Failbetter Founder Alexis Kennedy Writing For BioWare

Artist's impression of Kennedy at work

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.

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  1. Premium User Badge

    Kreeth says:

    The Masters are from Andromeda!

  2. SaintAn says:

    Really sad day. An artist going to work for a corporation that pumps out lowest common denominator targeted garbage. What EA/BioWare have done to the Mass Effect and Dragon Age sequels is like what that lady did to that painting Fresco of Jesus. The lowest common denominator had no interest in the painting until it became a dumb meme.

    • Czrly says:

      However talented he is, and he is extraordinarily talented, I hold little hope that his talent will shine through in any BioWare product aimed at the safe middle-ground. At least at Paradox, there’s a chance he could be allowed to fly but at BioWare he’ll just be churning out extraordinarily well written and extraordinarily boring and normal tropes.

      • Czrly says:

        To put it another way, there is simply no chance that a game like Sunless Sea would ever have been made by a company like BioWare as it exists, today. Sunless Sea appeals to such a tiny and specific audience and, even to that audience, it is still an acquired taste. The writing is also extremely risky, touching on topics that would never fly in any corporate board-room.

        BioWare: “cannibals are bad because they’re cannibals, obvs.”
        Sunless Sea: “let’s actually explore cannibalism a little. your crew are hungry, right?”

        • Rizlar says:

          It’s pretty unfair to accuse Bioware writing as being boring and normal. The games as a whole definitely do aim for the middle of the mainstream but there is some weird shit in there. Iron Bull in DA:I, the evolving setting of DA2. Finding it hard to come up with examples from ME but I’m sure they are there. >.<

          A recent Sunday Papers linked to an article all about identity in DA:I: link to

          God knows these games have issues but your description of the writing seems overly simplistic and wrong. Also there is a cannibal in DA:O and he's a decent sort.

          If you haven't played the text game Failbetter made for the launch of DA:I you should, it's very good.

        • Premium User Badge

          FhnuZoag says:

          I’d say that stuff like the genophage is a pretty daring topic to tackle in a game.

          Seriously, though. If Bioware *were* so safe and middle of the road, why on earth are people so damn angry about their games? Hate it or not, stuff like the infamous ME3 ending was not the product of a corporate boardroom, but of individual authors working in secret. Hence the controversy. The argument here isn’t even internally consistent.

          • Distec says:

            It’s tempting to confuse the criticism here, but ME3’s ending/writing was lambasted because it was terrible, not because it was breaking the mould in any way.

            And personally, “three-choice ending with strong colors” sounds pretty safe and worn for RPGs these days, even if it was a purely creative decision made internally at Bioware.

          • damnsalvation says:

            A lot of it comes down to the pre/post-EA thing. The ME universe was created back when BioWare was still independent, ditto for DA. The problem people have is really with the impact of EA on BioWare’s work.

            Wow… three two-letter acronyms. I guess I could have made it four with BioWare, but somehow it just didn’t feel right.

        • FreshHands says:

          Couldn’t have phrased it any better.

          Also a sad day for cannibalism around the world.

    • Premium User Badge

      Jekadu says:

      Did you play The Last Court? Fantastic game. He knows how to do Dragon Age.

      • SaintAn says:

        I did, but there’s so much more wrong with BioWare games than just poor writing, so I feel like he’s wasting his talent there.

  3. Mansen says:

    To be honest I’m finding it very hard to see how Kennedy can hope to improve the literal dark pit that has become Bioware these days. When they started making sequels for ME and DA it all went downhill fast – Oh so very fast…

  4. Premium User Badge

    FhnuZoag says:

    I liked Bioware’s writing, I liked Alexis Kennedy’s writing, Alexis Kennedy likes Bioware’s writing. So looking forward to what he can contribute.

    PS: link to

  5. Premium User Badge

    Captain Narol says:

    I think he would be a good pick for Andromeda and hope he will be given enough creative freedom to make something great of it, time will tell !

  6. brucethemoose says:

    My money is on Andromeda DLC, aka an essential part of the game that should’ve been shipped with the original like ME3’s DLC.

    And I see some hate for recent Bioware games here… Pretend like their endings don’t exist, and ME2/3 have some good writing IMHO.

    But if Bioware really wanted good writing,they would just contract Obsidian. Words cannot describe what I would give for an Obsidian ME game.

    • jellydonut says:

      That’s what I’m thinking too, it’s far too late in the cycle for him to be writing for the actual game. Some sort of storyfilled DLC like Leviathan (which I liked a lot).

  7. Auldman says:

    Ugh more cliched and herd mentality stuff about BioWare. Some of us enjoyed their recent games and some of also find Paradox’s titles overrated snoozefests. Pillars of Eternity was also a giant bore-fest with bad combat so I would not want to see a Mass Effect game done by Obsidian unless I really want to have a 45 minute conversation with an NPC before anything happens. And I don’t.

    • FreshHands says:

      Well, ufortunately I have to agree to a certain degree here.

      Still, Bioware basically IS another word for mainstream these days. And the mainstream ever washes away so much originality.

    • Fry says:

      You have bad opinions about video games, but hey… that’s OK.

      Unlike Bethesda, at least Bioware actually attempts to add a narrative to their games. It’s mostly devolved into “save the world/galaxy and try to get laid” at this point, but it’s something.

    • brucethemoose says:

      Obsidian does their best work when someone else lays the groundwork for them, and they build a story around it.

      It softens Obsidian’s bad habit of putting in 10x more rambling than gameplag… And it gives the games actual gameplay.

  8. TomxJ says:

    Congrats! Love Mass Effect, Love Sunless Sea!

  9. anHorse says:

    It’s lovely that writers I enjoy are getting work

    However I’m not buying another bioware game after DAI until they learn how to actually make the gameplay engaging (or even tolerable)

  10. grylxndr says:

    If he’s working with Mike Laidlaw (creative director of Dragon Age) and Patrick Weekes (lead writer on Dragon Age) it’s safe to say he’s working on Dragon Age.

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