Introcomp: Walker's Rift
I’m deep in the mire of writing an IF Comp entry, which is why I barely had the time to play recent IF releases. But Introcomp is nice in that I can read and evaluate a game in a lot less time than usual, and feel like I have something to say about it. First up: Walker’s Rift, by Hope Chow.
Walker’s Rift is a ChoiceScript story about monster hunting (or perhaps cryptozoological research) in a setting that resembles a fantastic version of modern-say Singapore, with a bit of the Kowloon Walled City thrown in for good measure. The gameplay template is comfortably within the Choice of Games mould, with a stateful branching structure and an initially generic protagonist that gets fleshed out by player choice.
We don’t get very far into the plot in this intro, though we do get enough time with it to get a feel for the setting and characters. The story is structured as a mystery, complete with an elaborately branching series of investigations. This is a very hard structure to work with; and here it has a few problems: it strongly encourages lawnmowering, for one thing, and the same inference is made by the player character repeatedly in different places and times. A lot of time is spent investigating occurrences that are all clearly connected, but are also too similar to one another to really stick in the player’s mind. Unlike in your typical serial-murder procedural story, these are all presented to the player at once, so that there is no sense of escalation. In many ways, the investigation sequence feels like wheel-spinning; at a couple of points, the game explicitly tells you to not choose every option, just the ones you think are important – but with no limit to how many I can pick, and very little context to what might be important, it’s very hard to not just try everything.
Structurally, the story is much more Law & Order than Buffy; but it’s misstepping on the sort of pacing tricks that make procedural stories work. None of this is unfixable with editing, however.
As an intro, it doesn’t really get into what makes this particular character or story interesting. There’s not much in the way of a strong hook. Instead, it has a low-key tone that works well enough for it, but it really wanted to show something more of the setting or situation to give players some context into what might come next – without it, it’s hard to get excited about it.
It does gain a lot from the strength of the setting – fantasy with real specificity is unjustifiably rare, especially when that specificity points to something other than the genre’s usual medieval European roots. The idea of treating fantasy monster hunting in the idiom of a down-to-earth police procedural, complete with paperwork and departmental politics, is intriguing in itself. So this is definitely a piece I would like to see polished and expanded, even if this intro isn’t making the strongest possible case for it.