We continue the cycle of publications about games that require investment or a publisher. Next up is material from the Russian indie studio Dieselduck, which is developing a game about traveling on the airship "Nephelia: Through the Clouds".

The material was prepared with the support of the game search service for publishers and investors WN Game Finder.

Anastasia Maksimova, who is responsible for the narrative in the project, told about the project.

Anastasia Maksimova

About the team

We, the Dieselduck team, have been developing a simulator of the captain of the airship "Nephelia: Through the Clouds" since 2020.

The team started with family and our closest friends, and in the last couple of years it has been joined by other enthusiasts of airships and the aesthetics of steampunk and Art Nouveau, with whom we also managed to become quite familiar. The staff is not permanent, but we can say that there are about 16 people, plus volunteers and other assistants on a non-permanent basis. For us, as a team, this is the first joint project.

Geographically, everything is difficult for us: in addition to St. Petersburg, where we have the most people, there are a dozen more cities in different time zones. It can be very useful when you need to urgently participate in an event with a game, but it makes it a little difficult to choose the time for a general call — at one time we had a separate one for Vladivostok, for example.

The level of participants is very different: for some, this is the first touch of a game rendezvous, someone has already taken place in their field and is happy to try themselves in a new field, and some of the guys have been engaged or engaged in games for many years at their main job and find an outlet in Nephelia.

As you can understand, we develop in our free time from our main job, family or study — slowly, but unstoppably. If the game had a sponsor, we would be able to devote more hours a week to the game, but this is still only in our dreams. Until then, we rely only on ourselves and a little on the support of the community: recently, we started a page on Boosty for everyone who wants to help our cause.

About the project

After hundreds of hours in the world of Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies, we wanted to create something of our own, adding a full—fledged third dimension to these worlds, and the Victorian atmosphere of these games suggested a suitable transport - airships. In most of the games where they meet, airships are either decorations or fixed at a certain height, look and move like airships: with maximum disdain for real aeronautics. We decided to correct this injustice.

The second fundamental idea concerns the procedural generation of the sky, because there is nothing more fickle and unpredictable than the weather. Both of these mechanics and some common setting ideas formed the backbone of what we started testing in 2020 as a desktop prototype on our guests and implemented on Unity by the spring of 2024 (using Universal Rendering Pipline).

To the balloonist simulator and the weather "bagel" we have added the Ink narrative engine and a role-playing system for the crew and captain, now we are adding the battles of the player's airship against monsters and other airships.

For the MVP, we still have to make it possible to hire a crew so that in the future the player can choose a team for his specific tasks, upgrade the airship with new modules — from longer-range guns to comfortable passenger cabins. We will add random encounters and events so that the sky is more alive, and the airship itself feels like a complex and fragile mechanism where a lot of things can go wrong. Finally, the navigation system should help the player navigate the changeable sky and use tailwinds instead of flying ahead.

In parallel, we are working on a global plot and filling a semi-open world, which implies several dozen models and a hundred chains of text quests. The task, of course, is ambitious, but it is quite feasible.

About the gameplay/mechanics of the project

The player gets used to the role of the captain of the airship and most of the time he directly controls the flight and decides whether to get into trouble for the sake of possible profit or it is better to fly to the floating city in one piece. Each city is not only an opportunity to profitably sell your cargo and repair base, but also a bunch of intrigues and other text quests. Over time, the player improves the airship, explores the sky and gets access to more profitable tasks in distant locations. He develops connections and increases his influence in the world, so that he can even determine the vector of development of this entire colony of humanity left to itself.

This is important: we are not describing an alternative past on Earth, but the planet Nephelia colonized by humans in the future. The forced rollback from the cosmic level to dieselpunk and the feeling of retrofuturism create a special atmosphere for the game, reminiscent of the TV series "Firefly" and the anime Last Exile. And we hope to make this world alive and fill it with interesting stories.

The flight of an airship in good weather is very meditative and peaceful, it is very different in dynamics from an airplane, and due to its greater smoothness it sometimes allows you to simply admire the clouds, in the generation of which we have invested a lot of effort (and we will invest, because we always look at the sky with admiration and envy).

Atmosphere can be safely called one of the main features: it is provided and supported by both the setting and the UI, soundtrack and sound design.

About the target audience of the project

We are making a game that we would like to play ourselves. But we can safely say that "Nephelia: Through the Clouds" will appeal to fans of Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies, "Space Rangers", Highfleet and the aesthetics of steam and diesel punk. Our niche seems to be quite narrow, but in fact it extends to all lovers of marine and aerial romance, for example, the Corsairs series, and partly captures the fan base of RPGs and space westerns. Many would like to imagine themselves as a dashing captain, swagger around a thunderstorm on the very edge, guess what awaits beyond the horizon and twist a mustache that is disheveled in the wind.

If you need numbers, then the core of the future players of Nephelia are men 30-45 years old. At the same time, it is worth recognizing that for purely historical reasons, there are much more fans of airships, Art Nouveau aesthetics and dieselpunk in the West than in the CIS, and without foreign players, the project will not reveal its full potential.

About the business model of the project

As a distribution model, we have chosen for ourselves the typical for single player games — premium + DLC.

In our expectations, we are guided by the performance of Highfleet – this is an indie game of 2021, which uses a similar aesthetic, but more hardcore and specific mechanics. Based on the number of reviews, it can be assumed that she had 250 thousand sales in three years or 80 thousand per year.

The indicators of our other reference – the games of the Sunless series — are slightly more modest in annual terms, nevertheless, the presence of DLC and continuation indicates a good hit in the audience. Both games are in the price range from 350 to 500 rubles per copy. We plan to follow in the footsteps of these projects.

By the end of 2025, a sandbox with all the mechanics and some of the content will be ready for release, and within a year or two, in addition to bugfixes, we will release the main plot. And even after that, there will still be an opportunity for DLC with new content or mechanics.

We also do not rule out further porting of the game to the console — Unity allows it quite well. In the future, I would like to release a pack for modders and launch a wave of user-generated content that will warm up interest in the main product.

About metrics

We expect to start with several thousand vishlists and sell from 30 to 50 thousand copies in the first year. Now we are actively preparing for the launch of the Steam page: polishing demos, preparing texts and design, solving technical issues so that we can start collecting vishlists by the summer. Maybe we should have done it earlier, but that's how we decided.

So far, in the absence of massive advertising budgets, content marketing remains our main tool. We are confident that the community of 1300 VK subscribers he has gathered will support our entry into steam.

About who we are looking for

Now we need both a publisher and an investor. We are waiting for qualified feedback from the publisher and help with foreign promotion and localization (the project is being developed immediately for Russian and English locales). You can partially kill two birds with one stone if you crowdfund for voice acting — this is a fairly popular request, and the campaign will help attract the necessary attention.

Investments of 12-15 million rubles will allow us to scale the creation of 3D models and other content, hire the missing specialists — in particular, a second programmer. And it would be great for a team that has been working for the idea for several years to start paying for their efforts. We do not give advertising the most prominent place in the overall budget of the game, since for success we do not need to fight for a mass player and cover our niche with sufficient quality, but additional injections of marketing will still not hurt.

How do I get in touch?

If you want to help us, become an investor or publisher, you can do it in one of the ways:

  • fill out the form on our website;
  • get acquainted with the VK community and write to the group's messages.

We will be waiting for you!