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.
"The empire on which the sun never sets, and whose bounds nature has not yet ascertained," George Macartney wrote of Britain's colonial territories in 1773. In the universe of Sunless Skies, an everlasting Queen Victoria has made this fond pronouncement a literal truth, replacing Earth's sun with a clockwork star, a sun that sets only because her Majesty wills it. The Empire, what's more, has come to reign over not just outer space but the very raw material of time - unearthing minutes like ore from the drifting ruins of the Reach, one of the new game's four discrete regions, and using them to accelerate construction projects or cruelly drag out prison terms, amongst other things. As a budding steamship captain, you too can get in on the trade, shipping wax-sealed casks of unseasoned hours alongside "everyday" commodities like aborted lab experiments or crates of human souls. It's both a parody of how empires construct their own realities, their own, brutal systems of measurement and definition, and something that hits a bit closer to home - a send-up of the energy-based mechanics of freemium social games like Failbetter's original text RPG Fallen London, where time is indeed money, a thing you can stockpile.