It was a sad day, for me, when Alexis Kennedy left Failbetter. The creators of Fallen London and Sunless Sea built their games on some of the strongest and most idiosyncratic writing games have ever been host to, and I hoped we’d see more of Kennedy’s words sooner rather than later. The good news is that Failbetter’s foundations seem sturdy enough that Kennedy’s absence may be felt but won’t leave an enormous gap, and we’re already seeing him work on some exciting projects.
First, there was Stellaris, and now Kennedy has announced that he’ll be the “first ever guest writer” at BioWare working alongside Mike Laidlaw and Patrick Weekes.
Kennedy describes the assignment as a guest writer sting on “a significant piece of content”, but can’t say which game he’s actually working on just yet. Failbetter do have an association with Dragon Age, in the form of browser-based Inquisition precursor The Last Court. That was a Failbetter game in a Dragon Age costume, even being built with the studio’s text-happy Story Nexus engine, but this new assignment seems much more likely to be part of a Full Fat BioWare project. Could it be a segment of Mass Effect: Andromeda, or will it be a portion of whatever is next for Dragon Age? Or maybe something entirely new?
Hopefully we’ll find out soon.
In the meantime, I enjoyed these notes from Kennedy on writing for Stellaris, and the challenges involved. It contains hints as to the kind of thing we should expect from his work on Paradox’s sci-fi strategy game and is also a good insight into how working as a writer for a game actually plays out. Here’s the first of seven points:
“If a narrative event runs as an interrupt, make sure the first sentence is a grabber. When you’re playing Stellaris, you spend much of your time with the (real-time) game running at high speed, mentally juggling multiple goals, waiting for a planet to get colonised or a fleet to reach its destination. If a window pops up to say SOMETHING SOMETHING FLAVOUR, it’s immediately tempting to mouse over the reward and click ‘OK’ without following the detail. The first sentence needs to justify its presence – give the player a cue for urgency (‘EVERYTHING IS ON FIRE on Pharos III’), for exaample, or just a strong image. I like the intro for one of the vanilla events in Stellaris: “Immense, ragged planes of shadow drift across Pharos II’s face.” Concrete, intriguing, unfussy.”
And here’s how Kennedy signs off:
“I tend to prefer evocative real words or phrases. The corpse I put in Stellaris, for instance, is the Messenger. You can overdo this (and I have overdone it sometimes), and invented words, especially if they have some aesthetic or etymological relevance, are fine – like the Cybrex in vanilla Stellaris, or peligin [from pelagic/fuligin] in Sunless Sea. But this is the first work I’ve done that’s going to be localised, and I didn’t want to make life any harder for the translators than necessary.
“So I favoured poetry over neology: the Coils of God, the Horizon Signal, the Worm-in-Waiting. I’m reasonably confident those phrases will be memorable.”
Bring on the Worm.