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Mapping the Sunless Sea (geography spoilers!)

Hello folks, Paul here. It's our first update in a while: we've been busy getting Sunless Sea into a position that will allow us to test our various core mechanics and "iterate for fun" as Alexis puts it.

For me, that has meant drawing lots and lots of placeholder geography - crinkly grey blobs essentially - for our little player ship to navigate around. It's fun: I feel like Slartibartfast designing the fjords. Right now we've got around 40 terrain tiles working and navigable in the engine; so what you see in the map I've added below is actually what's explorable, right now. It's equivalent to about 40 percent of the terrain you might see in any given game - the actual "deck" of tiles that Sunless Sea generates that environment from will be much larger.


(click to enlarge)

This is all quite laterally compacted. The Khanate, for instance, isn't nearly that close to Fallen London! We're adding more landmarks between as we go.

Mapping the Neath has some unique challenges. First, we are building a world that previously only existed as words and ideas, both in our minds and yours. So there's inevitably going to be some dissonance between the mental picture we've built up and what appears in the game. "So wait, the Iron Republic is there?" "Whoa, Mutton Island is bigger than I imagined." And so on.

Then there are procedural considerations. Bear in mind that most of the terrain shown above is not fixed. In any game there's a chance that it will appear somewhere different or not appear at all. So we have to be careful with the rules that govern placement. We don't, for instance, want a tropical islet appearing in a sea of icebergs.

Scale is also vitally important. Obviously, the scale of Sunless Sea can't be realistic, or it would take months to sail from one end of the map to the other. But it does have to be internally coherent. We've done a lot of experimentation to work out what does and doesn't work in scale terms. The solution we've arrived at is that boats are basically realistic (between 25 and 50 meters long), because they will tend to be the player's point of reference. Buildings are realistic in relation to boats. Smaller items are scaled up a little so as to be visible, and geography is heavily scaled down, because spending your entire game trying to circumnavigate one small island would be hella boring. (To give you a brief idea of the scale, that little red square on the far left is a sea port, which has to accommodate the largest ships in the game.)

Then of course, it all has to be navigable, both by the player and the AI controlling non player ships and monsters. And sometimes, something just won't *feel* right, for reasons that are hard to define, and the only way to discover that is to play it.

All of these issues mean it's much more sensible to build as much of the game as possible in placeholder and play with it, much as I'd love to be spending my time detailing the glistening stalagmites of the Corsairs Forest or the monumental architecture of KingEater's Castle.