Word Games: Failbetter’s Black Crown

Failbetter’s collection of ‘immersive fiction’ continues to grow via its Storynexus platform but I haven’t found anything in the collection quite as gripping as the bizarre demon-Dickensian sprawl of Fallen London. Until now! Black Crown, the first published work from author Rob Sherman, has found life as a Storynexus experiment thanks to a collaboration between Random House and Failbetter. It’s free to play, although some (presumably) optional branches require the purchase of Nex, the currency shared across the Storynexus platform. I’ve only spent an hour in the word labyrinth so far, but I’m hooked. As well as being adept at squeamish body horror, Sherman shows the mark of a supreme builder of strange worlds.

It will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out for Random House, as well as Sherman and Failbetter. The quality is certainly there and the often fractured descriptions and dialogues are well-suited to a computer screen, communicating through typography and mouseover text, along with the occasional graphic punctuation. I also find that there’s something paradoxically alienating about the interactive nature of the story. Somehow, the abstract and often bleak nature of the choices that it offers make me feel more restrained than the more obvious linearity of a series of pages to turn.

Best not to know too much, but do be aware that Black Crown may inspire queasiness. In the first hour it has managed to confront me with descriptions of injury and decay that make me feel uneasy, and has then perfectly described that uneasy feeling, thereby elevating it to ‘unnerving’. Impressive.

If you fancy something more lighthearted, this tale of canine gents may please.


  1. Blackseraph says:

    Since i like fallen london, i might just try this too.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Hm. Body Horror is not really my thing. But I’ll give a try, because I really enjoyed Fallen London.

  3. UncleLou says:

    edit: nevermind

  4. Hyoscine says:

    I’ve been playing this for a few days; it’s stunning. Some of the best writing I’ve come across in an interactive thing, and just one of the most inventive, involving things I’ve ever read.

  5. Salix says:

    It’s quite interesting. I have no idea what’s actually going on but it does get more than a little disturbing at points.

    Now I think about it, it reminds me quite a lot of some of Thomas Ligotti’s work.

    • Hyoscine says:

      Hadn’t thought of that till you said it, but yeah, I totally see where you’re coming from; physicality, bureaucracy, limited emotional responses…

      I would definitely work for Widsith over Quine though.

  6. Wombats says:

    Fallen London is some of the best writing I’ve seen in a game or book for a long time.
    Going to give this a bash for sure.

  7. Tukuturi says:

    I tried to play one of these Story Nexus games. It was a weird western, and I really liked it. After playing for a couple of hours, I was in a position where I either had to wait some inordinate amount of time to read further or buy some kind of tokens. Also, there was a lot of side quest repetition to build up stats, which naturally required turns that could only be replenished by waiting or spending money.

    I don’t mind to pay for a good story, but I’d rather just be able to pay for it. I hate this microtransaction nonsense, especially when it’s made essentially necessary just to play.

    • malkav11 says:

      The idea is that you consume the story in measured doses over a lengthy period of time, not that you pay them for actions, which they offer only for the truly impatient and is not in the least a money-efficient way to play. The core revenue stream for Fallen London and the other StoryNexus games is optional side content purchases.

      That said, Zero Summer (which is, as I understand it, still very much a work in progress and which I assume is the game you mean) did have a certain problem with grindiness when I last played it, which is too bad because it’s really compelling writing and when you do qualify for story content it is lengthy and meaty.