IFComp 2020: Flattened London

This one’s a mashup of Fallen London and Flatland, a surprisingly harmonious pairing. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising — they’re both extremely Victorian, after all. But Flatland is Victoriana as seen from within, rife with the unexamined classism of empire, while Fallen London views it from without, mythologizing it semi-ironically. And anyway, that’s not the surprising part. The real goods is in seeing how little it takes to finagle a Flatlander’s discovery of the third dimension into something occult and eldritch, a guarded secret known only to mad cultists, but also something that, like most of Fallen London, can be mastered through resource acquisition.

That said, the Flatland aspect is irrelevant to the majority of the content. Sometimes I’d run into something like a cage suspended from a chain and wonder: How does a cage work in 2D? How does a chain? Answers are not forthcoming. So mostly this is an adventure game in an abbreviated Fallen London-ish environment that stuffs in as many of the original’s outlandish ideas as it can get away with. But that’s enough to be pretty satisfying.

At the start of the story, you’re offered a commission from Mr. Pages, one of the mysterious powerful entities that lords it over the underground, to procure a certain book, a manuscript that explains the mysteries of the third dimension. Once you have the book, you can complete your mission, and with it the game, by giving it to Mr. Pages as requested, and be rewarded lavishly, or you can dispose of it in a few other ways, including destroying it and making it public. But the thing is, the clear best ending doesn’t involve disposing of the book at all. Rather, you get it by finding valuable objects in every corner of the map and delivering them to the trophy case in your home, which mysteriously has slots just the right shape to receive them. There are entire areas of the map, and associated subplots, that you don’t have to engage with to get a book ending, and which are solely about obtaining valuables. So there’s basically two parallel courses of action, which is, again, very much like the gameplay in Fallen London.

For what it’s worth, I found the puzzles leading to the treasures to be pretty reasonable, except for one that I couldn’t even begin to approach without hints, because it required dying, which is something that you pretty much have to seek out deliberately. The game content contains clues about this, but they weren’t strong enough to overcome habit. I suppose someone who’s more into Fallen London than me might have better intuitions about this: the boundary between life and death is fairly permeable in that setting, where the deceased routinely rejoin society after a few months entombed, and the Crown has diplomatic relations with Hell. In this one respect, I think the game is less accessible to people outside the fandom.

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