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How to solve a river

By Failbetter, March 10, 2013 · Fallen London Tagged with ,

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.

15 Comments

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Lily Fox (@lilylayer4) Mar 24, 3:07pm

This is what I get for not playing for ages, isn't it? *Tongue in cheek* Love this kind of stuff, anyway. Delightfully mysterious.

The Incorrigible Raconteur Mar 12, 5:49pm

You're a twisty, turny thing and you can call me Susan if it isn't so. In all seriousness though, it was lovely to watch everything unfold, even as much as it was mind-bogglingly frustrating not to understood (a frustration that only caused the red mist to descend further every time some happy well-meaning sort crowed "Of COURSE! It was so SIMPLE!" when I could see nothing) It mollifies me slightly that I play predominantly via my iPhone: I rarely, if ever, think about URLS so I don't think the solution would have occurred to me if it had been painted onto my eyelids. That doesn't stop me from enjoying seeing everyone else's mental journey (once I've calmed down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake, that is)

Alexis Kennedy Mar 12, 12:54pm

No indeed! It's meant to be a hardcore puzzle for deeply engaged players. It wasn't meant to be particularly accessible to casual players, and if it had been, it wouldn't have generated the intense discussion that brought you here. There are lots and lots and lots of other more accessible puzzles in the game. Fallen London is many things to many people, and no one player will enjoy all of it. This is by design.

Jonathan Cliffen Mar 12, 11:57am

Please bear in mind, some folks are casually playing. I do not keep up to date on the forums or blogs, for example. I only came here from the twitter link because I knew I had missed out on some kind of event. I agree with the parent post that modifying URLs is not a standard interaction for this game. It is not reasonable to assume that casual users will make that leap. Still enjoying the rest of the content though, Thanks!

Alexis Kennedy Mar 12, 10:28am

"Impossible?" Dozens of people solved it (a dozen before I even posted any hints). It does require lateral thinking because, well, it's a lateral thinking puzzle. It's also an homage to a long Internet tradition of this kind of puzzle solution. "Nothing official?" We've talked about it in the StoryNexus reference guide, the community forums and on this very blog. "Implicit contract"? I don't understand why you would talk about an implicit contract and in the same para complain that the explicit contract was lacking. "Bad"? A lot of people enjoyed it. Asserting a personal design preference as a universal design rule is a popular forum gambit (see also "this design is deeply flawed") but I don't think it's a very effective one. ""Puzzles""? I don't know why you put that in quote marks.

John Evans (@Chaoseed) Mar 12, 2:11am

This was one of those bad, impossible "puzzles". There has never been any indication that we are allowed to change the URLs of the access codes. The way I see it, a game is a social contract; the player follows the rules, and the designer promises some type of experience (fun, interesting, tragic, whatever). The point of Echo Bazaar is that you click cards and links, and that's your method of interaction. The experience of spending years clicking links, playing with cards, items and areas, that all forms an implicit contract that the game will be played with those sorts of actions. And the official documentation, the FAQ and stuff, supports this; nowhere does ANYTHING official tell you that changing URLs is an action available to you, or even within the terms of service. By creating something that requires out-of-bounds interactions, you're breaking the social contract. It's like blindfolding people and pushing them into a room, then laughing when they trip over things.

Spacemarine9 Mar 11, 5:56pm

nothing about putting it on the mantelpiece was really special: just the fact that it let other people without boxes see the text + thus the clue within

Vefessh Mar 11, 1:39pm

Ah! I had just finished the storyline with the Dilmun Club and *its* model of the 'neath, so I thought it was connected to that.

fatcarriesflavor Mar 11, 11:54am

...not even slightly getting how the description of the River in a Box suggests putting it on the mantle.

Spacemarine9 Mar 10, 5:22pm

it wouldn't be possible to bribe the mirrorcatch box text during the sunlight event out of you, or at least it's rewards, would it?

San (@_dchan) Mar 10, 11:12am

Re: " I was tremendously impressed by the range and inventiveness of proposed solutions [...]" There was definitely a point at which I thought, "Alexis must be laughing his ass off at the number of epileptic trees[*] we're generating..." --- Unfortunately, I was asleep during the final stretch of puzzle-solving, so I didn't manage to snag a box, but oh well. The thrill's always been in the chase for me anyway. [*] If you are unfamiliar with the term, check TVtropes.org.

imzodd Mar 10, 10:53am

Damn the low amount of attention I pay to non work related stuff when I'm at work. Otherwise I might have caught this. Even so, amazing stuff. And never underestimate the power of crowd-sourcing. :D

vaelvictus Mar 10, 6:44am

Excellently done. I figured it out just a tad too late, unfortunately. About 45 minutes of tad.

Alexander Feld Mar 10, 5:30am

Alexis, I say this with the utmost respect and appreciation: YOU CUNNING BASTARD! That really was brilliant. I'd only caught on to the idea that OURS was important just before I checked the thread and found that it was all over, but it was quite the clever puzzle.

Ann Neff (@Ann_Niobe) Mar 10, 3:31am

Good lord, you have a twisty, twisty mind! I never came near figuring it out, and I still think it's well done.