UPDATED: Jack Sparrow and Davy Jones are finally coming to “Sea of Thieves.”
On Sunday, during Microsoft’s E3 showcase, developer Rare announced that it had officially partnered with Disney for a “Pirates of the Caribbean”-themed expansion, “A Pirate’s Life,” a free update hitting the multiplayer game on June 22. It is, as Rare executive producer Joe Neate tells it, “the ultimate pirate crossover.”
Speaking to Variety just a couple of days before the reveal and showing off footage and details for the first time, Neate, Rare creative director Mike Chapman and vice president of Disney and Pixar Games Luigi Priore are nearly giddy, and it’s easy to see why. Chapman has previously said “Pirates of the Caribbean” was one of the works the “Sea of Thieves” team drew on for inspiration during development, and he describes actually getting to work with Disney on it as “one of the proper pinch-me moments.”
Did everyone see that? Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life launches June 22!
— Xbox (@Xbox) June 13, 2021
According to Neate, Chapman and Priore, it’s a secret that they’ve keep under their hats since E3 2019, when Rare first brought their idea to Disney. The trio says it very quickly became clear how the two properties would be a natural fit, and Priore remembers that Chapman was “a walking encyclopedia” of “Pirates of the Caribbean” knowledge, coming to the table with an idea that would tie together the worlds of both IPs.
“That first meeting, Mike and I walked out and literally, when we got around the corner — we made sure we were out of eyeshot — we literally put our arms around each other and said, ‘we’re gonna do something special here,’ just from spending 45 minutes in a room with the team at Disney,” Neate recalls.
Once the partnership was officially a go, when it came down to the nitty-gritty, Chapman says one of the greatest priorities was authenticity — not only to the world of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but to that of “Sea of Thieves,” and the lore that’s been built around the game since its launch in 2018.
“The thing that we very quickly grasped onto was the idea that if the world of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ is going to come to ‘Sea of Thieves,’ it needed to be something fundamental in terms of how those two worlds cross over,” he says. “Not a bunch of side stories, take it or leave it, sort of parallel quests. It needed to be something that fundamentally moved the ‘Sea of Thieves’ world forward.”
With that in mind, the team began to dive into the mythos behind “Sea of Thieves” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” and saw some very fitting connections. One, Chapman explains, started with The Ferryman, a character well known to players of the game as the captain of the Ferry of the Damned who brings dead pirates back to the Sea of Thieves. “Pirates of the Caribbean’s” main antagonist, Davy Jones, plays a similar role in the series, traveling between the worlds of the living and the dead. Both play with the idea of the pirate’s life being eternal.
“We’re delving into the idea of the deeper meaning of pirate freedom, or what it means to be a pirate,” Chapman says. “Jack has that awesome line that I love from the first movie around what a ship really is, is freedom. So the idea that the Sea of Thieves is positioned as this place that the pirate’s life lives forever — that kind of narrative idea that Jack would want to be in the ‘Sea of Thieves’ and he would see it like a legend, the legend of the fountain of youth — the positioning of the two worlds made a lot of sense.”
As Sparrow eventually becomes a crew mate for the player on their adventure, Rare went above and beyond to make sure his portrayal would seem genuine to “Pirates of the Caribbean” fans. Chapman says they had one of Johnny Depp’s stunt doubles visit the team to make sure they could answer questions like “if Jack was gonna say this, what would he be doing with his hands? How would he carry himself? What would his posture be like?”
Depp and Bill Nighy, who played Jones in the “Pirates of the Caribbbean” movies, are not features in “A Pirate’s Life” — however, that doesn’t mean some voices from the films aren’t back. According to a Microsoft spokesperson, “For the main characters featured in the announce trailer such as Jack Sparrow & Davy Jones, the original cast aren’t featured, but the keener eared amongst you will have recognized Kevin McNally reprising his role as Gibbs. Rare have worked closely with the team at Disney Character Voices to ensure the characters you know and love sound as authentic as possible, and we look forward to players discovering more about the story and characters featured.
That effort for authenticity extends not only to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, but the Disneyland attraction. In fact, one of the glimpses that Variety got to view was a location directly inspired by the ride, and Chapman says they used audio that comes from the 1967 attraction in the game. As players journey in the grottos, they’ll hear the chanting of “Dead Men Tell No Tales” echoing throughout, just as those on the ride at Disneyland have for decades.
But the team isn’t just taking cues from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” world — it’s building on them. Chapman points to the Sea of the Damned in “Sea of Thieves” as an example, a place where pirates’ dreams and nightmares become reality.
“If Jack Sparrow is lost in the Sea of the Damned, you get to explore some of the moments from his life,” he says. “So it allows us to bring these fantastical takes on moments you remember from the movies or moments you remember from the attraction to life in a way that makes absolute sense in the narrative that we’re telling.”
“Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life” doesn’t mark the first time “Pirates of the Caribbean” has gotten the video game treatment, although it hasn’t gotten a full game to itself since 2011 (aside from a 2017 mobile game). So if Disney wanted to return to Jack Sparrow and co. in video game form, why not just make a new game?
As Priore tells it, the answer to that question is pretty simple: the best pirate video game already exists. Why not jump on the ship that’s already sailing?
“It’s hard to make a game from scratch,” he says. “And if you’re thinking about pirates and you’re thinking about what’s the best pirate game out there, probably ever made, it’s ‘Sea of Thieves.’ Why would you try to beat something that’s the best out there? Why not build something together?”
To say that it’s a collaboration that fans have been waiting for would be an understatement. Fans use Jack Sparrow gifs while tweeting about the game, streamers cosplay as the famous character while playing “Sea of Thieves,” and many have even asked the team at Rare directly if it’ll ever be a possibility (one tweet from 2018, before the partnership was born, even has the studio saying that there wouldn’t be other IPs in the game).
As Chapman puts it, “If you did a Venn Diagram of fans of ‘Sea of Thieves’ and fans of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ it would just be a circle.”
“For our fans, the ‘Sea of Thieves’ fans as well as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ fans, I think they’re almost gonna be as emotional as us,” says Neate. “It’s a genuine dream come true for everyone.”