This article was written while I was working part time for an online gaming magazine. Like the previous post, the website this was originally posted on no longer exists.
I wrote this article as preparation because I was lucky enough to get to interview the then-CEO of Failbetter Games, which I will also post.
Failbetter Games are a games studio based in London, best known for their browser based game Fallen London, but also for their relationship with fans.
It’s not many studios where the company CEO contacts fans personally to discuss the game and their thoughts on it, or offers the engine they created for their first game to fans who wish to try their own hand at world building, after all. Failbetter Games created StoryNexus, the engine and toolset behind all their games thus far, and then made it available to those signed up to play one of the existing stories, daring their users to see if they can do better.
Fallen London, originally named Echo Bazaar, is an game set in an alternate universe version of Victorian London, where the entire city (and it’s inhabitants) one day suddenly sank down below the ground. Players wake up in the city’s prison, and learn some interesting little facts about their new home as they work to escape – death is no longer permanent (except in the really bad cases), devils and squid faced men roam the streets, people deal in secrets as much as they do money, cats can talk and there’s a lot of terrifying creatures around every corner that would be more than happy to have you for dinner.
Sound strange? You’ve barely scratched the surface.
Gameplay wise, the game is a text based RPG. Players start off able to access four main areas, each with activities that can boost one of the four main “stats” of the game: Watchful, Shadowy, Dangerous and Persuasive. Along the way, you’ll make friends and enemies, collect as many curiosities as you can carry and trade in them, become famous, and even dabble in a career or two: you can become an academic, an archaeologist, a hunter, a journalist, a smuggler, a writer and many more.
For the more social Fallen London players, there’s also Knife and Candle, proudly advertised as the “politest game of murder you’ll ever play”. Yes, gain an invitation to Knife and Candle and you can try to kill anyone you’re friends with in the game. Don’t feel too bad about it – they’ll be trying to kill you as well. The game is a good way to earn rare items, but watch out – if another player gains the upper hand, they might get a chance to steal your hard earned (or ill gotten) goods.
From Fallen London…
For the more social Fallen London players, there’s also Knife and Candle, proudly advertised as the “politest game of murder you’ll ever play”. Yes, gain an invitation to Knife and Candle and you can try to kill anyone you’re friends with in the game.
Failbetter do continuously work on Fallen London (the game is practically unrecognisable from its Echo Bazaar days) but that’s not all they do. Other games by the company include The Silver Tree, Thirst World, Cabinet Noir, Black Crown and Zero Summer. The company were even commissioned by Random House to create an interactive world for then upcoming book release “The Night Circus” in which players could get a taste of the titular circus and its mysteries before they read the book. In other media, Fallen London has spawned comics and live events and there’s even talk of turning Knife and Candle into a tabletop game.
…To Sunless Sea
Failbetter’s big project right now makes the leap from browser based game to digital download. Sunless Sea is set in the same world as Fallen London (Sunless Seas characters even made brief appearances in Fallen London last Halloween). The game takes place aboard a ship of which you are the captain, and it’s up to you to keep your crew alive and well, discover the mysteries of the areas you explore and the people you’re sailing with, as well as the Zee itself (and no, that’s not a typo. The ocean is the Zee, and those who travel across it are Zailors. Go with it). The game, which is promised out soon, was backed by Kickstarter funding, which was a roaring success. Failbetter asked for the sum of £60,000 and gained nearly twice that before the campaign was up.
So what next?
Well, as we reported last week, Failbetter have coyly revealed their involvement with a “small, niche”, practically unknown company called Bioware (I think they might have a game out this year and another in development, it’s not like I cling to every scrap of information they release or anything…), so we’ll be on the lookout for more information on what that could entail. Of course, if Sunless Sea succeeds, Failbetter may continue down the path of more conventionally available games.
The good news is, PCG Media is going to be talking to Failbetter’s CEO, Alexis Kennedy, very soon, so we should be able to bring you plenty of new information on the company in the immediate future.