Sunless Skies Developer, Failbetter Games’ AMA Recap

Sunless Seas’ highly anticipated sequel, Sunless Skies raised almost $500,000 during its Kickstarter campaign. The project unlocked all of its stretch goals with the support of over 11K backers. To celebrate, Failbetter Games hosted an “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit.

Failbetter’s Communications Director, Hannah Flynn lead the AMA with additional team members chiming in. In keeping with the extensive lore of the Fallen London Universe, some of the day’s questions got a little bizarre. We’ve compiled a few of our favorites below.

ForebodingMonolith: How has the departure of Alexis Kennedy (Failbetter Games Co-founder, CEO, and Creative Director) impacted your work so far? Did he leave behind notes for his “vision” of the Fallen London-verse, a guide to follow? Or do you have freedom to follow your own ideas? Or a mix of both?

Failbetter Games Narrative Director, Chris Gardiner: The million or so words of Fallen London and Sunless Sea written while Alexis was CEO provide an incredibly clear vision for us! That’s a depth and history that most imaginary worlds can only dream of, and it guides everything we write. We have no interest in undermining, overhauling, or discarding what makes Fallen London a unique setting. We love it there!

The future is our responsibility, but we’ve countless stars to steer by.

lady_ninane: What lessons learned from Sunless Sea that has had one of the more significant impacts on Sunless Skies’ development?

Failbetter Games Producer, Lottie Bevan: Sunless Sea was hugely influential in the evolution of our studio and the design of Sunless Skies. We’re extremely proud of Sunless Sea, but the studio’s now four times the size of what it was, so we’re keen to capitalize on the new skills and experience we have!

We’ve invested a lot in preproduction this time, and have picked a few key features of Sunless Sea we’d like to try something new with (combat, legacies, role-playing potential, etc). But Sunless Skies is very much a spiritual successor to Sunless Sea: its adoring niece making cupcakes with it in the kitchen; covering it up with a blanket when it falls asleep by the fire.

That exactly answers your questions, right?

Orthfa: Do y’all have any plans on making any of your non browser games multiplayer? It would be interesting to have a crew of people or even multiple ships sailing the unterzea or skies.

Failbetter Games Producer, Lottie Bevan: Adding multiplayer to an existing single-player title is a lot of work, so we’re not planning on doing that for now. That doesn’t rule it out for future games, though!

Taking Storytelling To The Limit

Roaven: I’m curious as to what the various limitations of Storynexus as a platform are and how that has impacted your work on Fallen London?

Failbetter Games Writer, Cash DeCuir: StoryNexus makes the experience of our games possible. It encourages brevity in writing and measured exploration of content. It gives us the opportunity to really hone in on specific moments, because we can cut out a lot of the connective tissue other engines oftentimes require. And when we’re able to have a world of those moments, our character quality system really shines – it allows us to tell a single narrative, while also allowing our players to approach it from angles we could never have imagined. The qualities you acquire from one story pass on into the next, and soon you’re in control of your own stories as much as we are. It’s a pretty special thing!

But there are some tight constraints on StoryNexus. We’re often limited in what we can do. There have been many times I’ve wanted to have a specific set of requirements on a story, but the tech hasn’t supported that design. Likewise, there have been times I’ve wanted to assign a player specific rewards based on their qualities, but there’s no easy way to do it. It’s really a matter of knowing what the engine can do, and exploiting it as far as you can. I’m happy to say though that we’ve recently found some new tricks, and we’re really looking forward to exploiting them in future content!

Delicious Rewards

Ranneko: The Kickstarter description put the initial budget for Sunless Skies at £330,000. How much impact will the added stretch goals have on that budget?

Failbetter Games Designer and Analytics Director, Adam Myers: We’ve seen a lot of Kickstarters fail or get delivered years behind schedule because of scope creep, and that’s something we were absolutely determined to avoid. So overall, the additional budget required for the stretch goals is very small – we’ve been careful to keep each of them tightly scoped, and even taken altogether they’ll make up only a small fraction of all the stories, features and content in the game.

By the way, a number of the stretch goals, like smuggling and the Martyr-King’s Cup, were things we were really excited about but couldn’t quite justifying within the limits we set ourselves on the assumption that we’d meet but not greatly exceed our funding goal. So we’re really happy that we’ll get to implement them after all – thanks for making that possible!

Snugglor: Were there any goals you considered including and then left out that, given the success of the campaign, you went “Phew, glad we didn’t end up having to do that one!”?

Failbetter Games Designer and Analytics Director, Adam Myers: Actually, that was a test we used when considering stretch goals – would we be excited about being able to add this to the game? If a goal didn’t meet that requirement, we didn’t use it.

By the way, we’d never promise a problematic goal in an attempt to raise more money – that’s a recipe for serious trouble further down the line. There is something much worse than not reaching your Kickstarter funding goal, and that’s reaching it but failing to deliver a game that fulfills your campaign promises.

Missveils: Thank you so much for this AMA and congratulations! My question is: How are you feeling right now?!

Failbetter Games Narrative Director, Chris Gardiner: So sometimes I’ve seen people who’ve run successful Kickstarters say afterwards “Your support means so much to us!”

And in my shriveled, walnut-like heart a little voice would whisper: “Yeah. But probably not as much as the money did, right?”

But I was an utter idiot. We hit our funding target in the first four hours, and then it wasn’t about getting the money we need to make the game anymore. That worry faded, and the number of backers kept rising, and every new pledge was someone saying “I like what you’ve done before. I want to see this new thing you’re making. I trust you to make it.”

That flood of validation is—all at once—stunning, emboldening, and humbling. Many of us at Failbetter are not—how can I put this? Burdened with a surfeit of self-confidence. Seeing so many people excited about our work is earthshaking.

How do we feel? Stunned. Emboldened. Humbled. Determined.

You can read the full Failbetter AMA over on Reddit. Visit Failbetter’s Twitch channel to watch episodes of The Failbetter Podcast.

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Joanna Mueller
Joanna Mueller is a lifelong gamer who used to insist on having the Super Mario Bros manual read to her as a bedtime story. Now she's reading Minecraft books to her own kiddo while finally making use of her degree to write about games.
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