least in appearance, seems to escape many of the less happy dynamics of the triple A market.