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Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in this literary RPG for PC, Mac and Linux.
Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in this literary RPG for PC, Mac and Linux.
Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in this literary RPG for PC, Mac and Linux.
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Trade in the Skies: ROCHE LIMIT

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The new trade system we're introducing in December to Sunless Skies will be an extensive overhaul that ties into storytelling, economy, UI and character progression. There's a lot to talk about, so we've divided this update into three sections:

  • The TL;DR Version: a summary of what to expect  
  • Why We've Changed Trade: a look into our design process and goals  
  • The Nitty-Gritty: exhaust yourself with the details of trade   

We’ll also be showcasing the new trade system on our next FBG Podcast, which will be at 16:00 GMT on Wednesday 29th November (so our Narrative Director Chris can show everyone the ropes).  

The TL;DR Version  

The new trade system aims to create the sense of being an independent trader. You're trying to carve out a living in the gaps left by big companies. That means you'll need a sharp eye for opportunities, and wits, boldness, and knowledge of the skies to capitalise on them. If the risk pays off, you could land that big score and make yourself rich – for a while.  

At ports, you'll now be able to find Bargains and Prospects:  

  • Bargains are opportunities to buy a good cheaply.  
  • Prospects are news of someone who's prepared to pay well over the odds for a certain good. 


You can invest in a Bargain for a quick sale, or pursue a Prospect for a bigger reward. But don't delay! As time passes, old opportunities will vanish and new ones appear. Different ports offer different opportunities, and as your captain levels up you'll unlock new, more profitable ones!

To support this new system, we're streamlining markets. Each region's main port will now buy any good, and each minor port will sell a single export. So if you want to sell, you'll visit the main port. If you want to buy, you'll need to find the right minor port.


Using your map, you'll be able to see each port's export and when new trade opportunities are available there. You can also check the Prospects you're currently pursuing on your locomotive screen.


Trade in Sunless Skies is intended to feel unpredictable and rewarding; to play like a story. It's meant to reward character progression and player knowledge. The initial implementation includes a slice of the Bargains and Prospects that will be in the final game, and we'll be following player feedback closely, and making changes (especially to costs and rewards). We hope you enjoy it!  

Why We’ve Changed Trade  

Before we started working on the trade system for Sunless Skies, we went back and looked at trade in Sunless Sea, focusing on what worked and what we wanted to improve on. We felt trade in Sunless Sea was:  

Flavourful: The trade goods were evocative and playful. They revealed things about the world: Casks of Mushroom Wine, Firkins of Prisoner's Honey, Bolts of Spider-Silk.

Complex: Sunless Sea had about 22 trade goods. It also had more than 30 ports, each of which sold different goods at different prices. That's a lot of permutations, and as there was no UI dedicated to trade, players had to consult a wiki or keep extensive notes to engage with it.  

Familiar: This was a huge benefit – the trade in Sunless Sea worked more or less like trade in a various other games (notably Elite, one of its inspirations). Players who had experienced similar systems felt on firm ground.  

Reliable/Predictable: With a couple of effective exceptions, trade was reliable and predictable. A single port sold the same goods at the same prices, and once you'd worked out a trade route you could pump it indefinitely.  

Stingy, then bountiful: Profit on each unit of goods was low, but the hold space in larger ships was generous. This meant that trade began with fiercely tight margins, but as your resources increased it became trivial. Combined with its reliability, trade tended to provide a steady flow of cash as you traveled.  

Secondary: Trade was never the focus of Sunless Sea – it was a supplementary activity to add a sense of authenticity to the life of a captain.  

Aims for Sunless Skies  

After this, we identified three priorities to govern trade in Sunless Skies.  

Simplicity: This is a risky word, because it sounds like we're dumbing trade down. But that's not the case: we're not reducing the design space (quite the opposite!), we just want it to be governed by clear rules and supported by helpful UI.  

Harder choices; better rewards: Rather than being a routine, we want trade to be unpredictable. It should pose challenging choices, which can pay off handsomely. There's always risk, but after a good deal you should feel like Scrooge McDuck for a while. Profit won't be a curve or a line, it'll be spikes.  

Tighter constraints on hold space are a key part in this (we know hold space feels very tight at the moment – it'll become somewhat less so as new locomotives and equipment become available).  

Make trade a story: We want to convey the fantasy of trade – identifying an opportunity and committing your knowledge and resources to capitalise on it. We want to tie it to your captain and the choices you make about them. We want to use it to tell the story of the world.  

Ungoals  

To keep ourselves focused, we also identified a number of things we aren't interested in doing.  

Market simulation: We aren't making a complex economic simulation where prices fluctuate based on supply and demand.  

Realism: We aren't trying to create anything realistic. As in Sunless Sea, the emphasis is on exploration and story.  

Familiarity: This is a risk, but we're prepared to try something unusual here. This mean's we'll have to put more effort into explaining the system within the game.  

The Nitty-Gritty: How Trade Works in Sunless Skies

The new system combines a number of different elements: trade goods, markets, Bargains, Prospects, and character progression.  

Trade Goods  

As in Sunless Sea we've kept the trade goods evocative. Trading Barrels of Unseasoned Hours tells us something about the nature of the High Wilderness, and it's an item we can use in fun ways in stories.  

There are slightly fewer goods in than in Sunless Sea, (currently 14) so there's less to remember. Each region in the game focuses on a subset of goods which help tell its story. The Reach, for example, mostly deals in bronzewood, seeds, hours, souls, and Chorister nectar. A clear story like this aids player memory. Once you know the Reach is verdant and untamed, it makes sense you'd go there to get bronzewood.  

Markets  

'Markets', here, means 'what can I buy at each port, and for how much?' Our goal here was to make them a clear, simple underpinning for the trade system, freeing up 'complexity budget' elsewhere. They're now governed by three rules:  

  • Each main port buys any trade good for its base price  
  • Each minor port sells a single trade good (its export), again for the base price  
  • Main ports only buy; minor ports only sell   

This means if you find a bundle of bronzewood in a wreck, you know you can reliably sell it at the nearest main port. But if you're looking for a particular good, you need to find a port that sells it. You can now click on a port on your map to see a pop-up with a short description of it and a reminder of its export.  

Buying a good at a minor port and selling it at a main one won't net you any profit. It's like buying something from one supermarket and selling it at the next one. Instead, to profit from trading you'll need to seek out Bargains and Prospects.  

Bargains  

Each port will have a new 'bazaar' area. Part captains' club, part trading-house, anyone needing to buy or sell quickly knows this is the place to come. At minor ports, the bazaar offers Bargains:  

A bargain is a good offered for sale at a low price, but with limited supply.  

Let's use our earlier example:  


You can see how each bargain delivers a snippet of story, giving us another way to communicate the world of Sunless Skies. This Bargain allows you to buy up to three Jumbles of Undistinguished Souls, at the significantly reduced price of 45 sovereigns each (down from the usual price of 70 sovereigns).  

You can buy all three, or buy some now and come back later. Don't wait too long though! Bargains change over time. They're randomised, and a system of tags filter which Bargains appear. We can tag a Bargain to only appear in the Reach, for example, or only at metropolitan ports, or only at places with Bohemian leanings.  

When the Bargains at a port change, you'll get a notification on its map pop-up, so you can tell if it's time to visit again and see what's available.  

Bargains can also have requirements, only appearing after specific story events or for certain captains.  

You can always deliver Bargains back to the region's main port and sell them for a reliable profit. They're the meat and potatoes of trade. But you might want to store some in your bank and look out for a big return by combining them with a Prospect.  

Prospects

At major ports, the bazaar doesn't offer Bargains, but Prospects instead.  

A Prospect is a contract with someone at another port, who will pay an excellent price for a certain good.  

You'll need to source the good yourself, probably from a minor port. Here, your expertise comes into play – can you find the best trade route, and navigate the dangers on the way?  

The client will only want a certain amount of the good in question. You can just provide part of their demand if you like, but if you fulfil all of it you may see an additional effect. For example, if you complete a Prospect to bring a Tackety sympathiser a supply of munitions you might affect the course of the conflict in the Reach!  

The unwritten captains' code means once you've accepted a Prospect, no other captain will take it. It's recorded on your locomotive screen. You can accept up to four Prospects at once, and abandon them at any time.  

Here's an example Prospect you might find at New Winchester:  


This prospect will pay out 80 sovereigns per unit of seeds: double the normal base price of 40; Prospects are even more rewarding than Bargains, because they're more demanding. And if you can complete a Prospect by buying goods as a Bargain – well, that's how you make the big space-bucks.  

Affiliations  

The final piece of the trade puzzle is your captain, and their affiliations. As you level up, you choose new facets for your captain (like Scarred or Mentor), some of which increase an affiliation. Affiliations represent the circles you move in: Academe, Bohemia, Establishment and Villainy.  

As they rise, each unlocks new Prospects and Bargains. The higher the affiliation, the more profitable the opportunities. Captains with high Villainy will have more chances to buy cheap stolen goods, while those with high Academe will be approached by researchers prepared to pay for materials to further their research.  

So that’s it, our very very short post about the new trade system! We hope the Prospects and Bargains update will go out in mid-December. We can’t wait to see what you think!

Comments

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    1. Failbetter Games 3-time creator on

      @Will It's definitely designed with that in mind. The way Bargains and Prospects are tagged means there are underlying patterns to them. If you've got a high Bohemian affiliation, which unlocks a good set of Bargains and Prospects, you'll benefit from knowing which are the Bohemian-leaning ports they're likely to appear at, for example.

      It'll be less direct than the trade route example, though, more about playing the odds.

    2. Missing avatar

      Will Stephenson on

      Sounds great. Will the new system be learnable? One thing I liked about Sea's trade system was that the really good multi-stop routes involving an intermediate good (like Coffee from Carnelian to Irem, Parabola-Linen back to London) were not obvious, but could be learned. Will the patterns underlying the more random interaction of Bargains and Prospects be sufficiently well telegraphed that players learn to exploit them?