I spent yesterday in a state of confusion after learning the dark secrets of a friend. My nights are still plagued with nightmares. But now I know that as long as I keep my cheerful goldfish close to hand, I will remain this side of sanity.
This is part of the learning curve for the residents of Fallen London. This is an everyday occurrence in Echo Bazaar.
Echo Bazaar is a web-based card game set in the heart of Fallen London, “a short boat-ride from Hell”. As soon as you log in, there is an otherwordly feeling, despite the almost familiar descriptions of London. You are surrounded by the neutral dark colors of the ‘Neath with the simple words at the top of your screen: Welcome, delicious friend.
On the surface, it is a simple turn-based role-playing game with quirky text. But that doesn’t begin to describe Echo Bazaar.
Alexis Kennedy, Chief Narrative Officer, explains:
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.
You create the character and the story as you make your choices.
I play an intriguing and observant lady living in a smoky flophouse. I’ve enjoyed a close and cherished friendship with a struggling artist (and his beautiful model) which probably explains the point I received in Hedonism. My contact with them also gave me a point as an Admirer of Beauty. I have many connections, including the constables, the tomb-colonies and the criminals of the ‘Neath. Scandal is getting out of hand but I am hopeful that attending a few church services will help my reputation.
Imagine a plot-your-own-adventure book that can go in circles around your story. Then double it. The story content already comprises over 120,000 words and the developers are adding content daily. With recent complaints that the entertainment industry is dumbing down games, this truly fun game world focused on narrative storylines is refreshing.
And that’s just the beginning. Echo Bazaar is the brain-child of Alexis Kennedy who joined forces with Paul Arendt for a great combination of compelling text and constantly intriguing graphics. The two founders have been joined by Nigel Evans and Yasmeen Khan in order to keep up with the rising tide of demands for more. More cards, more stories, more Fallen London.
From the FAQ:
The aim is: Seek your fortune in Fallen London. We suggest the pursuit of wealth, power, fame and pleasure. Or just explore. There are Ambitions which unlock when Dangerous, Shadowy, Persuasive and Watchful reach 6, which give you particular goals, as well as secret additional Ambitions.
And so it goes.
The game is based on cards which offer opportunities for advancement. As you advance, you’ll discover storylets, quests to solve using your base skills. You can keep playing your cards or focus on the storylets which vary in length. Both the cards and the storylets offer you choices and in turn, those choices affect the future cards and storylets that you will receive.
Upon being told that someone from the surface was thinking of me, I pontificated that it might be perhaps, my true love that I left behind. A few days later, I received a card that my true love had indeed broken a vow and followed me down to Fallen London. Now I choose: do I sadly send my lover away or react with anger? Each choice dictates my future.
All this detail is embedded in a fast point-and-click interface. A simple set of webpages could make for a flat experience but Failbetter Games have not fallen into this trap. Echo Bazaar stands out from the crowd in look and feel as well as in content.
Imagine a website that has never seen the sun, dark and gritty with slashes of color. Immerse the player into a steampunk world of Fallen London where whispered secrets hold the residents in thrall. Infuse the text with grim humor. Throw in a mixture of one-card turns for fast feedback (and sometimes unexpected results) and story arcs that take time to complete and you have a compelling game that is already going viral.
An obsession with scarlet stockings helps.
Echo Bazaar works on IE, Firefox, Chrome, Safari – you can even play it on the iPhone, if you don’t mind scrolling around the screen. You’ll need a Twitter account, which the game ties into as a chat system but you don’t actually need to use it other than to receive direct messages from friends who are playing. Although you’ll see various requests to send snippets of text to your Twitter stream, there’s never a need to do so and you can edit any message that you do send (the url must remain intact). Failbetter Games are very vocal about their policy: it’s your Twitter stream, you control what is tweeted. However, if you are active in Twitter, you’ll find the game wonderfully integrated, as the various game characters have accounts which they use to give snippets of storylines and interact with the players. The home page gives you the chance to find out rumors about other players from your friends list, so you can share your exploits with them or even invite them to join you for a turn. Both players are rewarded for joint activities such as a chess game or a candle-lit supper … and it can help you to feel less alone, down there in the dark.
With 10 turns an hour, it’s perfect for quick and dirty play throughout the day, checking in to get ahead in persuasion before heading to Veilgarden for a chat with the Duchess’ private secretary. And if 70 turns a day are not enough for you, you can gain 10 more by sending a snippet of your choice to Twitter or by spending Fate. Fate is gained as you progress through continuing stories or you can purchase Fate with real money in order to gain extra turns and immediate refreshes.
For someone like me, easily distracted by the bright and shiny, the gameplay is immense. Every time I swear that I will concentrate on my ambition (a long-term story line with great rewards if you can complete it), I see something that I simply must find out more about. If I saved up for the right companion, could I win at the weasel fights? Is it worth a fortune of glim and jade to find out the way to Wolfstack Docks? And why am I having recurring dreams of the tomb-colonies?