Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates explores a flooded NYC

Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates

A new developer called Coin-Operated Games – made up of former staff from Crytek, Codemasters, Creative Assembly, and others – has announced Empyre: Lords of the Sea Gates [official site], an old-school-styled RPG that looks pretty interesting.

Its hook is that it’s set in a flooded version of 1911 New York. Problem is, none of the water is drinkable, so the city is slowly succumbing to thirst. It’s like raaaiiin on your wedding day.

So, it’s up to you to mop up the irony, and cobble together a crew to find a fresh water source. The developers say it will give you “feelings of some of the classic story driven RPGs of the 90s”. I like those feelings.

Now, I’m not fully sold on it yet. The turn-based combat looks pretty rudimentary, some of the animations are stiff, and the environments aren’t the most polished. But the idea of exploring a twisted version of old New York is definitely appealing, especially if it’s filled with interesting characters, and we’re promised “cutthroats and rogues of every stripe”. Here’s the announcement trailer:

In the end, I guess it all comes down to the quality of the story. It’s good to see developers putting time into making old-school RPGs, and I really hope they can nail it.

It’s due out this autumn, with no specific release date yet. Do you like what you see?


  1. dr.denton says:

    What worries me about “old school” is, many developers seem to think they can get away with awful game design and interfaces.

    It’s like throwing a 1930s themed party, with the music, and the fashion and everything. And then at midnight, you get a bunch of guys dressed up in Nazi uniforms to kick open the door and give everyone a good beating, for added authenticity.

    • Ghostwise says:

      I have myself often observed, during my academic travels, that a badly convinced UI is very much like being beaten by Nazis.

      In fact, when punched by alt-right skinheads, I often think of Skyrim’s inventory system.

      • Heavenfall says:

        I, too, have never been in a fight in my life. But I would not hesitate to claim that the suffering I personally felt enduring Skyrim’s inventory system is morally worse than the sum total of the genocide committed by the Nazi party up to and during ww2.

        • dr.denton says:

          Apologies for being crass. I didn’t mean to play down, or joke about, the atrocities commited by the Nazis.

          My point is: sometimes people seem to mix up what is worth bringing back and what isn’t.

      • Juja says:

        I too often subvert what is an obviously jocular analogy to virtue signal so everyone on the internet will know what morally superior individual i am.

        • Ghostbird says:

          I too have been known to respond to suggestions that someone else’s remark was in poor taste by attempting character assassination of those making the suggestion.

          (I too have been known to equate the use of tedious right-wing buzzphrases with attempts on a person’s life.)

          (I too have been known to milk a joke long after it has ceased to be funny.)

          (I too have been known to imply that jokes are inexplicably mammalian.)

          (I too…

          *a single shot rings out*

          • morningoil says:

            @Ghostbird: this is a very good post (in case you were worried that it was otherwise).

  2. unacom says:

    I spent considerate parts of my later youth avoiding beatings by gentlepersons of the left and right -so I don´t have very much to contribute here, other than congratulating you both on a good analogy. But, a doctor I once knew told me about the time he worked in an emergency room in Berlin in the mid-30s. On weekends the staff could easily tell if there had been a political meeting -because after about eleven pm the ward would fill up. He could easily tell if a patient belonged to the socialist/communist-bloc or if he was a nazi, just by the different treatments he had to administer. A socialist patient would usually come with blunt-force trauma to the head either because he had been beaten with a club or by a beer stein. Nazis though would come with cuts to the hands, arms, upper body or head -made by stiletto knives or by crushed beer bottles. So again, very good analogy on the type of bluntness in game mechanics.

    On a completely unrelated matter -I do like what I see and very much hope it won´t feel like a 30s beer-hall-beating. Or knife-attack.

    • dr.denton says:

      As I’ve said in the post above: apologies for the crass comment. Sometimes you think you’re being clever, when it’s just plain cynical.

      • Aetylus says:

        The analogy was clever, if misguided. The apologies are a rare touch of internet class. The web would be a much nicer place if more people had the courage to say sorry.

      • unacom says:

        I do think your comment is a bit on the crass side -but I didn´t intend to insinuate this. I just remarked on how close your analogy is to what someone has witnessed back then.

    • borgkubus says:

      Sorry, but I have to intervene here. That anecdote is from Victor Klemperer’s LTI – Lingua Tertii Imperii. You will find it in the introduction, just a few pages in. You got it mostly correct, except the source is a female assistant doctor, who was a friend of the family, and it goes the other way around: The fascists are the ones suffering blunt trauma, and the communists are the ones with the knife wounds. Oh, and it’s not a Berlin hospital, but a small industrial town in Saxony.

      • unacom says:

        It´s what a friend of my grandfather told ten-year old me a very long time ago.

        Now that you mention LTI …hm. I remember reading it. There was a very good TV-adaptation by the name “Die Sprache lügt nicht” (Language doesn´t lie), too. I´m pretty sure I didn´t mix them up, though.

        Right now I feel a bit as if I was in the middle of a Radio Erewan joke.

  3. Zenicetus says:

    I can’t get past the premise. All that water and none to drink is catchy, but if that’s salt water (“Lords of the Sea Gates”), then desalination methods have been known for hundreds of years. Boil seawater into a condenser, done. Is it radioactive or something? Has the rain stopped falling? NYC is not in a dry climate. Bah, humbug.

    Maybe it’s a good game regardless, but they’d better have a damned good explanation for that setup.

    • poliovaccine says:

      I figured it was that it was polluted somehow, not just that it was seawater, and in such a way that either the air or the ground pollutes the rainwater too. Seawater didnt even occur to me as being the whole main issue, in spite of the title, but I sure hope it isnt that, for exactly your reasons.

      As to the game itself, I dont know how much a vaguely unique setting can successfully invest me in a bog-standard gameplay loop. Like the article says, it comes down to the stories to distinguish it. And the thing is, people are giving it points for being this hugely creative setting, but to me it feels like an obvious extrapolation on Fallen London/Sunless Sea. Which isnt hardly some awful, terrible thing, but it’s just not halfway as unique as some folks have been saying, is all.

      I’d hope it would have some cool new mechanics, like maybe building and outfitting boats or rafts to traverse the flood, but it’ll take more than seeing my old neighborhood with flooding and, honestly, probably no more mutton chops and curly moustaches than I saw there already, to make the setting itself a selling point to me.

      The special fidelity to the geography isnt anything crazy cool to me either. Like, ooh, Manhattan will be built on a grid of square city blocks! Skyscrapers will be recognizable from the topdown perspective we all know and love! I donno, it just seems like a weird thing to care about in an urban setting. I’d actually be more interested if they took more liberties.

    • unacom says:


    • Grizzly says:

      Flood water tends to come from rivers rather then oceans, and the contamination is not just salt – especially after floods! Think anything from sewage via industrial waste upriver via drowned cattle to dead people finding it’s way into normally clean water supplies: Those floods tend to carry things that we normally don’t dump into water with them. There’s more information on the internet. For reference, a website from new york:
      link to health.ny.gov
      It’s enough of a concern in the present date for authorities to warn about it, a century after the game’s events take place.

      Disaese spread via flood waters is always a priority consideration for relief efforts during floods. In Indonesia in 2007, a lot of people got sick with diarrhoea and skin infections simply for being in contact with contaminated floodwaters.

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus says:

      There may well be some additional handwaving(pollution, curses, dark pacts with Deep Ones); but it is worth noting that, while technologically trivial; desalination is crushingly expensive.

      Even today, with the option of reverse osmosis, superior solar and nuclear options, markedly more advanced coal and oil extraction, etc. you see very few city-state desalination projects. Some pilots here and there(naturally, the desert petro-plutocracies like Dubai are interested, since they have no water, plenty of energy and giant piles of cash); but for the uses of the non-wealthy (never mind agriculture); desalination is so expensive as to be close to theoretical, despite the theory being really trivial.

      The only really successful desalination project is one that uses a large nuclear fusion source to heat the surface of the ocean, all over the world, delivering the result as ‘rain’.

      • Addie says:

        Well said. Would just like to add to that, the crushingly-expensive nature of reverse osmosis is both in the membrane cassettes used, which are hi-tech and difficult to manufacture, and the large, very high-pressure pumps required to force the water through the membranes. If you want the RO to run for more than about fifteen minutes, you’ll need a sophisticated backwashing system and a ready supply of descaling chemicals too. I work in the water industry commissioning these plants: it is not technology that I would consider trying to lash up if I was stranded on a desert island, let alone a hundred years ago in New York city.

        If the city is flooded I’d expect the electricity to be out, which makes it a lot harder to desalinate water. Rigging up a still and scavenging what wood you can to burn (in apartment flats? Probably not lots) would let you produce a little, but evaporating seawater leaves behind a lot of salt to knacker your still, so you’re either rigging up a heat exchanger to recover the energy from what you’ve flushed away, or you’re being very wasteful with fuel heating up more water than you need to. Depends how much copper pipe you can scavenge from the buildings. Setting up some evaporation chambers on the roofs of the skyscrapers would work well while the sun is shining in the summer, but if there’s enough water to flood NYC then the weather’s probably not all that great either.

        Gather up a good supply of wood, use it to assemble a raft, and strike out for the mainland at the crack of dawn would be my best advice, I think.

        • Zenicetus says:

          It’s not as hard as you’re making it out. It was a developed technology for sailing ships as far back as the 1700’s (look up the frigate “Protector” on the Wiki desalination page). That was obviously combined with rainwater catchment, but that just means the scenario has to also imply rainwater is no longer potable. Which is a stretch, but maybe that’s the premise.

          Also they do have electricity in this setting, from what’s visible in the trailer. And apparently enough knowledge about steam condensers to run a locomotive train. I’m sure the devs will find a way to justify the setting. It just seems a farther reach than necessary, when something else could serve as the scarce commodity, like oil or food. NYC isn’t in a desert.

  4. Jim Reaper says:

    Interesting setting. I’m definitely intrigued, but what the ever loving fuck is going on with that trailer music! Doesn’t exactly scream 1911!

    • Zenicetus says:

      Yeah, the music is jarring. Especially when there is so much great music from that era that’s now out of copyright.

  5. Harlander says:

    I’m curious about what the deal is with the dialog windows being styled like punched cards. At least, that’s what it looks like in that small screenshot.

  6. second_hand_virgin says:

    First of all, they should kick out the music composer. Obnoxious sounds.