Sunless Skies Update: COMBAT II

By Failbetter, August 29, 2018 · Sunless Skies

Today’s release is all about improvements to combat! In order to make combat more satisfying. We’ve tweaked a lot of AI mechanics so that we can make our agents’ behaviour more nuanced and layered.

We’ll go over a few of the most exciting tweaks and improvements to combat below, but if you’re keen to dive into more design detail, our developer Liam McDonald has written a more in-depth design blog about these AI behaviours.


One of the major improvements we’ve added across multiple Agents are attack Tells. Tells are animations and sounds that will alert the player that an enemy intends to hurt them.





Most enemies are now aware of your headlight; turning it off (‘L’ key) will allow you to get closer to them (or run away) before they attack. Bear in mind that turning your headlight off will increase the rate at which you gain terror.

Watch the danger indicator crescent around your ship, this will indicate the direction of potentially hostile Agents and pulse red when they decide to take a bite out of you. Enemy locomotives also have running lights which change colour depending on their level of annoyance towards you.


Aura Attacks are a new type of Agent ability. Unlike armaments, they apply an effect over an area without producing a projectile. For example, a Scrive-Spinster scream attack could grant Terror to anything in a radius around it.


Aura Attacks can affect Hull, Terror or Crew and but never harm the Agent that dispersed the attack. Aura Attacks can be foreseen by their warm-up visual Tells.


Kickstarter backers will be excited to learn that neutral vessels now show names! Now when you shine your headlight over Agents, their agent type will be listed (Cantankeri, Tackety Scout, etc.). If it’s a Tackety Scout, Enduring/Glorious Dreadnought, it’ll also display its backer name (UCE Dauntless, HML Balfour, etc.). Keep your eyes peeled and feel free to share your screenshots if you find you or your friends’ vessel names!



Many of you will be delighted to know that we’ve added turrets to some locomotives, such as the Deranged Dreadnoughts. Turrets can fire either armaments or aura attacks. You’ll notice they have the wonderful ability to rotate to try to face you, though they may fire opportunistically at anything the agent considers hostile within their firing arc!


We also wanted to improve ramming attacks. There were a few issues we wanted to address such as:

  • It isn’t clear to players when an Agent was about to initiate a ramming attack;
  • Since Agents move at their standard speed while ramming, it doesn’t feel like contact should be particularly damaging (and it can be hard to notice that you’ve actually taken damage);
  • Ramming doesn’t create satisfying avoidance challenges;
  • It’s not clear when a ramming attack has been completed or terminated.


Agents now have three ramming stages: Preparation, Acceleration, and Collision.

At the Preparation Stage, Agents will rapidly come to a standstill when a target is in sight, and will indicate with a Tell.

Then, the Agent will accelerate rapidly towards their target. During the Acceleration Stage their default movement parameters are thrown to the wind and they’ll have a more powerful speed.

If they manage to hit a collidable object, they’ll transition into the Collision Stage. This means that if they hit a player or Agent, that locomotive will suffer damage; if they hit a inanimate object (like a chunky rock), the ramming Agent may receive some damage; and—the most fun bit to test for our development team—both the ramming Agent and their target will be knocked back. Below is an example Barry was testing before we balanced out the mechanic:



For those exploring our newest region, Eleutheria, you may now have the pleasure of meeting The Undeparted. These spritely chaps were featured at the very end of the Eleutheria trailer. They’re quite good at sidling up beside you. They’re particularly fond of hiding in patches of darkness like extinguishments.


You’ll also find new Bull Cantankeri and Senior Scriveners roaming about, who are a bit tougher to beat than their little brothers and sisters.



New knockback and recoil effects have also been implemented to ensure that when projectiles are fired player locomotives and Agents will react in a more realistic and satisfying manner.


With Eleutheria out in the wild, our writers are busy preparing the Blue Kingdom. Our Narrative Director, Chris Gardiner, recently shared a cryptic design chart in the Failbetter Discord.

Our art and architecture inspiration for the Blue Kingdom starts with Mesopotamian structures.


The grand scale of ancient structures seen in things like Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s drawings of the Tower of Babel were hugely inspirational.


We were also drawn to the incredible blockbuster effect in John Martin’s paintings. In our design document for this region, Chris has put specifically, “They generally show civilisations in the middle of apocalyptic scenarios, which isn’t exactly right for us, but the sense of dynamism and risk they convey is valuable. The player should feel in danger in the Blue Kingdom, and as if they could be crushed by vast cosmic forces”




We’ve also been working on plenty of research and development for the improvements to survival mechanics and the Reach segments, which will be part of our next release build in October—stay tuned!




For this build, our most skilled locomotive captain, Lesleyann, will be showing off some of the latest combat mechanics along with Haley, today at 15:30 directly on our Steam page! We hope you’ll come join us!


In case you haven’t heard, Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition has just launched on PS4! It’s our first ever console game and we can’t wait to see what you think of it!


And, if you’re eager to try it out and in the Seattle area, it’ll be playable in the Sony section at PAX West 31st August – 3rd September. If you attend, be sure to send your pictures to @failbettergames on Twitter!

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