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About the StoryUnravel the secrets of the third dimension and search for treasure in a wholly bizarre setting — a crossover between the worlds of Fallen London and Flatland. Keep your wits about you in this sprawling parser-based game, and remember: There's no such thing as down.
11th Place (tie) - 26th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2020)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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(Spoiler - click to show)You are supposed to attach a sharp rock (flint) to a device you get to turn it into a lighter, but I never found sharp rock and I can't see the walkthrough telling me where it is either. If any other players out there found it or if I missed it in the walkthrough let me know so I can correct this.
Also, and this might be a bigger deal than I realize, while I've played Fallen London a little I never really got into it the way others did, so it is possible parts of this game are lost on me.
I think this game has a lot of potential, having it play out in two dimensions is a neat idea and that could lead to some clever mechanics, and the atmosphere is interesting. It just needs a little more work.
The game is quite large, and has a Zork-like structure where you put treasures in a trophy case. There are plenty of locations, people and items.
This game is centered on parser structure, Fallen London lore, and geometry. I want to talk about what worked well and less well for me personally in each area.
What worked well with the parser: The puzzles are clean and solvable, usually, with few red herrings. I had a couple of disambiguation issues (especially with books and with the chess set) but very few if any genuine bugs. Interaction with NPCs generally worked well, always a hard thing to do. The piano puzzle was great.
What worked less well with the parser: The puzzles could use a little more creativity. Many of them are just ‘take the object’ or ‘follow the instructions here’. On the other hand, the chess puzzle was, as your testers indicated, perhaps too hard. It might have been worth giving a visual interpretation or even having a scrawled note in the chess handbook that says what the ‘real meaning’ of rule 1 is so people know they’re supposed to translate the rules and use them.
What worked well with Fallen London: This was clearly written by either a fan of the game or someone a lot of time to browse the wiki (or both?). Locations seem true to form, from poking around in the banks of the river to the exhibits in the Labyrinth of tigers to the expeditions in the Fallen Quarter.
What worked less well with Fallen London: Fallen London relies almost entirely on atmosphere and on the idea that there are forbidden secrets just around the corner. This game reveals many of the secrets of Fallen London, so many that I would almost recommend people not play it if they plan on getting into Fallen London and want to have more surprises. This has a second negative effect, which is that by revealing so much of the secrets at once, they’re deprived of their power, and the impact of the setting is lessened. Likewise, the game lacks the lush descriptions of Fallen London.
What works with geometry: Things like the elevator shaft work very well and the endings. But otherwise the 2-dimensionality is not used very much. How are murals drawn? How do locks work? How can the sigils be drawn as (presumably) 1-dimensional paint? How can you bridge a river without blocking its flow?
So I think this game has a lot of positives, but that it could make use of its three sources a little bit more.
+Polished: Mostly so.
-Descriptive: The writing is, well, somewhat flat.
+Interactivity: There was generally always something available to do.
-Emotional impact: I didn't feel emotionally invested in the game.
+Would I play again? After I've had enough time to forget the solutions, yes.
For all the potential outlandishness of the setup, though, Flattened London goes down easy. I’m only dimly familiar with the inspirations (I read Flatland maybe 20 years ago, and have maybe played two or three hours apiece of Fallen London and Sunless Seas before bouncing off them), but the author doesn’t assume too much advance knowledge, providing enough context to make the player feel sure-footed, without overloading things with too much lore or too many exposition dumps. There are certainly lots of things that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but I suspect most of those were places where ambiguity and mystery were intentional, and I generally had a solid enough understanding of how things behaved to be able to move forward.
The structure here is interesting. There’s a clear main plot – the player character (a triangle) is tasked by one of the eldritch overlords of the post-lapsarian city with tracking down a forbidden treatise adverting to the existence of a heretical third-dimension, and once obtained, there are a number of different things you can do to dispose of it. But if you just stick to that, you’d maybe see only a third of the game – perhaps I just got lucky with where I chose to start exploring the fairly-large game map, but I resolved the plot and got a perfectly satisfying ending in about 45 minutes.
Below (can we say “below”?) this more modern, story-driven structure, though, is a Zork-style treasure hunt. You have a 13-slot trophy case in your apartment, you see, and as you explore the world, poke into ancient mysteries, and solve various side-puzzles, you accumulate various valuables that can be deposited back home. It’s hopefully not a spoiler to share that something fun happens if you find all of them, and I found tracking them down sufficiently engaging that I kept playing until I’d caught them all (in a bit under two hours, for those who might be intimidated by the “longer than two hours” estimate on the blurb).
There are two reasons this way of doing things works well for Flattened London, I think. First, exploration is rewarding in its own right – there are lots of places to poke into, secret histories alluded to, endless libraries to get lost in, and even a whole (Spoiler - click to show)parallel dimension to discover. The writing here is never as rich and allusive as what I’ve seen in the Failbetter games, sounding a bit more prosaic than the antediluvian ruins and dimension-hopping monsters on offer might seem to merit – and I’m not sure it does as much as it could with the Flatland part of the premise – but there are definitely moments that are enticingly weird (I’m thinking especially of the (Spoiler - click to show)bit with the pail), and the clean prose keeps the focus on the puzzles, which are the other reason the structure worked for me: there are a lot of them, but I found all the puzzles pretty easy.
Most involve a pretty direct application of a single inventory item, with generous clueing, and even the slightly more involved ones don’t give much trouble (there is a maze, but it’s pretty easy to map using the old drop-your-inventory-to-mark-where-you’ve-been method, and you don’t even need to do that since there’s a clue found elsewhere that enables you to run straight through it). There’s a game of Mastermind, but I think you’ve got infinite time to solve it so that’s no big deal. There was one puzzle that I’m still not quite sure how I solved (Spoiler - click to show)(getting the treasure on the shelf in the elevator shaft – after I made it through maze, suddenly this was accessible on the way back, but I’m not sure what I’d done to open that up. I also might have sort of broken it, though, since I’d realized that while you can’t take the object on the shelf as you’re whizzing by, you can take the shelf itself, which I’m pretty sure isn’t intended). But overall the game plays as a romp, as you wander around a large map plowing up treasures and secrets practically every five minutes.
I’m not sure how long Flattened London will stick with me – that’s the down side (argh, “down”, I did it again) of being so easygoing – but there’s a lot to be said for just rewarding the player! This is probably some of the purest fun I’ve had so far in the Comp.
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