Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.
February 7, 2015 10:12 PM   Subscribe

"Death #1: Devoured by bats. Death #2: Sailed too close to the Elder Continent; my ship, bones gained sentience." People have been discussing Sunless Sea, the nouveau-Roguelike game just released by FailBetter Games. What else are they saying? Rock, Paper, Shotgun: "...the most delicious collection of words in all of gaming." Eurogamer: "This is the video game at its most mystical and revealing." There is, of course, a trailer.

FailBetter Games participated in a Reddit AMA to promote the game, in which they revealed that, in addition to their own staff, they incorporated additions from external writers: Richard Cobbett, Meg Jayanth, Amal el-Mohtar, and interactive fiction heavyweight Emily Short.

Initially available on PC and Mac through Steam, the FAQ describes the existence of an experimental Linux build available to anyone who provides a proof-of-purchase.

Set in the chthonic ocean around the city of Fallen London (featured in FailBetter's browser game of the same name, as discussed previously), Sunless Sea gives you command of a creaky steamship, lets you pick an origin and an ultimate objective, and sends you out into the unknown. Like FTL: Faster Than Light before it, you must manage and mitigate risk in the face of constantly dwindling resources – but where FTL focused on the minutiae of individual combat encounters, Sunless Sea pares combat down to an elegant (if simplistic) affair, preferring instead to give the player the freedom to explore the vast, dark waters of the Unterzee: if you get in over your head, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

Though many captains will drown, starve, or go mad, all is not lost! Progress through the game gradually accumulates into legacies and heirlooms that bolster the subsequent captain's austere initial outfittings. The sea does not forgive or forget, but it nonetheless offers up wonders and treasures to the daring explorer. All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

(Initial quote from @ZachRPG on Twitter.)
posted by jsnlxndrlv (49 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
In retrospect, I could have linked the initial quote to the Twitter hashtag where I found @ZachRPG's quote. Ah well.

My first captain – Regibald, a citizen poet looking to write the Zong of the Zee – was too slow to seek foreign foreign waters, and while he thoroughly charted the ports nearest London, his voyages were ones of diminishing returns. Perhaps that is why he snapped, and with precious few supplies or fuel, and with but a single crewman remaining (after misunderstanding his felonious employer's instructions, which resulted in thugs murdering most of his zailors), he traveled far to the north through perilous straits into waters out of time and memory, to a port where no-one and nothing ever changes, and through inexplicable good fortune was even able to leave that distant place, and began the long journey back home, but the waters grew unmerciful, and the gods did not look kindly on one who'd spat in the face of their acolytes, and so gradually he succumbed to the terror that mounts on distant waves with no shores or light or hope and, on the very cusp of returning to London's safe harbor, clasping a gold locket to his breast, he succumbed to the enticing cries of the Drowned and plunged overboard to oblivion.

His rival – the disgraced priest, Madam Penolepe – has now come to possess one of his deck guns, and has taken it south in search of the dark coffee beans her cadaverous contact in the church demanded in exchange for information about her long-dead father.

YouTube celebrity TotalBiscuit's introductory overview.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 10:23 PM on February 7, 2015

I am playing this right now in the other window!

My captain is the former poetess, Elizabeth FitzRoy. So far I have not devoured any of my crew. I did, however, start hallucinating a crewmate at some point but I am better now. That's what the voices tell me anyway.
posted by Justinian at 10:25 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Uh. While I was typing that a giant jellyfish of some sort beat ass on my ship and now I apparently don't have enough crew to work the engines? Or something? Because I do not appear to be moving.

This seems bad.
posted by Justinian at 10:30 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you should probably check your storylets in the bottom-right. Likely you will have to do something dire, like observe the reality of your death.
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 10:32 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by Justinian at 10:34 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm too busy trying to get rid of Scandal and Wounds in Fallen London to try another game.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:38 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's fun, but man can it be slow to get from place to place - I lost some crew and hull while in the far NE, and limping back was a good half an hour of futility before a jellyfish wrecked me. I wish there was a timeskip button.
posted by xiw at 11:06 PM on February 7, 2015

I mapped out about 2/3rds of the map with my fourth sailor. Lots of great stories, I don't want to spoil here, were had.
posted by chainlinkspiral at 11:51 PM on February 7, 2015

At first blush this looks like EV: Nova but with steampunk
posted by hellojed at 12:03 AM on February 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Citizen Zlon, former street urchin, friend of rats, captain of my second ship and rival of the late Sir Mlon (veteran of the invasion of Hell) is currently sleeping off a little of his accumulated Terror in London after a long and arduous journey to the far East. This game is great! So much atmosphere and such an awesome sense of mounting dread whenever you get stuck out in the deep zea with almost enough fuel and supplies to get home, and your crew is starting to go mad...
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:55 AM on February 8, 2015

I like Fallen London, but I'm having difficulty getting traction with Sunless Sea - my captains tend to run out of echoes way too fast and have their ships whittled out from underneath them.

One captain got as far out as Irem on his first voyage, simply using fuel and supplies bought in London, but ran out of fuel on the way back. He took on wounds to appease a god of the zee to get more fuel, but then he was too close to death and couldn't do that any more. So then he threw supplies into the engine to keep going that little bit further. It wasn't enough. I was one fuel short of getting back to London and making a fortune. Sigh.

Another one beat a superior pirate vessel in combat, but only had a few points of hull left. He was limping back to London when he met a crab. Killed it, but down to one hull. Then a jillyfleur killed me.

Another was doing quite well for me, but had a crate of contraband that he had to offload before he could get back to London. He sailed north, dodging lifebergs, when he saw Mount Nomad out of the corner of his eye. He tried to skirt around the thing, but he wasn't careful enough. Mount Nomad noticed him and killed him with one shot from across half the screen. That thing is nasty.
posted by YAMWAK at 1:11 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Mt. Nomad hates you. It is known.
posted by Archelaus at 1:29 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I died. Thanks, guys. This post distracted me and I died.
posted by Justinian at 1:46 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, why yes! Good ol Captain Bellingham is doing quit well thank you very much!

What's that you say? You need to check my hold for contraband! Well, there's no need for that now is there? We are both gentleman, and as such we are above such vulgarity.

Here, I am sure 50 echoes will put your mind at ease. Now, if you will excuse me I have some matters to attend to...

Oy! You yobs! Get that bloody crate off the boat before anyone else comes poking 'is nose in!
posted by The Power Nap at 2:43 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

YouTube celebrity TotalBiscuit

You forgot the rest of his title: "YouTube celebrity and misogynist #GG douchebag TotalBiscuit." So, yeah, I'm not helping him out with any clicks.
posted by papercake at 4:32 AM on February 8, 2015 [14 favorites]

You forgot the rest of his title: "YouTube celebrity and misogynist #GG douchebag TotalBiscuit." So, yeah, I'm not helping him out with any clicks.

In that case, perhaps you'd prefer this Should You Play This Game? video overview instead!
posted by jsnlxndrlv at 7:29 AM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I picked this up at the same time as "Darkest Dungeon" and they're both a lot of fun, and both really highly polished. What's surprising is just how tonally different two games can be when both are accurately described by the phrase "gothic roguelike".
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:49 AM on February 8, 2015

This puts me in mind of the splendid book Joe Golem and The Drowning City by Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Christopher Golden, a fantastic mish-mash of Lovecraftian horror, steampunk, and old myth. I would read the hell out of fiction set in this world.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:03 AM on February 8, 2015

Just ordered and requested the Linux build. The wait is agonizing.
posted by Joe Chip at 8:03 AM on February 8, 2015

So looking forward to this, after playing Fallen London for a while.
posted by doctornemo at 10:02 AM on February 8, 2015

I just started playing this. It reminds me of The Scar in game form.
posted by Hume at 11:02 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, yeah, this is finally finished, I should play it now. I backed the Kickstarter, I've had it sitting in my Steam library for ages, being kept up to date. I played it once back when it had a totally different combat model and said "this will be really cool when there are more than two ports to trade at", then put it away.
posted by egypturnash at 11:19 AM on February 8, 2015

Some of the gameplay also reminds me of King of Dragon Pass in terms of the way the the story elements are interweaved with the gameplay, and how much more story content there is in there than you could get through in any one playthrough because different character builds will tend to end up down totally different story paths. Another big literary influence is definitely Dying Earth-mode Jack Vance - there's a landscape feature on the map called Cugel's Bluff in tribute.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:40 PM on February 8, 2015

Spent most of my Sunday playing this. Its a good game, although the writing is a bit "m'lady top hat top hat steamgun dreadnought" at times. The great thing about the game is that it doesn't seem to focus on combat at all (although there seems to be quite a lot of combat options, so maybe that changes nearer the endgame?) but it still manages to be interesting just through the story snippets.
posted by Soi-hah at 2:33 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

My last captain spent most of their voyages avoiding combat with the lights out to avoid attracting attention. Of course, it ends like it always does, with blood and darkness.

I personally love how a) your ship has a horn, and b) all it does is piss everything off.
posted by mikurski at 2:52 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would like to thank the Admiralty for giving me an assignment to retrieve Strategic Information from Port Cecil, which they claimed was Northeast of London. Because when I eventually found it many, many days later Southeast of London I had uncovered fully half the map. Clearly they were simply testing my perseverence.
posted by Justinian at 4:50 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

> I personally love how a) your ship has a horn, and b) all it does is piss everything off.

how do u toot ur own horn plz!

The Admiralty has determined that Citizen Cain must immediately be informed as to the method(s) by which a boat's horn may be tooted at necessary times.
posted by tychotesla at 6:11 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Press H for horn! At all times! Especially when zee monsters are nearby.
posted by Justinian at 6:21 PM on February 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

"... Rozebud"
posted by tychotesla at 6:45 PM on February 8, 2015

Why did I think it was a good idea to see what happens when you sail off the edge of the map? The sea, the sea.
posted by Justinian at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2015

I definitely didn't eat a person. I definitely didn't eat a person twice.
posted by Justinian at 2:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Emily Short, you say? Sold.
posted by corb at 10:48 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

You know how sometimes a reviewer's complaints and criticisms are what wind up selling you on a thing? I'm watching a Let's Play video by a guy who's complaining (without using these exact words) because he wants infodumping and instead apparently it's either heavily inclued or expects the player to be familiar with ideas from Fallen London.

Hey now…
posted by Lexica at 5:25 PM on February 9, 2015

I am super interested in this game, but I have an absolute steam engine of an old Macbook that runs Max OSX 1.6.8. It's got 2Gb of RAM, so it can run it in theory - anyone managed to do so?
posted by Happy Dave at 8:05 AM on February 10, 2015

There's a funny tradeoff with the headlights: You use more fuel but accumulate less terror. So for long voyages to the East, you really need to be running the headlights to avoid going mad, going into stealth mode when big mean ships come around....

(I also waited way too long to do the trip to the surface; it's a great way to get started in the early game. I've also got a nice little spreadsheet going keeping track of what locations need what objects, and sales and buying info for all the cities I find. There aren't any big chances for arbitrage yet, that I've found; the long-distance shipping seems to be built in as events at a couple locations rather than as shop arbitrage.)
posted by kaibutsu at 6:46 PM on February 10, 2015

Still waiting on the Linux build -_-
posted by Joe Chip at 7:58 AM on February 11, 2015

I found a pretty good route involving shipping coffee but, unsurprisingly, you really need the merchant ship to take advantage of it. The cargo space on the warships just isn't large enough for shipping. Which makes sense.
posted by Justinian at 8:27 AM on February 12, 2015

So I'm sailing along and one of my clay man passengers goes berserk and KILLS EVERYONE. Are you kidding me?
posted by Justinian at 1:53 PM on February 12, 2015

Inspired by this thread, I got this game, but I'm not sure it's working for me. Restarting isn't as fast as it usually is with roguelikes, so dying is much more of a pain. I guess I could try it without permadeath, but that would defeat the purpose.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:55 PM on February 12, 2015

I kind of like that, it gives you a sense of dread if you're in trouble and makes some decisions very difficult.

Some tips for those of us playing which I have accrued in my playing:

1) PAGES is the hardest stat to raise because there aren't any crew members which will train it except, I think, the Plausible Surgeon you get for being a Natural Philosopher. The screaming. In the stars. So that's a very powerful starting choice, just make sure not to get rid of the Philosopher.
2) You'd think taking the PAGES legacy to retain half your pages would make sense given the above. BUT NO, that's maybe the worst legacy because you get so many fragments from uncovering the map that preserving your chart makes raising your stats much harder.
3) Starting as a poet is also very powerful because of the +25 pages. So far I like Poet for +25 pages or Natural Philosopher for +25 Mirrors and the Surgeon. Make the voices stop, I don't want them to stop.
4) The results you get from various Something Awaits You in Port choices vary widely even at the same ports. And they change over time. So it's worth doing them repeatedly as you sail around.
5) The easiest way to die is probably to lose too many crew and end up adrift. But supply consumption increases rapidly with more crew so it's very tempting to run barely over half crew (the minimum for full speed). Tempting but risky.
posted by Justinian at 5:03 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Much to my pride the good ship Rozebud is still technically floating.

I have coasted into London with absolutely no gas and no supplies twice. I have role-played being a frog. I have stolen a rare and valued treasure from some cavaliers (cause srlsly). And I have seen some seen some the sun the seen some weird shit out there. I was being watched!

I'm looking forward to the updates. Not really because I've finished even a single run, or because I'll immediately be seeking the new content, but because I love the feeling that I'm threading my way between unknowable mysteries and literally unfathomably horrors. I'm hoping this game gets complex/random enough that it feels even half this fun and ominous every time.
posted by tychotesla at 7:43 PM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I get the feeling that if I died at this point it would be really, really tedious to restart. Which has me tempted to break out of 'roguelike' mode.... But overall I'm enjoying the game.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:47 PM on February 12, 2015

So I finally got around to playing this and good golly am I terrible at combat. Even though I'm trying my best to avoid fighting all together, I keep dying.

Any tips, please?
posted by Georgina at 5:54 AM on February 22, 2015

Enemy ships are incredibly bad at combat. If you can get behind them, you can just turn in a circle waiting for your guns to charge while staying out of their arc of fire.

Sea creatures are a different matter, and can be quite tricky. I find it works well to back up at full speed, shooting whenever possible with my lights off, and the monster just at the edge of my firing distance. The lights out means they often lose track of where I'm at (getting a question mark in their info block), so they don't charge. Bigger engines make you go faster, which also helps with this strategy a bit. Jellyfish still suck, though.

Additionally, some of the weapons have a stun period, which slows down the enemy attacks a bit. I've also been playing a high Veils character, which helps quite a lot with avoiding unwanted attention.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:57 PM on February 22, 2015

I'm doing better now. I've taken the advice I saw here or elsewhere to start by making cautious trips between Fallen London and Hunter's Rock or the tomb colonies. Killing a pirate ship here or there will net enough money for fuel and supplies. I do find that I get beat up a lot by bats and whatnot so I spend almost all my money on hull repairs.
posted by tofu_crouton at 9:08 AM on February 23, 2015

It's worthwhile to stock up on fuel and make trips to the surface. There's a couple choices there that can generate money fairly quickly in the early game.
posted by kaibutsu at 10:18 PM on February 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

For anyone with an ancient Mac like me - I took the plunge and it appears to be running fine on Mac OSX 10.6.8, on a 2009 Macbook Pro with 4Gb of RAM. I've seen one bit of flickering on a dialogue option, but that's about it. That said, I haven't left port yet.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:00 AM on February 25, 2015

Thanks for the combat tips, kaibutsu! I haven't had the chance to try them out yet, but hopefully they'll allow me to explore a little more. (Which is what interests me the most.)

I wasn't aware you could make trips to the surface. Is that something I have to discover somewhere?
posted by Georgina at 6:04 AM on February 26, 2015

There's a port that offers you a chance to go to the surface. I've never done it because I'm scared to take chances right now.

On my games, it has always been south of Fallen London. I'm not sure if this is one of the set locations or not.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:26 AM on February 26, 2015

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