Rare Devs Have Big Ambitions for AI in Sea of Thieves; Talk Physics & Programming Challenges

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Jul 20, 2017
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After showing Sea of Thieves at E3 2017, the folks at Rare have gone back to working hard on the game to advance progress ahead of the scheduled early 2018 release window on Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.

As part of their Insider Programme, Rare began to organize regular AMA (Ask Me Anything) session on the Insider forums. The most recent one from a few days ago featured the programming team, which talked extensively about chief aspects of the game from AI to physics, map size, and more.

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We’ve gathered some of the highlights below. Let’s start with AI – Rare boasted “big ambitions” for AI in Sea of Thieves and also stated that the current build AI’s lack of threat is intended and will be updated later.

We’ve got big ambitions about our AI and we definitely want to have other living things in the game other than just skeletons & sharks. I know there are a number of people here who would love us to spend some time on animals for the world. I mean, Fable had chickens, right?

The current skeleton AI are just set as a base level so they provide somewhat of a challenge but don’t annoy players when exploring too much. As we add different quest types, progression etc, there will definitely be different challenges to take on.

When asked about the feasibility of improving the physics behind things like treasure chests, a Rare programmer said that this is a bit too expensive on the game’s performance at the moment, though it may happen in the future.

In terms of the performance of the game, updating physics objects is probably one of the most expensive things we do (the ship is one great big physics object containing lots of other little ones!). We did experiment with making the chest more realistic (and having it fall down cliffs and bounce around) but it’s a trade off between spending our precious CPU cycles on things like the chest, or allowing us to support more ships or other exciting things.

We are always looking at the performance side of things, so we’ll never rule anything out though!

Right now the spy glass isn’t in Sea of Thieves yet, and it sounds like there are a few technical challenges for Rare to overcome before it can be added.

Well, the spy glass is something we’d definitely love to have in the game, as it’s such an iconic pirate thing to have!

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The spy glass is actually something of a technical challenge for us as it breaks our island streaming code, which currently works by only loading in islands that you are close to. This means that we only load in high detailed textures and models when we are really close to an island – and as you are inevitably sailing towards an island, we’ve got time to load it in by the time you get there. If you can whip out a telescope and see islands that are further away, it means we need to have more of these high-resolution assets loaded, which means we use up more memory (and we currently use a lot of memory).

So, it’s something we really want to do, but before we get to it we first need to make sure we’ve got our memory under control, and we give our island streaming code a bit of love and attention (which we are at the moment). So nothing to report right now, but hopefully we’ll have news soon.

Another Insider inquired about the rumored six-to-eight hour that would be necessary to sail from one end to the other of the world’s map. This was quickly debunked, but at the same time, Rare stated that the current map available in the Closed Alpha is not the final size.

The 6-8 hour thing isn’t anything we’ve ever said, I think that appeared in an article somewhere, but no-one here claims to have said it… The current map size is NOT the final map size, that much I can confirm. We will be growing. What’s critical to us is there’s loads of varied places to explore, and that you have time to explore, whilst still encountering other players & ships on their adventures too. We’ll keep balancing this and testing it in our Alpha as we move forward.

The game’s ship damage system could also become more complex soon.

Well, we’d definitely love to add much more damage to the game. Our Unity prototype tested out different forms damage (like the mast coming down) but we haven’t had a chance to prototype those things in Unreal yet. The actual damage tends to be the easy bit, but we need to make sure that the players can repair the ship afterward that brings the challenge. We don’t want to do any permanent damage to things like cannons until we have a method of refreshing your ship without sinking it first!

Obviously, as we start looking into more sea based AI, we may well need a more complex damage model.

Finally, Closed Alpha testers will be happy to learn that the developers have started working on a way to store items on the ship and they’re hopeful that this will be added soon.

Rare’s Executive Producer Joe Neate recently said that Sea of Thieves might just be the best thing the studio has ever done. Given the early 2018 planned launch, it’s fair to expect a beta test later this year, which should get the game in the hands of many more testers.

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