Hypnospace Outlaw casts players as a form of internet enforcer, looking for online troublemakers, finding a history of their crimes by combing through chats and websites, and then bringing them to justice.
Siliconera caught up with its developer, Jay Tholen (also the creator of Dropsy) to talk about what inspired a game of policing an internet that looks straight out of the Geocities/Angelfire era of websites.
What inspired a video game about policing the internet?
Jay Tholen, developer of Hypnospace Outlaw: Whoo boy. So, if I’m not making a game with at least some little shred of something that can help people in it, I get super sad. I feel like I’m just adding more noise to the world. This is an incredibly arbitrary thing, and I really only apply it to my own works. I’m perfectly content playing games that have no subtext or helpful meaning.
Anyway, In 2014 I was fiddling with this fun little tiny prototype with flat shaded day-glo vechicles ramming into one another, but couldn’t think of a way to imbue it with anything good or helpful; It felt like cheap candy.
Around the same time, there was a thread on a message board I post on where these folks just completely dogpiled a person. They dug up personal information on them, made catchphrases out of them, photoshops, etc. When the person would attempt to defend themselves, it’s just be more fuel for more mockery. The target of this stuff wasn’t an innocent, but I didn’t feel they were worthy of the complete load of garbage being piled on them.
I felt like the people on the forum were attempting to serve justice while really just choosing one person to represent everything they hated in a particular viewpoint, and then mercilessly attacking them.
This made me reflect on my own actions, and I immediately began to feel pretty horrible about things I’ve said to people over forums/Twitter/Facebook in the past. People I’ve argued with, people I’ve picked on, etc. I’ve definitely been a part of less intense mobs that pick on whoever it’s currently cool to pick on. Sean Murray, while waaaay more famous than the guy in my example, could be this person.
You never know if this person is just miserable in real life and the persona they’ve created on the internet is their last holdout. If their views are abhorrent, maybe being their friend and sharing your views that way would help them more than crapping on them.
SO, Hypnospace Enforcer became about judgment and mob rule of the internet. It’s not that great of a game game, and is a little heavy handed, but I felt like it communicated its message pretty well. Hypnospace Outlaw will be the same thing, only with an actual good game underpinning it.
Your work with Dropsy, your previous game, maintained a constant cheer despite some dark themes. Will Hypnospace Outlaw have the same feel, or are you going for something else?
Hypnospace will be similar, if not a little darker because you’ll be playing the jerk. The people who populate Hypnospace will have little backstories to discover. They’ll edit their pages and post in a quasi-twitter chatroom to react to story beats, and you’ll be able to dig into some of their personal files to find out more about who they really are. There will be something valuable to discover in each of them. The world they inhabit during the day is a bit of a drab corporotocracy. Their irl cities look like neglected, deteriorating shopping malls. Some of the older people hold on to their golden memories of days passed, but it’s mostly a pretty sad existence. Hypnospace is an oasis for them.
What sort of work goes into creating one of the fake websites for Hypnospace Outlaw? How do you conceive and design them?
So there are three different kinds of pages. Official Hypnospace pages that are run by bots and inform folks of ordinance changes, Brand pages, which are just goofy pastiches on weird brand interaction online, and Citizen Pages, which are some combination of AIM user profiles and Geocities sites. The former two have more professional production values. Incredibly tacky, but competently made.
The Citizen pages will draw from a pool of goofy animated gifs, page dividers, bad fonts, poor color choices, and other such pillars of the internet of old. The gifs will be color reduced to a unique "Web Safe" palette and dithered, to give them a distinct look and make them feel cohesive. Right now I’m using stand-in art from one of the original old-internet gifmakers, Sevenoaks. I’ll be replacing them with original (but still weird) gifs when the game goes into full production.
What is it that drew you to this older style of internet? Why this over something more modern?
I loved the less homogenized nature of personal internet content back then. Creating a Geocities or Angelfire website was more akin to scrap-booking or doodling in a diary than posting on Facebook or Myspace or Twitter. It’s still a bit of an adventure to go perusing through old Geocities archives.
How do you choose elements that will fit in with the game (feeding the digital pet, the driving segments, etc…)? What makes an element feel like it fits in with this universe?
Hypnospace started out as only the driving segments. I loved the idea of the Hypnospace Highway being a playable version of what everyone imagined in the nineties when they heard ‘Information Superhighway.’ The Operating System bit is relatively new to this game, and was originally just a glorified level-select screen in between tracking down outlaws on the Highway. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole with it until it became a prominent part of the game. The core mechanics for finding and apprehending Outlaws are still relatively simple, but it will run deep with fun, tinkery, playful stuff like virtual pets and custom cursors and screensavers and so on.
Players are looking for internet lawbreakers in Hypnospace Outlaw. How does this translate into gameplay? How does a player track down one of these digital scoundrels?
At the beginning, players will be given a set three basic laws to enforce. As the game progresses, additional laws will be added, and occasionally laws will be amended or changed. They’ll also increase in reward money, severity, and potential ethical complications.
After familiarizing themselves with any new laws, players will then scour citizen pages and chat rooms for content that violates one of the laws. There’s a little Magnifying Glass cursor that you can use to check if something is a violation – if so, the violator will be added to the Scumbag Tracker and you’ll be able to go out on the Highway and apprehend them. If the investigation fails, you’ll be charged a small fine.
The Highway is an endlessly looping sidescrolling section with multiple vertical lanes. There are 10 Highways, one for each Zone of hypnospace. Each Hypnospace citizen is represented by a vehicle on the Highway, and their driving style (erratic, slow, dangerous, etc) will be determined by their personality. Once you find the violator you’re looking for, you’ll use a (currently not-implemented) Ghostbusters-esque lasso to try and wrangle them. Early violators won’t put up much of a fight here. As the game progresses, you’ll face environmental glitches, hackers, adware, viruses, and a host of other weird anomalies.
I’m trying to tie the highway bits to the OS very very closely, so if you make contact with a citizen on the highway who has adware, you’ll contract it, and so on.
Depending on the severity of their crime, after you apprehend them, a violator may be temporarily suspended, banned, or worse.
We’ll also be implementing 3 different modes: The default, which is how most people will ideally experience the game: and two others that allow you to experience more of the driving bits or more of the OS/detective-y bits. The ‘Arcade Mode’ will, for example, simply send violators straight to a player’s inbox, allowing them to focus only on the Highway bits and skip the detective stuff entirely.
You mention generative music that will be affected by the player’s actions. How does that work? How do you carefully tie music into player activity when you won’t know what the player will be doing?
The generative music thing is the bit I’m most excited about! The game will count the frequency of clicks and keypresses, as well as which programs are being used, and if there are any status effects active (viruses, adware, etc) – and assign all of that to various values. Those values will then be plugged into an engine that triggers samples and adds frequency, delay, panning, volume, and vibrato effects.
More instrument elements will be triggered the more active you are in the OS. If you remain idle, the music will peter out. There are normal (though still somewhat dynamic) composed music loops on the Highway, and of course, super cheesy midi-esque loops on the pages.
You also mention that players will be able to make their own characters and Hypnospace pages. How will that work?
Very little of this will be in the game itself. It’s more a very user-friendly way to mod the game. I’m releasing the Hypnospace Page Builder and Hypnospace Tune Sequencer along with the game, which are the same tools I’m using to make it. We’re making sure that all image and audio assets are accessible via folders, so people can edit everything as they please and release total conversions if they want.
That said, I do want to implement a way to upload pages submitted to me to a central server and have the game intermittently insert them into play sessions. I’ll likely set aside certain citizens that will never do anything illegal, and then have the game swap those pages out for the user made ones.