News

A Year in the Life of Sunless Skies

By Hannah Flynn, January 31, 2020 · Sunless Skies

Releasing a game is a fiddly business. There’s no giant red button you can press to launch your baby into the world. In fact, there are so many buttons that when we released Sunless Skies on January 31st last year, everybody in the office got to click at least one of them. It took about half an hour. We stood around sipping champagne out of plastic flutes, taking turns with the mouse.

That little ceremony marked the end of an arduous 17 months in Early Access, but we had no intention of stopping development. Since then we’ve released four major updates to the game, added new characters and stories, new enemies, new mechanics and innumerable smaller improvements. We’ve changed offices, changed bosses, said goodbye to old friends and welcomed new ones.

Today, a year to the day since launch, Sunless Skies has grown a great deal, and we’re not done yet. We still have a major update to release before we move onto new (and secret) things, but now feels like a good time to look back at some of the key changes in the last year…

January-March

The Undeparted now depart on death, instead of clinging tenuously to existence.

We marked launch week with a charity streaming event that raised £10,000 for the gaming charity Special Effect. Meanwhile, the first reviews for Skies – the best reviews we’ve ever had – began to arrive. We watched streamers, scoured forums for feedback and squashed many bugs.

hive

April

Officers who’d managed to go on secondment while also staying aboard your engine will abandon their secondments and cease to infringe the laws of physics and narrative plausibility.

The first major update, Wayfarer, was focused on giving players more to see and do on their long voyages through the dark. We completely reworked the geography of Albion, the second of the game’s four regions. The Gods of the Sky made their presence felt, you could visit cosmic spectacles like the still ticking corpse of Big Ben, and leave your Officers at port to make money or cause havoc.

london

June

Tackety scouts have had their brandy rations rationed and should now be less of a menace to passing traffic.

The Vagabond update added a hirsute new officer of no fixed abode with his own quest, and three new enemies joined the fray; the fire-belching Tackety Liberator, the snipe-happy Ministry Monitor and the repulsive Colonised Cantankeri. Worlebury Juxta-Mere gained a new spectacle, St Anthony’s Lighthouse, and we added new stories to the existing wonders and horrors of the sky.

Meanwhile, the conceptual entity that is Failbetter Towers shifted location – for the second time in as many years – to a swanky new office in London Bridge, where the elevators move at right angles to reality and the snack jars refill with KitKats overnight.

worlebury

July

The Empyrean Outrider’s projectiles no longer shed hair.

A small update granted a long-requested player feature: horns for locomotives. We’ve had more entertaining mail about this entirely useless item than anything else. Players sent us a chocolate train, a Powerpoint presentation on the importance of tooting and an actual whistle made out of wood.

empyrean2

September

It is now possible to leave the Now-Triumphant Priest’s cottage without eating pie.

The Chiropterous Hoarder, a winged horror of profound cunning and unreliable manners, joined your crew in search of immortality. Meanwhile, the new Albion-Eleutheria Transit Relay completed the connection loop between the regions, provided you had the resources to build it.

The Hoarder update introduced brand new travel mechanics, offering the means to upgrade your engine and engage “Full Steam Mode” for jolts of expensive, dangerous speed. This particular feature was a tricky bit of coding and an even trickier bit of naming. For a while it was “Advanced Cruise Control”, until our Narrative Director drily noted that the name “does not suggest giddying speed and excitement”. We flirted with excitable words like Ultra, Nitro, Injector and even Clockwork before settling on Full Steam. The argument that streamers would *really* enjoy yelling it during moments of crisis was what tipped the scales.

pan

November

Activating Full Steam Mode will no longer cause the Dendrified Vagabond to play a jig on his harmonica.

Finally, as the year was coming to an end, The Sky Worn Urchin joined the crew. We created this new mascot character in honour of War Child’s Armistice 2019 fundraiser. In total, Sunless Skies has raised £17,000 for charities this year.

urchin announce_C

 December

Only spider-sweepers may sweep the well.

As is traditional, the Failbetter gang sacked off to visit an educational tourist attraction before our annual Christmas party. This year, we chose the rather spooky Old Operating Theatre Museum. Here we are in a room whose very walls are marinated in screams:

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The Future

A captain who successfully escapes the Eaters of the Dead will no longer be endlessly haunted by the sound of their jaws.

We are currently working on features for what will most likely be the game’s final major update: the Sovereign Edition.

The Sovereign Edition will launch on Switch, PS4, Xbox One and PC. Featuring massive overhauls to controller support and character progression, new stories, enhanced trading prospects, a radial menu, tragic new options to mitigate starvation, an extremely dangerous exotic engine, and much more, it will be the definitive version of Sunless Skies.

And after that? Something new! Possibly more than one something! We can’t say more just yet, but we think you’ll like what we have in store…

3 Comments

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Anguar Feb 5, 10:57pm

Your games are still so unique and fascinating to me, i hope you are all super proud of your work. I absolutely cannot wait to see where you guys head next. all the best from Tasmania (land of Devils).

FinalClaw Feb 1, 2:00am

Hey FB studios, sunless skies has been a wonderful experience, and now that you guys are planning on closing the book on it, I have one request: Please look back on mod support, allow your players to continue expanding this beautiful game by adding more stories and possibly regions, enemies and weapons. The community would jump at such opportunity, and it would surely be a beautiful epilogue to this already great story.

AyeBraine Jan 31, 3:53pm

Hi, I know that you know that the number of comments below such posts never reflects the real attention that they get (and this post, being cracking, is already being linked to in various places), but let this neat comment sit in the page cellar, displacing the needlessly official No Comments statement. Love your work and wish you lots of rest and recreation as much as you can and will allow yourself to have. Thank you for the incredible after-launch support and amount of actual fresh thought that had obviously gone into it. I wish you the best in solving the dilemma of being tied to a huge well-known universe (which maybe even starts to stretch and groan a bit under the load of incredible fiction you've invented) on one hand, and maybe thinking of making something completely different on the other. (The layering GIFs are also sobering — these are about 10 layers more than I imagined there are.)