We're Failbetter, an indie studio in London, UK. By the river. Offbeat story is our thing. Fallen London (http://www.fallenlondon.com) is what we're best known for: a million words of Victorian Gothic black comedy, ten thousand choices, a thousand tasty pictures.

We're mostly here to talk about Sunless Sea, the Fallen London spinoff - 'a game of exploration, loneliness and survival' - 140% funded on Kickstarter with 24 hours to go!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/failbetter/sunless-sea . But we'll happily chat about Fallen London, our other projects (Machine Cares, Black Crown, Night Circus, StoryNexus) or anything else, including ginger cake, anthropophagy and the perils of being English. Anything except tattoos.

Proof: this is linked from http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/failbetter/sunless-sea/posts . And at 11:00 today BST, the Fallen London Twitter account (@echobazaar) will post about a dark bird.

Comments: 201 • Responses: 59  • Date: 

wallofilllusion14 karma

I hope you know I'm planning to sail straight NORTH once Sunless Sea comes out. This isn't a question. I just want to make sure you know I'm expecting horrors and regret.

lessofthat9 karma

We are in the horrors business, with a thriving sideline in regret.

bonfiredog8 karma

Hello there,

Alexis (sitting across from me in a fetching black shirt) has asked if I would like to jump on and solicit questions. My name is Rob Sherman, and I am the writer of Black Crown (http://blackcrownproject.com) a fungal epic web narrative commissioned by Random House, and built using Failbetter's stellar software.

If you have any questions specifically about Black Crown, or me, or anything that Alexis cannot answer (which, compacted, would fill a very small cavity at the centre of PSR J0108-1431) please don't hesitate to ask, I will be lurking.

lessofthat5 karma

I like to describe Rob's (excellent, innovative, stomach-turning) work as 'porkpunk'. I m about to find out if he likes me doing that.

cexinferis7 karma

How far ahead have you planned or at least vaguely otulined Fallen London's storyline?

lessofthat14 karma

Every question in Fallen London has an answer. If you broke into our office and hacked my PC, all the long-running mysteries and hints resolve into specific things. Occasionally we change an answer before it gets revealed if we think of a better idea, as long as it still fits.

Storylines... we have a plan for all the major ones and a general idea for all the minor ones. Again, this can change. But we play fair.

We do know how to end it all, without exactly ending it all. :)

KKlear2 karma

That is impressive and assuring. I hate it when creators start making something and they don't know where it is heading. Or at least when it is clear that this is the case - I heard that Twin Peaks grew like that and it worked out perfectly.

Anyway, back to FL - I love how almost each step in the game answers a question about the world while uncovering several more interesting secrets. It's good to know that all of them have answers which may be eventually revealed.

lessofthat6 karma


Lynch is a living god, and Twin Peaks was a huge early influence on me, but part of that influence was disappointment at how it lost its way. This was a big deal for at least some of the other writers who've worked on FL over the years, too. We were determined not to go that way.

eyesonflux7 karma

Has Fallen London changed a lot from your initial concept? And what are the biggest changes?

lessofthat9 karma

My original concept was a Twitter-centric game called Echo Bazaar based around conspiring with other players to bid on what other people were going to say on Twitter (Echo=tweets, Bazaar=marketplace) and rob each other of points with a prisoner's dilemma sort of mechanic. With a thin veneer of narrative. As a microproject to run before I did a proper narrative project. So, YES. :-)

The first alpha had no pictures to speak of: I'm all about the text. Paul's art has really come to define the setting, so that's a huge change.

The first beta was 'a social game with narrative', which you could only access through Twitter and, later, Facebook, and which encouraged people to share snippets of text. We were very civilised about all that but it had the taint. That whole element of the project is now locked in an attic at the top of the house, as a reminder of the sins of our past.

MisterRez5 karma

Speaking of which I noticed there was a (and there still is) a multiplayer component for inviting friends to due sometimes mundane things (Like having a dinner). Even Extra Credits from Penny Arcade praised this.

However at the time it felt very shallow since all it did was offer a second opportunity item and a little bit of text. It was a rather shame because it almost felt like an invitation for a roleplaying aspect or even a co-op type of storyline but sadly not being enough to reach it.

How have you friends tackled the multiplayer aspect since then?

lessofthat3 karma

We've learnt that two-player content isn't twice as hard to write as single-player content. It's more like hard-cubed, because of the complexities involved. So it takes a back seat to the core single-player stories.

But we've pushed it in a lot of other directions. I want to do more with relationships and player groups, but we need a bit of new tech for that. Take a look at Knife and Candle, though - it's a PvP game built right inside Fallen London, and it really pushes the boundaries of what you can do with a text-based story-centric engine like ours.

MrHelfer7 karma

Hi Alexis! First of all, thanks for some great games, from you, and from Story Nexus. I'm looking forward to Sunless Seas.

Speaking of SN, are you working on a mobile/responsive design, or perhaps something app-like? I often play on my phone, but it's a pain - not least because a lot of information is only available as a mouseover text.

lessofthat1 karma

Liam's answering this one - but thanks for the thanks!

failbetter_paul3 karma

Hello folks, Paul Arendt here, Failbetter co-founder and artist. Got questions about pictures? Ask away!

lessofthat5 karma

Hey Paul. Which is better? Words or pictures?

failbetter_paul11 karma

Well, let's see. What was the exchange rate again? A thousand?

lessofthat8 karma

la la lah lahh lah not lah listening

spacemarine93 karma

I am no longer constrained to mobile internet! Now I can write thousands of questions 300% more efficiently!

Why was sending rats a thing, anyway? I mean, I managed to spin said minor mechanic off into an entire obsession for some time. And then I made a massive video game about it. But, for all the items in London... why are rats one of the few items you can send to another player? As a contrast against the cats? Why rats? Why rats???? "Why rats?" is a statement /I/ should probably get asked more often, considering.

I swear I'll have better questions later.

lessofthat7 karma

That one's interesting, actually. There were a couple of decades in the 1800s when satirical gifts of rats were popular, thanks to a literary gag about a line in Marlowe's Tamburlaine ('Ay, such a stomach, cruel Tamburlaine, as I could willingly feed upon thy rat-raw heart.') It was specifically prohibited after it gained notoriety as a cause of duels. Helmut Goden wrote about it here: http://bit.ly/1brzyYK

ImZodd3 karma

Hope it's not to late, but i just remembered. I think I already saw mention of this, maybe on the forum or someplace else. But I'm interested to know a bit more. How did you arrive at the price for fate/nex? More precisely why are there no regional variations (if I am not mistaken in believing there are none)? Because for me, they are quite a luxury. I would have certainly bought more if they were cheaper (spent more total money on it). I do understand that it's your way of monetising, and you have solid reasons for the decisions regarding them. That is why I am asking.

lessofthat3 karma

How did you arrive at the price for fate/nex?

"10 Fate for a refresh?" "Yyyeah, sounds about right." "So um that would be about the price of a cup of coffee? That sounds like something people would pay?" "I think?"

... a little more thought went into it than that, but that was really the thinking. And thanks to the anchoring bias (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anchoring ) it's very hard to change the price now.

Regional variations: God, it's just far too much work to manage that, I'm afraid. There are only four of us here and it'd end up being my job. Especially given that people would use proxies and whatnot to take advantage, and that our user base is 60% US / 30% UK / 10% mostly Canada, Australia, Germany and then everywhere else. Sorry, I know that doesn't help you much. :(

ageeksgirl083 karma

No questions, just wanted to say thank you for making such an awesome game. Fallen London is fantastic! :D

lessofthat6 karma

We like you.

pimpbot3 karma

Can you say a little more on the topic of customization and choice in Sunless Sea? What is the range of possible game experiences to be had, and what degree of replayability do you anticipate?

lessofthat3 karma

Broadly speaking, 'as much as a short CRPG' and 'quite a lot'.

ImZodd2 karma

Have you considered a novel based in the Echo Bazaar setting? And/or Have you considered a pen and paper RPG rule book?

lessofthat3 karma

Novel: we've considered it. Maybe! But (i) in the time it would take me to write a novel, I could do a lot of core Fallen London content, and I know what our players would prefer, and what would pay for my time better. We're not a big franchise. (ii) I'm really not that good at linear fiction. There's a rare sighting of a Kennedy short story here - http://www.pandemonium-fiction.com/smoke.html - I don't think it's awful, but I'm not proud of it.

Pen and paper RPG: we signed up with a pair of good indie designers, but they went on to other projects. There's another possibility in the pipeline, but we're protective of our setting and we don't want to see it done half-right.

spacemarine92 karma

The Übergoat; why?

lessofthat2 karma

I'm sure I'm not the only one who gets phrases stuck in their head that won't go away until you write them down. (That's how the Starveling Cat came about.) 'The goat Goethe wrote' was an earworm for days for me until I built the Übergoat. Now it's an earworm for oyu. You're welcome.

cirion52 karma

Would you rather fight one cat-sized rat, or one hundred rat-sized cats?

lessofthat5 karma

Both at once! Then I would be the least of their worries.

dragmehomenow2 karma

What are some of the highlights of your careers as game developers?

lessofthat8 karma

I tweeted about this bizarre and brilliant project http://adarkroom.doublespeakgames.com/ and the developer turned round and said 'oh wow cool! I'm a big fan of Fallen London!' Being a fan of someone who turns out to be a fan of yours is the best feeling.

BioWare invited me out to Edmonton to do a session about our approach to interactive narrative. I have been playing BioWare games since Baldur's Gate. I couldn't get over the fact that I was IN THE ROOM with these people and they were LISTENING TO ME TALK. Yeah, highlight.

Kickstarters. We've run three and two have been successful. The first 24 hours of a KS that is going well is intoxicating: you've been working on this idea and suddenly everyone likes it enough to give you actual quids.

Having someone mail you about your approach to gender or your odd underpublicised project about teenage suicide and say 'this spoke to me, thank you'.

Suitov4 karma

Oh, seriously, your approach to gender? SO GOOD. I can't even. And a lot of the charm is in the natural, unabashed approach, just tossing in a "There are squid people running riot and you're worried about my gender?" option alongside male and female.

lessofthat5 karma

Thank you! I'm always a bit bemused by the warm reception of this, because we were just trying to be basically sensible, we're not a particularly diverse company (all but one past or present employees have been mostly straight mostly white men) and it honestly makes me sad that we stand out in any way. This is 2013! But I'll take the thanks.

A bit more about the background to this here: http://www.autostraddle.com/special-autostraddle-fallen-london-access-codes-in-this-post-195083/

Spikemaw2 karma

Holy crepe, I'm having a blast with that A Dark Room! So simple, yet I'm hooked now!

lessofthat2 karma

Keep going. It's like a Kinder tesseract as you go in deeper.

MisterRez2 karma

God so many things I'd like to ask of you veritably nice people. I'll try to focus to one question only then:

From all the experiences you people had in different media (A browser game, a book, a kickstarter, etc) what is one lesson (Alright alright, two if you are so inclined) you people have extracted from each that has helped you grow as a whole?

lessofthat4 karma

(a) Listen carefully to everything your audience has to say, but take almost none of it at face value.

(b) 1g execution=1t ideas.

TheVikO_o0 karma

Whoa.. u can't equate meter/second2 and time

lessofthat11 karma

I'm a writer, I can equate the shit out of that shit.

TheBlackBandit2 karma

Where did "delicious friends" come from? It seems to me to encapsulate Fallen London's tone perfectly in two words.

lessofthat2 karma

The character of the Bazaar came very early on, and Fallen London gelled around that. I always wanted a sense of appetite in interactions with the Bazaar.

spacemarine92 karma

What's your opinion on rats? Autocorrect suggested rat-shirts so I will also accept opinions on those.

lessofthat3 karma

Better roast than fried.

spacemarine91 karma

How many rats could a rat send if a rat could send rats?

lessofthat3 karma


MoominDB2 karma

How do you make a ginger cake fiery enough to terrify and moist enough to pleasure ... without it becoming soggy?

lessofthat5 karma

Our Associate Cook tells us:

"Root ginger for the fire, stem for the moist. Replace the word soggy with the word gooey and it's no longer a problem."

I would suggest that second sentence is generally useful advice in many contexts.

KKlear2 karma

How do you deal with procrastination when you need to work? When I need to write, I must get out of my house, sit on a bench somewhere and write on paper, far away from the internet.

Recently I created a world in StoryNexus to see what it's all about and with hopes of eventually emerging with something playable, but despite getting the grasp of the system pretty fast (btw, great work on user-friendliness and documentation there!) and making a pretty solid introduction, I never seem to be able to make time to continue with it. In this case taking it far away from the internet doesn't work, unfortunately.

lessofthat2 karma

My big problem is distraction rather than procrastination, because I have to do support, write tech specs, run the business, all that, and FL gets written in the gaps between. In a way this helps, because I know I have three hours after lunch or whatever to write, and if I dither, that time is gone until next week.

The Internet is full of better advice on this stuff than I can give. I favour Hemingway and Pullman and Vance who say brusque, macho things like 'There's no such thing as writer's block, whoever heard of plumber's block?' I once rather meanly told another FL writer, it doesn't need to be fucking Pasternak, it just needs to be finished!

If I had one piece of useful advice, I guess it would be that. Finish what you're doing, don't move on and do something better. No, finish that one. PS it's not finished until other people have seen it.

megazver2 karma

Have you considered making a text-based game of some sort that was pay-upfront and more like Frankenstein or SJ's Sorcery! instead of F2P and action economy-based? I have a feeling there might finally be a market for that and, frankly, I just can't bring myself to play a game with an action timer for more than a few days without getting fed up with it and rage-closing the tab.

lessofthat3 karma

We've stuck with the action economy for a creative and a commercial reason.

The creative reason is, we like to drip-feed the narrative, and it's a different kind of effect from bolting it all in one go.

The other reason: most people expect text on the Internet to be free. The research and experiments we've done indicate very strongly that people bounce off a paywall. Fallen London hasn't made us rich, but it's done much better than nearly any online text-based interactive story I can think of, the small renaissance in text-based gaming lately notwithstanding, and the mostly-free model is a big part of that. I had that same feeling you do, and I was wrong.

I don't particularly love F2P as a model either, though I do think it fits the FL pace, which is why Sunless Sea is eat-as-much-as-you-like.

poisonivy472 karma

I have 2 questions: 1) How will working on Sunless Sea impact your ability to release new content for Fallen London in the coming months?

2) I just progressed as far as I can in the Heart's Desire Ambition and I can't wait to see what happens next! I would love to be able to do all of the ambitions once those storylines are completed, will it be possible to do so while perhaps retaining a token of a completed ambition? (i.e. when you 'reset' your ambition, you keep an item or have an accomplishment reflecting your achievement) I guess that's part question, part request haha.

I love Fallen London and Storynexus, and I am really excited for Sunless Sea.

lessofthat1 karma

Thanks! :)

(1) I'm kinda not sure how to reply to that except by saying 'somewhat'. I can't write with both hands. :-) I'm very keen not to let FL wither on the vine, so we'll keep releasing updates (we did a tiny one just this week); and running a second FL project is much less disruptive than doing an unrelated client project.

(2) This is possible with a Nex spend! It may or may not be possible when we get to the end of the ambitions. No promises! :)

Mich-6662 karma

Hi, I like your Fallen London world and I was thinking about running RPG campaign based on Fallen London lore but I am missing some library or something where I could gather all the info I need. I know there are snippets of the world everywhere in the game, there is wiki, comic and other things but.. some comprehensive collected Guide to the world of Fallen London or Campaign Setting with pictures, maps and description of all races, organizations, factions, history, places, important characters and myths would be great addition to your portfolio. I would even pay for it (some reasonable price of coure), even if it was only in PDF. Is something like this possiblity in the future?

lessofthat4 karma

It'll be possible under two circumstances: (i) we do the FL RPG discussed elsewhere (ii) FL becomes a much bigger franchise. (i) is about 60% probable, (ii), who knows!

spacemarine91 karma

Anyway, serious question time; what would you say is your favorite storyline from any of your games?

Personally, and predictably, mines is SMEN, but what about you lot?

lessofthat3 karma

I have to go away and think about this every time, and it's usually different.

Favourite Fallen London storyline that I wrote, the Mr Sacks content from last Christmas, which is layered with secrets and unusually paced.

Fave Fallen London storyline I didn't, Framed in Gold, which Em Short guest-wrote. Em's prose is amazing, like carved anthracite, and the actual story is deep core FL in terms of theme and effect. Fidgeting Writer (Chris Gardiner) comes a close second. I know people hate it because of the sadistically tuned mechanics: I did the design on that, Chris wrote the words.

Favourite storyline from Sunless Sea is the relationship between Mt Nomad and the Dawn Machine.

failbetter_paul2 karma

My single favourite storylet is the House of Chimes entry qualification, with it ridiculous thirtysomething choices. I love the self-contained gameplay loops like the writer's desk and sea voyages. Fave that I wrote (and I didn't write many) is the Orphanage section from the Light Fingers ambition.

lessofthat3 karma

oh yes, the Orphanage is great! You sick fuck.

spacemarine91 karma

"you lot" sounds sort of dismissive, actually: would you prefer "Wordymens"?

lessofthat2 karma

No!! Keep that inside quotes where it doesn't risk the touch of an ungloved hand. You lot sounds pleasantly parade-ground.

Podima1 karma

What are some of your favorite - and least favorite - parts of the Seeking the Name storyline?

lessofthat2 karma

My absolutely favourite part is the midnight carnival. I rather like the joke on stage at Mahogany Hall that goes very suddenly very wrong, too.

spacemarine91 karma

The midnight carnival makes SMEN worth it, in my opinion. It's like getting punched multiple times in the stomach, but your assailant whispers a revelatory secret in your ear between blows. Also you keep asking for more punches. I actually flinched slightly at some of the results there. It's very well done.

Really though, the absolute best SMEN thing is an emptiness.

lessofthat2 karma

Thanks! I'm really glad people like, or even 'like' it. So few players get to the content boundary in SMEN that I can only justify doing it off the clock, and I'm not often off the clock. It's pretty much my pet side project now.

I'm coming round to the idea that the most powerful and artistically interesting effect in interactive fiction is not the choices or even the consequences, but rather what they enable: the uneasy overlap between player and character identity and agenda (what we call 'complicity' elsewhere).

When the overlap is 100%, that can be fun and well-crafted, but it's not interestingly problematic, it's a standard vidjagame avatar that you want to win. When the overlap is 0%, you're just disconnected, it's overly aggressively experimental. But when there's a partial overlap, you get something like interference effects. You have a parallax view of Lee's motivations in Walking Dead, because he's a (SPOILERS) dying murderer, but you also have a strong identification, which means you're enough outside the experience to get an interference effect. You have quite a limited overlap with the protagonist in Plotkin's 'Shade', because you're advancing the narrative to destroy them, but it wouldn't work otherwise. Similar things with the Nameless One in Torment, or the ironic distance around the way that KOTOR 2 subverts CRPG expectations, or the flashback device in Bastion. You have quite a close overlap with a SMEN character, because the character is self-destructive and the player wants to see what happens with the destruction of the character, but the stakes are higher for the character - although quite high for the player if you've sunk real time and money into it. The gap is fruitful.

SleepyOrigami1 karma

You can change your face mid-game in fallen london, will the same be true for sunless sea? Can you change other things (name, gender, favored faction)? Will there be any marriage options? What can you tell us about second chances in sunless sea? Will there be bottled oblivion. I rather like bottled oblivion. Perhaps I like it too much (please send help in the form of second chances :v).

lessofthat3 karma

The inability to change gender in FL is a weird leftover tech effect. In SS we have actually moved on slightly from even the FL male/female/other approach: you now select a term of address (sir, madam, captain, my lord, my lady, citizen) and an avatar. So you can choose 'madam' and a frilly bonnet, and present as straightforwardly female, or choose 'captain' and an androgynous avatar and be more ambiguous. Mix and match your gender identity! What's under your virtual clothing is your own affair.

It probably won't be possible to change your name without dying. It will almost certainly be possible to change form of address and avatar (I'm just hedging here in case of the unforeseen), but of course you will quite often die and switch characters anyway. Marriage is a possibility depending on final story stuff.

Second chances probably won't work the way they do in FL, because there's so much less grind and you're in storylets, hm, 10% of the time? maybe? but we are keeping Hard-Earned Lessons and whatnot as ways to upgrade stats (now congruent with the FL mechanic!) Bottled Oblivion is more likely to be a cargo.

Friday91 karma

What was your inspiration for the world of fallen london? I stopped playing a while ago, but what kept me going wasn't so much the game but how interesting the world was.

Thanks for the awesome times, by the way. Myself and two friends played it so much together :D

lessofthat3 karma

PS pledge to Sunless Sea if you haven't! All the world, four times the game!

lessofthat3 karma

my pleasure!

The original fiction congealed around a general interest in the subterranean Victorian Gothic (check my influences answer for some of where that came from). Originally the place was just generically a long way underground and called the Fifth City, and there wasn't really an easy way into the lore for people (what am I doing here? where did the city come from?) Paul and I were chatting early on, and I said, well, what if it's actually London and it's been translated underground?

I think it was an act of subconscious vindictiveness against London, which I was still very ambivalent about living in at the time.

MoominDB1 karma

London still hasn't forgiven you.

lessofthat2 karma

and that's why I love her so.

anonynamja1 karma

Can you talk about your approach to roguelikes?

What happened with the third RPS interview article? It never showed.

lessofthat2 karma

your approach to roguelikes?

can you unpack that one a bit? I'm not sure what you're asking.

Adam was incredibly generous in letting the interview sprawl out, but he'd been ill and there were a couple of very busy news weeks, and the third part was mostly about Black Crown. He had Rob's interview coming next anyway, so I believe he just decided to kill two birds with one stone and run with that.

anonynamja1 karma

i don't have a specific question in mind but am hoping that you'll expound on this: you mentioned in interviews that you're inspired by planescape torment and elite and you've been playing don't starve, rogue legacy. That's an eclectic set of things to put together. the first is a mostly-linear narrative experience, rather like what you're best known for, but the others have little to no narrative at all. so what is it that you're drawing from? what is it about FTL and dwarf fortress and etc that you're trying to emulate? how is this consistent/compatible with a narrative-heavy approach?

lessofthat3 karma

Very good question. I'm going to quibble and then I'm going to go with a big metaphor.

First of all, Don't Starve and FTL have tons of narrative - not just around world-building (pigs, slugs, Maxwell, the Federation, ancient ruins, crystal ships) but also a core story (totally optional in Don't Starve, absolutely fundamental in FTL). In both cases the narrative started to accrete through world building and then the designers added something explicit to focus the gameplay around. But sure, neither of them are Torment or Mass Effect.

Secondly, Fallen London is aggressively non-linear. It's made up of tiny story fragments that can be played in all kinds of orders. But sure, much less so than a roguelike.

Thirdly, I don't think I've mentioned Dwarf Fortress in interviews at all (other people have mentioned it in comments), because DF, sure, there are some baked-in narrative assumptions like dwarf insanity, but it's militantly procedural.

Metaphor! Scripted game elements are land, procedural / system-based elements are water. A completely unscripted sandbox game is like a holiday on the open sea. You can swim around in it, mess around in boats, whatever, and if the actual experience of that is fun, you have a great time and a lot of freedom. A completely scripted game is like a city break. It's much more interesting to go see the sights, but there are only so many sights, and it takes much longer to build more sights than it does to open up a bit more ocean. Often traversing the city isn't fun in itself.

I like games which are more like archipelagos, where there's lots of freedom to navigate around, but you have actual sights to see as well. Fallen London's problem is that it's totally landlocked; it's hard to put gameplay between the chunks of story. I mean we have, we can, and it's non-linear, but there's no core game to swim in between bits of story. Sunless Sea is designed to have game mechanics that provide that environment to splash around in, but also chunks of explicit story that you can visit/revisit, so you get the benefit of narrative too.

FTL, Rebuild (which has a Kickstarter for a sequel that you should pledge to right now http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sarahnorthway/rebuild-gangs-of-deadsville), King of Dragon Pass are all really good examples of this kind of archipelago approach. It's not a coincidence that all of them use isolated chunks of multiple-choice story that pop up in the middle of gameplay.

KKlear1 karma

Will we see some of London in Sunless Sea? I suppose Wolfstack Docks are sure to be in the game, but will there be an option to briefly visit other parts of London?

Edit: And yes, I know this game is meant to explore the zee, but still...

lessofthat3 karma

Definitely not, I'm afraid. There's a top-down view of the loop in the river round the docks where you'll start, and there's some related storylets, but this is all about the rest of the world.

We have very tentatively discussed a 2015 'GTA 2 meets Thief meets Fallen London' topdown where you run a rookery full of thieves, if Sunless Sea works out. But when I say 'discussed', I mean two conversations at coffee breaks.

zubjabbajuju1 karma

Any tips on starting a video game company? Would you say just "go for it" and start developing, or is going out and getting industry experience to see how others do it better? How do you balance a need for funding with making the best game possible?

lessofthat3 karma

It really depends whether you want creative autonomy or whether you want to be part of a big game with big production values. They are (as far as I can tell from the indie side) very different experiences with very different rewards - both creative and practical.

If you want the first, then make something solo or with a friend, FINISH IT, get feedback, and then see where you are. All else aside, you might find you don't enjoy making games. If you want the second, I'm not the best person to ask, but I think these days being indie and doing well is probably not a bad route.

How do you balance a need for funding with making the best game possible?

I have a guest post coming on http://www.pornokitsch.com/ on exactly this. tl: dr; never start work on something until you've estimated how long it will take or bullied someone else into giving you an estimate.

ari_raid1 karma

Hey, not sure if you're still answering questions but if so!

I've been playing fallen london for a really long time, but sometimes I struggle with the game because I feel like I'm missing things. I'm not a big game player, and I know there are definitely parts of the story I haven't found, but I have no idea how to find them, so I end up just spending actions to get the echoes for an Overgoat (so close, yet so far). It's kind of frustrating, although I love the art and content. Any advice on how to understand the game and follow its flow better?

lessofthat1 karma

Yes. Go to http://community.failbettergames.com. There is a patient, friendly and enthusiastic crowd there who will point you to detailed answers for specific questions. We are extremely lucky in our community.

TheVikO_o1 karma

Why the name? Pun on Agile? :P

lessofthat6 karma

Beckett! in Nohow On: "Ever tried. Ever failed. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

We were nearly called Buzzkill Games. That was... I don't know what I was... yeah.

lessofthat3 karma

that Beckett quote is like the Yoda 'Fear leads to...' for getting it wrong half-cut at parties btw. "Ever tried. Ever failed. Try better. No wait."

KiteFlier1 karma

What made you want to take the leap from a text based game to a more action based game?

lessofthat1 karma

Creative restlessness! We've been doing FL for four years, and there are still things we haven't tried, but it's vital not to get stuck in a rut. And we just like videogames. There are commercial reasons that turned out to make it quite a good idea after the fact, too, but that's where it started.

Kamuiberen1 karma

I love Fallen London, but i find that, as a solitary player, there's a LOT of options that are closed to me. The plant, knife-and-candle, the starveling cat.... Are there any plans to fix this, or are you planning on going more "multiplayer"?

Also, Mr. Eaten. What's up with him/her/it?

lessofthat1 karma

I've just had a quick look at the database, and 3% of the choices in the game require interaction with another player, 97% don't. (Realistically it's probably a bit closer to 4%, because some other choices are inaccessible without the first set of interactions, but not many.

Personally, I'm an introvert who prefers single-player gaming, and the huge bias in FL in favour of single-player reflects that. But social play has big advantages to us in terms of keeping people involved, and it's constantly and vociferously requested. In an ideal world I think the % should be nearer 10%/90%; practically speaking I think we'll never get that far.

Mr Eaten is the hardest of the hardcore content. It will consume vast quantities of resources and I have gone on record as saying that most players who begin it will never be able to complete it. This probably discourages you from playing it, and that's the right reaction.

spacemarine91 karma

How long are you planning on running this AMA thing for anyway? My phone's battery is getting perilously low and I won't be home for a few hours. I don't want to miss too much questioning and answering!

lessofthat2 karma

I have to go and be a grownup shortly, but I'll be checking in periodically all evening at least.

michaelbb2321 karma

Any advice for a wannabe indie developer?

lessofthat7 karma

Get a playable prototype out there and get feedback as early as possible. This is the most important advice I can give. A finished game, even a crappy alpha, is worth infinitely more than a cool half-finished idea waiting on your hard drive.

Marketing is not optional. We learnt this the hard way.

Partner with somebody with complementary skills.

Be properly realistic about likely revenue: consider the numbers. I was full-time on this for a year before I got paid.

mercutionario1 karma

Can you give more details about how you learned that marketing is not optional? (This comes from a marketing guy by trade, so I'm genuinely interested).

lessofthat4 karma

We thought: well we'll make awesome content, and put some of that viral stuff in, and then a million people will play FL, and we'll be rich. Done!

So first of all we learnt that making awesome content is not enough in itself to get you eyeballs. Yes, it took us a while to realise that. You can stop banging your head against the table and laughing hysterically any time. Any time. Okay, any time. We just sort of thought if you build it, they'll come, and it took years of living hand to mouth to work out that persuading an extra 10K users to come will make you more money than writing 10K words or drawing 100 pictures. Because words and pictures are what we're good at.

More specifically, we tried to be gently viral, ie sprinkle a few rather diffident viral mechanics on the top of the game, which we discovered is rather like trying to make a car go the same distance with 1% of the pollution by putting only a teaspoon of petrol in the tank. We looked like a spammy social game but we weren't actually spamming anyone, so we lost two ways. There are seasoned professionals out there arguing over the details of this stuff and aggressively crunching metrics, and that's just...not...something...we really got into this business for. So trying quarter-measures was worse than a waste of time.

fishbaguettes1 karma

How did you first get Fallen London off the ground?

lessofthat3 karma

I took a short sabbatical from work to build it, and got Paul involved. We invited everyone we knew into the alpha. When it was halfway stable, we went round a games convention in London and pimped it. That gave us a basic core of users. The Escapist gave us some early love when we most needed it, which took us over the threshold from 'unknown' to 'minor cult success'. We've been building steadily ever since. 'Off the ground'... we mostly bump along the runway. Occasionally we lay down more runway.

dokool1 karma

I started playing Fallen London back when it was known as Echo Bazaar, maxed out my character at the time (I've just logged in and I guess the level limit was 120?) and stopped playing when I was limited to 10 actions again.

If I were to get back in, would I be completely lost because of all that's apparently transpired in the game, or is there hope to enjoy all of the content I've missed?

lessofthat1 karma

is there hope

Definitely. http://community.failbettergames.com is full of threads guiding lost sheep back into the flock right now, and we've provided a lot of trailheads. If you start over, the Profession content means progress to the 70+ content is much faster, anyway.

megazver1 karma

How is StoryNexus doing? I'm curious as to how many people actually pay for the Nex-locked branches in, say, Annwn or Black Crown.

lessofthat2 karma

That's not something we could share without the creators' permission! But feel free to ask them.

But I will say that broadly speaking, as a crowdsourced content project, StoryNexus hasn't met our expectations. We were hoping for another half-dozen Fallen Londons or mini-Fallen Londons in terms of audience and sucess, and that has emphatically not happened. We've got a blog post coming next week talking frankly about that. But it is making some money for us and for creators, and we're going to keep supporting it into the foreseeable future.

grossvogel2 karma

and we're going to keep supporting it into the foreseeable future

Please promise to make StoryNexus into an inexpensive (?) commercial engine the moment you feel you don't want to support the site anymore.

lessofthat2 karma

the moment you feel you don't want to support the site any more

this would basically happen only if we closed down the company or started making artisanal kimchee instead of games. In which case we wouldn't have the resources to do anything bar chuck it away! :)

SN doesn't take much effort to keep running in its current state, it does a little bit of good for us and I do feel a moral imperative to keep it alive for people who've put 10K-word projects into it. It's safe unless something very bad happens, but we can't do much with unless it would cover the cost of the time we spent.

KKlear1 karma

I'm not sure why it popped into my mind just now, but I've noticed none of you listed Meyrink as influence. I feel that Golem has quite a similar atmosphere as FL. So, A) is there by any chance a storylet inspired by Meyrink? I'd love to find it. B) in case you don't know him, make sure you read something of his works. You'll very likely love it.

lessofthat1 karma

Meyrink is entirely new to me. Added to the stack, thanks!

megazver1 karma

What happened to Knife and Candle the tabletop RPG? I was really excited about that. Have you considered offering the task to someone else? Fallen London seems exquisitely suited for this sort of game.

lessofthat2 karma

Vincent and John apparently decided they didn't want to do it. We heard about that second-hand, which left us disinclined to spend time with another false start. (To be fair to them, their involvement was always quite casual, yeah-cool-project, and the indie RPG crowd is driven more by art than commerce.) We are talking to someone else.

Suitov1 karma

For board games, too, I can't help thinking. I wonder what a designer like Martin Wallace, who made these Discworld spinoff board games, would make of Fallen London.

lessofthat2 karma

We talked about a board game and couldn't imagine how to make it pay.

Kickstarter has changed that. But we've learnt the hard way not to take on too many projects at once, and board games aren't our home ground. Maybe if we do well.

GauntletWizard1 karma

Influences are a sorta-boring question, but I think that Echo Bazaar both pays homage to and subverts some of the best horror tropes in really interesting ways. What books/other media have you consumed/are you consuming to get that distinct feel?

lessofthat1 karma

I would encourage the others to jump in here. But mine (game, film, books all in together, in no particular order):

Lynch, Avellone, Peake, Powers, Chandler, Machen, Blaylock, Vance, the Coens, Kipling, Kasavin, Vance again, Vanaman (fuck me Walking Dead is so well executed), Rian Johnson, Lemony Snicket, Emily Short, Dave Morris (the Fabled Lands one), David Dunham, Ken Rolston, Ian McDonald (I reread Desolation Road and felt I'd practically plagiarised some of the prose), Gaiman (more at second hand), Gilliam, Tournquist. I've left out several game designers rather than writers that I admire, because the writers had a bigger influence on FL.

Right now I'm rereading Kellow Chesney on the Victorian underworld, Tim Powers, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

edit: obviously I'm all like 'oh and' 'oh and of course', esp with game writers, but I'm going to STOP. rather than indulge myself

failbetter_paul1 karma

In no particular order: Jan Pienowski for the silhouettes, Skottie Young, Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula for its incredibly florid production design, Dave McKean, Jeunet & Caro, a bunch of 20th century American illustrators (Norman Rockwell, Andrew Loomis, Dean Cornwell), Tim Burton (reluctantly: there's no denying the influence, but I'm ambivalent about the actual movies) Jim Murray, Jen Zee at Supergiant, Moby Francke, Edward Gorey, Gabriel Rodriguez, Laurel Austin, the Coen brothers, and a load more that I can't think of right now. I'm reading Daphne Du Maurier and Scott Pilgrim.

lessofthat1 karma

Jen Zee, Greg Kasavin. Neither Paul nor I loved the gameplay of Bastion, so I think it says a lot for how good the art and writing are that there's a Supergiant on each of our lists. (I bought Korb's soundtrack too.)