A million flowers

By Failbetter, May 14, 2011 · Failbetter Tagged with , ,

[Some interesting responses to the Illumination announcement provoked this blog post.]

Echo Bazaar is a game about secrets and mysteries… among other things, but secrets and mysteries come high on the list.

We’ve learnt, over the past year or two, that people react very differently to secrets and mysteries: there are those who

– play 100 actions a day and remember everything
– play 100 actions a month and pay attention to the funny bits
– are mostly in it for the flirtation
– are mostly in it for the hats
– are only in it for the secrets and mysteries
– can’t bear the thought they might miss a single piece of text, and trawl wikis to catch everything
– keep an alternate Twitter account or two, and try all the other choices so they can play everything
– could really use a hint or reminder now and then
– regard the mysteries as a challenge to be solved, and won’t go near spoilers
- regard the text as semi-relevant fluff and just want to get every item in the game
– enjoy the text, like the atmosphere of mystery, are here to smell the flowers
– want to solve the mysteries competitively, for themselves
– want to share and work with other people

… and so on and so on.

If there was an ‘official’ way of playing Echo Bazaar, it would be to play through with one character, pay attention to the mysteries, swap stories with other people, read occasional spoilers or commentaries to catch things you’d missed, and enjoy the arbitrariness and irrevocability of some choices. It’s how we’d play, and it’s what the game’s best suited to.

But the more things we can be to the more people, the better. So we’re trying to find balanced approaches to suit a variety of play styles, and to cultivate a player community that can do that.

And more than that, we’re interested in taking these lessons into future games and other projects. Illumination is one experiment to this end. This is still a young field, and we think there are probably some fascinating techniques and approaches out there to discover. Your suggestions, as ever, are welcome.


Leave a reply

Strophoria Mar 8, 12:47am

I'm definitely a stop and smell the roses type of player, I'm interested in the story but don't want to take the time to obsessively play though every choice. Although lately I have been combing it a bit, just to see what makes the engine tick because I'm designing my own little Twine games now. Good advice, this blog is very helpful to me

Wind Turbines Jan 31, 8:47am

This is definitely a great page. I love reading your entire blog.. nice posts. thanks.

pacquiao vs marquez 3 replay Nov 9, 3:30pm

hi! very useful and very informative blog....(",)

Katherine Navane May 21, 9:51am

I agree with previous comments that it would be nice if there were a clear warning if an action or choice would irrevocably lock one out of a storyline. I found out about this when I used to play Kingdom of Loathing but I believe it was originally used to apply to old MUDs--players can be generally placed in one of four categories called "spades" "hearts" "clubs" and "diamonds"--the diamonds are the players who want to have every item in the game and all of the money and on the top of the leaderboards (if there are any). In short, they want to be the best. Spades want to 'dig' up all of the content possible. They are the ones who (in the extreme version) are trying to try every combination and actually figure out the mechanics of the game itself. Hearts are most interested in interacting positively with other players, and making friends. It doesn't apply to the original MUDs so much, but I think the hearts are also those most interested in role-playing and the developing relationships can extend to NPCs as well as players. Clubs are most interested in PVP and otherwise doing harm to other players. The best games appeal to all of these. Personally I think you're doing a great job so far in keeping a broad appeal. If I could change one thing it would be to make more options of ways to interact with other players--perhaps a way to send a message to another player and more options to give gifts (even useless ones! I'd love to be able to give ridiculous hats).

crawlkill May 19, 4:17pm

I think I'm, like, the torrid inchworm, fascinated with each leaf but fundamentally weak when it comes to the big flower. that's why I'm so big on the wikiprojects, really. it's more that I know I constantly absentmind everything I experience, taking each slice of content as a koan to dissect independent of context and not syncing it well with what dreams have come before. some people on have been putting forward some extraordinary thoughts about what North and South are that would just never have occured to me, even though I've fanatically consumed all the same content they have. I can't hold it all well in my mind in the format it's presented, and unlike a book I can't just give it a reread or two until all the details have plated the attention deficit colander of my mind. have you sweet creatures ever thought about setting any other kind of media in the Neath, maybe once Echo Bazaar's complete? I'll be picking up the roleplaying game, at least, sure.

Jason Dyer May 17, 7:41pm

Re: irrevocability. The main issue is when it is unclear something irrevocable is going on, or at least what ramifications might be in such a choice. With the Sardonic Music Hall choice it doesn't seem clear the particular choice that causes an Acquaintance would have any chance of doing so. The University choice, on the other hand, is very clear and very heavy. (I went with what my character would do; it was my favorite of the irrevocable choices.)

James Walker May 16, 6:29pm

I also miss my Mandrake. However, Sir Freddie & John: I also lost the Sardonic Music-Hall Singer. I'm very pleased with changing my Ambition to Bag a legend. Draw your own conclusion...or check the wiki!

aldeberan23 May 16, 10:31am

I was very sad to lose my half-wild mandrake. It seemed like a desperate situation...and maybe it was. Even so, it would be nice to have a way to get a new one, of which I would try to take more care. I miss my mandrake. = (

Alexis Kennedy May 15, 11:21pm

The prohibitions are: - don't copy-paste Fate-locked content - don't copy-paste content in a narratively coherent way that makes players feel they wouldn't get anything more from reading it in-game [1] So we prohibit copy-pasting the text of Rubbery Murders. We don't prohibit people mentioning on Twitter, forums, wikis, in the pub that the murderer was actually Mrs Plenty in a rubber hat. If you ever think something might be crossing the line, contact us and ask! We'd rather know and we're much happier if someone asks up front. Or go through an Illuminate, who'll have access to a spoiler-safe channel and may have seen the same question before. [1] you do get *something* extra from playing through and from feeling the effects in context... but we don't want any of that impact damaged.

Kylee May 15, 8:52pm

I'm someone who loves piecing together mysteries, and piecing them together with other people -- I like how bits of secrets are scattered throughout the game, and I like watching and working with a community. Lately, though, I've been wondering about how to get more speculation and discussion going while still respecting the guidelines on spoilers. I don't want to ruin the mystery for anyone, but part of the piecing-together process requires being blunt about the outcomes of certain plots. Does the team have any official thoughts on this?

Maddyanne May 15, 5:17pm

I had delayed choosing an Ambition and did at last entirely to meet the Music Hall Singer. Discovering that I'd missed that chance by making what seemed a good choice back when I was freshly arrived in the city made me a compulsive wiki reader. The Ambition likely isn't the one I'd have chosen, but I just couldn't not befriend the only woman so far among the possible Acquaintances.

Asclepius Unbound May 15, 3:18pm

I remember my own benefactor, who I should have likewise trusted. If Fate permits, perhaps all may yet be well. (Which is a shorthand way of saying that I also like the idea of Fate do-overs on non-critical events.)

Sir Frederick Tanah-Chook May 15, 12:20pm

Oh, and I must add - it would be nice to have some way to meet the Sardonic Singer after the fact!

Sir Frederick Tanah-Chook May 15, 12:19pm

I love the story, the colour and flavour, the mysteries... and I don't mind reading up on some spoilers. I run two accounts because I have two characters who suit Fallen London - one bookish and liberal, one sporty and aristocratic. I have taken advantage of Fate-based story-restarts once or twice... I particularly remember my Benefactor, who I ought to have trusted to undertake his voyage to Hell the first time.

John Evans May 15, 1:35am

The irrevocability can be tough to swallow sometimes. It still rankles that I made what seemed to be a good choice, but I later learned it closed me off from the whole Sardonic Music-Hall Singer stories...

Alexis Kennedy May 15, 12:33am

@Idlebat: Can you specify, in a minimally spoilery way, what that choice was? We put Fate do-overs in the game for two reasons. One is the rather key issue of revenue generation - but because by their nature these are low-cost minority-preference one-off purchases, they're never big moneyspinners. The other reason is to give people some way to duck irrevocability without making it feel as weightless as reloading a game. You *can* change your past and your destiny, but you have to sacrifice something important in the metagame / your real life to do it: namely, cash, or the rare bumps of in-game Fate.

Idlebat May 14, 10:12pm

I started an alternate account because of one irrevocable choice. Saying, "enjoy the irrevocability" sounds nice, but there was just one particular one that rankled so badly that it was spoiling the game for me. I don't like having two games, but that's what happened. It wasn't insatiable curiosity. So *for me*, having some way - even if it was difficult and took along time - to undo that one thing would really have changed they way I relate to the game and made it better for me. This is really a subset of my larger observation, which is that Echo Bazaar is long and life is complicated. I do a lot of things. I have a full time job, I'm in grad school, I live in New York City. I don't remember everything. There is a lot of repetition in the game (which I like, because I don't always have the time or energy to digest a lot of new content, but it gives me something to do in a recurring way that's a nice thread through my day). But then there will be something that you just hear once - and sometimes it's forgettable and unimportant, but sometimes it's key to the mystery. And if it was one opportunity card 8 months ago, I'm likely to forget it. That's OK, but not my favorite thing. It puts the game at an entertainment disadvantage compared to, say, a novel. And the mystery is indeed the main point for me, in the game as it is by itself. However, the main reason I stay in the game,even though the mystery/story unfolds so slowly, is because i have several close friends (including my partner) who play. So there's an element of competition or just keeping up - I don't want to be the only one without a sedan chair! (or whatever). BTW I really appreciated Fluke St opening, because the thing I couldn't bear was being exiled from the University. Too allegorical wrt my real life. But now it's something substantive I have in my "main game" that my non-exiled friends (or, conversely, friends with RL tenure who don't care if they're exiled) don't.

Imeja May 14, 9:54pm

A golfish is like a goldfish, but you can use it to play underwater golf. Obviously.

Imeja May 14, 9:52pm

[quote]can't bear the thought they might miss a single piece of text, and trawl wikis to catch everything[/quote] Present! But it's not just the wikis, it's the... currently 66 WordPad files, just in case I forget something. (What? You try playing a long-running mystery game with the long-term memory of a half-digested golfish!) What I should have done is stick it all on wikis, thereby contributing to the player community.