Rare Has A Plan For Fixing Sea Of Thieves’ Hit Registration Problems

Rare Has A Plan For Fixing Sea Of Thieves’ Hit Registration Problems

On the latest episode of the official Sea of Thieves podcast, developers at Rare have spoken about the growing player discontent with hit reg and what the studio plans to do about it.

Hit registration has been a source of major consternation within the Sea of Thieves community for many years. When the action heats up and two or more crews are involved in especially frantic battles, it’s common for shots fired from projectile weapons to hit but not actually do any damage. In the worst-case scenarios, this can happen for multiple shots in a row, creating a PvP playing field that is as uneven as it is unpredictable.

As time has worn on and the game has introduced more new mechanics and modes of play, the problem of hit registration has not gone away. Sometimes it gets worse, sometimes it seems to improve, but it never leaves entirely.

Rare says the reason for Sea of Thieves‘ uneven hit reg has to do with the number of physics calculations the game is making at any given moment. SoT‘s entire game world is made up of a single large ocean comprising four smaller seas, each with its own characteristic swell. Then you have the Storm that winds its way around the map at random, generating huge waves beneath it. And then you have numerous floating objects in the water around the map. Supply barrels, loot, ships, merfolk, and players alike all react to the physics simulation. This is already asking a lot of any physics simulation.

And then it has to factor in projectile fire from ranged weapons.

This, says senior producer Drew Stevens, is where the problem lies. To create a sense of authentic pirate adventure, Sea of Thieves designed its weapons to feel era-appropriate. Its flintlock pistol, blunderbuss, and long-range rifle (called an Eye of Reach) are all projectile-based, and fire slow-moving bullets that are tracked in real-time. With so many physics calculations on the game’s plate already, something had to give, and so it did. The hit-reg problem was born.

Every new update to Sea of Thieves for the last couple of years has come with a notice at the bottom regarding hit-reg, one that has become synonymous with player frustration. It reads:

In areas of intense action, players may find themselves firing shots or landing strikes that do not cause damage to their targets. While small improvements continue to be delivered during our regular updates, we are continuing to investigate and identify further improvements to the player combat experience.

It seems that the investigation is moving into a new phase.

According to Stevens, Rare is testing a change to the way Sea of Thieves ranged weapons work that will fundamentally change the game’s approach to combat. To combat the scourge of poor hit registration, Rare is looking at transitioning its current projectile-based model to a hit-scan based model, and internal testing is already underway.

What’s the difference between projectile-based and hit-scan? In the simplest terms, projectile-based shooting means bullets have a travel time. They depart the gun barrel, travel through the air, and strike their target in real-time. Projectile-based weapons often require leading your shots rather than aiming directly at your target. Hit-scan bullets have no travel time, and instantly strike whatever is in your cross-hairs at the moment you press the trigger.

Let’s use Overwatch as an example because it’s a game that contains both projectile-based and hit-scan heroes. Soldier 76 is a hit-scan hero. As long as your target is in your crosshairs, his rifle will hit every shot. Ana is a projectile hero. Her biotic rifle requires shot-leading to reliably land hits in combat.

The move to hit-scan would be a massive change for Sea of Thieves, one the team finds quite daunting. Creative Director Mike Chapman called even considering a change of this scale “a designer’s worst nightmare.” This is because shooting in Sea of Thieves, from combat to its use in puzzle-solving, was designed with these slower, more methodical weapons in mind. It’s hard to know what effect this change will have on the wider game until it’s in the wild.

For now, Rare is taking a slow-and-steady approach. Chapman says he feels the preliminary tests are coming along well but is still wary of it changing the game’s feel too drastically. “You do feel some benefits straight away in terms of how reliable your shots are,” he says on the podcast. “The issue then is: How does this work in Sea of Thieves? How does this not feel like I’ve got this ability to fire a laser three miles across the server?”

Executive Producer Joe Neate felt similar cautious optimism, saying that any implementation of the new system would necessarily be a compromise between reliability and game feel.

With Sea of Thieves‘ hit reg squared away, Rare will have to revisit and rebuild its entire combat system from the ground up. Neate is clear-eyed about the kind of time and work required to achieve such a goal, from prototype to implementation.

Other issues covered on the Hot Topics episode of the Sea of Thieves Podcast included what led to the server troubles on Community Day and what drove the decision to scale the number of ships on a given server. Rare also details plans to combat cheating and spawn camping, as well as how it plans to improve life for the long-suffering solo sloop community. You can watch or listen to the full podcast here.

Comments

  • Oh god not hitscan guns! That just replaces one series of problems with a whole other series of problems and still doesn’t address some of the collision issues that also affect swords. Why couldn’t they work out some more hybridised variant like what Rust does, or how EA games seem to always get that bit working?

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