Chris Gardiner |
Paul Arendt |
Chris Gardiner |
|Platform(s)||Browser, iOS, Android|
Fallen London, originally titled Echo Bazaar and developed by Failbetter Games, is a browser-based interactive narrative game set in "Fallen London", an alternative Victorian London with gothic overtones. The franchise subsequently expanded to other games, including a PC game of "survival, discovery and loneliness", Sunless Sea and its sequel Sunless Skies.
The game has been running continuously since 2009. In June 2018, the website received its first graphical update, with a page redesign as well as better scaling across devices and HTTPS integration.
The eponymous bazaar of the game is a sentient being. It is curated by several Masters, each with their own control over Fallen London's business (Mr Apples, for instance, controlling agriculture, while Mr Fires rules industry). The monarch of the city, Her Enduring Majesty the Traitor Empress, sold the city to the bazaar to spare the life of her husband Albert, Prince Consort, in 1861. The entire city was then taken a mile beneath the surface by a swarm of bats, where it has remained for over thirty years.
London is only the latest, fifth city to be taken underground in a pattern stretching across thousands of years, although certain storylines show that it has not lost contact with the outside world. Surrounding Fallen London is the Unterzee, a subterranean ocean the size of Europe with many islets and infested with monstrous sea life; experienced players may sail across it to visit other locations in connection with story lines based in Fallen London. Among these is Polythreme, a country where inanimate objects become alive and sentient (and source of Clay Men, the golems used as cheap labor in London), the Iron Republic, a devil-ruled place in which even reality is subject to the capricious and constantly changing written laws, the Elder Continent where ebony skinned men and tigers live forever and the Khanate, a rival nation to Fallen London made up of the descendents of the fourth city that was taken, Karakorum.
Fallen London has also found itself much closer to Hell: devils appear constantly and casually in various storylines, and even maintain an embassy in the city itself. A dream-realm, Parabola, is closer to London than to surface locations, and is sometimes visible through mirrors.
Players take the role of new arrivals to the underground down on their luck, and make their way to the cream of the crop of the city's various legal and illegal activities. Players are gentlebeings of leisure, plumbing the vices and secrets of Fallen London. They have no living expenses, and though players may choose a profession for a periodic income, they can publish a newspaper, serve out repeated prison sentences and feed deliverymen to a man-eating plant without harming their job security.
Stats are used to track the player character's abilities and their position in the questlines; a character may accumulate hundreds. Four of these are the character's main attributes (Watchful, Shadowy, Dangerous, Persuasive) and constantly used for succeeding in actions, though failure may also increase the corresponding menace (Nightmares, Suspicion, Wounds, Scandal). If any menace rises too high, the character is removed to a side location (such as Disgraced exile in the Tomb-Colonies for Scandal) to work it off.
The game can't be won, but can be lost. A questline to "Seek Mr. Eaten's Name", about destructive obsession, requires the player to damage their character in like manner repeatedly, until its completion leaves the character permanently unplayable. The game requires players to opt into this questline and warns them against playing it.
Alexis Kennedy began solo development of Fallen London as an amateur project in June 2009, creating the setting, building the site and writing the initial content. He had originally intended the game to be an entirely text-based experience, but quickly realised that art would enhance the project, and recruited a friend, Paul Arendt.
"Paul came on board because I wanted to write and code but I can't draw," says Kennedy. The original plan was to pay Arendt outright for his illustration work. "I said, 'I want to pay you as I want this to be a professional thing.' He said, 'Cut me in for a percentage,' and I said, 'Sure, that's great! I don't need to give you any money now! But you realise we're probably not going to make any actual money out of it?'" He claps his hands together. "We've been on salary for three years now, so... so that worked out."
The site launched initially in October 2009 as an entirely free site, and introduced free-to-play elements in January 2010. Kennedy and Arendt recruited a number of other friends to write additional content, and over the years, the writing of Fallen London became a collective endeavour.
Fallen London is built on Failbetter's Storynexus engine. Kennedy has explained that creating Storynexus was the original motivation behind the creation of Fallen London. The company's plan was to develop Storynexus as an open platform, but later described Storynexus as a 'failure'. 
Fallen London has received positive reviews, with much praise going to its writing and worldbuilding. Dan Zuccarelli of Gamezebo, calling the game "one of the best browser games [they'd] ever played", pointed to the game's "compelling but not overwhelming" story as its main feature. Rock, Paper, Shotgun's Adam Smith wrote in favour of its writing style along with its "inventive setting", "dripping with lore". He noted how the player character was not presented as amnesiac or a visitor to the world, limiting the amount of blank exposition and leading to most of the discovery coming from the player working things out for themselves. Emily Short found it "almost entirely about setting". She gave credit to the quality of the game's prose and its "reasonably consistent" worldbuilding. She praised the writing for being "disciplined" over "flashy", with a genuine "sense of rhythm", though thought the game could be used for "something plottier". On June 2016, GamesRadar's Susan Arendt recommended the game for its "exceptional" writing and "rich and vibrant" world.
Short noted the "grinding" in the game, but found the "daily time investment" to play the game small enough to overlook its gameplay's "slightness". Short later went on to become a writer for the game.
Sunless Sea is a roguelike spin-off of Fallen London that takes place in the same setting and around the same time period. The game was officially released on 6 February 2015. Sunless Skies is in development following a successful Kickstarter in 2017.
Tales of Fallen London: The Silver Tree, a prequel to Fallen London, was released on 23 October 2012. The Silver Tree is also a browser-based choose-your-own-adventure game, but occurs roughly five hundred years before the time of Fallen London and focuses on the events surrounding the fall of the Fourth City, Karakorum, capital of the Mongol Empire. A tabletop game titled Knife & Candle (named for the competitive sport within the setting that combines elements of tag and a free-for-all murder spree) was in development, but John Harper stated that the game "didn't come together".
- "Fallen London redesign spruces up the horror, the horror". Rock Paper Shotgun. Retrieved 2018-07-29.
- Failbetter Games (25 May 2017). Fallen London.
I acknowledge that frustration is likely, other players may be enemies as well as friends, and I am more likely to fail than succeed. If I spend hard-won resources, or even Fate, and suffer from buyer's remorse or ill luck, no refunds will be forthcoming (unless the loss is the result of a bug). [This item exists to remind you what you'll come to if you continue the Mr Eaten storyline. You may use it to opt out, although this will not undo any damage you have suffered.]
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- Arendt, Susan (20 June 2016). "Madness, Velocipedes, and Tigers: You should be playing Fallen London". GamesRadar. Retrieved 8 July 2017.
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