Hello all. I’m an ‘acclaimed’ game writer, almost levelled up to ‘renowned’. I’m best known as the main brain behind Fallen London and Sunless Sea, but last year, I worked on a Dragon Age project for BioWare, a one-off story DLC for Stellaris ('Horizon Signal') and an undisclosed R&D thing for Telltale.

Now I'm making CULTIST SIMULATOR, which got funded in twelve hours on Kickstarter, and is currently at 250% or thereabouts. Don't click that link if you value your soul.

Ask me about working on those things, about founding and leaving an indie studio, about the yearning and apocalypse of Cultist Simulator, about the Gelatinous Worm God, about future projects, or actually I guess it says 'anything' in the title, don't it.

here is proof!

edit: thank you, folks! I'm signing off for the evening, but I'll pop by again tomorrow.

Comments: 205 • Responses: 83  • Date: 

SniperPumpkin25 karma

http://68.media.tumblr.com/0c3279e2f5035b37bc05cab5a92e44e1/tumblr_ow6bvqJw8N1wnn8x5o1_1280.jpg

How do you plan to release Cultist Simulator without the blessings of the 12 orders of soil taxonomy, who rule the earth?

lessofthat23 karma

I have secured the blessings of seven of their number. Let's hope the remaining five are corruptible or distractible.

MattSchneider21 karma

If I do not have an appropriate ceremonial vessel to capture the blood, will any common household vessel suffice? If so, which would you recommend?

lessofthat34 karma

I would recommend leaving the blood inside you, which is a handy vessel adapted to storing it effectively at a suitable temperature. If you're managing someone else's blood, it's best off inside them, too, until such time as you actually need to do something untidy with it.

MattSchneider21 karma

You draw on a number of literary works when writing your games. What are the top 5 books you most wish the people who enjoy your games would read?

lessofthat47 karma

This list would change if someone asked me tomorrow, but:

  • The King Must Die
  • The Anubis Gates, or alternatively The Last Coin (different authors, but look up William Ashbless)
  • Desolation Road
  • Vance, probably Emphyrio
  • A Night in the Lonesome October, or another Zelazny to seasonal taste
  • Tanith Lee, Flat Earth especially
  • I'm not even naming specific books any more let alone limiting it to 5, shut up this is my AMA
  • That Hideous Strength, which despite its many flaws and its weird gender politics stays in my mind ineradicably (War in Heaven too)
  • and the usual greats, Tolkien and Moorcock and whatnot, honestly belong in here too, but you've read those folk right

whyareall2 karma

What are the top 5 books you most wish the people who enjoy your games would read?

Seeing as it's now tomorrow

lessofthat3 karma

  • Jane Gaskell, the Asztlan books
  • Alasdair Gray, Poor Things and of course Lanark
  • Dr Faustus (the Marlowe one)

okmujnyhb16 karma

How much does the current Fallen London universe differ from your original ideas for it? Similarly, how was Seeking Mr Eaten's Name going to ends before the hiatus?

lessofthat17 karma

How much does the current Fallen London universe differ from your original ideas for it?

I don't really know! I haven't really asked the guys about it, and they haven't told me, because obviously that conversation would feel a bit awkward on both sides. One of the current writers did corner me and say 'so what the hell is the deal with Salt'? I paraphrase, he's a courteous Southern type and doesn't say 'hell'

Sunless Skies, in my (extremely minimal, like a page) original pitch, didn't involve London leaving the earth, involved a lot more non-human politics and a war in heaven with the Liberation of Night operating rather like an infectious cancer. It looks like they've gone a different direction.

The hiatus was before Sunless Sea. After Sea, the geography changed, and you reached the North by sea. Before that, it was going to be an expedition to the North, to where Eaten was buried, where you'd raise him and... I don't remember, honestly, it's been years and I changed my mind plenty. But the trip North, I had in mind something like Scott's doomed expedition if he'd died in dust, not snow.

kingdopp14 karma

Do you ever browse entries on the SCP wiki? Got an favorites? I recently fell down a rabbit hole of Antimemetics stories and really love the author and his Ra work. Anywho, really excited for the game! Been following the updates for a while now and excited to see the kickstarter do so well!

lessofthat14 karma

browse entries on the SCP wiki?

Not for many years, but yes, and I stopped precisely because it's such a rabbit hole. And thank you very much!

Chaemera12 karma

Looking through your own writing, do you think there's any sort of unifying theme to what you write? Something you always try to put into your stories?

lessofthat25 karma

Yes: death, and its approach or absence. There's an interview here where I talk a bit more about it

https://www.pcgamesn.com/dragon-age-4/dragon-age-4-story-alexis-kennedy

but the short version is that I have some dramatic family history that, I eventually realised, had quite a predictable effect on my interests.

The other thing is loss, longing, yearning, things like saudade and mono no aware and Sehnsucht. Those are all fancy imported terms for various kinds of unslakeable yearning. And that sounds extremely literary, but of course those things generally get translated through, eg, rubbery squid people longing for a lost purple world. And that's the third theme of my work: I just like making up ridiculous fun horrible things. The New Weird was a big influence I guess.

Oh and the other thing: funny, but nasty, but funny, but nasty.

alphab1tch11 karma

Have you ever been in an actual cult? Otherwise, why cults? Is there something about them that inspired you?

lessofthat22 karma

I was a bit of a troublesome kid, and my mother sent me away to a Christian camp without telling me it was a Christian camp. They did their thing and for about twelve hours I felt that I was filled up with the love of Jesus like a little lightbulb. Then it wore off and I never felt inclined that way again. That's all.

My real interest is in making a game about the perilous longing for secrets under the skin of the world: the thing that drives a lot of antiheroes or tragic heroes or outright antagonists in horror and weird fiction. 'Cultist' tends to be common shorthand for Lovecraftian and post-Lovecraftian seekers of the unknown. 'Occultist Simulator' would probably be more accurate, but it doesn't snap, so.

alphab1tch4 karma

Thanks for answering, I was much wondering if "occultist" wasn't more accurate and now I have my answer. I'm a lot more excited about the game now though, even if it doesn't go snap.

lessofthat8 karma

cool! I should also recommend the Church in the Darkness, an upcoming game which is much more about the other kind of cult, to anyone reading this comment who's interested in the other kind.

DevilFan18959 karma

Of all the factions/connections in Fallen London/Sunless Sea, which one is your favorite and why is it the Devils?

lessofthat15 karma

It's the Great Game, because the Devils told me to say that.

vasil_tsakov9 karma

Hello Mr Kennedy! I'm a big fan of your works and I can't wait for 'Cultist Simulator' to 'hit the shelves'!

Here is my question:

Will some quests in 'Cultist Simulator' be able to surpass the disturbing nature of 'Seeking'?

Thanks for doing the AMA!

lessofthat19 karma

thank you!

'able to surpass' - I'll do my best! What it can't have is the effect of pouring, sometimes, years of Fallen London levelling and grinding and accumulating into one crazy quest, because in CS the sessions are short and, you know, you could always hack your save file. But the whole intention of this was basically 'Seeking, the game', so I hope so.

space_communism8 karma

Why was this removed?

lessofthat23 karma

The walls are wrong.

edit: I thought this was a joke question. I don't know why my thread is showing as removed - a rogue bot? I've contacted the mods, they say it looks good at their end, I'm chasing politely. Any ideas, anyone?

edit 2: and we're back. IDK BUT ALL SHALL BE WELL AND ALL MANNER OF THING SHALL BE WELL

Notmiefault8 karma

As far as I've seen, the finale of Seeking Mr. Eaten's Name remains unspoiled even after many months.

Is this surprising to you at all to you? Were you expecting someone to post a screenshot after all this time?

lessofthat9 karma

It is moderately surprising. I did think someone would probably post a screenie, and I'm very pleased they didn't (although IRONICALLY Failbetter have locked me out of the CMS, and I neglected to make copies of the text, so I can't remember exactly what I wrote, and so I'm the only one who doesn't know).

I guess if someone is devoted enough to finish a project as bonkers as Seeking, they probably take the thing seriously.

killtheraven5 karma

so I can't remember exactly what I wrote, and so I'm the only one who doesn't know

Well, there's one rather poetic way to find out. Suffer with the rest of us.

lessofthat4 karma

I guess the traveller is always returning.

Velinder7 karma

That whistle. You know, the one that's inscribed FUR FLA FLE BIS and QUIS EST ISTE QUI VENIT and has some age to it. The one you clearly shouldn't blow because that would be demented.

What tune do you play, and what answers the call?

lessofthat14 karma

'Happy Birthday', and It's a sort of shaven weeping shivering cat-ape thing that presses its muzzle frantically into my eyes so it can drink my tears and be young again, and it keeps mewling 'please'

Snox_Nox7 karma

What is the name of the Gelatinous Worm God? Is it safe to say aloud?

lessofthat7 karma

Is it safe? I don't know, let's find out.

It's NirrigueeeuuRrHhH...!

DaraelDraconis6 karma

What are birds?

lessofthat16 karma

When an egg cracks, sometimes the fissure extends across space into a self-sustaining caesura or fistula, which can move as it heals, rather like a Game of Life glider.

Glaedth6 karma

I know this might be a tad too early for this question, but what do you plan after the release of CS?

lessofthat10 karma

I have some freelance work scheduled for Q3/Q4 next year. I didn't plan to go back to freelancing, but this is a really cool opportunity with a designer and team I admire. More about that when I can.

I like the idea of extending the CS universe - this is the project I've called Noon - to allow asynchronous multiplayer play as a particular kind of entity.

I like the idea of a noir story using the Cultist Simulator engine.

I would love to do Dandelion, the cancelled Failbetter narrative piece about a man dying in a submarine (which I retain rights to) and Thieves' Gate, which is a satirical inside-game-dev piece.

I am probably going to bring on another full-term Weather Factory person as a co-founder, and they have ideas of their own.

Glaedth1 karma

this sounds really cool. Cant wait to see your work.

lessofthat3 karma

thank you! :)

LordOfEye6 karma

A lore question- Is the House the true dwelling of the hours, or simply the representation that we choose to project on to it? As an extension of that, are the Hours truly knowable by a mortal?

lessofthat3 karma

(a) yes (b) is the Mansus truly knowable by a mortal?

col20715 karma

Cheers Alexis and I hope your daughter saved you a celebratory slice of giant worm god for the end of your KS!

In contrast to Fallen London (where the player encounters a fixed set of content that occurs sequentially in a fairly consistent way over the course of a single extended playthrough), it looks like you're aiming for a more roguelikelike experience enabling multiple shorter playthroughs which can be different each time. This appeals to me a lot actually, but it seems like it could be hard to make happen with a fixed set of cards. What are your thoughts about how to ensure different playthroughs drawn from the same pool of content remain fresh and engaging (e.g. after having memorized various cards and how to drag what where)? Conversely, how to ensure the cards encountered in a given playthrough can remain relevant to what the player is trying to do? (In the alpha I ended up with numerous volumes of unread Essays, so if drawing randomly from a large pool of cards I'd be worried many of them might end up being superfluous or irrelevant to your current situation at the time.)

lessofthat3 karma

. What are your thoughts

...this is a potentially essay-length answer. :) Some bullet points.

  • wrangling the Opportunity Deck in FL, and particularly the smaller op pools in things like Heists and Expeditions, gave me a good feel for some techniques, though I could do with better maths.

  • in the alpha, Essays are what you get as the default option if no other books show up, and once other books are exhausted, so that's a particular problem

  • I'm dividing rewards into a variety of decks/pools (there's only one reward pool in the alpha).

edfinn5 karma

What is the relationship between art and death?

lessofthat7 karma

He knows she's no good, but he can't let it go. Possibly the other way around.

or: Mark Haddon once said that literary fiction is usually concerned with mortality, and that genre fiction is usually concerned with denying it. I used to agree, but now I think there are too many exceptions for that to be useful.

Okay, I think art comes from a pressure to resolve something that the creator can't deal with - if I were being melodramatic, I'd say a wound in the soul - and I think death often does that.

Sauce_Pain5 karma

Hi Alexis, backer reporting in and hoping we get that tarot deck!

Game question: Why did you choose to explore the narrative of CS using a solitaire mechanic? Was there something about the laying out of cards that appealed to you or was it more that a more involved "navigation" would distract from reading the core text snippets?

lessofthat8 karma

I love cards as a metaphor for events and for resources, so cards were always likely to be a part of it. It was much more about moving cards from one tray to another initially, though, until Martin, my UI freelancer, had the idea of the more freeform, table approach (he may be along to talk about it too).

I didn't initially think of people reading it as solitaire, per se, but of course that makes sense. Hand of Fate was also an influence, in that it has a sort of semi-diegetic context that doesn't commit to exactly where the player is and how they interact.

But above all, it allows me to focus on the text, and you say, as the simple art, without making it look cheap, and with it feeling tactile.

Unterstellar5 karma

Good evening! I would very much like to thank you for your work - Cultist Simulator, a short alpha with placeholder graphics it may currently be, resonated with me in a way very few other works of art did.

My questions mostly concern your writing. Are novels of Michael Cisco and stories of Thomas Ligotti among your literary influences? Have you ever toyed with the idea of making a narrative game where the player would have to piece the story together, dealing with (among other things) unreliable narration?

lessofthat2 karma

thank you, that's a lovely thing to say!

I don't know Cisco; I've read Ligotti and he's good, but he's a bit self-consciously unremittingly bleak for my preferences. I like a bit of light in the shade, sometimes if only so you can get rabbit-punched again on the downswing.

Unreliable narration is a problem for me in narrative games. It can and does work, but I like resource narratives where the player is managing the game state, and lying to players about that is something you can usually only do in one-off art games. But I do like providing a minimal framework that the player can bring their own interpretation to - I often talk about 'fires in the desert', eg here: http://www.pcgamer.com/failbetter-founder-alexis-kennedy-on-indie-storytelling-and-guest-writing-for-bioware/

killtheraven1 karma

Have you ever played The Void by Ice-Pick Lodge?

They have a really great knack for keeping both lore and resource management somewhat of a mystery. The Void has Colour, which serves as your sole resource and method of interacting with the world. It's your dialogue choices, your mana, your currency, your health bar, your difficulty slider etc etc. And not only does the game refrain from explaining the effects of the various Colours, but the NPCs actively lie to you about them, along with the nature of the world and the rules it follows.

The whole thing is a fascinating exercise in being almost completely lost, confused, and on edge. You're never quite sure whether you're hurting or helping, and everyone has their own agenda.

lessofthat1 karma

I have! I never finished it, and I suspect I may never finish an IPL game, but I loved the effect. I recommend your comment to anyone curious about why they should play it.

omnommintyfreshness5 karma

Great fan of your work, and very excited for Cultist Simulator!

I loved your talk on Choice & Consequence. What C&C games (besides anything Bioware), old or recent, are those that you have found the most interesting, stuck with you with you for some reason (good or bad), or inspired you, and why?

lessofthat11 karma

one day someone of my age will answer this question and not say Planescape Torment. Today is not that day. I read bits of that (the flashback with Ignus, eg) with my mouth literally hanging open. I was on a panel with Avellone in Dubrovnik earlier this year, and Jesus you could have wrung me out and mopped up raw fanboy.

The Witcher games. Those guys know what they're doing.

Bastion. It's one choice, it's a cutscene effect, but they frame it so beautifully that it stays in your bloodstream.

Tyranny. It didn't really land for me emotionally, but I admire the artistry of the C&C construction very enthusiastically.

Papers Please. Great work, top to toe.

Deus Ex. Still probably my single favourite game.

Hand of Fate. Very low-key minimal C&C, but nicely managed.

Someone else will quote something I loved in the comments next and I'll go 'oh yeah that!' - this is just me scanning my Steam library now. I think I particularly admire choice done well, more than consequence. Consequence is brute force, choice is where the chisel is applied.

lessofthat2 karma

And also, thank you!

Amestria5 karma

There are 7 occult principles which you can use to found of cult. Each principle is represented by a sort of iconic Hour. Then there are 23 additional Hours, each with very distinct desires and personalities. Then there are the Names. How are you planning on channeling all this cosmic diversity through seven cult choices?

lessofthat7 karma

There are seven so far; also Poseidon is not the only God in the sea; also, things are different since the Intercalate.

apotheosizing4 karma

You mentioned them briefly in your literary influences stream but I'd love to hear more about the influence Doc Smith's books had on your writing if you have any more to say. Also who is your favourite character and why is it Nadreck?

lessofthat10 karma

I think when I mentioned them I was just waving a glass of gin happily and saying 'oh yes! I remember the Lensmen'. I loved them when I was a kid, but I was about to say I would be hard put to mention specific ways in which it's influenced me. But that's not quite true.

So first, the thing about Smith is that every book one-ups the last. There's a superweapon, there's a defence to the superweapon, there's another weapon that makes the first look like a rubber broom, there's another weapon that uses a whole different kinds of physics, and so on and so on. So you've got this constant pornography of escalation. Or a race of telepathic puppeteers with a race of puppeteers behind them and a race of secret puppeteer gods behind them. It taught me a few things about how to manage escalation of power in games, first TRPGs, then fiction and computer games.

Second, it taught me that when you keep on escalating, it just looks daft, and sometimes it's better to plan in advance and keep your escalations low-key or hinted.

I think thirdly, it taught me that there is a special charm to genuine enthusiasm untainted by irony. It sounds like I'm being sarcastic there, but I'm really not. Irony is like antimony. It builds up over time and kills you.

Favourite character: I mean honestly I would be hard put to tell most Smith characters apart. I liked the grumpy copilot in the Skylark books.

suinicide4 karma

Can you give any hints towards what Sultan's dream was suppose to be about?

Alternatively, or in addition depending on your mood, what's one thing you're excited to show us in cultist simulator?

lessofthat6 karma

I could, but I think that's very much a Prophet-pledge-level sort of question.

The thing that I'm most excited to implement in CS: probably the Figures of the Hours, and their associated appetites.

Passionario4 karma

If you could go back in time to the point when Storynexus was made and change one thing about it, what would it be?

lessofthat9 karma

There were two fundamental problems with StoryNexus (as well as a bunch of minor ones).

  1. I thought that Fallen London was a success because it used an F2P model for content, and so that other games would be a similar success. I didn't understand for too long that people liked the content, largely because for the longest time I had a pathological inability to believe we were making good stuff. That's fixed now, my ego is well-fed. But the product fit was just way off. There was no particular desire to make or read talented-amateur work monetised with F2P mechanics.

  2. I wanted to provide a solution for people who didn't want to code but could get their heads round system-based interactive behaviour. I think now that the number of people who don't want to code AND do get on with a system like SN AND are good designers AND are good writers is just absurdly small. Slap F2P and a proprietary system and a really specific idiom and an online-only requirement on it and it just wasn't a product really wanted.

ChaoticBlessings4 karma

Hello Mr. Kennedy. I very much enjoyed Sunless Sea and I'm looking forward to what you'll be doing with CS!

Do you have an opinion on the debate (or non-debate or debate-about-if-there's-a-debate) about how video games, especially when they try to go for a more meaningful narrative, often times have issues about a divergence between gameplay and storytelling? The BioShock series is, of course, a well-known example of such... 'criticism', if you can call it that.
As an inspiration, even if the question is not limited to this: Is it a necessary evil of big-budget productions to have the player shoot through hundreds, if not thousands of people while being the 'morally good guy'? Could it be done better, even in the AAA space? Do you see untapped potential in game mechanics when it comes to combining the narrative of a game with the players mechanical interaction (or have any ideas about that)?

On a sidenote, you're one of the most approachable guys in game development on twitter I've tried to talk to and it's great to see how much you share both in interviews and just in general. Thank you for that alone!

lessofthat7 karma

thank you!

The reason that the default activity in the AAA is manshooting is that the default activity is manshooting. The CoD franchise generates upwards of a billion dollars for each title. When a big studio is looking to invest a lot of money, that's where it'll look. So it's a cycle. But it's not an inevitable or an unbreakable one.

I don't think ludonarrative dissonance is a problem - I mean not in the way that opioid abuse or global warming or those fucking KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON posters are a problem. I do think it's sign of a missed opportunity to do make something more thematically coherent and exciting: and yes, my particular enthusiasms include (a) thematic coherence and (b) games where you do the kind of things you don't often get to do in other games. So I get very excited about aligning narrative with mechanics.

And I'm glad I'm approachable! As an introvert it can be hard work, honestly (I went through a couple of days mid-Kickstarter where I literally couldn't bear to look at my phone any more) but people are the source of basically everything interesting.

ChaoticBlessings1 karma

Thank you for your answer and time. :)

One thing I forgot yesterday: Less of what?

lessofthat4 karma

I honestly can't remember! I've had this username for a decade. Let's say it's a general call for economy and elegance

Zolana4 karma

Who/what is/will be/was Salt?

What are the origins of Kingeater's Castle? Who built it, why, etc.?

lessofthat5 karma

The Traveller is always returning.

A price was paid; it was built for that purpose by one beneath the sea, etc.

space_communism4 karma

I asked why this got removed, but I have a couple more relevant questions in case this gets un-deleted:

  1. Was The Son Of Lancelot by Charles Williams, which is a poem about blood and hunger and birth and wolves and snow and insanity that contains the phrase "a red Grail in an ivory Logres", a conscious inspiration for the Red Grail, the Hour of blood and hunger and birth? In your livestream where you discussed your literary influences, you mentioned blood and wolves and snow and sex in the context of Tanith Lee, but not Williams, and what I've heard is that Tanith Lee has a different way of doing that.

  2. Do Gods-From-Flesh originate as human occultists or otherwise come from our reality? I have some fairly complicated reasons to suspect this besides just the name, but it's possible that, even though nothing is ever a coincidence when it comes to the Hours, the correct correspondence is something else.

lessofthat4 karma

I think the mods and/or bots remove things that don't look sufficiently questiony, and I think they prefer one-question posts, so maybe don't bullet-point in case the HAMMER DESCENDS

but

  1. no, and when I dropped by the thread on the Failbetter boards I was interested to see the comparisons drawn. But I have read other Williams; I have read a lot of Lewis, who as you probably know was a reciprocated fan of Williams and a fellow traveller; I have read a certain amount of Arthurian poetry and commentary (Ritual to Romance, Green Knight, and so forth); I'm sure there are influences crossing back and forth. but mostly I think if you're writing on certain themes, you end up drinking from some of the same wells.

  2. That is a reasonable suspicion to suspect.

space_communism3 karma

Given that Williams literally used the phrase "red Grail", I think the only reasonable conclusion is that he was - knowingly or unknowingly - under the influence of the Hours while writing Taliessin through Logres.

lessofthat3 karma

I like that conclusion. Although to be fair, I've learnt since that there's also a red (and a black) grail in the Warhammer setting, too.

discordwell4 karma

Why do you struggle against THE SUN THE SUN THE SUN THE SUN THE SUN THE SUN?

lessofthat6 karma

Flesh is not glory.

JoelMB124 karma

How much does theology and philosophy of all the fun metaphysical and hermetic perspectives along with the stranger things in Christian mysticism Influence this game?

lessofthat4 karma

Lots; specifically but not exclusively gnosticism especially of the pre-mediaeval variety, neo-Platonism and Rosicrucianism. But I'm not a scholar, I just pillage and rework.

JoelMB122 karma

It's strange it's fun and the influences obviously there if you know what you're looking for. So I love it that your pillage such great influences and Alexis thank for being so kind and responding.😊

lessofthat3 karma

an absolute pleasure, thanks for being so enthusiastic!

Arjhan64 karma

Was the Great War a victory, defeat, or inconsequential to the various hours?

lessofthat3 karma

Depends on the History. But to be less coy, events at that level are of direct interest to the Hours.

lessofthat4 karma

I liked Leliana later, but I didn't get on with her rather milquetoast original edition, and honestly I never quite got on board with the Morrigan love. She's a bit r/iamverysmart, you know? I liked Alistair and I liked Wynne (I have a thing for sympathetically portrayed older women in games).

systemchalk4 karma

I'm rather late so I'm not sure if you're still taking questions but here's one that I've been wondering:

Before the KS started you gave a couple of rather introspective interviews and had a few blog posts in terms of life events that have informed your games (so Cultist Simulator, managing your time to follow a dream. Sunless Sea, captaining a ship into a vast unknown. Both reflect the state of Weather Factory and Failbetter at the time). I also noted that when you talked about them these were realized after the fact. That is, the fathers bones ambition was not added intentionally to reflect your background (if I understood correctly).

Was there something about Cultist Simulator that provoked this kind of introspection? I was mostly struck by how it seemed more explicit this time around (then again I suppose you weren't doing the same kind of interviews too).

Thanks for doing the AMA and the hours of entertainment!

lessofthat6 karma

my pleasure!

I think it was leaving Failbetter that provoked that introspection. If you've ever started a business, you'll know how devouring an experience it can be, especially a creative business. You're terrified of failing if you stop to look around, and you're always wondering which five tasks of a hundred possible tasks you'll do. When I stepped away, I had time to think, including thoughts like 'why the hell am I even doing this' 'do I want to stay in game dev' 'what do I want to have done with my life in twenty years'.

To a lesser extent: I had both a creative and a legal majority stake in Failbetter, and I was always wary of it becoming too obviously the Alexis Kennedy Show. So I often pulled back from getting too personal in interviews. I mean not too far back because I like hearing myself talk, but I always wanted other people to have time in the limelight for both selfish and unselfish reasons.

Maniph3 karma

Any specific games or literature you’d recommend for those new to the terrifying unknown?

lessofthat10 karma

Literature: Renault, Zelazny, Machen, (everyone knows HPL).

Games: Dark Corners of the Earth, if there's an updated version that doesn't look ugly as bum in 2017, or if someone's done an HD remake. Clive Barker's Undying, if ditto. Stories Untold, that's very good. Maybe Icepick Lodge's stuff. Did they finish the remake of Pathologic yet? I backed it and I don't even know. The first one was great, but too broken for me to finish. The Void was great, too, despite the eyerollfulness of the boobies.

BottleSage3 karma

What do you think about the principle of redemption in your games? Is there a reliable mechanism for it?

lessofthat10 karma

I dislike the idea of the player being irredeemable. Partly this is a technical, craft objection: it's hard to maintain interest in a choice-driven story if there's no way out. Partly it's because I can't imagine anyone being incorruptible under all circumstances, so I think the reverse should apply.

I think remorse is important and so is restitution, even if it's only symbolic; I don't see redemption without those two things.

Aberrant_Eremite3 karma

Do you have any advice for aspiring independent game developers? Um, asking for a friend!

lessofthat5 karma

My first advice is always 'finish something, even if it's a small thing, and be clear about your goals'.

If your goal is to finish something and get feedback and maybe create a portfolio piece to get hired, then just get it done, put it on itch.io for free or for very little (or the App Store if you swing that way) and keep your expectations at 'good experience'.

If you want to make money from your first game, then you're probably, I'm afraid, SOL in the current market as a solo dev. But if you do, then you want a biz plan, a marketing plan, probably investment, and some sort of advantage - publicity, exceptional art or writing, a really unique idea - as well as luck.

Someone (Jeff Vogel?) said that starting an indie company is like starting a band, and I think that's a great analogy for the kind of low payoffs and long shot at medium-range success that it has; plus the sense that if you're just doing it explicitly for fun, that's cool.

Zolana3 karma

Which location in the FL/SS universe would you most like to visit if you could (and why)?

(Great fan of all your work by the way, discovered Fl through the SS Kickstarter and developed the addiction from there really)!

lessofthat10 karma

thank you!

Most places in FL/SS are actually pretty horrible, and best viewed from a distance. The Chelonate, I mean, Christ. Real-life London, where I live, I have complicated feelings about, and I'm not sure I'd want to go to a subterranean version.

Irem, almost certainly. Irem, I tied myself in so many knots trying to provide a sense of something rich and enticing that I am duly enticed. I like the dark lapping water-on-iron of Khan's Glory, too, in large part because of Paul's art.

Zolana4 karma

That's very true, and the Chelonate is not somewhere I'd like to visit in reality either!

Irem is superbly written, and arguably the most intriguing place in the entire game! Personally for me, I thoroughly enjoyed the content in Varchas too, it's a really mysterious place with so many more questions.

In terms of real London, as a fellow Londoner, you're not the only one with complicated feelings about it!

lessofthat3 karma

Right? I don't know how I could live anywhere else now, but also I often wish I did.

Varchas is properly intriguing! But it wasn't me who wrote that - it was one of Meg Jayanth's two guest ports (the other was the Isle of Cats).

Zolana3 karma

Exactly, it's such a love/hate relationship, and often swaps between the two through the course of a single day!

Ah nice, she did a great job with it!

Out of curiosity, is the Gelatinous Worm God likely to feature in game in CS? It seems almost a shame for it not to in a way!

lessofthat3 karma

It's increasingly possible!

Loiathal3 karma

You're obviously a fan of Italo Calvino, and Invisibile Cities in particular (FYI, I have to thank you for that one. I picked up a copy after you mentioned it in Ambition: Enigma and it was well worth it. His whole catalogue was great, actually). Besides him and Borges, are there any big authors who you'd say are big influences?

Yes I am fishing for recommendations

lessofthat3 karma

the stream is worth watching if you have ramble tolerance! also here are recommends from a link upthread:

This list would change if someone asked me tomorrow, but: The King Must Die The Anubis Gates, or alternatively The Last Coin (different authors, but look up William Ashbless) Desolation Road Vance, probably Emphyrio A Night in the Lonesome October, or another Zelazny to seasonal taste Tanith Lee, Flat Earth especially I'm not even naming specific books any more let alone limiting it to 5, shut up this is my AMA That Hideous Strength, which despite its many flaws and its weird gender politics stays in my mind ineradicably (War in Heaven too) and the usual greats, Tolkien and Moorcock and whatnot, honestly belong in here too, but you've read those folk right

mienski03 karma

30 000 and 7 Why seven is there any hidden meaning or is it just for luck?

lessofthat10 karma

Seven is a number with a loooong history in Fallen London lore, my work generally. In particular, it was significant in Seeking Mr Eaten's Name, a notorious FL/SS plotline/concept/quest to which CS is sort of the spiritual successor.

MultipleManArmy3 karma

At what point in a project are you the most excited about it?

lessofthat7 karma

oof, hard question!

I think probably the point at which the prototype is first actually playable. There's an IT LIVES! feel at that point, and all the most trivial fix-it tasks are invisible behind the vast mass of unimplemented wilderness.

hunterkorvis3 karma

Do you plan to have real cult-like experiences (brainwashing, distorting of ones perception of reality) or is this more of a lovecraftian "occult" type meme?

lessofthat7 karma

Very much the latter.

QuinZ333 karma

When writing the Horizon Signal chain in Stellaris, did you have any input of the game mechanics that would be affected by the story? Or did you just write the story and let Paradox figure out how to implement it?

lessofthat4 karma

I knew how the game mechanics worked: I had like forty hours in Stellaris when they offered me the gig, and if I hadn't, I think it'd basically have been impossible to write the story. I worked out a sort of pidgin markup with Maximilian the content designer, this sort of thing:

##Building effect suggestions

##I'm looking to make these flavoursome and slightly advantageous; you know the numbers better.

Spiral-Feed Power Hub: 
requires tech_akx_worm_1
planet unique cannot be built with other Power Hubs
provides energy 6, tile_resource_energy_mult 0.2, pop_happiness -0.05, w Physics research

...so I suggested numbers based on the Clausewitz text files, but I knew they'd need tweaking, and often I had no idea of suitable numbers.

joegrenda3 karma

What inspired you to strike out on your own and create Cultist Simulator?

lessofthat15 karma

I've been happiest working alone or in small teams on technical/creative crossover work. At Failbetter, I was spending a lot of my time managing managers and worrying about keeping everyone paid. I didn't want to do any more Fallen London, and I did want to do experimental pieces like CS without worrying about whether they were good bets for the company.

I could literally have fired nearly everyone and shut down FL, but I spent seven years building what I told my team was a secure place that put its employees interests first, so that would have been kind of a dick move. So I fired myself with a generous settlement, or to put it another way, I fired everyone else but gave them the company as a settlement.

Also I really wanted to do some freelance work, to see the inside of other studios. You always learn stuff from changing roles, and I'd been in the same role seven years.

AlexxKay4 karma

Speaking as a former employee of Irrational, which DID fire nearly everyone, thanks for not being That Guy.

lessofthat3 karma

Thanks; and honestly, that particular story was in my mind when I made that decision. Though to be fair, the kind of games I make can be made on a shoestring, and if you're an AAA creative director it must be a lot harder to start over. And I had specifically told my team for years that I wanted us all to have secure employment, so it would have been harder for me to renege. But you have my keen sympathy, and I hope things ended well for you.

Koldun0073 karma

What would you say first gave you the idea for Fallen London, and what later drove you to make an entire game out of the idea?

lessofthat9 karma

I wanted to make a story-driven web game (originally it wasn't even going to be story-driven, just some flavour text on power-up cards, but that's a whole different story). I started writing around an underground city with a Victorian feel and a sort of Rossetti Goblin Market sensibility, but it didn't really make sense to people. I was chatting to Paul Arendt, who was rightly voluble about how confusing it was, and I said 'well maybe if we translate London underground and say it's an alternate history thing'. That at least gave people a way into the rest of the daftness, and it just grew from there.

LibrarianOAlexandria3 karma

I know you've mentioned your interest in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn before. Which member of the Order would you most like the opportunity to interview?

lessofthat2 karma

Blackwood, Williams, Yeats in that order.

Vavakx3 karma

What is depicted upon the tarot-like cards of the Hours? Is it the Hours themselves, a symbolical transfiguration of their core concepts, or only some of their more common Names?

lessofthat3 karma

A symbolical transfiguration. Their Names are mostly not present, but sometimes the boundaries blur.

yoy1zoz2mom33 karma

What would you say has been the hardest part about creating cultist simulator so far, and what do you think is going to be the hardest part in the future?

lessofthat9 karma

The hardest part so far has been figuring out the UI. I had a clear idea of the underlying system and model, but making that work in an interface meant a lot of back-and-forth, in which my freelance UI chap, Martin Nerurkar, has been invaluable. (And the UI has in turn informed the model, and so on.) But we're mostly there. We're doing a bit more tidy-up this week, using the feedback we've garnered so far.

The biggest challenge I'm worried about in the future is getting the balance, pacing and economy right. This is very much something I'm, like, journeyman-level at. I learnt a lot from FL and SS, and I'm applying those lessons here, but when it's a non-linear progression system, it's tricksy.

Catdrake2 karma

What is the worst joke you've ever heard?

lessofthat3 karma

there are two goldfish in a bowl, and one of them says, do you know how to drive this thi

no wait

Ultrablobman2 karma

I loved all your Enigmatic words about Fallen London as well as the post mortem you did for Sunless Sea. Any chance of you doing more of this style of writing about Cultist Sim? Looking forward to getting my Disciple reward and getting another view into your brain and would love it if were accompanied with plenty of words about the design process whether it be through Kickstarter updates, game content or otherwise.

lessofthat5 karma

The Enigma approach: maybe? I might do some sort of Easter egg or commentary, but I hadn't thought about it until you suggested it.

Post mortem and blog commentary, definitely! I find it incredibly useful to go through that sort of stuff, and I'm glad you like it.

killtheraven2 karma

You're obviously knowledgeable about everything from ancient mythology and Pagan beliefs, right up to more recent mystical societies like the Golden Dawn.

Are there any currently practising societies, neopagan faiths, or new magical traditions (eg chaos magic) that appeal to you in either a 'this is fascinating' or 'this actually feels sort of right' sense?

Have you ever considered getting involved in any, genuinely or just to experience it firsthand?

Do you subscribe to any form of belief system beyond the purely physical and scientifically provable?

I swear I'm not trying to induct you into Scientology or anything, I'm just curious about the mind that has spawned some of my favourite concepts/worlds.

lessofthat4 karma

I'm patchily knowledgeable! I skim effectively. Don't mistake me for a scholar.

In my university years, I hung around with several occult types and I took it semi-seriously for a bit, until I realised they all seemed to have something to prove. I've had a couple of very clichéd experiences that I can absolutely put down to autosuggestion, and mostly do. My brother, who I mention in the interview link at the top, described himself as a magician and he seemed lost, went mad and took his own life, in that order. So I've kept my distance.

I'm an atheist skeptic. I'd love to believe in life after death or magic in the hills but I can't really sell it to myself. I am very reluctant to rule anything out. I wouldn't be surprised if all this turned out to be a simulation.

MithradatesExcelsior2 karma

What manner of beings are crafted / spawned / shaped / pulled-into-existence by the Lionsmith? To what extent are any of them, ah, lions?

lessofthat2 karma

The things he sends against the Colonel, IIRC. To at least some extent, at least some of them are lions.

JoelMB121 karma

That begs the question who is the Colonel?

lessofthat5 karma

The Lionsmith's opponent.

JoelMB125 karma

THE COLONEL IS SCARRED. THE COLONEL IS BLIND. THE COLONEL CANNOT BE EVADED.

lessofthat2 karma

These words are true words.

Aghork2 karma

Do you find it difficult to write content for an already established universe, like Stellaris? If so, what do you do about it? If not, how do you stay true to your own ideas while trying to fit in?

lessofthat4 karma

I asked what the requirements and limitations on Stellaris were, and they said: "the universe is vast and full of wonders. That's it." So that wasn't so bad.

Dragon Age meant working within a lot of limitations, but honestly, as long as I understand what the rules are - and I had a pretty good idea - I don't mind. I don't get the same blast that I get from writing my own lore, but then (so far) I've always gone back and written my own lore later.

I think a good creative director or lead writer is one who gets to the core of what the game is about, and can convey that economically to the people they're working with. Bringing other writers on to Fallen London taught me a lot about how to do that (and I didn't always get it right). The worst thing you can do is say to someone 'no, it doesn't quite fit, I can't tell you why'. Often that comes from a place of jealousy.

OuroborousPanda1 karma

What's your favorite band/genre of music?

lessofthat4 karma

I'm a very unmusical person: I'm focused on words and symbols so much that music is just like sorcery to me. I did discover with horror that the kind of music I like a lot of, the 4AD sort of thing, is apparently called 'dream pop'. I think I don't really like anyone more than I like the National.

philhellens1 karma

Have you played "Super Cult Tycoon"?

Ross from Freeman's Mind and Game Dungeon did a video on it Here. He brough up some really good points on how cults operate.

lessofthat1 karma

I hadn't! I'll take a look, thank you.

Glaedth1 karma

So what is your favorite piece of text you have ever written? The piece of text you hold really dear and are really proud of?

lessofthat14 karma

this:

"Sunless is in a good place. The hay is in the barn. Essential content is nearly done, essential art is done, essential tech is done. We have more than a week to go [before we lock the code], and the risk of f*cking up because we're tired outweighs the benefit of making the game 2% better. Overtime is for emergencies. We'll be around on Friday night and Saturday in launch week. Work your 7 hours with a proper lunch, go home, sleep 7 hours. If you have more work than you can do in the time, talk to me and we will agree what to cut."

but if you mean fictional content, I think it's the Decommissioned Steamer text for Fallen London; the seventeen sex scenes in Sunless Sea; or the flashbacks to family life in Dandelion [which isn't currently available anywhere, sorry]!

deepandlovelydark1 karma

Did you ever run across the Faction Paradox books (cultists, Cousins, war in heaven, mysterious black sun) or was it another case of writers all drinking from the same wells?

lessofthat1 karma

Very much the same wells; I'd never heard of them, I'm afraid.

deepandlovelydark1 karma

Thanks ever so!

Especially for Seeking. One of my favourite pieces of writing ever, and certainly the greatest experience I've ever had in gaming.

lessofthat1 karma

A profound and considerable pleasure. Thank you.

suinicide1 karma

A question from JimmyTMalice: What did you have for lunch today?

lessofthat1 karma

The day this question was asked, it was leftover chilli from board games night. My chilli enhancement tips are dark chocolate (thanks /u/tituscarbuncle), Worcester sauce, and umami. Don't think just do.

Marxistpessimist1 karma

World building tips? Starting pack? Necessities?

The world of Fallen London and Sunless Sea was just so wonderfully bleak.

lessofthat3 karma

Find what's distinctive and what's relevant to the player's experience. Don't generate history for the sake of it. Read Tolkien's letters and essays on the topic. Read things that other people aren't reading, if you want to be distinctive. I am sceptical of the term 'worldbuilding', actually: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.gamesindustry.biz/amp/2017-02-02-against-worldbuilding

lessofthat1 karma

Also, thanks!

HappiestIguana1 karma

Would you say your games/works have recurring themes? If so, which would you say are the most important?

lessofthat2 karma

someone else asked this too, c/ping!

Yes: death, and its approach or absence. There's an interview here where I talk a bit more about it https://www.pcgamesn.com/dragon-age-4/dragon-age-4-story-alexis-kennedy but the short version is that I have some dramatic family history that, I eventually realised, had quite a predictable effect on my interests. The other thing is loss, longing, yearning, things like saudade and mono no aware and Sehnsucht. Those are all fancy imported terms for various kinds of unslakeable yearning. And that sounds extremely literary, but of course those things generally get translated through, eg, rubbery squid people longing for a lost purple world. And that's the third theme of my work: I just like making up ridiculous fun horrible things. The New Weird was a big influence I guess. Oh and the other thing: funny, but nasty, but funny, but nasty.

Zennock1 karma

Are there any games that you personally enjoy playing?

lessofthat8 karma

looking at my recently played Steam list, I see:

Mount&Blade: Warband Stellaris Heat Signature Access (a mate built it, not normally my thing, but it's fun) Darkwood (I met those guys in Poland, I've been meaning to play it) Death of the Outsider XCOM 2 Northgard FTL

That's a pretty good cross-section of my genre interests.

pocketotter1 karma

Why the Coleridge reference?

lessofthat2 karma

Coleridge was one of my A-level set writers. I can't stand most of his stuff - whingeingly self-conscious Romantic flaffle - but KK, Ancient Mariner, half of Christabel, Frost at Midnight, his droll four-liner about Donne, all great. KK particularly stayed with me, but also it's influenced a bunch of other authors who I subsequently read (including Lewis in the Silver Chair). And I've always had a thing about dark water. When I put together the pitch for the game that became Sunless Sea, the name just seemed inevitable.

lessofthat1 karma

The window is open still! I have the same feelings about NPC redemption, really. I'd add that some of the most interesting stories are about people who nearly make it and then don't, but those stories are a hair away from ones where the motivation is too blurred for the audience to care.

I did always think of the Bazaar and the Empress both as motivated by unselfish love. I wouldn't want to condemn anyone who genuinely acts for those reasons. Categorical Imperative, I guess.

CrimsAK1 karma

Putting a question down in case of your return.

Your prose is really unique. Have you done or considered doing just straight fiction writing such as a novel or novella?

It'd be interesting to see, given that writing normal 'stories' tends to require more straightforward descriptions of action, but I think you could get away with writing something like House of Leaves. I'd read it anyway.

Also - do you play any boardgames? If you ever wrote a scenario for Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition (an app driven Lovecraft game), it would be amazing.

lessofthat3 karma

Thank you! I wrote a novel, which I couldn't get published because it wasn't very good. I've done a handful of short stories, but only one ever made it to print.

I might do more, but I'm just not as good at linear fiction; there are only so many hours in the day; and there are lots of things I want to do. So writing a novel would take months of time that I'd rather spend on other projects.

I do, however, enjoy board games, and I like the idea of designing or collaborating on one some day.

Wickeith1 karma

Hey I'm going to look like a dork but I don't know what to do. I backed yesterday night in the wee hours because I longed to believe (10h remaining) and I received a mail today to say that my payment was nullified. Do you know why? Have I been cursed by the Worm God? Is it a sign to stop believing? I loved the alpha with big heart emojis and am sobbing rn. I suppose you can't do anything for it, can you? If not do you know when it will be available on steam? I am so hyped for it!

lessofthat1 karma

I don't know what happened there! Maybe there were payment problems? Don't worry, I will offer a Perpetual Edition as a preorder (at a slightly higher price than the ten quid) - sign up for the mailing list and I'll let you know when it's live.

FromTheVolcano1 karma

Will we get more bits of lore from Noon doled out to us during the development period?

In particular, will we learn more about Teresa Galmier or Christopher Illopoly either within the game itself or from external lore?

I'm among those who have been going completely crazy analyzing it on the FL forums and trying to figure out all the bigger stories from the implications of the clues you drop.

lessofthat2 karma

I'll absolutely continue to emit lore snippets; no commitments on what and when though!

Maniph1 karma

What exactly are the Hours? What’s the Mansus? What is air? What’s eight divided by zero?

lessofthat5 karma

The enumeration of action. The House of the Sun. Unheard music. A feast untouched.

LordBawlmore1 karma

In the same vein of another post, are there 5 video games you can suggest that are inspirations / muses for Cultist Simulator? Or perhaps a "game playlist" to put us in the proper frame of mind?

lessofthat3 karma

That's tricky to do, because there are games which provided mechanical inspiration, but the mood of their fiction is very different.

Hand of Fate, Hadean Lands, Doodle God and King of Dragon Pass all dropped seeds.