winter: (takarazuka - karincho)
[personal profile] winter
After three months of trying, and thanks to [livejournal.com profile] zenicurean, I my Echo Bazaar character is now in possession of a Starveling Cat.

[livejournal.com profile] reynardine is probably not the only person who wondered about why I tweet inane rhymes about that creature, so, below, an Echo Bazaar primer plus extra musings.


The game itself is located at http://echobazaar.failbettergames.com/ but, confusingly, there's also a redirect from http://fallenlondon.com and Echoes use that URL. You need either Twitter or Facebook to play it, though I recommend Twitter - there are benefits to tweeting / updating your status about it, and since for most people Facebook is more real life-oriented, your grandmother may be confused if you tweet about becoming a Guest Lecturer at Summerset College.

It's - steampunk Victorian horrorwith an aesthetic, decadent and fricking compelling bent. Some years ago, the Devils stole London, or maybe that was the Traitor Empress's betrayal, but for all that her consort is now hale, and London is enclosed in a cavern so deep that gleaming crystals on the cave ceiling are now its stars. There are no flowers, but lovers give each other bouquets of mushrooms. There is traffic with the Surface, and guests can arrive, but once you have died even once, there is no going back to the Surface. And beyond, there is the vast Unterzee, the Southern Archipelago, and something mysterious that only echoes in your dreams, where all signs point NORTH.

And it's also a text-based multiple-choice mostly-single-player role-playing game. You get access to various locations all over Fallen London, and in each area different storylets are available. Some offer just one option of action, others multiple, and some are parts of storylines with your progress tracked. The chance of succeeding at various actions depends on your character's levels in four major qualities (Shadowy, Watchful, Dangerous and Persuasive), as well as chance, and even failure causes the relevant quality to rise a bit (as well as your character acquiring, respectively Suspicion that can land them in prison, Nightmares that can drive them mad, Wounds that may cause temporary death, and Scandal that can get them exiled to the Tomb Colonies where people wear far too many bandages).

You can only progress that much each day, though. You can only make 40 actions per day, doubled if you're a paid member. Once per day, you can get an additional 10/20 for Echoing (tweeting/updating Facebook based on which you're using) a link to the game; it can be accompanied by any text of your choosing, but the game provides atmospheric examples that are mostly definitions of Echo Bazaar terms and entities. Or creepy rhymes about the game's mascot, the Starveling Cat. You can also do some social actions with other people on Facebook/Twitter who follow you and play Echo Bazaar (like send each other Boxed Cats and then unwrap them, hoping to get a Starveling Cat), and check up on their exploits. On average, I devote maybe 20 minutes a day to the game in four five-minute chunks - less if I'm grinding items/money, up to 30 if the actions I'm doing come with large chunks of content to read.

Not unusual, yes. But oh, the writing. It's a fantastically good and moody Gothic Victorian mystery novel, but hypertextual. You choose the branches your character travels, you choose who to pursue and how to interpret events (my character flirted with Devils and Devilesses alike until one wanted to take hir soul, to which se flailed and decided to fight them instead), and each click is rewarded with another snippet of lovely literature. That's the reason for the action cap - they're still writing all this content, and new options appear at least monthly. It's like a serialised novel, and the moment my actions refresh for the day I jump on to get more of the story.

Plus for people for whom "Victorian" implies a tonne of issues of the -ism persuasion: NOT. You can play a woman, man, or individual of indistinct and mysterious gender. No matter which you pick, you get the same storylines, including the opportunities to seduce people of both genders (at least in two instances, at the same time). And the people you encounter are of all races, genders and characteristics; my character just hired a famous Portly Assassin as well as a female one, and the Acclaimed Beauty at court is a dark-skinned man. The Cheesemonger, the most excellent operative of the Great Game (yes, there is a Great Game of spies and secrets, too), is a woman with a daughter. The terms used may be iffy - The Orient for the triad/yakuza-inspired smuggling organisation in particular, though it's led by the Gracious Widow, a honourable woman - but they Get It. And they Get It without pushing anyone down; there are various churchmen both noble and corrupt, for example, where takes like these usually make the church a joke.


Starveling Cat!
Starveling Cat!
It knows what we think
And we don't like that!


I've been playing since June or July 2010. That was before paid membership was available, and the daily action cap was 70 + 10 for an Echo on Twtter, so at first I progressed rapidly, but then I also had a few breaks - at least three of a month or so (vacation, Japan, exam preparations). When I got my new phone and could play at lunch as well, I got paid membership for all of last July, which is why I've been tweeting so much - getting my money's worth by wrangling out every last action :) And I'm still not out of content, though I've maxed out the advancements in levels thus far (the cap gets moved every few months as more content becomes available).

It feels half like a game, half like reading each day's issue of a magazine that serialises not one, but multiple books starring the same character. And my character coalesced around level 80 in all qualities, to the point where se (definitely a se, an individual of indistinct and mysterious gender) has a clear voice, and surprises me. Snow (because se wants to be Snow) arrived in Fallen London a bitter cynic and is turning into an idealist on me. Se's a well-rounded and dashing creature currently in pursuit of a Criminal Reputation. And Snow wants stories about hir, someday...

And to cap it, a list of my favourite storylets so far:
  • The Melancholy Curate and his Sister - I think that's the one everyone gets to and goes "...so, this isn't a usual game."

  • The Cheesemonger - this was the one where I was hesitating over choices based on which one was most likely to have the most entertaining content and someone in my head said, "I won't do that, that's against my principles!" I have a feeling Snow was half in love, half in admiration for the Cheesemonger, and se still dreams of her.

  • Pygmalion: Educating Jasper - most people seem fond of the Louche Devil, but Jasper was way more fun. I hope he'll show up in the future.

  • The whole thing about a strike in the Docks - you have to be Polish to know why I cackled so much.

  • The University - The way a minor storylet I only clicked on because Snow was avoiding students developed into an epic tale was masterful. After the Cheesemonger, that was the other one that felt like a punch at the end.

  • Hunter's Keep - A masterful play with the Triple Goddess archetype ♥

  • Wars of Illusion - I can't wait for it to continue!



Oh, and I love the Starveling Cat: Another resident of Fallen London wishes you to look after this deranged and monstrous clot of spitting mangy fur. The Starveling Cat has moved into your Lodgings. May God have mercy on your souls.
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Beth Winter

October 2014

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