We chatted with Failbetter Games‘ (Sunless Sea’s) Hannah Flynn about the company’s unique, narrative-driven games, inventive setting, and what we can expect in the future of Fallen London.
Failbetter Games is the kind of company that attracts hardcore fans. It’s hard to casually enjoy the rich, original world of Fallen London—either you’re firmly entrenched in the soul-swapping, honey-sipping depths of this city beneath the surface or you’re a little mystified by it all.
Whatever your stance, Failbetter Games creates experiences that are unlike any other. Packed with lore and choices and dubious morality, there’s a lot of freedom to be had in the experiences of Fallen London, the company’s browser game, and Sunless Sea, their successfully Kickstarted sea exploration game. They’ve also worked with BioWare on Dragon Age: The Last Court, a browser-based story game that takes place between Dragon Age 2 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Rather than being linear experiences guided by familiar plot structures, their games are largely open to whatever route you want to take, whether its dabbling in Fallen London’s forbidden fruits or achieving great glory as a zee captain.
Failbetter Games Creates Fascinating Narrative Experiences
The success of that freedom is largely dependent on strong writing, something Failbetter Games has in spades. With over 1.2 million words in Fallen London, it’s obvious that writing is an area in which this team excels.
“Alexis (Kennedy, our CEO and co-founder) is really passionate about interactive fiction,” said Failbetter Games marketing manager Hannah Flynn in an email. “When Fallen London came about, he was oscillating between wanting to write fiction and games, and the result was this kind of massively multiple choice Victorian Gothic adventure game/novel which is really like nothing else out there.”
Fallen London is like a novel you can really immerse yourself in, creating a character and persona that appeals to you. While many other games allow for complex characterization on the part of the player, the number of variables—hedonism, austerity, heartlessness, magnanimity, just to name a few—sets this game apart. And the writing plays an equally important role in Sunless Sea, which, while appealing to a wider gaming demographic, still revels in the deeply engaging mysteries of Fallen London.
“The whole writing team work incredibly hard, and the craft comes through in the quality of the writing,” Flynn said. “So while a lot of people will look at our work and think, ‘I can’t be bothered to read that much text’ thousands of people have taken one look at it and it’s immediately lit a weird fire between their ears.”
Failbetter Games’ Excellent Writing Creates a Unique Style
The quality of Failbetter Games’ writing enriches the setting, drawing players into the sometimes dark, sometimes funny world in which their games take place. Despite the internal consistency of the world and the rich lore to be found there, Fallen London didn’t take the typical route to development you might expect.
“Fallen London began life as a Twitter game which was almost completely unrelated to the game world as it now exists,” Flynn said. “It was based on people guessing what others would say in tweets, placing bets and then trying to coax them into saying it. Eventually, fringe details about the Echo Bazaar and London eclipsed and subsumed the game as was, and Fallen London emerged. All this is to say that we didn’t start by building a huge world and then making a game within it. We do have some world-management methods now, with 1.2 million words plus of game content, mysteries and secrets to look after, but a lot of it was organic.”
The translation to a more mainstream game in Sunless Sea worked well—the trademark worldbuilding is still there, but has more reach. Players can explore more of the world, visiting places only heard of in Fallen London. You get a sense of the world as a place with depth, with the same bizarre humor that characterizes the browser game.
“The style is very much about the balance of [humor and horror],” Flynn said. “Having lashings of both creepy, scary stuff like the hugely well-received premium story The Gift and light, cute stuff like Grubby Kittens and Rubbery Men really keeps people on their toes.”
Despite being released in 2009, Fallen London is still being updated and improved upon today. With an iOS release coming up, the success of Sunless Sea, and the continued following of Fallen London, Failbetter Games has a lot of interesting work still in its system.
“There’s a lot still to reveal about Fallen London, but in the long term we’ll look at other worlds too,” Flynn said. “We have more ideas than we have hours in the day, which is a great place to be!”