Hey! It’s a new and final episode of COGWATCH, a weekly video series in which Quintin Smith examines one mechanic in one game. This week, the BOSS COG that is miserabilist, boat-bound roguelike Sunless Sea [official site].
RPS Feature BOSS COG
RPS Feature Somewhere, beyond the unterzee
Sunless Sea [official site] is a sort of naval roleplaying game, set in dark fantasy world where London has been whisked away to an underground ocean peopled by assorted monstrosities and governed by strange and delicate politics. The master of your own fragile ship, you must make a living, battle horros and seek a destiny of sorts. It’s been in Early Access since last year, but graduates to a full, finished release today.
I sigh every time Low Barnet appears on the horizon. Low Barnet! A clump of rocks just barely below water, nowhere to dock, nothing to do, but seeing it is like seeing a friend standing on the dock after years at sea. The sigh is part relief, part frustration. If I am at Low Barnet, I am almost home: relief. But if I am at Low Barnet it means this trip is at an end now. I have returned with so little, and must spend what few coins I have on replenishing fuel and food in order to do all this again: frustration.
That clump of rock and that name on a map means so much, because I am a weary traveller who has come to know these waterways intimately, and the sad, sinister settlements scattered about them are both waypoints and friends.
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After a year drifting through the sinister oceans of Early Access, Failbetter’s wonderful Sunless Sea [official site] is released this Friday. Full steam ahead, Mr. Boatswain, full steam ahead. It’s a game of steampunk and Lovecraft, sailing and survival, roleplaying and pint-sized naval combat, wonderful words and terrifying faces. It was one of 2014’s best games as far as Adam and I were concerned, and all being well we’ll be saying the same thing by the end of this year. I looked in on it a couple of weeks ago and all seemed well on course. We shall see, though: a question mark still hangs over the long game. While we all wring hands nervously, let’s enjoy the splendid typography and apocalyptic drum soundtrack of its launch trailer.
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In this topsy-turvy world, who knows what constitutes a release date anymore? Me probably, and I think that finishing with your early access period and launching as a finished game ought to be called something else. February 6th isn’t Sunless Sea’s release date, then. February 6th is its Sweet 1.0, or its Rites of Ascension, or its Day That Everyone Starts Complaining That It’s Not Perfect Day.
I’ve been ignoring all the talk of how good Sunless Sea is in favour of waiting until it’s finished, but it’s now so close that it’s becoming harder to resist. It’ll leave early access in February and a new update brings it “tantalizingly close to the finished article,” according to the devs.
Stop tantalising me, devs. It’s mean.
RPS Feature #someoceans
Failbetter have been writing the bestest best words in gaming for a while now and in Sunless Sea they have created a worthy vessel to carry those words to new audiences. There is horror, humour and haunting in the cavernous depths, and through it all, your ship cuts through the waters seeking new mysteries and fresh hells.
Adam: Worse things happen on the Sunless Sea.
We’ve been speculating about Failbetter Games’ collaboration with BioWare since February, so it’s a relief to finally discover that it’s Dragon Age: The Last Court. It’s a text-driven project set just before the events of BioWare’s soon-to-be-released Dragon Age: Inquisition.
If I had my way, everybody who reads RPS would have at least a nodding acquaintance with the writing of Failbetter Games. The showcase for the tiny English studio’s talents is the free to play, browser-based RPG/adventure Fallen London, built in their own StoryNexus engine. Understandably, some people don’t want to invest time and (potentially) money into a fragmented narrative, which requires players to pay or to pause between play sessions.
Good news arrives in the form of Sunless Sea, a new showcase for Failbetter’s magnificent worldbuilding in the form of the most RPS-friendly game I’ve seen for some time. Steampunk ships undertake FTL-inspired voyages of “discovery, survival and loneliness”, while crews face down vast tentacled horrors, risking life, limb and sanity. Watch the first in-game footage below and keep an eye on the log at the bottom-left.
RPS Feature Suits you, Sir
Black Crown began with a suitcase, a junk shop and some photographs of strangers. I spoke to writer and creator Rob Sherman about how the story behind his story, and we shared our thoughts on the world he created. Thick with disease, horror and mystery, it’s also a place of occasional and unusual beauty. As well as talking about influences drawn from the aches and illnesses of life, Rob introduced me to an artist, a photographer and an author who have inspired the work in some way. Read on for many words from one of the most interesting and literary writers in games.
RPS Feature London falling, and I wanna shout
“Have you ever been to Córdoba?” It’s not the sort of question an interviewee normally asks me but this isn’t a normal interview. I’d like to say that I spoke to Paul Arendt and Alexis Kennedy of Failbetter games in a corroded wine cellar by gaslight, but that would be a lie. The creators of Fallen London work in Digital Enterprise Greenwich, overlooking the Thames from on high rather than sifting through its waters in search of stories to tell. I’ve had a long and fulfilling relationship with Fallen London, and Sunless Sea looks like a marvellous mixture of Elite, roguelike and top notch storytelling, so I was hoping for a fulfilling conversation.
A couple of hours later, we’d talked about everything from Dark Souls to Dickens, and the world felt like a more fascinating place. These are two of the most interesting minds making games and whether you’ve played Fallen London or not, you would do well to consume their thoughts.
Sunless Sea takes the excellent writing and world-building of Fallen London, and injects it into a 2D exploration, trading and survival game. It’s Elite but with steamships instead of starships, and dwindling-dark ports instead of space stations. Throw in giant fish with moustaches, living mimic islands and deranged cannibal crew members, and the resulting concoction seems more than satisfying. I spoke to Failbetter about Fallen London, Black Crown and Sunless Sea a few weeks ago, and today, as the Kickstarter launches, I plan to feed you their words over the coming days. Visit Fallen London, toll-free, for a taste of the style and the setting of Sunless Sea, and then ponder if it is possible to pass up on a game in which the images and text below appear.
Failbetter’s collection of ‘immersive fiction’ continues to grow via its Storynexus platform but I haven’t found anything in the collection quite as gripping as the bizarre demon-Dickensian sprawl of Fallen London. Until now! Black Crown, the first published work from author Rob Sherman, has found life as a Storynexus experiment thanks to a collaboration between Random House and Failbetter. It’s free to play, although some (presumably) optional branches require the purchase of Nex, the currency shared across the Storynexus platform. I’ve only spent an hour in the word labyrinth so far, but I’m hooked. As well as being adept at squeamish body horror, Sherman shows the mark of a supreme builder of strange worlds.
When I read Alec’s salute to Kingdom of Loathing, I recognised the sentiment immediately. Although it hasn’t existed for as many years, Fallen London is a firmly entrenched feature of my waking life. I’ve written about it before and I’ll readily admit that I’ve only been reminded to mention it again because of a Valentine’s press release, detailing The Feast of the Exceptional Rose content. That’s a fantastic name for a romantic event. The Failbetter folks spin some marvellous word-threads and the possibility of discovering new parcels of prose is the best reason to revisit every day.