So many echoes to be made...

So, I’ve been playing Sunless Sea for a few weeks now (bought it after the RPS article), and I must say I’ve been very much enjoying this game. I’ve been lurking on the forums for a while, but now I finally have something worth mentioning.

I have been enjoying the path to release, and I think that the most recent update to be a very encouraging step in the direction of complete. However, one (or two, I guess) things have slipped in that have unbalanced the experience for me quite severely.

Spoilers for those who so wish them.

The first one is rather minor, and in fact may have been in for a while, that being the ability to smuggle red honey into Fallen London from the Isle of Cats. with a purchase of 600 echoes and a sell price of 1000, you net 400 for each smuggled item. This is probably fine given the distances.

However the ability to carry multiple units of honey means you can sit outside port waiting for SAY and stock up on honey, which does not take up cargo space. Given the fairly large amounts of echoes to be made here, and the ease of avoiding the customs men (by not entering London with SAY), I find this to be a bit much. Also, what the game is essentially doing here is rewarding and encouraging you to not play it, which is bizarre. My suggestion would be to only allow purchase of red honey if you do not have it in inventory, cutting down on the potential for abuse.

There may also be something to be said for looking at the behavior of customs in London, in my opinion it shouldn’t be tied into an easily predictable or avoidable key, like SAY.

The second, far more significant issue is the ability to smuggle sunlight into the Isle of Cats. One mirror-catch box costs 200 echoes, can be filled with sunlight in two different places for free, and can be sold in the Isle of Cats for 500 echoes. With a good veils skill you can often even keep the original box (I find that maxed out veils allows for about an 80% retention rate).

This is probably fine (if a bit generous) when taken alone, however the ability to purchase multiple mirror-catch boxes creates a very unhealthy system. With a Merchant Cruiser, you can fill up about 100 boxes at a trip. Considering the consumables and replacement boxes required, this allows for 40000-45000 echoes to be made every trip. The thing is, this system isn’t fun. You have lots (and lots) of monotonous clicking, running a route several times, then having to disassemble the whole thing after several hours. Then you have the somewhat dubious privilege of not having any money stress, and with the ability to purchase secrets in Irem, maxing out all of your skills.

For me, this results in having the underlying atmosphere that the game has been trying so hard to assemble completely ruined. I understand that this is a single player game, and there is nothing to stop me from editing the save data if I so wanted. However, having this ability in game just makes it too easy for me (and perhaps others like me) to feel obligated to do a non-fun thing to ruin the rest of the fun things. Blech.

Of course, the solution is simple. Have the mirror-catch box not purchasable at a store, but from an interaction that requires you to not have one in your inventory. That way you can still have this ability in, and still replace the box when it goes missing, but the potential for abuse goes away.

Anyhoo, love the game, look forward to playing more of it.
edited by Silver on 1/11/2015
edited by Silver on 1/11/2015

Well, I wouldn’t call going to the Surface “free”, but that’s a nitpick more than anything else, considering the relative costs and benefits.

In the current game where do you get a mirror-catch box? On one computer (game started after Diamond) it just appeared in my inventory, I have no idea when, and on the other computer (game started around Steel) I’ve never seen a single one anywhere.

You can buy them in Khan’s Shadow. You get one for free if you get Roots Run Deep on the Isle of Cats but you don’t get one if you get Roots Run Deep in Irem.

I also think a big thing is that one doesn’t need to take advantage of these exploits. While they are logical andvery effective ways to make money, there are other less effective ways that can be profitable enough to survive, which is sometimes all that one needs. If stocked up well enough on fuel and supplies (I just started a new captain with the Father’s Bones ambition after finishing the Zong of the Zee one), getting port reports from visiting a completely unknown map is more than enough to cover exploring expenses.

To make money one might have to be a little more creative, but not much. I bought Sunless Sea somewhat early in its development, when there were almost no ways to make money. Nowadays, there are quick ways to make a nice sum of echoes without feeling too grindy. The Sphinxstone runs further an interesting story while providing good money, and don’t require too much running around. Gaining Strategic Information and converting to Vital Intelligence to sell is nice and profitable, and one can do that while simply zailing around. Once a good sum of money is stocked up, heading over to the Mangrove College with Foxfire candles can offer interesting, fun, and random (hopefully) profits.

While I do agree with you that some of the mechanics need to be edited, such as customs with SAY, I believe that the part of the game that you are complaining about could be avoided easily by…well…choosing not to do it. On the other hand, things like passing on the (arguably) strongest Forward Weapon in the game (that also has hugely advantageous story ties) through a legacy, and being able to hurl Doomed Monster Hunters overboard and not having anywhere to sell Fluke Cores after certain things are done are a bit more of an issue.

Also, I accidentally tapped the “Report to Moderator” thing twice on this touch screen for your post! Really sorry about that D:

I hadn’t even noticed those monetary options were available. But like Marcus said the player can just choose not to do them. It’s a singleplayer game after all.

I’ve sold Fluke Cores at the Iron Republic for Judgement Eggs before, though it seems you need to get the Expulsis open (IR days to 15) to do that and it has a random quality. Wish they would make it a tad more convenient though, or some late game area that would consistently accept them without the Time the Healer changes.
edited by Bardigan on 1/12/2015

Naw, I’ve seen it in the House of Pleasures. I misread it at first and thought it would PAY a Fluke-Core FOR a Judgements’ Egg, and get very excited at the prospect of sticking to no-combat despite the Principles’ request… returned there with an Egg in tow and reopened the HoP only to realize my error. Alas.

With regards to the “you don’t have to do it” train of thought:

It is true that this is a single player game, and every interaction is completely optional to some extent.

However, the game is trying to create a certain experience, which seems to be one of limited resources and a focus on exploration and discovery, both literally and metaphorically. This (plus the excellent writing) is one of the reasons I really enjoy this game.

I mean, there could just be a button in game that you could click on to receive echoes, and I think most people would not be swayed by the argument that you “don’t have to do that”. In fact, I think most people would agree that it would be a negative aspect that might make the game less fulfilling. It is a design feature that removes several major positive aspects of the overall game design.

Likewise, having an interaction available that allows, and even encourages you to circumvent the story that the game is trying to tell seems less than optimal. It also seems like it was not an intentional choice, but more an unintended consequence. Given how the devs have handled other ways to “grind” I’m fairly confident it will be addressed.

So, TLDR: Yes, you “don’t have to do it” but if it’s part of the game, it should advance the experience the game is trying to create. This in fact does the opposite, so it’s probably going to be removed.

I never did have the patience for that whole &quotsit at the docks of the Isle of Cats for minutes waiting for SAY&quot strategy, mostly because the Catties in my game were far away from any refueling/resupply point and near the southeastern edge of the map. I assumed that the game limited the amount of red honey you could transport at a time (same goes with the mirror boxes at Khan’s Shadow, which i thought were only there to replace your one lost mirror box and not to equip you with an array of them). Still, I can see where you’re coming from and the issue is rather easy to fix, such as only allowing 1 Red Honey and Mirror-box to be carried on your ship at any given time. The latter wasn’t that big of a problem when you could only fill the boxes on the Surface, but with Aestival added it’s become a completely different story.
edited by Bardigan on 1/12/2015

I’m not sure how &quotonly allow x on ship at a time&quot would work, but &quotcannot do interaction to receive x if x > 0&quot (or whatever limit the devs decide) would be pretty straightforward to implement in StoryNexus, right?

edit: Though it does make sense in-universe for that kind of thing to be mass-traffickable. How to narratively justify limitation?
edited by Fretling on 1/12/2015

Hmm, perhaps you’re also working for the London Navy and thus can’t be too involved with illegal activity lest its reputation deteriorates even further and they kick you out permanently for it? Maybe Excise/Revenue seize contraband from so many other navy vessels that the ones they take from yours is just typical everyday routine, any more and it becomes an unforgivable scandal?
edited by Bardigan on 1/12/2015

I can’t imagine these will be left as they are in the final release. Tomb Colonist runs used to be the grindy &quotthing&quot and that got redone completely. The Salt Lions were easy to overuse before they added the storyline for them. Just another pair of grindy temptations for Failbetter to fix.

Well, the difference between this one and the “echo-button” thing is the effort one must put in. Though this is a ridiculously game-breaking strategy, it does require much patience and would induce quite a bit of boredom. I suppose the idea is that because there is a threshold of effort required to induce the game-breaking scenario, it doesn’t destroy the feeling of the game because so few would choose to undertake this seemingly gargantuan effort. A few of these endeavors also require one to invest quite a few echoes, to purchase the items and the supplies and fuel, which is another barrier that exists to this kind of mindless grinding and waiting.

That being said, it could be easier to just implement things that prevent these from happening. The issue is where to begin and where to stop. Is Lorn-Fluke slaying with a ship built for it considered exploiting? They did nerf the Lifeberg loot, after all. While I agree that limiting certain items to only allow a limited amount (contraband, for example, could be limited to five-ten items overall, because having too much would be a nightmare to hide) might be good, where would one stop considering things exploits and start considering them story?

I dunno, the cash grind is kind of nice to have. I do like some grinding. The thing that takes me out of it though is there really isn’t any need to do it at all. Like, once you have the best ship and a mansion the rest of your echos are basically just fluff. What I’d prefer to see is grind incentives, like i dunno massively expensive gold plated overgoats that give you negative stats and weigh the ship down to the point of being practically unsailable or such. A real treat for &quotthe captain who has it all&quot.

That basic desire to grind and exploit is always going to be there, and so long as there is no outlet for it fruits its going to be ‘unfun’. But give me something I can show for my efforts, a sense of accomplishment and a so called end goal for giving in to these base desires and I’d stop at that goal. I don’t see why desire should be punished or harshly limited when instead it can be cap-stoned. I guess buying secrets is a bit buff, but if secret purchase wasn’t cash based it’d avoid that (like how some items are zee-story based etc).

You’ll eventually have more cash than you know what to do with anyways if you have a scion and grow your wealth over several captains. The crime profit merely accelerated this condition, it’s not the sole source of it. And really removing crime won’t stop players from hitting that point. It’s sort of inevitable in any long running dynasty.

My first captain risked life and limb trying to improve his lot. But the sixth or tenth have wealth beyond compare, why do they need to sail at all? Fulfillment isn’t the best answer. There needs to be an extreme end game goal. A long term incentive, something even a wealthy dynast would strive for and covet. At least that’s my two cents.
edited by NiteBrite on 1/12/2015
edited by NiteBrite on 1/12/2015

[color=#009900]re mirror-catch boxes and Aestival: the content for Aestival isn’t finished, and MC box harvesting there is currently unbalanced. Honestly, I just wanted to make sure there was something to do there on that frankly stunning-looking island, before I got back to it later.[/color]
[color=#009900]On grinding: the clear lesson we’ve had over the last year is the one I’d expect - that if we provide a dominant strategy for winning Echoes, players feel forced to use it and resent being forced to use it. This is why we tend to step on clearly dominant strategies, one way or another.[/color]
[color=#009900]On endgame incentives: there are a couple more variant victory conditions going in, but the vast majority of our players will never make it past 50 hours, so we have to focus on the content that comes earlier than this. If we tune the difficulty at all reasonably, then if you play the game for an extravagantly long time, you will ultimately end up with more money than the game was designed to deal with. :-)[/color]

Wouldn’t the Independent Pirate Kingdom ending conceivably require the player to have a pretty hefty capital to achieve? Since you’re basically paying for the treasury through your own wealth? Managing the affairs of state, hiring and paying your ministers/underlings, and overseeing fleets can’t be cheap.
edited by Bardigan on 1/12/2015

I think the Independent Pirate Kingdom would be like real-life pirate states, and probably consists of a bunch of shacks on an out-of-way isle. (or possibly along a desert stretch of the southern coast…)

Ubergoat-type items make a lot more sense in Fallen London, where habitual, long-term play is kind of the experience. A pie-in-the-sky item (or win condition) to shoot for would be a fine show of appreciation for the hardest of the hardcore, but yeah, I’m glad Failbetter is focusing elsewhere.

Also, grinding seems to really be at odds with the game’s established themes! Nothing very Coleridge-y about farming pirates and min-maxing your honey runs.
edited by Brackenfish on 1/13/2015

Forgive the length.

The problem with hard nerfing solutions to reliable trade routes is that being in a completely precarious situation financially makes you more vulnerable, which makes you more risk averse and discourages exploration. I find that having a few things I know I can make money on in areas close to ports I need to hit to get storyline goods actually provides an additional good reason to stop at places I might otherwise skip or otherwise extend my loop. In the early game having some reliable runs is fine because cargo loads are small enough that payouts can’t break the economy and can actually provide enough of a cushion to expand the map. Without them I’m not inclined to take desperate measures to defy the unknown etc., I’m inclined to cling even more closely to whatever other trickles of income are available in the immediate area. I’ve had the game since July and back then the early game was incredibly tedious in a way that undermined the theme a lot more than being able to rely on some moderate trading does.

On the other hand, a situation like the one described in the OP where two or more of the elements of the sunlight route spawn too close together would actually trivialize the game, especially by the time you’re running them in the Merchant Cruiser.

Some early game spoilers:

I’ve just run a game where the Salt Lions were close to London, and I think the way they were set up is an elegant solution to having some &quotgrind&quot elements without creating huge imbalances in the economy; the route requires a bunch of cargo space (relative to the ship you’ll be in while it’s available), and it’s exhaustible with a storyline payout that forces you to travel a fairly long distance. In other words, you can use the income from it to equip yourself to try to find the other early to mid ports to fulfill admiralty requests, hitting it on the way back when your supplies and fuel are depleted enough that you can take on the 20 cargo it requires. By the time you’ve done this enough enough to uncover the immediate area and get comfortable, you get the story events that leave you with the cargo load but forces you to move outside of your comfort zone, and pays off accordingly.

Rather than use the lions as a stopping point on the way back from fulfilling other obligations I could have just straight ground them, but then I would have been completely unsure of where the relatively friends ports to refuel on the way to complete that quest line were, and finishing it would have required more shots in the dark. I think the problem with something like the mushroom wine run is that you more or less have to set out to do it alone to make it worthwhile. In cases like that, making the &quotgrind&quot easier but tied to inbound rather than outbound travel might support rather than discourage exploration and risk-taking.

The Isle of Cats has the additional issue of being terminal for one lucrative route and the departure for another, but that’s a separate case from the general point.

I’m not sure if that solution could be generalized, and there probably do need to be some reliable and inexhaustible but inconvenient sources of Echoes to allow you to avoid financial death spirals. But given how precarious and at the mercy of the RNG the early game can be, having a few reliable runs that feed directly into story content seems to me like a solid way to make exploration risky but possible and worthwhile rather than a complete gamble. One route could simply be exhaustible, another might start to erode your progress in other areas if you fed it too much, etc. Certain goods getting around could have nasty side effects. And in the meanwhile you’re rewarded for pushing out further and finding new routes.

This is tangential but I also think it’s slightly weird thematically that most of the trade in the game is not really of the &quotraw materials and luxuries into the metropolis, manufactured goods out&quot sort, but that may be a consequence of too much time spent with Imperialism II and not enough with the Fallen London lore.

Re: dominant strategy for winning echoes: Given that port location is semi-random this would probably be a nightmare to tune, but having &quottiers&quot of trade routes that pay off roughly equally to one another according to their distance would make it possible to incorporate them into trips you’d be making otherwise, might spur you to extend those trips longer than you would otherwise so you could complete a circuit, and would keep any single income source from being dominant. I’m guessing something like this is the actual intent and it’s just a matter of getting enough player feedback on what specific kind of broken stuff emerges. But in general I think the desire to eliminate dominant strategies should be balanced against the fact that limiting income too severely can have a disproportionately negative effect on the game’s pacing.

Yes to everything about how well the sphinxstone story worked. off topic- London not being the greatest power on the zee gives captains lots of choices to take their service (and use London to their own advantage) with the rest of the Neath, but while you[color=rgb(194, 194, 194)] [/color][color=rgb(194, 194, 194)]can export raw material (souls to the devils) and import better finished goods (romantic books from the khanate), you can also[/color][color=rgb(194, 194, 194)] send luxury textiles, food (solacefruit), and industrial components (devilbone dice) to London markets. (I have no idea what scintillack counts as.) [/color]
[color=rgb(194, 194, 194)]I guess London isn’t strong enough to force most other locations on the maps into its orbit - even though it’s trying to repeat its pre-fall strategy by dealing drugs to the khanate it’s not spread wide enough to work at present. It produces for its own needs - [/color][color=rgb(194, 194, 194)]cloth is spun in Spite, fuel comes through Mr Fires (and hell), and it [/color][color=rgb(194, 194, 194)]kinda just seems that you don’t get much chance to cut in on transporting London’s food supply? There’s no option at the Iron Funging station, Carnelian is too far away to provide, and that other thread suggests that most food is collected from around London itself (all that wine).[/color][color=rgb(194, 194, 194)] [/color]
[color=#c2c2c2]It’s been mentioned that the captains are meant to be more Han Solo than cargo shuttler, so each captain getting wealthy thanks to singular story quests in the rich array provided out at zee - not just stable and able to explore, but ‘retire to life of luxury in a mansion’ rich - makes sense to me, which is…pretty much what you said, but so less eloquently. (anyway for new captains I just go meet the curator for captivating treasures, which is the first quest every captain initiates)[/color]