“The Technical Art of Sea of Thieves”

  • ©Nigel Ang, Andrew Catling, Francesco Cifariello Ciardi, and Valentine Kozin

  • ©Nigel Ang, Andrew Catling, Francesco Cifariello Ciardi, and Valentine Kozin

  • ©Nigel Ang, Andrew Catling, Francesco Cifariello Ciardi, and Valentine Kozin



Entry Number: 47


    The Technical Art of Sea of Thieves



    Sea of Thieves posed a unique challenge – developing a stylised, open world game in Unreal Engine 4, a demanding and contemporary game engine focused on photo-realistic rendering. Our game contains a large number of dynamic elements and is designed to run on hardware ranging from integrated GPUs on a laptop, to the most powerful modern gaming PCs. Over the course of development, we have come up with a number of innovative techniques focused both on keeping an open world game like ours performant and visually appealing.

    We introduced several techniques that we used to stylise and supplement the look of our FFT water implementation for the game’s oceans. We also created a new cloud rendering and simulation system for this game, allowing for fast rendering of three-dimensional, art-directed cloudscapes without using expensive raymarching techniques.

    To bring the world to life, we also developed other graphical features, including a physically-based system of rendering rope-and-pulley systems, our use of baking simulation data to textures and real-time surface fluid simulations to model incidental water behaviour on the GPU.


    Homam Bahnassi and Wessam Bahnassi. 2007. Volumetric Clouds and Mega-Particles. In ShaderX5 Advanced Rendering Techniques, Wolfgang Engel (Ed.). ShaderX Series, Vol. 5. Charles River Media, Boston, Chapter 5.3, 275–302.
    Brian Karis and Epic Games. 2013. Real shading in unreal engine 4. Proc. Physically Based Shading Theory Practice (2013).
    Xing Mei, Philippe Decaudin, and Bao-Gang Hu. 2007. Fast hydraulic erosion simulation and visualization on GPU. In Computer Graphics and Applications, 2007. PG’07. 15th Pacific Conference on. IEEE, 47–56.
    Jerry Tessendorf. 2001. Simulating ocean water. Simulating nature: realistic and interactive techniques. SIGGRAPH 1, 2 (2001), 5.



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