Sunless Sea Features

FeatureBehind the sunless scenes

The complex, inside story of Failbetter Games.

A year ago, Fallen London and Sunless Sea developer Failbetter Games successfully pitched Sunless Skies on Kickstarter. The upcoming project was funded in four hours and its crowdfunding campaign concluded with nearly 400 per cent of the money needed to smash its financial target. In September last year, Failbetter won a GamesIndustry.biz award for being one of the best employers in the UK video games industry. The team gave enthusiastic quotes to Eurogamer's sister site about the benefits of working at the tiny, tightknit outfit. Failbetter, seemingly, was on a high.

There's a long inglorious tradition of cannibalism in video games, from the many flesh-eaters of the Dark Souls series through the "strange meats" of Fallout to the gaping cosmic horror that is Kirby. In the last few years, though, developers seem to have really acquired a taste for it. Take this spring's The Wild Eight - a survival game distinguished by some neat firelight effects and the preposterous, yet strangely persuasive option to eat the corpse of your previous self, providing you can find your way back to it after you respawn.

Let's write it up as the perils of psychogeography. If you were visiting Failbetter Games for the first time - and if you were paying attention to your surroundings on the way - you might easily conclude, as you closed in on the wayward district where the studio is based, that you were moving through the kind of mindscape that created this singular developer in the first place. Lean in and watch the world go by! The stops on the DLR steadily move from the twee to the darkly ridiculous, Island Gardens and Mudchute hinting respectively at hidden archipelagos and Gormenghastly toil. And then Greenwich announces itself with a sinister curved building with a misted dome that claims to house a staircase leading to a tunnel that will take you under the river. Sure it will. Speaking of the river, the last leg of the journey is the Thames Path, where London suddenly draws in close, brown brick terraces pulled tight around cobbled streets, easing back only briefly to offer a glimpse of swift grey water with ancient machinery suspended ominously above. Finally, a church, and inside it the developer of Fallen London. Of course this is where they have been hiding.

Why has nobody made a video game of the Shipping Forecast? Because it's a five minute weather report broadcast a few times a day on Radio 4? Or because it's just too brilliant, and because it already does what most video games wish they could do - yank you out of your day-to-day life and transport you somewhere that's both coherent and completely fantastical?