The tumultuous development journey of Skull and Bones has finally reached the end of the road – and the beginning of the waves. Since the action-adventure game was first announced at E3 in 2017, Skull and Bones‘ path to release has involved years of changes, delays, highs and lows. Despite this unconventional path, in just a few short days, the game will finally be in the hands of players ready to dive deep into the world of piracy.
For Associate Content Director Gabriel Tay and Project Manager Jessica Chung, the feeling of finally seeing the game out in the world is overwhelming.
“It’s exciting, like so surreal,” said Tay. “Because there is history with it, but the fact that we’re here today, and we’re going to be putting it in player’s hands… It’s a really, really surreal feeling.”
Their excitement for release is surpassed only by their excitement for how authentic, expansive and fresh they feel the game has become. From the sailing mechanics to the world-building and combat, each element has been carefully considered over the past six years.
Unlike existing pirate IPs across film, books and assorted media, one of the main things that Tay called out as a point of difference for Skull and Bones is that it ventures out of the stereotypical locale.
“If you look at a lot of pirate media, it takes place closer to the Caribbean,” said Tay. “We wanted to take it somewhere different, and also encompass where I come from, which is Singapore – and have that be represented in the game.”
“We have the whole expanse of the Indian Ocean – from the coast of Africa to the East Indies – and just a huge diversity of cultures, locales, even the kinds of ships that each come from these different countries,” he said. “We really wanted to capture that feeling of expanse … it’s almost like being a tourist in the game.”
With artists capturing sweeping vistas inspired by Madagascar, Angkor Wat and more, the team hopes that players will be inspired to appreciate the journey between hubs and islands as much as they do the combat and entrepreneurial activities that see you grow from lowly shipmate to Captain.
Part of the crew, part of the ship
Just as mobile phones are extensions of ourselves in the modern age, a pirate’s ship is an extension of their captain, as they traverse the seas. In Skull and Bones, there are multiple ship types that players are encouraged to accumulate into their own fleet – but the team is definitely aware that many players will develop an attachment to one in particular.
“That’s exactly the type of person I am, I like to name my ship.” said Chung. “That’s the reason why we offer a lot of customisation … We want players to really own their ship – [like an] an extension of themselves out in the ocean.”
Image: Ubisoft, from the Australian launch event for Skull and Bones.
While combat can threaten to send your ship plunging to the depths, rest assured you won’t lose them – you’ll just have to give them a little extra love and care in repairing them. And the more you develop that affinity with your ship, the more likely you are to protect it – among other things.
“Having that attachment to your ship gives you even more motivation to do cool things with it – kit it out with the most badass looking vanities,” said Tay. But the benefit of expanding your fleet is that even if your preferred vessel is out of action, there are plenty of ships of all shapes and sizes which will help in different contexts or locales.
“Like your favourite T-shirt,” said Tay. “You have a different one for different situations.”
Authenticity on the open water
Having sailed competitively before, Tay is uniquely positioned to compare the game’s mechanics to the realities of being out in the open ocean. “Whenever I play the game, it always reminds me of me being on the water … The boat we sail is different, but the feeling when the sails start to flutter – that’s the same feeling,” he said.
“There’s equal parts fear and excitement – when the storm hits, you know the wind is strong – but that’s also when sailing was most exciting for me.”
On the occasionally choppy waters of Skull and Bones, this feeling of mastering the tides provides players with projects to focus on in every nautical mile of their adventure – and encourages you to perhaps skip hitting fast travel if you can spare the time.
“Reading the wind, trying to optimise the speed by getting the right direction of the wind hitting the sails… I think there’s something really calming about it,” said Tay. “But at the same time there’s also lots of opportunities out at sea – maybe something on the horizon, or a crew member that speaks up.”
From these sailing considerations through to attire, energy and attitudes of the time, the team are proud of the level of research and authenticity that Skull and Bones involves – while still leaning into the more fantastical elements that make ship-based gameplay exciting.
“We’ve had internal and external historians inform us how things were done, down to a really specific detail … For us, it was really kind of striking that balance where we were giving enough that you can feel the authenticity, without sacrificing what makes a game fun.”
Skull and Bones is currently in open beta, available on PlayStation, Xbox and PC until 10am on Monday, February 12th. For those who board early, rest assured your progress will be retained when the full game casts off its mooring line on 16 February 2024.