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Fallen London

Entry updated 9 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2009; vt Echo Bazaar). Failbetter Games. Designed by Alexis Kennedy. Web.

Fallen London is an internet browser-based game set in a decaying alternative London (see also Ruins and Futurity), which also contains elements of Science and Sorcery, or perhaps more accurately Steampunk and Sorcery. The game was developed with a design tool called StoryNexus, for which Fallen London was both the prototype and initial reason for development. StoryNexus is available for anyone to use, and allows the development of browser-based narrative games.

The game is free to play. The player has a certain amount of actions every day, signified by a candle which burns down as each move is taken. The player must use these actions to explore Fallen London, gather items including rumours, artefacts and secrets, such as confident smiles or stolen correspondence, and perform various actions around the city and in the Echo Bazaar – the central nexus of the gameworld. Each time an action takes place, even if the player fails, one or more of their abilities ("dangerous", "persuasive", "shadowy" and "watchful") increases. A success results in the progression of the story and possibly more artefacts, whereas a failure may increase negative elements such as scandal, or draw the attention of unsavoury characters. Other elements, such as items gained or influence with the various factions and groups in the Bazaar, can also be used to open plotlines. Finally, the player can buy additional stories to complement the main game, or double the amount of actions available by spending money. The game is funded by these two actions, whereby the player spends small amounts of money (also known as "microtransactions") to make play progress more quickly.

Fallen London employs elements of Victoriana, Steampunk and Gothic fiction to create an evocative storyworld which also includes shadowy organizations, demons, the occult, and dream realms (see Gods and Demons; Secret Masters). Although each decision in the game is only briefly described, the game evokes a rich world with multiple different stories and narratives. Outcomes for each move are enriched by "flavour text" which explains the result in evocative detail.

The game became successful after it was featured in a podcast, Extra Credits, which praised it for its extensive narrative content and atmospheric gameplay. Fallen London contains very little combat, all of which is resolved through taking actions (rather than any skill or extra activity by the gamer), and is presented as rather insalubrious; for example, the player can "rough up a drunk" at an early point in the game, but tends to spend more time avoiding such encounters through trickery and subterfuge. Instead, the player is able to perform unusual actions such as romancing artists, taking tea with vicars and employing gangs of urchins, all of which highlight a more devious social worlds whose ethos was uncommon in games of the time. This erudite nature of the game and its narrative made it an unusual addition to free-to-play and indie games. Its atmospheric tone is repeated in the sequel, Sunless Sea (2015), which extends the game into the "Unterzee" surrounding Fallen London itself and broadens the gameplay significantly by adding elements of a management-simulation exploration game. A spinoff, Tales of Fallen London: The Silver Tree, was a successful Kickstarter project in 2012 and led to a separate game by Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat being created on StoryNexus. [EMS]

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