“I have also seen his eyes rest fondly upon the faces in the room, upon the pictures on the wall, upon all the familiar objects of that home, whose abiding and clear image must have flashed often on his memory in times of stress and anxiety at sea. Was he looking out for a strange Landfall, or taking with an untroubled mind the bearings for his last Departure?” - Joseph Conrad, The Mirror of the Sea
You do have the option of forbidding them to go to sea. You might even succeed. There is a small in-game benefit, but not a well-balanced one – basically that choice is there so that you can have decided to turn it down (or take it by way of rebelliousness or experiment). It’s the same choice as the one I mentioned above – do you go to sea? We want to provide a little of the texture of that choice – without building a whole extra game to make it a really consequential decision (“your son decided to enter the clergy. Welcome to Fallen London: Diocesal Intrigue, coming 2017!”)
The whole issue of, well, issue was a hell of a one to write around… because the player’s sweetheart can be either male or female, and the player can be whatever the hell gender they choose, or never have specified. We leave all the details at the bedroom door, for the sake of both economy and inclusivity. But when it comes to the practical details of child-bearing, it means we can’t just assume that a female sweetheart accidentally gets pregnant and a male sweetheart accidentally makes the player-character pregnant. But I wanted a random-event surprise conception to come out of nowhere – it’s not something a player expects in a quasi-roguelike, and I didn’t want to lose the little sting of surprise.
I talked to the rest of the team, and the solution came clear: you’re told that a surprise letter is en route, and you select one of three options. It’s from your sweetheart, explaining that they’re pregnant; it’s from your sweetheart, explaining that they’re adopting; or it’s from you to your sweetheart, explaining that you’re pregnant. We pass over the whole issue of how an eight-month pregnant captain would leap over sea-monsters and give birth between paragraphs, which I know makes some women chortle derisively, quite rightly. But the approach we took to inclusivity was gender-blindness rather a head-on exploration of issues of reproductive freedom, and we are where we are.
Anyway! that’s one side of romance in Sunless Sea: a pithily written but minimal choice, backed up with some striking art and some quite core mechanical elements. (There was a fourth game-mechanic element that didn’t quite make it in for lack of time. It might still make it in if we can justify enough updates. ‘Maybe in the Zubmariner expansion’ is the answer to every third question in the office right now.) Next post, I’ll talk about the other side of romance: the illicit interludes, and Sunless Sea’s 26 sex scenes.