Although Ubisoft‘s Skull & Bones has been mired in what many would term “development hell,” the opportunity to create not just an original IP, but one that hits close to home meant that the Ubisoft Singapore team was going to push through no matter what. As such, it is no wonder that the game serves as a showcase of what the region has to offer culturally through the convenient lens of a pirate’s life on the high seas.
“It’s a mix of cultures, we have people from all over the world, but I think the opportunity here, being able to represent Southeast Asian culture, it’s one of the unique opportunities we have with this game,” shared Associate Producer Vanessa Seow.
“We know that the Indian Ocean is not front and centre on mainstream media or even games. I think that what might be familiar to some of us in our culture may not be so familiar to the rest of the world, and with this game, we have the opportunity to showcase it.”
Drawing inspiration from the variety of cultures found in the region, this meant that the locales, sights, people, and more players will witness in Skull & Bones are not just adding colour to the adventure, but also historically accurate and researched intimately. Even the food one might find in the outposts is going to be familiar stuff.
Of course, all of that wouldn’t be possible if the team had given up on the project with all the troubles it might have run into. Instead, a new course was set for the open sea title, one that marries excellent navel combat and the power of player customisation, and making it all work in both solo and co-op settings.
As Skull & Bones Creative Director Elisabeth Pellen explained, the “biggest evolution has been about creating a large, multiplayer open world around navel combat, and to bring customisation of ships to the next level.”
All of these will come into play whether you are engaging in PvE play alone, or teaming up against others in PvP as shown off at the Ubisoft Forward Spotlight showcase. And at the heart of it all lies the progression system that is Infamy, a reputation marker of sorts that indicates your position amongst the notable pirates, but also a gateway to opening up new options for your crew and ships.
That will require engaging in the many activities found in Skull & Bones, and Ubisoft Singapore is hoping to incentivise players to keep on exploring the world they have created.
“Every region has its own flavour. And that basically means that the resources that you can find are specific or unique to a region. So that creates a reason for the player to really explore. The driving force is being able to get certain resources to then craft and build as you please. You’re meant to take that journey across the Indian Ocean,” said Seow.
It is not going to be just a Point A to Point B kind of adventure either, with Pellen reiterating that there are “several systems dedicated to creating emergent content” that will ‘always challenge and surprise players in an unexpected way.”
And without a narrative campaign to hold everything up, the power truly lies in the hands of the players, a purposeful choice made by the team. Allowing aspiring pirates to “craft their own story” in a “pirate fantasy” is not just an idea, but something that can actually be executed through the many choices presented to the player in Skull & Bones.
“The player is free to write their own story within the game but we also have several NPCs with their own stories that players can decide if they wanna experience. We want every pirate, every player, to explore the world their own way and to discover the different layers within.”
Perhaps it’s fitting that the game is being developed by a team that chose to push things forward despite the odds, hoping to make their mark on the global stage that is the gaming industry. It most certainly helps that the studio has had a great track record of collaborating with others on massive hits like the Assassin’s Creed games.
Now leading the charge with Skull & Bones, it is not exactly treasures and riches that await this team of daring creatives, but more a place in history as Seow states:
“I believe every opportunity to create a new IP is really special. Not many people can say that in their career and being a part of the creative process. It is the sum of everyone in this project, and people here recognise that unique opportunity that we have to create a new IP, a AAA IP, and something that reflects something close to home.”
“So I think as a Singaporean, working on this game, you feel a certain affinity to it. Even if you’re not from Singapore, I think we also said that it’s a region, a culture, a history that is kind of unexplored yet. And so that in itself is unique, and the time that we have taken is because you know we want something that we can be proud of.”
And we can’t really argue with that, and hopefully, the game lives up to expectations when it finally launches this 8 November on PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.