Flattened London Postmortem

This is a quick postmortem for my game, Flattened London. It’s a parser-based game that’s set in a crossover between Fallen London and Flatland (the original book).

Concept
I got the idea for this a few years ago, shortly after I read Flatland. I already was, and currently am, an avid Fallen London fan. My thought process was something like “hey, these are both set in Victorian London”, and Flattened London was born. It wasn’t a game as of yet - I originally wanted it to be an animation, but I can’t animate, so I eventually scrapped it.

Then in spring 2020, towards the start of the pandemic, I discovered interactive fiction. Having a new interest and an excessive amount of time on my hands, I got to work.

When I started, this game was inspired mostly by the two adventure games I’d played before - Zork and Monkey Island. Since then, I’ve played a lot more IF games and tried to incorporate what I learned.

Goals
I didn’t have an outline, but I had a few goals in mind.

  • Map that contains some of the more interesting locations in Fallen London
  • The third dimension as an important plot point
  • Multiple ways to win
  • 13 collectible treasures
  • No “guess the verb”

I think I succeeded at most of these - I only had one complaint regarding verbs, and I definitely filled out the map the way I wanted to.

What didn’t work
The chess puzzle. My god, the chess puzzle. My big mistake was assuming that just because the clues I provided made sense to me, they would make sense to everyone else. Even the walkthrough and hint system I included weren’t very much help, at least at the start, because I assumed players wouldn’t have a problem with it so I didn’t bother to explain.

Another thing that didn’t work was that the game wasn’t flat enough. What I mean by this is that it didn’t really lean into the “flat” aspect of the world - in trying to include things from Fallen London, I ended up creating a world that made zero sense. How can something be written on the floor? Why would shapes who can just walk north even have an elevator? Ultimately, by trying to use the second dimension as an interesting plot point, I just ended up confusing people.

The puzzles. Owing mostly to my lack of experience writing and playing IF, most of the puzzles in Flattened London are some variation on “use this item on this thing” or “give this item to this person”, which can get old pretty fast.

What did work
I got a lot of comments on just how weird the setting was. I obviously can’t take the credit for that, but I’m glad to have at least partially done it justice.

I’m particularly proud of the puzzle where you have to play mastermind with the piano, solely because of how much time it took to code.

I tried to make sure almost every room in the (large) map served a purpose.

I felt good about the endings. The true endings especially, but even the “neutral” ones.

I only had one bug when the game was released. I’m very proud of that.

Fin
I would like to extend thanks to my beta testers, everyone who took time to rate or review my game, the people on the Fallen London discord server who answered my lore questions, and everyone involved in IFCOMP2020. As a first time IF writer, I couldn’t have asked for a more welcoming community, and all the reviews I’ve read so far have helped greatly.

My next game will be a lot smaller, which will allow me to give it more polish/attention to detail.

Thanks again!

9 Likes

Congrats on the game – it was a lot of fun, and as you say really well put together. I’m amazed you’d only played two adventure games when you made it, but you could do a lot worse than having Zork and Monkey Island as your inspirations, and I’d definitely say you did right by them!

On the chess puzzle, I actually went back and took a look at it in my transcript, and you know, I think I can sort of make out what the handbook was saying – the difficulty was that once I started the chess game, I couldn’t read the handbook since the read action is pre-empted by the conversation menus. I could have just typed UNDO to read it first, I suppose, but I decided to start messing about first to see how the game worked, and quickly realized I could just UNDO-scum my way to victory. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but just thought I’d share that in case it’s helpful for assessing that puzzle!

I think your list of what did work is spot on. Flattened London was a really fun game from an exploration point of view, which is an itch most games these days don’t really scratch – there was a big, varied environment with a lot of different things going on, and with something interesting happening pretty much everywhere. The fact the puzzles were relatively straightforward I think actually helped with this, since they slowed down the pace of opening up new areas, but not so much to become a grind. So I think that wound up working really well.

Congrats again and looking forward to seeing what you do next!

2 Likes