Sunless Skies launches Kickstarter, talks combat improvements, spacefaring Victorians, warm cardigans

Sunless Skies

Since Failbetter previewed it yesterday I’ve been poking around the Kickstarter campaign for Sunless Skies. I only had a basic idea of the game (Sunless Sea/Fallen London in space with a certain amount of “stars being murdered”), although I know there have been a few blogs and chats and things which covered the game in more depth. I think I was waiting for Failbetter to nail their ideas down a bit before I started spoilering myself.

Anyway, here’s a summary of the Kickstarter stuff because it’s nice to know more about their thinking for the sequel of a game I really love:

Firstly, something promising I noted in the longer vid on the Kickstarter page is that when traversing an icy section a line appears telling you that the navigator has donned an extra cardigan. As someone with a collection of cardigans and a chilly house I feel like this game speaks to me on a very personal level.

On a more general level, Sunless Skies, as you might already know, is set in the same universe as Fallen London and Sunless Sea and cites influences including “the science fiction of H G Wells and C S Lewis, the planetary romances of Leigh Brackett, Art Nouveau and Planescape: Torment”.

To locate it a bit more specifically in the fiction, it takes place a decade after Sunless Sea. As Failbetter put it, “Queen Victoria has led an exodus from London to the heavens. There, a revitalised British Empire – ambitious and authoritarian – begins to expand across the skies.”

Sunless Skies

Delving a bit deeper, it seems that the stars in the Fallen London-iverse are living things – kind of an ancient and wise species, it sounds like – who are being murdered and the space Victorians are capitalising on this sudden absence by staging the space version of a industrialised land grab.

The Reach is, from London’s perspective, the frontier: a vast territory of untamed wilderness ripe to explore, to colonise, and to exploit. Here, the Empire is opposed only by the uncompromising environment and a growing movement of independent settlers determined to rule themselves.

The Empire’s interests are represented by the great trading companies: Murgatroyd’s, The Windward Company, Leadbeater & Stainrod. They are well-armed and well-connected. The Independents are a quarrelsome coalition of pioneers. Some believe they need to unify into a new nation to resist London. Others think that’s trading one master for another.

So, some names you’d recognise in there if you played the earlier games. The actual game side of things is where it looks like Failbetter are trying to learn from Sunless Sea’s mistakes. I’ve covered some of their thoughts about the core exploration and return loops that game which could help the process of voyaging and returning feel less grindy. There’s also a snippet in this campaign about how captains you play as but who die will leave you a legacy in the form of the repercussions of decisions they made as well as in terms of some material goods to try and mitigate the sense of repeating early game content over and over again.

Sunless Skies

Generally I’m expecting the same sort of exploration, discovery, docking and returning mechanics, with the majority of the action taking place in the form of stories which unfold over time. It sounds like you can choose to help particular factions or pick up particular lines of business in order to capitalise on loopholes/laxer legal structures on the fringes of society.

Combat was a real issue in the previous game. I never got to the point where I enjoyed it and would pretty much always run away rather than engage an enemy who was even vaguely healthy. I also know that some of my friends said that they worked out how to game it and thus for them it just became unengagingly easy. On that front the Kickstarter says:

The pace of combat will remain measured and deliberate. It will be more viable for captains to outmanoeuvre their opponents for tactical advantage than it was in Sunless Sea, and there will be more scope for player skill.

We want combat to be challenging, but we know that means different things to different players. So we’ll provide a range of settings to adjust its frequency and difficulty, meaning that players can customise the experience to be right for them.

I think that’s the part where I’m the most “I will believe it when I see it” because on the storytelling front I feel like Failbetter have earned my trust, but in terms of combat it felt so “meh” that that same sense of trust just isn’t there.

There are some other interesting bits and bobs in the blurb – time as a luxury trade good and descriptions of a number of Failbetter-flavoured creatures like a sort of ghostly killer spinster wearing the remnants of a library.

If the Kickstarter is of interest the page itself has details of pledge amounts, what they want to spend the £100,000 on, reward tiers and all of that kerfuffle, but it’s also nice to just have a stronger idea of what the game actually is intending to be at this point in time. If you are tempted by the Kickstarter, here is your regular reminder that no Kickstarter is risk free etc etc etc.


  1. Snowskeeper says:

    I wish I had $3000

    • Rich says:

      Me too. I wouldn’t use it on Kick-starter, but I wish I had it.

  2. Tiax says:


    If then can improve on the Sunless Sea model (which they said they will), this can’t come soon enough.

  3. Fredward says:

    The suns might be ancient and (maybe) wise but they aren’t nice.

    [lore spoilers! Though not necessarily 100% accurate since I’m hardly an expert]

    The stars are kinda like gods. Everywhere there light falls is their domain. Their laws shape reality, they’re also called Judgements in case that wasn’t mentioned. Places like the Sunless Sea where there light doesn’t reach become weird and kind of detached from reality, reality-adjacent if you will.

    Now, the iffy bit with them is that humans/maybe all life exists as sort of experiental devices for the suns. When we die our souls go (back?) to the suns and are consumed, everything we are assimilated with it.

    So some people want to murder the suns cuz they’re tyrannical and a world without suns would be a world of true freedom, freedom from the laws of reality. Ofc, there are hints that extinguishing the Judgements is just gonna cause a different kind of awful from the darkness/chaos. Also, the people who want to do this are just kinda creepy.

    • tormos says:

      the Liberation of Night! FREEDOM FROM THE TYRANNY OF LIGHT AND LAW!

  4. dylan says:

    So even Failbetter is jumping on the space train, huh. I wish they weren’t, but maybe time will prove this to be a good decision for the series, not just a vague one. (Whatever gimmick Call of Duty used last year, can we consider it flogged to death?)

    That said, I’m happy to see them producing another game and building on the platform Sunless Sea created. I just wish it was any other setting.

  5. Coming Second says:

    The bit where the dev talks about passing up opportunity to remain an upstanding character palls my interest a little, because it reminds me of the aspect of Sunless Seas’ storytelling I ultimately found wearyingly unpleasant. Almost everywhere you went, the choice was “Be an unspeakable psychopath, or do nothing”. Locations like Isle of Cats, Wrack and Chapel of Lights really have no purpose except to be unrelentingly horrible.

    Of course this universe is dark and grim, but occasionally allowing the player to act in a moral manner that isn’t going to fuck you over or simply lock you out of content entirely because lol nihilism would be nice.

    • Rinox says:

      I understand your point somewhat, but I didn’t think it was that bad really. In my most recent game I played a mostly morally upstanding captain and I didn’t feel like I was missing out on too much of the story. I did do some horrid things out of necessity sometimes (starvation), but overall I always declined the more immoral or illegal offers I got and seemed to get a good experience.

      I have to add that I was playing with zubmariner though, and it does seem like most of the new locations it adds allow you to be more creative in your approach to the storylines there. So maybe the devs already learned that from the feedback on the base game.

  6. teije says:

    Absolutely backed, a great development shop. If they can keep the inimitable tone of Fallen London/Sunless Sea in this, but improve the core game play loop from SS, it will be something quite special.

    • newc0253 says:

      Inimitable? I do not think that word means what you think it means.

      I liked Sunless Sea (or, at least, the exploration part before it became a tedious and pointless grind) but one thing I’m certain of is that its tone would in fact be terribly easy to imitate.

      • AngoraFish says:

        Whether Sunless Sea’s tone is “impossible” to imitate is surely a judgement call, and it therefore seems hardly fair to describe someone who doesn’t share your cynicism as having a poor knowledge of English.

        • funky_mollusk says:

          Fair enough, and I certainly mean no offense by the following comments, but it would be hard to argue that SS/FL is not directly/linearly derived from certain very well established genre-fiction sources, from Coleridge to Mieville.

          I would personally argue the following: that which is a direct imitation, cannot by definition, be inimitable.

        • newc0253 says:

          @AngoraFish – You might not have spotted the reference there. That’s okay, it’s a subtle humour.

  7. Flangie says:

    Any idea if it will support controller this time? I always liked the look of sunless seas but I have my pc connected to my tv, so mouse and keyboard are a pain….

  8. teije says:

    And it’s reached the 100K already, with the higher limited tiers gone. I sense some stretch goals (hopefully modest in scope) coming tomorrow.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Yeah, funny how all the high-tier rewards instantly got eaten up. There seem to be plenty of “high roller” backers.

      • Snowskeeper says:

        In the Sunless Sea kickstarter, there was one who bought a bunch of them for their friends; they also donated a huge amount of money to a charity Failbetter was hosting, then went on to sell the in-game reward they got for in-game money. They used that in-game money to buy and breed goats. It was spectacular.

        Point being: that might be part of what happened here; I ‘unno.

        In unrelated news, anyone what likes the Neathiverse (or whatever we’re calling it) should go bother the Delicious Friends group on Tumblr. They’re an RP group, primarily, but they’re also just, y’know. Cool. In general.

        Address is something like

  9. brucethemoose says:

    If Sunless Sea cost 100k, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with the ~200k they made + the enormous pile of money from this Kickstarter.

  10. funky_mollusk says:

    This game-concept always seemed mal-formed to me (in spite of the Coleridge reference). The rogue/nethack-like paradigm is completely antithetical to narratively driven games. Unless someone bothers to invent a proc-Gen narrative simulator this is complete junk.

    It becomes a process of simply grinding the same pre-ordained narrative arcs repeatedly in order to achieve some semblance of progress. Hack-likes are about replayability and fungibility. But as soon as I run into a repeated quest line in SS (about 10 hrs in), I completely lose all intereat.

    It feels very much like the perma-death, hack-like element, is simply a cheap trick to stretch an (admittedly nice looking, well executed) 10-hr indie game into a million-hour grind-fest (hyperbole), without any tactical input into the game’s outcome.

    Christ. I thought Nethack had a harsh RNG!!! (Speaking as someone who has 7 ascensions under his belt on NAO).

    Just call me wizardry 2.0

    • newc0253 says:

      I agree. Sunless Sea would be great as a narrative-driven RPG. But the game as it was quickly became a relentless grind, even with the saved games option switched on.

  11. SBLux says:

    Visually it looks very similar to Tom Francis’ Heat Signature game

  12. Shadow says:

    Unfortunately, I’m skeptical about this one. Like Sunless Sea’s, the concept sounds intriguing, but the game around the last one’s cool stories was quite underdeveloped. They’re saying they’ll be improving that for Sunless Skies, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Hopefully Sea was a learning experience.