Euphoria as developers watch Skull and Bones E3 unveiling

To develop the pirate-simulator Skull & Bones, developers at Ubisoft Singapore spent days out at sea learning how to sail. The game is the first blockbuster game developed locally that was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3).
Ubisoft production director Julien Carron and gameplay programmer Adrian Lim, both of whom felt it was an immense relief and honour to have led one of the company's newest game titles.
Ubisoft production director Julien Carron and gameplay programmer Adrian Lim, both of whom felt it was an immense relief and honour to have led one of the company's newest game titles.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Ubisoft S'pore team took four years to turn Skull & Bones segment into full-fledged title

When the Singapore arm of French multinational game developer Ubisoft made one of the most-praised gameplay segments in its 2013 blockbuster game, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the development team here knew it was on to something special.

Four years later, the naval battle segment in Black Flag is now a full-fledged multiplayer title.

The flag was lifted off pirate-simulator Skull & Bones last Tuesday, Singapore time, when it was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.

For employees of Ubisoft Singapore, who spent the past four years working on it in secret, catching the live-stream of the game's announcement at 4am at their Fusionopolis office was a moment of victory.

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"The entire floor was filled with delight. It was almost a speechless moment - some were even tearing a little," said Singaporean gameplay programmer Adrian Lim, 28, who was involved with the game's development right from its conception.

Skull & Bones is the first blockbuster game developed locally to be announced at E3, considered to be the world's biggest gaming expo where major game developers reveal their big-budget game titles.

Skull & Bones production director Julien Carron, 40, and Mr Lim, both from Ubisoft Singapore, told The Straits Times it was an immense relief and honour to have led one of the firm's newest game titles.

Said Mr Carron, who is French: "It took us years of iteration and trial and error... We didn't want to build just any pirate game. We wanted to build one focused on piracy - the act of hunting and preying on loot."

Skull & Bones is set in the Indian Ocean in the 18th century. Gamers take the helm of a pirate ship and work together with other players in a multiplayer arena to defeat and pillage the ships of their enemies.

The game is due to be released in autumn next year for PC, and PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

Ubisoft Singapore, covering two floors at Fusionopolis, helmed the development of the game, ranging from level design to gameplay mechanics and programming. About 300 developers worked on the game here, half of whom are Singaporeans and permanent residents.

While some of the code for Skull & Bones was adapted from Black Flag, refinements were needed to improve the realism and physics of the graphics and gameplay.

New code was also written to expand the scope of Black Flag's naval section into a full game, like a new wind mechanics.

Mr Lim, who had a hand in almost all aspects of gameplay programming, from artificial intelligence to camera, character and control, said programming chops alone aren't enough for a game of this scope and detail. To code complex movements like waves and projectile arcs as realistically as possible, the team had to hit the books again.

"We had to revise our Newtonian physics, learn how parabolic arcs work, and read up on gravity, velocity and air friction," said Mr Lim.

The team even took sailing lessons to experience first-hand how wind conditions affect the speed and movement of ships.

Details of Skull & Bones are still scant as the team is making changes to the game. However, multiplayer is the "core foundation" of the game, said Mr Carron.

But there are opportunities for solo players who want to strike out on the high seas on their own. "Teamwork is very important. But it's totally possible to go solo," said Mr Lim. "Pirates in the past did betray each other, so we tried our best to capture that feeling of betrayal."

The team is now tweaking gameplay bugs and taking feedback from gamers who have early access to the title's beta. It is also working on cramming as many of their ideas and features into the finished game as possible. "What was shown at the E3 trailer was just the tip of the iceberg," said Mr Lim.

•See also deputy tech editor Trevor Tan's hands-on experience of Skull & Bones at E3:

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2017, with the headline 'Euphoria as developers watch game's E3 unveiling'. Print Edition | Subscribe