Now in a partnership to build Fallen London, games maker Alexis Kennedy and partner Paul found themselves coding, writing, and crafting artwork to bring their increasingly unique and hugely innovative web game to life. Alexis would provide Paul with clear, minimal briefs outlining what he wanted, and Paul would respond in turn with the pieces he needed.
Soon, though, they stumbled upon a mutual weakness – the UI design. Alexis struggled to create a user interface design that didn’t look terrible, and Paul had issues designing one that looked good on screen and didn’t have basic issues with usability, as he had a much stronger print background than one for the web.
This required hiring a web designer named Andrew Thompson to build out HTML templates to help push production along. Though not all of his design survived, his key innovation – using the candle to display how many actions players had left – proved to be an actual game changer.
The postcard problem
Alexis and Paul also found themselves in conflict over the game’s UI – their first major argument during the development process. Alexis wanted to give users the ability to send postcards from different parts of Fallen London, and had no space for this feature in a practical part of the UI. Alexis kept asking Paul to make this button brighter until he made it the single brightest, most distracting object on the entire page, and they then had to discuss the fact that Alexis had pestered him into such a harsh reaction.
Alexis sees this as representative of much of his working relationship with Paul. They worked together well most of the time, then occasionally ended up in a war of egos over a minute detail that escalated through messages and new passes on concepts. This would end with one of them calling the other, talking them down, and moving forward with work without incident, and Alexis found himself writing long, overwrought responses to Paul’s pushbacks before realising that Paul was, in fact, completely right.
Building a world
Soon, Fallen London was really taking shape. The game wasn’t public, but had dozens of players. There was no money, and players were moving through the game’s content at extraordinary speed – much faster than Alexis ever foresaw or assumed his player’s would. This is something that all experienced game designers understand, but few people learn until they actually release and launch a game.
While it shouldn’t be an issue that your fastest players burn through content more quickly, it begets a serious problem: your biggest fans may spoil your game, and they’re always wanting more from you.
This left Alexis struggling to keep up with how much content the game needed alongside the technical work, including squashing bugs and eliminate problems, and fixing issues with content that had gone live was very difficult.
He thought about two ideas to solve this problem. The first was to bring in new writers, but the writers he thought would be great fits had full time jobs elsewhere and he couldn’t afford to pay them yet, so he deferred it for now, planning to come back to it later. The second was to redesign the game to tastefully recycle content. In the short term, this meant adding some repetitive tasks with variables, which wasn’t something he loved to do, but worked to solve an immediate problem.
The power of “Adjective Noun”
Almost every character in Fallen London follows the Adjective Noun naming scheme. As such, characters have titles like Swivel-Eyed Patriot or Affable Spy – types of people in the world, rather than individually-named characters who must be one-of-a-kind. This concept helped to create atmosphere, convey key information about characters, and help players remember who these characters were.
At this point, Fallen London wasn’t ready for prime time and Alexis had four months left of his sabbatical. His hard deadline for a public alpha launch was October 30th, which was also the day he and Paul had made plans to go to a conference called Playful to promote the game. However, things were going to change very drastically in his life very soon.
Sonja’s birth and moving forward
On August 26, 2009, Alexis’s then-wife, Ana, entered labor. 24 hours later, during which the couple moved from a natural birth center to an ambulance and ultimately to a hospital, so that Ana could receive an epidural (which it was ultimately too late to administer), his daughter, Sonja was born. Save for a terrifying moment during which her heart monitor had slipped off, prompting a nurse to say that their baby’s heart was no longer beating, it was a successful birth.
This did, however, shift the course of Alexis’s life considerably – and change the development cycle and plans for the alpha launch of Fallen London as well.
Click here to learn more about developer Alexis Kennedy.