Horror Meets Shopping at the Echo Bazaar

Susan Arendt | 12 Jan 2010 22:00
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Q: The game is surprisingly intricate for a browser game and as such, is somewhat difficult to explain to people. Or at least I find it to be. I usually just shove the URL at them and say "go play it." How would you describe the gameplay of Echo Bazaar?

AK: We have the same problem, actually. The basis is the mission, level, new mission gameplay of a lot of social networking games - the mafia and vampires and spy ones - but then we keep on adding choices and layers and story. That's very vague, so let me give an example.

You open a mission to track down a card game where you can gamble your soul against your heart's desire. To complete that you need to travel to the Forgotten Quarter. But no-one in the city remembers where the Forgotten Quarter is. One of the ways to find it involves scrawling half-crazed notes on the walls of your lodgings, trying to work out the location, and when you've written enough mad graffiti on your walls then you find the way in.

But all this messing around with dark secrets has started increasing your Nightmares, and you're getting increasingly sinister recurring dreams and if your Nightmares rise too high you may lose your mind. So there's another mission where you invite another player to hear your Confession of Fears, which means your Nightmares drop a lot but theirs rise a bit, because, you know, you've just told them horrible stories. Or if you don't know other players, you might buy laudanum to help you sleep, but that causes its own difficulties. And so on.

That's a very small taste of the way the story side works. Then there's the Game of Knife-and-Candle, which is much more straightforward. You stalk and murder your friends. Everyone likes stalking and murdering their friends.

What's been the biggest obstacle in creating the game thus far?

AK: Scaling. In my old day job I built and ran bigger sites, but I can't afford to spend more than a couple of hours a day on the technical side at the moment. And content. The game is a giant sink for content. There are around 110,000 words of content in there, and I think it'll be nearer half a million when we've done. It's hard work to keep it all coherent, especially as we bring other contributors in.

PA: Not enough hours in the day. There are only two of us on this full-time, and we don't even have an office.

What's your favorite part of Fallen London?

AK: The Royal Bethlehem Hotel, which is where you go when it all gets too much for you. The Royal Beth is very different from the rest of the game, which made it a lot of fun to write.

PA: I've just finished subbing Alexis's work on the Tomb-Colonies, and it's fantastic, really innovative. Every mission is written as a letter home from exile. So that's my favorite bit at the moment.

Tell us more about the "mysteries". What purpose do they serve? Then tell me the answers. (Kidding. Sort of.)

AK: We've got this gigantic labyrinth of world background, which people like exploring, but there's not always an obvious way in. And because we reveal it piecemeal as you explore, some players get confused. The mysteries page is a series of questions about some of the background and secrets in the game. They give some orientation on where to start looking, if you're interested; when we close the question and declare the answer, you'll get a small reward, and brag rights; but also you can see what other people have answered. So it allows people to co-operate in digging into the background; and it allows players to be creative, or funny in a way other people can see.

Incidentally the answers to the tricky ones are blue and gold; moon-misers; Stamford Raffles; the Overgoat; it's made out of spiders.

PA: Those aren't the real answers. Well, one of them might be.

Has the response to the game surprised you at all? (i.e., fans embracing aspects of the game you thought were no big deal, ignoring things you thought would be a big hit?)

AK: My God yes. People responded to the setting in a way I hadn't expected in the slightest. I hadn't expected us to get fans, per se, at all, to be honest.

Also, stupidly, I didn't expect people to seek out the most appalling and self-destructive parts of the game. If your Wounds, Nightmares, Suspicion or Scandal qualities rise too high, then alarming things happen to you. We gave explicit warnings about this. And the immediate result was that people started grinding all these qualities like crazy to try to see just how bad it got. Lesson learnt.

PA: But it's like Sigil again, isn't it? You wanted the Lady of Pain to smack you down, just to see what happened. Of course, Echo Bazaar doesn't have a quicksave button.

See you around the Bazaar. Watch out for the sorrow-spiders.

Susan Arendt is both Watchful and Dangerous. You can most likely find her on Ladybones Road.

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