Between The Devils And The Deep: Sunless Sea

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.

“Something drifts, face-down.” Of course it does. Of course it bloody well does.

Following a sucessful Kickstarter campaign, Sunless Sea is preparing for an Early Access release on June 17th. It’ll definitely be available via the Humble Bundle platform but will also arrive on Steam should the Greenlight let it pass.

You can track development progress. Currently, only 10% of phenomena have been implemented but ‘sailing’ is at a healthy 80%. Strangely, the progress chart does not inform as to the completion of ‘monstrosities’, ‘abominations’ or ‘hallucinations of amorphous and yet familiar shadows in the darkest of the deep’. Remiss.


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    distantlurker says:

    Always wanted to be a Leviathan tamer like pappa. It’s in my jeans.

    • Syra says:

      The fact that it pops its head up now and then explains why the ocean is salty.

    • The Random One says:

      You call that a Leviathan? Bah! Back in my days the Leviathans really were big!

  2. plugav says:

    They had me at “Lose your mind. Eat your crew.” <3

    (Actually, they probably had me when they made Echo Bazaar/Fallen London…)

  3. Arren says:

    Fallen London’s writing is indeed superb (by game standards).

    The gameplay, on the other hand, is abominably bad, the repetition of fragments being the worst culprit*. For me, each retread diluted the magic of the prose, until I felt I was playing a Facebook hamster-wheel game tarted up in literary costume.

    Hopefully Sunless Sea is cut from a different cloth when it comes to the actual game beneath the prose.

    (I’d gladly pay upfront for an adventure through their wonderfully evocative world, where each fragment and every choice were unique — the inevitable short length of such a game wouldn’t bother me in the slightest. At game’s end, export the resulting short story for posterity…..)

    * apart from the obvious: the doling-out of actions, the revenue model and its pernicious influence on the above, etc.

    • colossalstrikepackage says:

      THIS. So much this.

      I’d gladly pay to read, and heck, even interact with even one of their stories.

      But the payment/wait model is just so jarring, I gave up.

    • Rizlar says:

      until I felt I was playing a Facebook hamster-wheel game tarted up in literary costume.

      Well… that’s basically what it is. Which is not to say it is bad. What you get out of an actual Facebook hamster-wheel game is very little, you get to look at some pretty pictures of fruit or something, you get a hollow sense of accomplishment and a series of small dopamine bumps or whatever. Whereas Fallen London gave me many hours of entertaining stories.

      That said I haven’t played it in a while, since I exhausted the more easily accessible stories and started getting into stuff that did require some grinding to progress.

      • Philomelle says:

        My experience with it is mostly the same. I loved playing through most of it, exploring the stories and learning of the world, but reaching endgame content knocked the sails out of me. Right now I’m down to grinding resources for elite lodgings and several items at the Bazaar, entering the Cave of the Nadir, plus the story arcs in Polythreme and the Iron Republic. The thing is, all those options require such enormous amounts of grind that reaching them is no longer fun.

        I wish they allowed you to reset characters or make multiple ones on the same account. Fallen London is a rare case of an online game where the endgame is a pale shadow of the road one takes to get there.

      • Arren says:

        I get your point, and to clarify I’m not actually claiming that Fallen London is execrable like Farmville…..

        Which is not to say it is bad.

        Here’s where we disagree. It is bad: more precisely, it’s just a sad shame that some of the best prose in games is wasted on such barren and banal game-mechanics.

        The interesting stories that one encounters would be even more so were they not besmirched by ad nauseam regurgitation, in my view.

        • Illessa says:

          It’s tricky because the grind & action limit isn’t there to make money – I get the impression the developers would much rather people spent money on nex-locked storylets than on extra actions (in fact I’m told they only put the option to buy actions in on player request & deliberately priced it high to discourage people from using it). It’s just delaying tactics to vainly try and offset the usual retention problem – people consume the content faster than it can be written and then don’t come back.

          • Philomelle says:

            Truth be told, I actually would come back to replay the content with a different character and different choices. Rather than make me consume the content slowly to keep it from running out too quickly, do let me to consume it over and over again in different variations and I’d be very happy.

            Spoken as someone who has multiple save files for every RPG with customizable protagonists because I like to RP through stories.

          • Arren says:

            Hmm. From my perspective, “the usual retention problem” pertains only to revenue* — and to make addressing that “problem” the focus of a game design is to ensure that actually fun game-mechanics are subordinate to grasping at retention.

            Speaking only for myself, of course, their approach backfired completely. I would gladly check back in and pay for storylets if I could consume them at whatsoever pace I pleased, sans woesome grinding and repetition — but as long as the game itself is such a dreary exercise, my interest is nil.

            * i.e., “retention” has no value pertaining to the quality of gameplay

  4. torchedEARTH says:

    I have survived hunger, betrayal and terror before – but not all at the same time.

    Is the map procedurally generated?

    • Snidesworth says:

      Mostly, they’ve said. There will be a few fixed details (such as the city of Fallen London itself), but the majority of the map will change every time you play. Also, I imagine that sailing in a certain cardinal direction will always lead to proverbial interesting times.

    • Philomelle says:

      My experience with Fallen London taught me that the Unterzee has several major landmarks (Fallen London itself, Hunter’s Keep and Mutton Island in its vicinity, then the Polythreme, the Iron Republic, Tomb-Colonies and more), but the zee itself is chaotic, constantly changing from falling stalactites, moving mountains and really enormous wildlife. So having a randomly generated expanse is pretty much necessary.

      • Illessa says:

        Yep, that’s exactly what the beta is like – I’ve visited all those landmarks (though Polythreme and Iron Republic are placeholder right now) and they stay static along with a bunch of other cool ports & landmarks whose names I wasn’t especially familiar with. The less significant landmarks (which currently don’t really do anything other than look cool) are randomly generated between them.

        • Wombats says:

          I believe the major ones are static during beta, they change position if you die and don’t inherit your map (you might want an officer or some cargo instead). That will be interesting, knowing a lucrative trade route is fun. There are false rumours in the newspaper of a “change” in the Unterzee. Guessing these are geological events which move stuff around. Never seen it actually happens yet to my knowledge.

  5. ran93r says:

    I kicked this particular start and I am, how you say? EXCITE!

  6. PopeRatzo says:

    “Romance your officers” sounds suspiciously like workplace sexual harassment to me.

    • Bob_Bobson says:

      “Eat your crew” sounds worrying like workplace cannibalism to me.

      • Geebs says:

        …. or it might be another reference to workplace sexual harassment

        • Grey Cap says:

          The nightmarish unmapped caverns below the world are not a happy place for Human Resources.

          • Shiloh says:

            Unless I’ve been living in a parallel universe all this time, surely the nightmarish unmapped caverns below the world are where companies dredge their HR personnel up from?

          • Syra says:

            I’m with Shiloh! HR is the cruelest and most inhuman of spawns from the deep.

  7. Shiloh says:

    Comfortably numb, man.

  8. MrFinnishDude says:

    Aye, It will be nice to be zailing the Unterzee once again.

  9. Kaeoschassis says:

    Yes. YES. YESSSSS.

  10. Hunchback says:

    I greenlit it, even tho i doubt it’ll go un-noticed when released

  11. Wombats says:

    Beta testing this.
    Spent a whole weekend playing and loved it to bits.
    Do yourself a favour and muck about with Fallen London – Sunless is those kind of stories with a less frantic FTL mechanic dripping with atmosphere.
    Protip: Select your crew based on tastiness.