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A game of survival, trade and exploration in the universe of Fallen London

An Interesting Review with Thoughtful Criticisms Messages in this topic - RSS

dawest1
dawest1
Posts: 3

2/9/2015
Here is a review from one of my favorite blogs about the game:

http://scientificgamer.com/thoughts-sunless-sea/

I think his criticisms are fairly spot-on. Anyone have any thoughts on it?
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Fretling
Fretling
Posts: 529

2/9/2015
I've seen some very intelligent and thoughtful people point out that the slow pace of the game is unsuited to permadeath, something which I can understand on an intellectual if not instinctual level. It's just that my own experiences don't happen to include playthroughs that would really set that off -- my first five or so captains died very quickly, the next captain after that survived a while, and then the *next* one hasn't died for all this time. So for the most part, I really only have experience with relatively quick deaths and one very long life.
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Master Polarimini
Master Polarimini
Posts: 310

2/9/2015
is it Sunless Sea really grindy? I'm not that sure...

Also, I think many problems people have with permadeath are linked to the fact that they do not fully realize the game is planned to make you die, several times. Or at least, death is really ingrained in game mechanics itself.
Personally I'm all for merciful, but I don't think that's the main issue for people that want to play invictus.

--
Devices workshop opening soon...

Follow my story at http://www.fallenlondon.com/Profile/Master~Polarimini
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RandomWalker
RandomWalker
Posts: 948

2/9/2015
From my perspective, yes, it is that grindy. It really does take a long time to work out how to scrape enough money together for simple upgrades, and while experienced players laugh at newbs and assure us that it'll be child's play a few hours in, money is not easy to start with.

I agree with the reviewer's points on permadeath too - I don't think it should be the default for new starters. I appreciate that the game builds on the deaths of the captains that have come before, but when each life can cost several hours and result in no actual life-to-life progress, it hurts. I'd maybe suggest letting players save as they please until they've managed to get a captain to ten hours old, and then recommend the invictus token, for that captain and every one that follows after. But that's just me.
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FogChicken1
FogChicken1
Posts: 29

2/9/2015
RandomWalker wrote:
From my perspective, yes, it is that grindy. It really does take a long time to work out how to scrape enough money together for simple upgrades, and while experienced players laugh at newbs and assure us that it'll be child's play a few hours in, money is not easy to start with.

I agree with the reviewer's points on permadeath too - I don't think it should be the default for new starters. I appreciate that the game builds on the deaths of the captains that have come before, but when each life can cost several hours and result in no actual life-to-life progress, it hurts. I'd maybe suggest letting players save as they please until they've managed to get a captain to ten hours old, and then recommend the invictus token, for that captain and every one that follows after. But that's just me.


To me the permadeath aspect of it is its most roguelike feature, but it requires a particular play style that is not all that intuitive for anyone without roguelike experience. Just like in games like Angband, permadeath tends to encourage new players to play a grindy and risk-averse style. This results in a lot of time invested for not much progress, and when they inevitably do die they feel shattered, and don't want to start over because they have the sense that it was time wasted.

The more interesting and productive way to play permadeath roguelikes (such as Sunless Sea and Angband) is to treat each new character as disposable, take risks, and try to advance as far/fast as you can. That way you learn much more quickly about how the game works, what you can and can't get away with, and how to jump-start a new game and progress the content as quickly as possible. It also tends to be a much more fun way to play - one thing about constantly pressing your luck is that you don't usually get bored.

The problem is that it's far from obvious that this is the optimal way to play roguelikes (I think this is why Failbetter added the hints in the load screens). People also fall into the trap of thinking that time spent on a captain who dies is time wasted (your "no life-to-life progress" comment above). It can actually be very valuable if you've learned a lot about the game and how it works and can use that information to play more effectively next time around (see my comments on http://community.failbettergames.com/topic10125-some-thoughts-on-the-overall-echo-discussion.aspx#post83322 for example).

For people that haven't figured this out or are struggling with it, I think Merciful mode is good to have available. For my part I have never used it and I feel the game is more enjoyable without it. I don't think I am particularly remarkable or gifted and I suspect that if other new players learned to approach the game the way I do, they would have the same experience. This is what I'm trying to communicate with my posts (and I'm sorry if they come across as condescending - it's not the intention). I think that Merciless mode adds to the experience if it's approached right, and I would like more players to enjoy the game in the same way I have. However, I concede that it's somewhat counter-intuitive and not for everybody, as the review and the various threads on this forum demonstrate.
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Sterno
Sterno
Posts: 2

2/9/2015
It's true to a certain point that dying isn't necessarily wasted, as it's a learning experience.

It's true right up until you died due to some bad luck or inattention, such as accidentally sailing too close to Mt. Nomad and getting destroyed for the 4th time or something. You're not learning anything there other than you're bad at being cautious. That's not a lesson that necessarily requires multiple hours of repeating the same content again to learn (if, indeed, it can be learned).

Once you've learned quite a bit about the game, you don't really want to repeat hours of it just to get to your next possible learning experience.
edited by Sterno on 2/9/2015
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RandomWalker
RandomWalker
Posts: 948

2/9/2015
I agree with Sterno, for what it's worth. With Angband there is a huge number of variables that change with each life, starting with what gear will be in the shops, what monsters and treasures you find and so on. Each game is very different. In Angband, you don't give strategies like 'run Sphinxstone, stopping at Pigmote on the way back', you say, 'don't drop below 800' without see invisible'. It's a far more general rule.

So you die in Angband and you don't know what will happen during the first hour of play. Die in Sunless Sea, you'll be shipping someone up to Vanderbight, stopping off at Hunter's Isle and killing bat swarms as you go. You'll then make a series of loops around home waters, picking up port reports and getting strategic intelligence for the admiralty, until you find and complete Pigmote Isle, find the Salt Lions, upgrade your weapons and start looking further afield...

I'm not saying that that is the perfect strategy, but I hope you get the idea.
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Shadow
Shadow
Posts: 49

2/9/2015
So far, I've managed to explore close to 40% of the map on my first captain, and as a veteran roguelike player, I can discern the following...

Permadeath is definitely a major mark of a roguelike, and while it's true that captain lives in Sunless Sea are a learning experience, it's not necessarily experience which allows the next captain to progress faster. In classic roguelikes, progress is reasonably fast and danger is high, so the knowledge you earn every time you play does help you progress faster as it keeps you alive longer as you ride the game's brisk pace.

And few recent roguelikes or roguelites or roguelike-likes seem to be aware of this necessary balance, let alone pull it off. In some regards, Sunless Sea is ahead of the competition, in that it keeps random "oops you died" situations to a bare minimum, and your fate largely depends on your skill as a player. However, it misses the mark as far as progression's concerned: slow advancement doesn't mesh well with permadeath. Danger isn't particularly high, either. And well, ship and equipment balancing feels considerably off, which puts the whole idea of non-character progression into question.

Essentially, I get the impression the devs had the Fallen London-like bits obviously figured out, but don't know quite what to do with the elements that set Sunless Sea apart from its cousin.

--
In Her Enduring Majesty's Service
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Gowk
Gowk
Posts: 1

2/10/2015
The review pretty much sums up how I feel about Sunless Sea. The game is extremely well written and I love exploring the world, but you have to put in a lot of work to get far enough to actually pass on anything meaningful to your new captain, and the beginning of each new captain's journey feels extremely grind-y. After a total of 12h of gameplay and around 4 dead captains, I'm definitely starting to consider turning permadeath off, especially since I've yet to make it as far as writing a will (had to drop a lot of money on a townhouse, since somebody didn't think you could raise a kid in a pub. Bah.) Evading death is fun, and I've found a rather good recipe for human meat for when I'm unaccountably peckish, but – unlike in Dwarf Fortress – failing isn't all too much Fun.
edited by Gowk on 2/10/2015
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FogChicken1
FogChicken1
Posts: 29

2/10/2015
Shadow wrote:
Permadeath is definitely a major mark of a roguelike, and while it's true that captain lives in Sunless Sea are a learning experience, it's not necessarily experience which allows the next captain to progress faster.


I'm not sure I agree with this. To give one example, some of the items for the Neathbow are available right from the start of the game once you know where to find them, and give quite a lucrative reward. Once you've figured that out, it allows you to completely bypass the early cash-strapped phase which causes so much trouble for new players.

In classic roguelikes, progress is reasonably fast and danger is high, so the knowledge you earn every time you play does help you progress faster as it keeps you alive longer as you ride the game's brisk pace.


True in many cases, but I'm not sure anybody would describe Angband as 'brisk'. A win can take weeks or months to achieve (which is why I used it as an example). It's arguably quite a successful game in spite of that, so it could be considered an example of a successful slow advancement game with permadeath. I think ADOM is similar.

I will agree with other posters that the amount of randomness is less in Sunless Sea than in other 'roguelikes', and that a lucky early find in Angband or FTL can shape your game in a way that doesn't happen in Sunless Sea. Sunless Sea is probably a bit more repetitive as a result (the nearest equivalent would be order of finding officers/discovering ports). It does also seem like the difficulty is a bit too high in the early going (I had a lot of the same opinions expressed here when I was starting out) and possibly a little too easy later on. I actually thought the late game is more grindy than the early game when I was going for the Zong of the Zee win condition, although Father's Bones will hopefully improve on that. Once you've learned to manage terror/fuel/supplies, avoid seagoing menaces, and take reasonable precautions against story-related fatalities, you can find yourself in a spot where you are never in any real danger and simply need to amass a great deal of echoes in order to win. I've wondered whether the various capital-intensive high-margin trades are in the game as a way to speed this up, but it doesn't seem like an ideal solution.
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MrChapeau
MrChapeau
Posts: 31

2/10/2015
This review is really perfect. It gets it exactly right. This game has a huge disconnect between its reliance on largely static prose, its pace, and its ambition to be a permadeath game.

If sunless sea wants to be a permadeath game it has to include enough content -- especially in the early to mid-game -- that the early islands lock out at least 2/3 of their content each playthrough. AND it has to cut down on repeating prose in London and Venderbight, etc. Not all of the quests have be completely redone, either. A few different possible versions of the Venturer, for example, would go a long way.

Roguelikes only work with a game that is extremely different each time. It has to feel like you haven't started over, you've only gone to the next level with less equipment.

Sunless Sea's only recourse is really to --

1. add piracy, boarding, close-combat, letters of marque and various flags on ships to increase combat variety.
2. Spend a long questline's worth of writing on EACH near-London island -- varying them with random events and meaty storylines that can't both happen on the same playthrough. Gaider's Mourn is so empty it's pitiful (for such a wonderful setting).
3. Add dozens of random sailing events.

FB have made strides in this direction. Venderbight, in particular, is really much MUCH improved, now.

But a true roguelike would require three possible story lines in Hunter's Keep, each of which blocks out the others from happening that time through.

It might also require allowing the player's new scion to CHOOSE whether to complete a proving quest for each storyline (like the principles) that he wants to continue instead of redoing. He could prove he is really the son of his father, for example, and get back in to the quest. Alternatively he could start over.


  • I also think that stat inheritance should be calculated differently, awarding the scion the base stat plus half of of the difference between his fathers stat and the base. i.e. 75 inherited would be 25 base plus -- (75-25)/2=25 TOTAL 50.

    AND I think a captain that retires should pass his ship down to his son/daughter/heir.
    edited by MrChapeau on 2/10/2015

  • edited by MrChapeau on 2/10/2015

  • edited by MrChapeau on 2/10/2015
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    Brackenfish
    Brackenfish
    Posts: 18

    2/10/2015
    The roguelike elements in Sunless Sea are sort of perplexing. I really like the game, but without derailing into a labored definition of roguelikes, Sunless Sea is not one; it's a game in which you're incentivized over the long term to die in different ways and explore different story branches.

    The game isn't honestly that grindy, mainly due to steadfast work by the devs to remove repetitive strategies. The fact that the early game is fairly rote (do a Venderbight run, collect strategic info, etc.) doesn't constitute a grind except in the broadest of senses (as in, over many many runs); the lack of deviation in the early chapters is just another reminder that the game is not a roguelike.

    What it IS, though, is slow, time-dilated. Borrowing a topic from another thread, this is the real reason people are mad about engine power. Undetermined coefficients only perturb the math-minded; slow video games bother anyone with a day job.
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    Shadow
    Shadow
    Posts: 49

    2/10/2015
    FogChicken1 wrote:
    Shadow wrote:
    Permadeath is definitely a major mark of a roguelike, and while it's true that captain lives in Sunless Sea are a learning experience, it's not necessarily experience which allows the next captain to progress faster.

    I'm not sure I agree with this. To give one example, some of the items for the Neathbow are available right from the start of the game once you know where to find them, and give quite a lucrative reward. Once you've figured that out, it allows you to completely bypass the early cash-strapped phase which causes so much trouble for new players.

    A good example. I haven't reached that point. However, I can assume that involves not only the nigh-mandatory Correspondent legacy, but also passing on a near-complete map. Endgame unless you choose to throw that away.

    Yes, having recently lost that first captain to my own recklessness, I found out just how much of a no-brainer the legacy choice is. The knowledge you accumulate as a player is valuable, yes, but as an enabler of faster progress, most of its usefulness lies in knowing where to go. You waste a lot of time if you have to chart the Unterzee all over again.

    Unexpected but unsurprising downside of the Correspondent legacy: previously discovered locations aren't "rediscovered", and therefore don't yield fragments, which means less/slower character development.

    --
    In Her Enduring Majesty's Service
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    WormApotheote
    WormApotheote
    Posts: 725

    2/10/2015
    I sort of agree on the permadeath thing, although in reality I don't think it's too big f a deal considering how easy it is to not die once you have some basic understanding of stuff.

    MrChapeau wrote:
    But a true roguelike would require three possible stories in Hunter's Keep, each of which blocks out the others from happening that time through.

    Other than the first phase that's mostly just 'stop by, pick up some loot, move on' there actually is a large number of possible endings for the story.

    Shadow wrote:
    A good example. I haven't reached that point. However, I can assume that involves not only the nigh-mandatory Correspondent legacy, but also passing on a near-complete map. Endgame unless you choose to throw that away.

    Yes, having recently lost that first captain to my own recklessness, I found out just how much of a no-brainer the legacy choice is. The knowledge you accumulate as a player is valuable, yes, but as an enabler of faster progress, most of its usefulness lies in knowing where to go. You waste a lot of time if you have to chart the Unterzee all over again.

    Unexpected but unsurprising downside of the Correspondent legacy: previously discovered locations aren't "rediscovered", and therefore don't yield fragments, which means less/slower character development.


    Nope that legacy is a trap; you can map most of the area pretty quickly without it once you know what features indicate what spawns and it locks you out a a bunch of free experience.

    Anyway for example:
    [spoiler]one of the middle four tiles along the top contains the avid horizon, which has the hunters eye, which can be traded for a capitavating treasure at the first curator. Another is mount palmerstone which is always your first goal with the blind bruisers questline. Another is frostfound which has a free refuel+supply SAY event. Mount Palmerstone also sells fuel cheaper than London. So it's pretty easy to search the entire top line until you find the avid horizon and grab the hunters eye and get back and make 1000 echoes and fulfill the blind bruiser's contract easy.[/spoiler]
    edited by WormApotheote on 2/10/2015

    --
    No, I don't pull the Eater of Names.
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    FogChicken1
    FogChicken1
    Posts: 29

    2/10/2015
    Yes, the spoilered example is indeed the one I was thinking of. It requires you to (a) reach the location, (b) acquire the item, (c) recognize what it's used for, and (d) recognize that it's accessible from game start. After that it's generally not too hard to find even with a starter captain and a blank map.

    The map isn't as random as it looks. Islands do get shuffled around, but only within certain bounds. You will never find Mt. Palmerston in the south of the map, for example.
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    WormApotheote
    WormApotheote
    Posts: 725

    2/10/2015
    Also once you know what the features of any given tile are it's pretty quick to scout one. You don't even necessarily need to enter the tile to know what's there. (My last game I could see the labyrinth of eels from hunters keep, so now I know one obvious source of profit.)
    edited by WormApotheote on 2/10/2015

    --
    No, I don't pull the Eater of Names.
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