State of the Art: Sunless Sea and the world of Zubmariner

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Sunless Sea‘s [official site] first expansion, Zubmariner will be released on 11 October bringing with it new ports and cities to explore and tales to be told. Or as developers, Failbetter, put it: “agonising choices presented in beautiful prose.” But it wasn’t the beautiful prose which caught my eye in recent dev blog entries, it was the undersea (or rather, Unterzee) flora and corals. That’s why I’ve been asking Failbetter CEO and art director, Paul Arendt to tell me a little more about how the art works in the game.

For the images in question, just use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard or click the arrows just next to the pictures!

The big thing which I wanted to know was how art works in relation to the rest of the game. Sunless Sea exists so much in people’s minds thanks to the rich prose so how does an art team grapple with that, framing the stories but still leaving space for the player own imagination?

“This is something we grappled with in the early days of Fallen London [Failbetter’s earlier, story-rich browser game which shares a universe with Sunless Sea], and we dealt with it using tarotic approach – a picture of raven could signify death, or flight, or it might just be, you know, a raven,” Arendt says.

“In Sunless Sea, the art does a lot of heavy lifting on the environment and the atmosphere, but most of the actual story happens in ports. So you approach an island, and the art gives you an idea of the mood of this place, but once you dock, the words take over. We might give you a clue as to what a character looks like, but the action happens in the prose and the player’s imagination.”

The image which I’ve been returning to repeatedly in the last couple of months is this hypnotic gif where green weeds waft in the water’s current:

That’s the image which made me want to take a closer look at Paul and his colleagues’ deep-sea floral stylings, but there are also smatterings of fauna and wrecked vessels which he included and which have that definite Failbetter flavouring. Let’s go through the gallery and examine some of what’s lurking below.

To start, just press the right arrow key or scroll back to the top where navigation arrows await your mouse clicks! If you want a bigger version of any image you can enlarge them by clicking on them as well.

I’d say it’s far better to use the arrow keys, though – it means the image size won’t affect your ability to navigate :)



  1. SirRoderick says:

    Well this art is downright gorgeous! I happen to be reading the tales of H.P. Lovecraft right now and it’s fits right in.

  2. Turkey says:

    Very orwellian. I like it.

  3. klops says:

    Ooh! I’m salivating in anticipation
    …while still wishing they would’ve improved the main mechanics to lessen the grind. We’ll see soon!

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      gritz says:

      Agreed. The idea of the game is so good. It’s a shame that it’s so insistent on wasting my time doing absolutely nothing.

      It’s like they took Fallen London but instead of living your life and doing whatever when you temporarily run out of story, in Sunless Sea you get to stare at a crappy boat.

      • ran93r says:

        There are times when I feel that it’s not enough like Fallen London, the ease of playing that is lovely. I have been trying out the Android beta and it’s a joy to play on the go.
        If Sunless Sea were just a little quicker, that would go a long way to getting me to play more.

        Still, will check this out as I believe it’s free to backers/early access folk.

      • tigerfort says:

        You could always take a few moments to edit your save file so that you have lots of money, then buy a massively overpowered engine and zip around the place just doing the stories?

        (Personally, I like the atmosphere, but IIRC the savefiles are plain text, so the alternative is pretty straightforward.)

        And yes, I’m aware this is a thing that some people don’t do because “it should be in the game”. Why let that stop you doing the bits you enjoy when it’s so easy?

  4. Vedharta says:

    Maybe its a secret subliminal desire….

    Sunless Sea reminded me so strong of the old RPG “Wraith: The Oblivion” that I was really wondering if that is actually what it started out as but the license fell through and they had to readjust.

    I would be amazed if the writers aren’t W:TO fans