Back in the very first video for the Kickstarter, we described Sunless Sea as a game of ‘exploration, survival and loneliness’. The first two themes are immediately evident in almost every aspect of the gameplay. The third is subtler, and we’ve spent a lot of the last two years thinking about how we can address it. It’s there in the art, of course, in the geography, in the sound design, in the moods we try to evoke in the writing – but I wanted to foreground it a little more. So I started looking at romance.
At night, and in far places, other people are the warmth between intervals of darkness. Love, and sex, are both ways to generate that warmth, and both come up constantly in stories about seafaring. Odysseus seeks Penelope but tarries with Calypso. Mermaids lure men to their deaths. Folkloric American sailor-spouses watch for their husbands from galleries called “widow’s walks”. We’ve never heard of ‘train-carriage romance’ or ‘roadside romance’ but we have ‘shipboard romances’. Sailors have a girl in every port. Sodomy, along with rum and the lash, was supposedly one of the great naval traditions. And on and on.
Two things about those examples. First, you probably noticed that all of them have a pretty clear gender bias. Well, that’s sea stories for you. In Sunless Sea, of course, we stripped back the gender biases and went with our Fallen London approach (described by one friendly soul as ‘tumblrtarded’) of making all roles and characters available to all genders and none. This caused some problems of its own, which I’ll come back to later.
The second thing is that these examples all fall easily into two categories: romance as the comfort of home, and romance as interlude. Both of those, of course, are responses to loneliness – and loneliness is where we came in.
In the next post, I talk about romance as the comfort of home, and how we implemented it in Sunless Sea.