Sunless Skies Pre-Production: Charting the Sunless Skies

By Chris Gardiner, December 8, 2016 · Pre-Production Sunless Skies


Sunless Skies is set among the stars, in the vast, glorious night of the High Wilderness. As with all our work, we want it to feel deep, dark, and marvellous – so we set to work identifying the things that made it different from a traditional ‘space’ setting, and the things we wanted to keep the same.  Here are a few glimpses.

Be warned! Everything discussed below is in its early stages. We might revise it, change it completely, or knock it over the head in a back alley, throw its corpse into the river and never speak of it again.

The High Wilderness is not:

  • Empty: it isn’t a vacuum. There’s air, though it’s thin and occasionally toxic. Strange winds blow through it. Some of the winds speak in old, lost voices. Some are hot with the embers of forgotten suns. Some are hungry. Nor is the Wilderness unpopulated. Ports speckle the unlikely geographies of the firmament: Pan; the Floating Parliament; the Honeysuckle Chapel. Sometimes their inhabitants are recent colonists from the Neath. Sometimes they are other, older beings.
  • Subject to physics as we understand it: the laws that govern the High Wilderness are determined by the stars. To each thing its place. For all that thinks, a name. For all that lives, a death. These laws can – given the right circumstances – be reprieved, bent, or overturned. What holds true in our bijou corner of the universe may not be true everywhere. An example: beyond our solar system, planets are rare. They are places of expression and experimentation for the bright regents of the heavens; warded, prized, inviolate.
  • Easy: just like real space, traversing the High Wilderness is hard. It wasn’t intended for us, and our presence there is considered an act of aggressive hubris by the celestial powers. We are not welcome, here.

The High Wilderness is:

  • Cold: enough to kill you in about a quarter of an hour if you’re outside your vessel without insulated clothing. The locomotives that travel the skies use piped engine-heat to warm their cabins, and enforce communal mealtimes to share warmth and companionship in the wide, chilly night.
  • Wonderful: and not always in a good way. This close, the light of the stars has a dangerous allure. Too much exposure can cause sky-madness. Skyfarers fit stained glass in their locomotives’ portholes to filter the light, and pad their brigs so an afflicted crewman may be confined in safe isolation until they can be offloaded at port.
  • Divided: the Wilderness is carved into domains. Once, each was the authority of a star, but now that situation is muddied. Each region of the Wilderness has its own character. The Empire’s high territories of Albion are mannered, authoritarian. The Reach is verdant and untamed, its throne empty. Eleutheria is sumptuously dark and riotously pagan. The Blue Kingdom is populated by the dead.

And because seven is the number, a final additional tit-bit. Experienced secret-hunters who have scoured Fallen London and Sunless Sea may find more primal incarnations of familiar mysteries in the High Wilderness. For example: wells.

Wells are Sunless Skies’ version of black holes. Wounds in the world. Fathomless. Hungry. Well-winds, flickering with candle-flames, push unwary captains into their pull. Certain unspoken cults gather at their rim to perform distressing rites. If an enemy is too inconvenient to kill, the courts of the heavens consign them to a well. Do not stray too close. Ignore any voices within.

A note for readers: Sunless Skies is coming to Kickstarter on 1 February 2017. This was posted in December 2016, during pre-production. Any details in this blog are subject to change between now and the Kickstarter, in Early Access or after release.


Leave a reply

Troper Dec 26, 5:59pm

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well. ALL SHALL BE WELL AND ALL SHALL BE WELL AND ALL MANNER OF THING SHALL BE WELL SHALL BE WELL. ALL SHALL BE WELL. ALL SHALL BE WELL. SHALL BE WELL. SHALL BE WELL. SHALL BE WELL. SHALL BE WELL. NOT POSTPONED. NOT IN THE END. NOT FOR LONG. In all seriousness, I'm so excited to hear about Sunless Skies. The seventh bit of information that you've given us makes this a definite purchase for me, even if I -wasn't- already motivated to get more Failbetter content. Hopefully I have enough to actually back this game, as I was broke during Sunless Sea's kickstarter.

Taylor Beach Dec 25, 5:00am

Wait a minute...Wells...NOT HIM!

Wintermute Dec 23, 9:16pm

Hi! I really would like to back sunless skies in February next year. The only Problem i have is, i do not own a Credit Card. So, if you have funded your kickstarter goal really quick, could you set up a possibility to back you via paypal? There are many other Studios which do that (for instance Wasteland 3 has a crowdox site open: , and you can back Wasteland 3 there with paypal). Would be really great, because i wish to pledge as soon as possible. Otherwise i would have to wait till you start in Early Access (and miss all the nice Kickstarter Updates ^^). Keep up the good work.

Ssakaa Dec 15, 2:00pm

This ought to be the first Kickstarter for me because this is all so irresistable. You're coming from the same place the glossolalia of the Cocteau Twins did, decades ago. A beautiful thing; are they an influence in any way? (sorry to ask here).

Matthew Adams Dec 13, 6:48am

Presumably by locomotive they just mean something that moves from place to place

Jack Dec 10, 5:47am

When I first heard the phrase "blistering night" to refer to the high wilderness, I was picturing a space without vacuum. Where hot, literal solar winds blew through the void and heat building up was a major concern for the vessels of the sky. I'm glad that I was thinking at least a little bit along the same lines as the people at Failbetter. Can't wait for the kickstarter. I'll be getting some good overtime pay from some asinine, blistering work this summer (Australia), if I can, I hope to be able to leave my mark on the game with the Kickstarter.

Benthic Dec 8, 10:30pm

I wonder how locomotives are going to work. One would expect that they would require rails, but that would result in fixed paths which would potentially be boring and would definitely be a massive departure from Sunless Sea.

ReidlosToof Dec 8, 10:05pm

Maaaaan, the locomotives in space premise scratches at my nostalgia for Galaxy Express 999 so nicely.

Hannah Flynn Dec 8, 1:55pm

Expect an update along these lines, friend.

Bricriu Dec 8, 1:43pm

I was hoping for something about space monsters: how inquisitive they are about trespassers and how they can be killed. Since you mentioned the possibility of freezing to death outside without insulated clothing, I'd have to assume that it is possible to leave the locomotive and wander the wilderness. Which brings me back to concerns about monsters and how to deal with them without a gun so large that it must be mounted on a ship.