UPDATED 11:20 EDT / MARCH 04 2015


Sunless Sea creator on his “biggest mistake” when making the indie hit

Sunless SeaFailbetter Games’ Sunless Sea followed the path of many recent indie games, making the transition from Kickstarter campaign to Steam Early Access to full release, but Sunless Sea is one of the few such games to came out the other side successfully with a dedicated fan base and respectable sales.

Failbetter Games co-founder and chief narrative officer Alexis Kennedy wrote a post mortem of the game on Gamasutra, and while he feels that the studio did many things right when making Sunless Sea, he also says it missed the mark in a few areas.

“[Sunless Sea] was at the same time both well-explored territory, and a gigantic learning experience,” Kennedy wrote. “These two things – our patchwork of experience and inexperience, and our careful, eat-only-what-you-kill, gradually growing approach to scope – were at the heart of everything that went both right and wrong during development.”

Kennedy pointed to the teams’ focus on theme as one of its best decisions when making the game, saying that “every single review of Sunless Sea has picked up on this.” The dedication to theme shaped every aspect of the game, including “the atmosphere, the mood, the sense of peril.”

Kennedy also stands by the studios’ decision not to go into crunch mode toward the end of development, saying “I’m dropping my vote in the jar that says crunch is bad.” He explained that despite the pressures to finish the game and deliver on time, overworking the development team would not fix anything. “Productivity gains from overtime dissipate very quickly,” he said.


Roguelike or CRPG? – “Our biggest mistake”


While the game has been praised for its moody atmosphere and deep gameplay, Kennedy points out that many reviews call it “almost a classic” because it could not decide between being a challenging  Roguelike or an exploration-focused CRPG.

“Was Sunless Sea a CRPG or a roguelike?” Kennedy wrote. “My answer to this, for most of the development time, was ‘Yes!’ and that was our biggest mistake – specifically, I have to say, my mistake.”

According to Kennedy, the CRPG elements encouraged players to explore and try news things, but the Roguelike elements — including permadeath and a single autosave – punished players for mistakes.

“Sometimes we lost sight of the genre conventions that we needed to respect – and then we couldn’t tell the temporary problems from the fundamental ones,” Kennedy wrote. “So next time, we’re going to make sure that we count all the stars we’re steering by.”

Image credit: Failbetter Games (c)

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