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Punch out Fascists and unravel conspiracies in this explosive pulp adventure set in a retro-futuristic 1930s world of airships, fast cars, and two-fisted action!
Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow is a 300,000-word interactive novel by William Brown, author of The Mysteries of Baroque. I sat down with William to discuss his new game and the crazy worlds he builds. Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow releases this Wednesday, November 24th. You can play the first three chapters today.
Tell me how you conceived of the world of Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow. What are the influences on this game?
I liked the idea of doing a game that drew on pulp fiction in the same way that my previous game was inspired by Gothic fiction. So my primary inspirations was the pulp fiction of the 1930s, where excitement and pace always trump plausibility, and the radio and film serials and comic strips that were based on them – Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Phantom Lady, Tarzan, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Tintin, Terry & the Pirates, the Saint… I downloaded a bunch of old-time radio serials, put them on to my iPod, and spent weeks wandering around suburban London with, like, Orson Welles as the Shadow cackling in my ears.
In addition to this, I was inspired by a lot of early twentieth century thriller writers like John Buchan and Eric Ambler, classic adventure films like Casablanca, Only Angels Have Wings, The Maltese Falcon, To Catch a Thief, North by Northwest… and, of course, the Indiana Jones films.
The main thing I wanted to capture was the sense of excitement and fast-paced adventure in all these stories, the sense of infinite possibilities. So I set the game in an alternative version of the 1930s where, thanks to a machine known as the zeta ray generator, the Clutch Plague never happened, where the economic boom of the Roaring ‘20s never stopped but instead kept accelerating out of control, with people building ever-higher skyscrapers, driving ever faster cars, and throwing ever wilder and more extravagant parties. A pulp serial kind of a world, where everything is always in motion and every action just escalates the tension.
Who is the PC in this game? Are they the Shadow, are they Flash Gordon?
The PC is a famous New York-based, globetrotting adventurer who has been pretty much everywhere and has a host of friends and enemies all over the world. Other than that, the player can decide which particular pulp archetype they lean into: they might be a science genius like Doc Savage, or a mystic avenger like the Shadow, a Modesty Blaise-type superspy, or a treasure-hunting rogue like Indiana Jones.
This is a world filled with thrills and chills, but also Fascists and Martians. Fun to write?
It’s my sincere hope that players have even as close to as much fun playing Cliffhanger as I did writing it. There’s just something so liberating and satisfying about completely embracing the spirit of the pulp genre, about breathlessly applying superlatives to everything and freely breaking out the exclamation marks, about piling desperate situation on desperate situation and never ever slowing the pace down.
I wrote a lot of the game during lockdown, in those anxious and claustrophobic times, and it felt like a privilege to be able to escape for an hour or so a day into this colorful, glamorous Art Deco world of international travel, intrigue, and adventure.
This is your second game with us, the first being The Mysteries of Baroque. What lessons did you learn from your first effort that you were able to apply to this new game?
This time round, I tried my best to make failure fun. One of the guiding principles of the game was that, as much as possible, the player failing a stats check should take the story in new and interesting directions as opposed to just stopping them from advancing. One of my inspirations was Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film where the protagonist fails at least as often as he succeeds – but Indie never looks less awesome as a result, it just makes him feel more like a scrappy, resourceful underdog who’ll always find a way to fight back or improvise a solution.
What are you working on next?
I have a few different ideas! One is a follow-up to Cliffhanger, taking place 30 years later in Swinging London at the height of the groovy, psychedelic 1960s – taking inspiration from the Bond films, The Prisoner, Beatlemania…
I also have an idea for an epic science fiction game in mind, inspired by big, weird sci-fi stories like Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem, Brandon Graham’s Prophet comics, Dune and The Book of the New Sun. And a couple of fantasy ideas as well. We’ll see!