SPOILER! The philanthropist and the murderer are the same person. Read on.
A few weeks ago, we kicked off the new version of the Game of Knife-and-Candle in Fallen London. As long-time players might remember, this is sort of hide and seek with more knives, or cricket crossed with The 10th Victim, or Killer if you actually, you know killed people. It’s fictional and occurs only in text. Don’t arrest us.
The first version of Knife-and-Candle was an attempt by a neophyte game designer (me four years ago) to build a real-time, unlimited-players, perpetual PvP game which overlapped with a scripted narrative. It had a couple of neat mechanics, some appealing fiction, a bunch of flaws and some colossal exploits. We tweaked it and tweaked it and found we’d created something with just as many exploits but which no-one quite understood the rules for any more. It turns out a giant open playing field and no ending conditions is proper hard to build a fun game with. WHO KNEW.
So when we decided to reintroduce it, we chose to do so a step at a time, iteratively and experimentally. We’re adding and changing things every week; watching what people do; and tweaking in response to them. This also allowed us to start testing before we’d added some key technical features to the platform…. so we could be sure we would actually use and need them before we put too much time into them.
I’ll blog about some of the specifics later, but there’s more information here.
One of the issues around the mechanics has been the use of virtual currency. We have built no explicit pay-to-win mechanics into Knife-and-Candle: we didn’t want people to feel they had to ante up or lose out to players with deeper pockets. However, it’s possible to accelerate every part of the Fallen London experience by spending Nex, and that’s also true with Knife-and-Candle. You can’t easily win more by spending Nex, but you can do more. One of the reasons we’re taking an experimental approach is to watch how much of a distorting effect this kind of cash-fuelled acceleration has.
‘Some’, so far, in the original version: which is the reason for the title of this post. One of our players spent a fair sum of Nex on acquiring additional opportunities to attack others. It didn’t actually do him much good, because he didn’t win noticeably more often, but it did upset other players, who felt picked on and complained on the forums. What happened next surprised everybody.
Our Murderer decided, on reading the plaintive posts, that he had in fact been unfair: that he had damaged the game experience of other players. So he contacted everyone he’d attacked on his spree; sent them a gift of in-game currency and apologised; and told them his current Form and location (the Knife-and-Candle equivalent of telling an assassin your address and sleeping arrangements). That last bit suggests in particular that he wasn’t doing it to stave off an incipient vigilante mob – he was genuinely remorseful, and he made good on that remorse. He became, in short, the Philanthropist, or possibly the Martyr.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything similar in another game. I like Fallen London players.
We just made same-sex marriage legal in Fallen London. Turns out it’s much easier in an imaginary nineteenth century than it is in the real twenty-first, because we only had to change a couple of text labels (‘Constant Companion’ -> ‘Spouse’) and a few dozen words of copy, not enact primary legislation. We were nearly there already. FL assumes everyone’s bisexual (which isn’t as interesting as presenting the full variety of human attractions and attachments explicitly, but it brings the content burden down to something we can afford). So what’s changed?
When we first wrote Constant Companion content, explicit gay marriage seemed a little too flavour-breaking for a Victorian setting: social conservatism is as much part of our expectations of nineteenth century London as top hats and thick fog. When you smooth out bigotry in a historical setting, the result can be anodyne and textureless. It’s a tricky area, and we’ve struggled with it before. So we fudged it. I don’t know if that was right or not.
But, you know, the legalisation of same-sex marriage is a big deal, and we want to recognise it. It felt wrong that very soon it would be possible for gay couples to marry in the real world, but not quite possible in our imaginary one. There is plenty of fictional justification for the rules being different in FL than they are on the surface (spoilers!) And it is important to have low-drama examples of same-sex marriages in fiction, so that in another twenty years, my daughter will be texting her (currently hypothetical) girlfriend on her ironic hipster retro smart watch to say, “Do you know, it was a big deal in our lifetime?’
EDIT: Paul points out that what we’ve actually just done is made marriage legal for PCs as well as NPCs. Legislate that, House of Lords!
Letting players know about new content and features in Fallen London has always been a challenge. It’s easy for players to miss announcements even on multiple channels, and there’s so much stuff in the game that new material is easy to overlook. This time, we tried an experiment. For those on Twitter and Facebook asking what all this box stuff was about, here’s the skinny.
1. A couple of weeks ago, everyone with at least a little Connected: Masters received a River in a Box, via the Living Stories mechanism. This was a charming little memento with no obvious use. Some players sold them, some players put them on their mantelpiece. A very, very few exceptionally cunning or flukey players fiddled with the box and worked out that its use was hidden in the text of its description:
A box lacquered in midnight blue. Within is a tiny model of London: cathedral spires, humped hills, the Bazaar a bulb of glim. The Stolen River is a ribbon of black glass, threaded with bridges and specked with boats. The underside of the box bears the sigil of the Masters of the Bazaar, and the single word OURS. Do the Masters feel the need to remind you of certain political realities? Is this a threat, or a mark of their regard? It’s so hard to tell, at the Feast of the Exceptional Rose.
Enough players put the box on their mantelpiece, or shared the text, that it became available to many others who didn’t have Connected: Masters.
2. At the beginning of March, the Bazaar briefly did something unusual and unexpected. This manifested as a timed event: a storylet which was available only for about three hours. The storylet introduced players to some nice nuggets of lore, and distributed some rewards, but a key purpose was to have a branch locked with a Mirrorcatch Box – a previously unknown item – and excite interest in it. I mentioned on the forums that a few people had found a Mirrorcatch Box
3. Players theorised about the River in a Box and the Mirrorcatch Box – were they connected? A twenty-six page thread kicked off, with various inventive souls trying an astonishing variety of things to solve the puzzle and find out where Mirrorcatch Boxes were hidden. Meanwhile, the Bazaar began tweeting clues and hints (and red herrings).
4. Over the last 48 hours, more players began to unlock the puzzle, which required some lateral thinking. The River couldn’t be used in game – as above, it was the description that was important. OURS was an access code – visiting http://fallenlondon.storynexus.com/a/ours got you a box. It wasn’t a coincidence that I mass-mailed out an access code out the previous week, to remind players of the /a/[name] format (it was an apology for a bug, which was serendipitous, but I’d have made up some reason for an access code otherwise).
So not an easy puzzle! but a satisfying one to solve. I was tremendously impressed by the range and inventiveness of proposed solutions, and I may have been taking notes. There were only a limited number of uses for the code, so currently, only a hundred players have Mirrorcatch Boxes.
But they will be more widely available later. For one thing… well, I won’t spoil the surprise. A number of Mirrorcatch recipients have already had a hint about how, and more folk will be finding out very soon.
So it served three purposes. One, just to be entertaining; two, to attract the attention of the core player base to Mirrorcatch Boxes, their possible uses and the content they’ll spawn in turn; but three, to raise awareness of access codes, because they’re going to play a much larger role in one of our upcoming projects.
Watch the skies. Failing that, watch the ceiling.
We’ve been introducing a lot of new features to StoryNexus over the past couple of months, and the interface has been slowly changing to fit it all in. It’s taken a lot of time to make sure each theme can properly accommodate all these changes, which is partly the reason that it’s been a while since we released any new ones.
Therefore, we’ve re-vamped the way themes are created to make them more flexible, meaning we can produce and adapt them faster. More themes for you creators!
We have introduced ‘theme modules’, small blocks of code that affect the look of a specific area of the UI. They affect fonts, drop-shadows, corners and even animations. Having the styles split up into chunks like this means developing themes is quicker, as we can produce the core elements of a theme very quickly. We can take the fonts from ‘Sergio’, combine it with the rounded corners of ’DarkStar’ and the animations from the ‘Default’ theme, add some new textures and colours and have a new theme put together much quicker.
In this way, we have put together ‘Dusk’, our latest theme. It takes elements from several previous themes and introduces some entirely new ones to create a theme which will be suitable for a whole host of different world genres. It includes:
We will be rolling out this theme as soon as it is complete and look forward to seeing it applied to some of the worlds on StoryNexus!
It occurred to me that, since theme modules have opened up a new way of creating themes that look different from one another much more quickly than before, they could also be used to help creators make their games UI more distinct from one-another. We could potentially give you the ability to switch out fonts, animations, corner-shapes, shadows etc. on themes you have applied to your world. You could have ‘Sergio’, but choose to have the font from ‘Monograph’. We would like to know if this is a feature that creators would find useful, so please let us know in the comments section below or in the forums.
I know that a lot of you have been waiting a long time for us to introduce custom image uploads, and we are working hard to get it to you just as soon as we can. Once these are introduced, we will allow you to upload:
This will further help you to craft a distinct visual identity for your world – we’re looking forward to seeing what you come up with!
We will also be introducing an area that will allow creators to upload custom CSS, so that they can potentially completely alter the theme of their world. Of course, you will need to know how to code CSS in order to take advantage of this, but we will also be writing documentation to help you make changes fairly simply
So, as you can see, the nature of themes has changed quite a bit recently and will continue to change over the next few months. We hope that we are going to be able to provide you all with tools that will help make your worlds more distinctive and appealing than ever before.