Category Archives: Random Thoughts

Tales from Fallen London: Abandon All Human Decency, Ship & Hope Who Enter Here

I’ve never really gotten into rogue-like games.  I find it immediately demoralizing going into a game where I know I’m going to die.  Hence why I haven’t had the motivation to pick up Bloodborne again.  It’s disheartening making a lot of progress in a game, only to have a string of bad luck & lose it all.  But in my attempts to branch out into new genres, I’ve found two workarounds for that anxiety: find a game where death is expected by only a minor inconvenience (the From Software approach) or a game where a campaign can be short enough that, if you’re going to die, death sets in very early.

To that end, I downloaded Sunless Sea, a steampunk, Lovecraftian, rogue-like, survival horror, exploration… thing.  I appreciate the developers naming themselves Failbetter Games.  It must be very convenient having your company’s name & mission statement be the same.  Seriously.  Don’t give anyone the chance to have any delusions about what’s about to befall them.  Hell, even in setting up the game, it flat-out tells you that your first few captains are probably going to die.

To that end, I followed their philosophy & my first captain died just a few in-game days in.

Before getting to that, I should probably explain the game itself.  As the player, you’re basically set loose in the Fallen London universe, a world completely underground, surrounding by a dark, mysterious ocean.  You pick your backstory, your overarching goal, your crew, & then you’re off to make your name, make your fortune, or just survive. You control your ship, sailing around exploring & making port, trading or following quests.  But with more than a little Lovecraftian influence, expect horrors to be awaiting you as you explore farther from humanity.

My first unlucky avatar was Captain Sibeal Delauncay.  The good Captain, as she preferred to be called at port, was a natural philosopher by trade, & took an old steamer ship, along with her faithful Surgeon, feral & nearly comatose ferret as the ship’s mascot (clearly doomed us from the start) & a crew of eight zailors (no I did not misspell that) out into the dark sea.  Her goal?  To gather enough tales from her adventures to one day retire & publish a novel.

Things began simply enough for Captain Sibeal.  She picked up a passenger who wanted to be taken to a tomb colony, presumably to die — there isn’t exactly a lot of land in Unterzee — & was tasked by the admiralty to check on in the ports in the area.  Captain Sibeal chose to remain close to the main port, but did travel to several close islands, learning Secrets that she shared with her Surgeon to gain more insight in the workings of their dark world.  She gained the attention of Zee’s three gods.  She spent one evening in port with a Dapper Gentleman who bid her passionately to keep his locket with her.  She quickly replace her feral mascot with a grumpy cat that snuck aboard at first opportunity who somehow made their cannons work better.  She shot a lot of giant crabs & even a pirate ship once.

It’s hard to say where things began to take a turn for the worse.  Perhaps she should’ve been more adventurous in her explorations.  Perhaps she should have been more diligent in following up with quests.  Perhaps she shouldn’t have agreed to smuggle goods for a dark stranger.  Perhaps she shouldn’t have accidentally spent all her meager money on flares when she meant to buy fuel & then couldn’t sell them back for even close to the same price as she bought them!

Who can say?  What can be explained is the series of events that ultimately led to her death.

After running out of fuel & supplies, Captain Sibeal weighed her options & ultimately decided to turn to the gods for help.  It was better than waiting to die.  At least in her travels she had learned a few Secrets, & she whispered this to Salt, the god of horizons.  Rather than bestowing them with much-needed supplies, a white zee-bat, unlike the normal one they kept on the ship for scouting, lighted upon the railing.  Captain Sibeal stared at the zee-bat while it stared back, transfixed by its crystalline eyes.  Her gaze followed as it suddenly flew away into the darkness.  Hearing the crew gasp, Captain Sibeal came to her senses, only to discover that they were now in a new place.  The accursed Kingeater’s Castle, all the way on the other side of the known map!


Accursed god of secrets!  How did this help!?  What good was it to bring them here?  After finding nothing of use on the island, they set out from the desolate castle, praying their meager fuel holds out.  Not wanting to waste anything, the Captain sends out the zee-bat to search for land.  It returned, bringing a report of a place called Saviour’s Rock not far north.  The name offered hope, & the Captain directs the ship northward.

Heading north, they enter the Sea of Statues.  Giant hands protrude from the murky water, as if reaching to the forgotten surface.  Or perhaps they wish to pull the foolish humans down with them.  What lies below, waiting in the unseen?  The crew grows restless in the dark, as they’ve had to douse the running lights to conserve fuel.  It’s a risky gamble.  They need fuel to get out, but will it matter if they’re all insane?

It turns out not to matter either way, as they’ve barely cleared the castle when the engines die.  This time, she turned to Stone.  The only female of the three gods (assuming gods even have physical forms to have genders), perhaps she would hear the lady captain’s plea.  But rather than an offering of Secrets, Captain Sibeal offered of herself.  A great wound for the wounded.

Thankfully, the Surgeon is able to efficiently bandage the wound.  After, Captain Sibeal paces the deck, anxious that there has been no hint of a reply either way in response to her offering.  Silent gods can be just as terrifying as when they speak.  Suddenly, the engineer runs up to her.  Expecting more bad news, Captain Sibeal is thrilled when he reports, “Captain – there’s more fuel in the bins than I realized.  Just a little.  I’d looked three times. I’m sure it wasn’t there before. But now – it might be enough -“

Silently thanking Stone for offering useful aid (was transporting them here Salt’s idea of helping, or was he just being a jerk?), the crew sets off from the desolate place.  But it wasn’t long before the lack of supplies began to take its toll on the crew.  When the first crewman died, the bo’sun offered a terrible choice: prepare the body for the funeral, or prepare it for a meal?


The idea is tempting, but Captain Sibeal knew order had to be maintained.  The crew was already on the edge of terror.  Having them feast on the flesh of their fallen comrade would only push them further over the tenuous border of sanity.  She dismisses the bo’sun.  They had to retain their humanity.

Sadly, while the crew is giving out, the engine gives out first.  Again, they are stranded without fuel.  It crosses her mind to use a flare, but sadly she’d sold them back.  And this far out, what are the odds that would do any good.  The only knowledge Captain Sibeal possess that might be a boon is her attention of the gods.  Salt was less than no help, & the Captain wasn’t too eager to turn to Stone again so soon.  Besides, as weak as she was from the hunger, Captain Sibeal wasn’t sure she had the strength for another offering.  Storm is the only one left.  The angriest of the three.  Sadly, it wouldn’t be the Captain making the sacrifice this time.

The only fair way to decide is to draw lots.  The loser is swiftly & painlessly killed on the deck.  The few remaining crew watch on silently as his blood slowly spills over the edge of the deck & out into the sea.  No one can stand to look at the other.  Suddenly, there’s a loud crack, & a stalactite falls from the sky, crashing onto their deck.  At first it seems they’ve only drawn the ire of the Storm, given the massive hole in the deck & the second dead crewman.  But as they examine the stalactite, they discover it’s made of ore that can substitute for coal.  They will live another day, but the price of that survival is growing increasingly high.

Captain Sibeal frequently finds her mind wandering.  Thoughts of evenings at the pub, enjoying warm meals & decent wine parade through her mind.  Soon it becomes all she can think about, almost an obsession.  When she begins to eye one of the starving crew, Captain Sibeal shakes herself to her senses.  She must do something to stave off the madness.  She fears what will happen otherwise.


But as more times passes, & more of the crew begin to die, Captain Sibeal knows she has to do something to save her crew.  The inevitable has set in.  The creeping sense that they won’t make it out of here alive gnaws at ther mind worse than the blasted, useless ferret.  And if that’s the case, then Captain Sibeal vows to fight as hard as she can against fate, the gods, or whoever else tries to stand in their way.  So when she receives word of more dead zailors, she order the bo’sun to do what’s necessary.  The Captain salves what little is left of her humanity with the knowledge that they were already dead, & twas better for their bodies to feed the crew than the sea.  But is there coming back from such a point?


The deck is far more silent now.  The only crew remaining is the Captain, the Surgeon, the cat, & two zailors.

Finally, they reach Saviour’s Rock, & there’s a brief moment of hope that their suffering was worth it.  But there is no salvation to be found.  Unless that salvation is in the terrifyingly giant, hairy arms of the spiders scurrying about.  As Captain Sibeal stares at the monstrous webs crossing above them all hope fades like a puff of smoke on the wind.


All that matters is trying to survive.  So when she sees her crew eating the few rats that remain, she turns a blind eye toward it.  They’d already eaten their mates.  What was a few vermin?  Sadly, for some reason she can’t eat the ferret.


As the engines sputtered into silence, & the warm glow of the lantern fades into nothingness, Captain Sibeal accepts the inevitable.  They must abandon ship.  In such a desolate place, the odds that any will survive in their current state is highly unlikely.


Thus was the fate of Captain Sibeal Delauncay.  She left behind nothing, save a rival in a small urchin girl.


I had a lot of fun writing this little vignette.  Expect to see more as I find new & interesting ways to play, hopefully succeed but probably die.  And a proper review for Sunless Sea once I’ve gotten a good feel for it.

–  GamerDame


Filed under First Impressions, Random Thoughts, Tales of Fallen London

Couch-to-5K Zombie Trainer App

A while back I gave my favorable impressions on an amazing little app that actually makes running fun.  Zombies, Run! is a free or subscription-based app that attempts to apply the concepts of gamification to encourage people to run.  Something most of us aren’t very inclined to do without sufficient motivation.  Like running away from dogs or chasing the bus.  You can read my article on it for the full details, but in short it makes the listener the PC & your body is the controller.  You walk, jog or run your way through the story missions, gaining rewards to help build up your in-game town, & occasionally get chased by virtual zombies.  It’s a lot of fun, has made me look forward to getting up at 6 AM to go running before work, & is so far the only app I’ve ever paid for.

However, one day I was scrolling through the various game modes when I noticed there were training missions for 10K & 13K, but no 5K.  I found this odd, as most people start their marathon training with 5K’s, as they’re the shortest marathon distance (that’s a little over 3 miles for those who prefer non-metric).  But after digging around on the apps Wiki page — because of course there’s a Wiki page — I discovered that there is a 5K training app.  Unfortunately, this is a separate app, & is paid only.

But, wishing to improve my overall performance during my runs, as improving my stamina is one of my main fitness goals at the moment, I decided to try to program out.  I completed the 8-week training program yesterday, & wanted to give my thoughts on the program.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a “couch-to-5K” app is one that operates on the assumption that the person starting it hasn’t been physically active.  Hence the couch part of the name.  These types of apps aren’t so much intended for dedicated fitness buffs, but for beginners who want a structured plan to start, or intermediates looking to improve their form.

The Good.  The Zombies, Run! 5K Training app’s storyline is completely separate from that of the main game, with the exception of the first mission when you arrive at Abel Township.  All missions after that take place canonically between the first & second missions in the main app.  The training has its own storyline, & introduces characters that I haven’t directly heard from in the main game (although I paused after Mission 9 of Season 1 to focus on the training app).  The main theme is that, being new to the town, you have to undergo training before you can be sent on Runner missions, which makes sense.  I found each mission interesting, & enjoyed spending more time with the voices on the other end of my headphones.

The missions are very structured.  The program is eight weeks, with three sessions per week.  Aside from the initial and the last week of missions, each week is a repeat workout that gradually increases in intensity.  One major plus for the app is that it instructs you on what to do during each interval.  For example, the first real training mission starts with ten minutes of walking, then alternating between one-minute walk/fifteen-second run intervals, & it instructs you when to change.  I saw some people complaining in reviews that the app never told them when to run, but they clearly hadn’t used it past the opening mission, which is unstructured.

I also felt the intensity increased at an appropriate pace.  For the most part, you’re the one who decides what constitutes a brisk walk or a slow run.  The amount of running increased realistically, & by the end I do feel that my endurance has improved.  It never felt like too much, & the sessions off plenty of times to catch your breath.

The biggest endorsement I can give is that I do feel my endurance & form improved over the eight weeks.  I actually had to increase the distance of my walks to make up for my improved speed.  So if you stick with it & push yourself just enough to feel the burn, I think you’ll get good use out of it.

The Bad.  Unfortunately, the progress you make in the 5K training app doesn’t carry over to the main app.  So you won’t be collecting supplies or building up your base.  I found this to be a bit of a bummer, but not a deal-breaker.

Also unlike the main app, you can’t use an external media source (like Pandora or Spotify).  You can only use an internal media source.  Whether that’s a problem or not depends on what device you’re using.  Personally, I didn’t have a problem with this, as I just loaded podcasts on my phone.  And I saw some people post they simply ran their preferred external media program at the same time.  However, something I did have an issue with music-wise was that the app doesn’t pause the media like in the main one.  In the main Zombies, Run! app, whenever there’s a story bit coming up, it’ll pause whatever you’re listening to, & then goes back to wherever you were.  The 5K, however, simply lowers the volume while the voices talk.  This isn’t so much a problem if you listen to music, but if you’re like me & listen to podcasts, it’s annoying.  I ended up missing chunks of the program.

There might also be an issue with GPS tracking.  I’ve seen some reviews stating it didn’t work for them, but I only had a problem with it once or twice in the very beginning.  After that, even on cloudy days, it worked fine for me.  But you can change the settings from GPS to accelerometer tracking to measure your distance.  Or you can just know the distance of where you run.

And, as I said in the beginning, this isn’t a free app like the bulk of the main app.

The Verdict.  I personally felt the $1.99 I spent on the Zombies, Run! 5K Training app was well worth it.  My overall performance has improved since beginning, & I feel it’s a great app for beginners who want to work on being more active, but either lack confidence or motivation, or want a very structured program.  I also feel it’s structured program would be beneficial to intermediate runners who are in relatively good shape but want to push themselves to improve.  I’m not sure I can recommend it for expert runners unless they just really like the concept & story — which admittedly is very enjoyable.  It has a few downsides, & overall doesn’t feel as polished a product as the main Zombies, Run! app, but the narrative production value is spot on.

My personal recommendation would be to try out a few missions in the free Zombies, Run! app &, if you feel like your performance isn’t what you’d like or you keep getting caught in those zombie chases, try the trainer app.  But the story is completely self-contained, so no Runner 5’s will be missing out on anything of vital importance if they choose to ignore the trainer.

For those interested, the app is available on iOS & Google Play.

– GamerDame

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