Ship Design

This is sort of an open question for Failbetter, and to folks who know more about maritime history than me. I notice that Sunless Sea’s ships look different from pictures I see of real-world ships of the 1890s. Naturally, this is partly because many ships of this era were still rigged for sailing, which would be a complete waste on the largely windless Unterzee. Still, several of them look, to my untutored eyes, more reminiscent of ships from the early-to-mid 20th century. So, I’ve been wondering - what’s the thinking behind their designs? Are their any particular ships that served as inspiration? Is this an extra layer to the juxtaposition of Age of Sail adventuring with Age of Steam technology?

Admittedly, the ships on the unterzee do appear to retain greater comparison to miniaturized versions of the ocean liners we see in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s (the Titanic was in service in 1912). Still, the innovation of these ships is no great jump in the technological expectations of the time. In Fallen London it is 1893, only four years later in the real world did the Germans first develop the ocean liners that came to characterize this age of oceanic travel, starting with the SS Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse in 1897.

So what we are seeing is a little bit of hurried technological development, yet this is no great strain on the story. Perhaps easy access to coal (or whatever the black lumps we burn from Hell are) in conjunction with necessity spurred the creation of this new ship variant so early. Beyond that, the ships look nice - although I wish we could get some illustration on the size and scale of each ship beyond their crew count. Hard to tell exactly what they look like from a bats-eye view.

Actually, I am of a mind to wonder what will happen when enough years pass and Fallen London players find themselves playing in a much later date where the technology has moved past the aesthetics of Fallen London? Will we just use some strange time-warp to go back in time to avoid such complications? Mind you, few game companies ever have to worry about their product being used for more than 10 years but it’s a thought. Personally I think Fallen London could go the distance.

edited by Owen Wulf on 1/15/2015

I’m reminded of Homeworld 2, where the ships in that game were listed with two different options for the display, the first was proportionally representative, where the ships were displayed accurate to the size they should be (which made them specks against the darkness most of the time), and the second being visible at all times, which made for the fighters looking a lot bigger than they actually were for the purpose of game play. I look at the sunless sea ships from the point of view that they’re all London ships, that would have been built along London guidelines, and so would share some measure of commonality in their design. Taking a look on one of the brokerage websites for ships shows the massive difference in even basic design when it comes to different continents, but this would be impossible (or at least very difficult) to show in a game. I like the idea that steam power is very much in it’s infancy, which shows in the way the ships have been put together, all similar, just adding more guns and more armour for battleships. I’d like other options, but I think that that should be a separate option within the shipyard, with options to change the slots, add slots, or remove them entirely in return for more cargo space and so forth. I think that the concept of a forward and rear gun is obsolete in a game, because while most modern ships carry big guns on the front, it’s because the range on them is measured in miles, not metres, and engaging something while retreating is unheard of (unlike here), I think that customisation to the ship, rather than new ship profiles, is the way forwards, the option to change the colour of your ship, the fittings on it, even options for broadside weapons on the bigger battleships (a common option till rotating turrets were installed because you couldn’t really put many guns on the prow, but the side of the ship was a feast of space on which to put projectile based misery.

Take a look at watch out for the ships horn noise on the website if you’re at work :) The variety of ships available is colossal, as is the price range of the aforementioned.

That’s my theory too - partly because the devils seem to love inducing anachronisms, and partly because their provision of cheap, high-grade fuel may very likely have prompted development of engines, hulls and what have you that could take advantage.

It would be metals too that would be readily available. That, combined with the lack of wood would quickly force shipbuilding to move to all metal hulls and the prevalence of zee monsters too would make wooden ships vulnerable.

On a related, what about steam engines? They seem common in the Zee so were they introduced when London fell or were they developed independently? Even thirty years seems too quickly for so many navies to have converted to steam. And the Khanate has electricity. It seems that technology overall is somewhat ahead of the surface.

Excellent point about the hulls. The Royal Navy was already developing ironclads with steam-powered screw propulsion even before the Fall, so their continuing use isn’t surprising. Electric lighting, too, was being developed and implemented in homes and public buildings by the late '70s and through the '80s, so it’s not surprising to see them in place more than ten years later. If anything, I’d say, leaving the navy aside, Fallen London’s tech, at least, is behind its real-world equivalent - next to no rail travel, little use of telegraph, none of telephones, reliance on candles… one reason among many why I don’t think the label “steampunk” fits the setting terribly well.

Well, there are airships (dirigibles), a key component of steampunk (though perhaps they are just blimps). However I concur that if Fallen London did qualify for such a label it would be a rather low-grade steampunk, which is to say we are not about to be seeing clockwork robots or such lunacy anytime soon.

Well, there are airships (dirigibles), a key component of steampunk (though perhaps they are just blimps). However I concur that if Fallen London did qualify for such a label it would be a rather low-grade steampunk, which is to say we are not about to be seeing clockwork robots or such lunacy anytime soon.[/quote]
Except for the clockwork robots we already have, the toys of the Watchmaker’s Daughter.

Well, the dolls in question are possibly partly possessed so they may not actually retain total clockwork functions. Still, it’s up to Failbetter to decide if they want to expand upon that - although I really don’t expect the Watchmaker’s Daughter to raise an army of human sized contraptions to overthrow the Masters anytime soon.

edited by Owen Wulf on 1/15/2015

I have capital-T Theories about the definition of steampunk - that it has to make deliberate social commentary about the role of technology in society; that it doesn’t necessarily have to be set in the Industrial Revolution but can be used as a general term for any author using a past era to comment on their own time - and, well, long story short, FL much better fits its own descriptor of gothic horror. It’s all supernatural beings and magical forces - there are conscious nods to steampunk as a genre, but it’s usually in the context of “here’s some remarkable technology! oh no wait it’s actually powered by a living diamond/animated by a sinister force/made by talking animal” - an amusing sideline to the central story of ancient beings, divine rebels, and mortals caught in the middle.

A separate ship question: do any of our ships have prefixes? Some of them are from the navy, but I don’t know if they’d still retain HMS once they’re sold to civilians.

When civilian ships were introduced I noticed that they had no such prefixes, just their name. For example a Caligo merchant vessel called Pravenus has nothing before said name, not &quotThe&quot, &quotHMS&quot, or even &quotSS&quot. I used to call my ship SS Gilgamesh but after the appearance of these neutral vessels I just called it Gilgamesh.

Also, HMS would be a British naval vessel, and since the player is unable to join the Royal Navy it would not actually be proper to add it. Although you really can do as you wish.

edited by Owen Wulf on 1/15/2015

But what if you do a lot of things for the Admiralty, does that count? :P

A loyal freelancer is still a freelancer. Would be nice if the Empress did acknowledge you for your services, such as a Knighting (although the Royal Victorian order does not exist in Fallen London to my knowledge).

I am, however, unaware of how many people would be interested in standing before the Traitor Empress while she confers an &quothonor&quot upon them…

edited by Owen Wulf on 1/16/2015

On steampunk, I definitely never refer to it as such. Whether or not it could technically be classed as having a steampunk tendency, I think the descriptor gives a mistaken impression of what the game is where gothic horror is much more accurate.

Admiralty favour to be exchanged for a letter of marque against prize ships?