No game has absorbed our lives recently like Echo Bazaar.
We encountered Alexis Kennedy, the game's devious mastermind, at the Victoria & Albert. After correctly predicting that Anne was an assassin in a previous life, he allowed us to talk him into an interview.
A vigorous and unexpected inhabitant. An effective parent to its many children. An indefatigable and inventive visitor.
Ok, now that we've cleared that up, can you tell us a bit about the origins of Failbetter Games? Was this a lifelong dream or a spur-of-the-moment decision?
I've been a software developer for a godawfully long time, and really I've always wanted to do something like this. Social games and browser games are doing well at the moment, so this was the precise shape it took.
Basically, I built it in my bedroom.
I asked my co-founder if he'd do me some icons and when he found out what was going on he wanted in for a percentage instead of a fee. Which was great for me, because I really didn't have any money. We picked up other talented friends along the way who in some cases have been slightly paid, but this whole thing was such a gamble that I didn't need the extra responsibility of dealing with a whole team from the start.
You've cited Dickens on your blog, but I suspect he's not the only influence. What other authors, historical events, tv shows, whatever... have inspired Echo Bazaar?
Mervyn Peake, Lemony Snicket and Edward Gorey are the biggest influences, for the ha-ha-only-serious style, the retake on Victorian Gothic and the determined veers away from naturalism.
No-one's asked about historical events before. I think the Victorian century is just endlessly, endlessly fascinating. All those hopes and dooms and brilliances. I love 1888 too. Crazy conspiracy theory year. The Golden Dawn was founded. Jack the Ripper did his thing. TS Eliot was born.
Other things. CRPGs are a big part of our DNA (Torment probably #1). The actual Victorian Gothic: Machen, Kipling, Wilde. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill. I know Paul cites the Coppola Dracula ('spooky but silly') as a big influence on the look of Fallen London. We went back and looked at the opening screens of Braid the other night when we were thinking about another project and were slightly alarmed at how strong and obvious an influence it was.
People keep citing Gaiman's Neverwhere and China Mieville, but I don't think that's us. I mean I read and enjoyed them both, but there were a great many alternate Londons before Neverwhere and Mieville's all about the grimy political realism. That's not us. And for the record, we're not steampunk, though we embrace and adore all our lovely steampunk players.
I think things we're grumpy about make an appearance as a reaction, too. We're bored stiff with serial killers, which is why Jack-of-Smiles is basically comic relief. And I've always been quite rude about Batman.
Please, please, please tell me you've read Robert Chambers' "The King in Yellow" - especially "The Repairer of Reputations". I am aware that this is not actually a question.
I have. It's not a favourite, but it's a valued part of my mental furniture.
Or do you mean the actual play? We did that at school for GCSE. Before the boating accident. And the conservatory scandal, and that appalling business with the housemaster's dog. And the fires. You can still see the bare earth where the school used to stand, on Google Maps. I don't think the Ministry lets anyone up close.
Our interview with Mr Kennedy concludes on Wednesday. In the mean time, why aren't you playing Echo Bazaar? Barring that, you could also learn more about Failbetter Games (and buy an Exceptional Hat t-shirt).