This game fell onto my lap sometime in the fall last year and for a while, I didn’t know quite what to make of it. An internet mod/police simulator set in an alternative universe in the year 1999? I have to say the description they came up with was very intriguing. I finally sat down and played it around the holidays and into January. What I was greeted with an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for the early days of when people really began to use the internet to communicate, the janky video game interfaces I used to mess around with (the Theme Hospital main menu screen came to mind for me) , as well as really early websites that would be decried by graphic web designers today but still have a charm that could never be matched.
What is Hypnospace Outlaw?
Hypnospace Outlaw is a detective/puzzle-solver, point n’click, simulator where you play as an internet/website moderator (think Reddit moderator if that helps) set in an alternative reality of the year 1999. The game was officially published on March 12th 2019 by No More Robots and developed by several entities including Tendershoot, Michael Lasch, ThatWhichIs Media, and Xalavier Nelson Jr.
You became a volunteer enforcer for a popular internet service called Hypnospace, a blogging website that you access in your sleep using a headband peripheral. Users and enforcers wear the bands to allow them to shop, communicate via chat rooms, and blog all with their power of their brains while asleep.
As an enforcer, you’re given cases based on issues that have been reported by other enforcers and users. This can include harassment/bullying, illegal activity such as hacking, policy violations like what payment system the person is having customers use, and many other issues that require you to act as an amateur detective and then shut down the activity using the enforcement tool. As you progress, you’ll also be able to find such activities on accident which you’re free to report and get currency which you could use to buy various things such as music, screen savers and additional software to help you in your tasks as an enforcer.
What is the Gameplay?
The game play is mainly a point and click style where you use your mouse on a fictional desktop much like your own computer to browse various pages. The user interface is very reminiscent of the Windows 98 operating system with how the web pages look. The pages are split up into “zones” that usually have a central theme or concept that the individual users fall into. As an example, you have the “Teen Zone” where those between the ages of 13 to 17 would be played into this zone as well as another called “Open Eye”, which is blogs for people into New Age and Spiritualism. As the game continues, more zones will be become available to you to visit.
When you start the game, a lengthy tutorial will explain how to navigate around the world and how to do your job. Every so often or based on stuff you report and find, a case will be submitted based on finding out more about what you discovered and seeing if other users are doing the same. These cases appear in the enforcer tool that you are given and will be closed once the task is complete.
You can also search websites using the tags function on the right which is vital in order to find pages that would otherwise be unlisted in the main zone section. If you type in the search bar “Hypnospace” for example, any web page that has that name will be listed so you can find whatever your looking for more easily. On the left of the screen is where you can enact your enforcement tool and your bookmark tool if you want to revisit the site later on.
That is pretty much it gameplay wise. You enforce the rules, solve puzzles relating to the cases, and read though blogs and web pages.
Would I Recommend it?
I highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of surreal or even unique types of “simulation” games especially if you love detective-style games.
Each page you visit regarding the users certainly has their own personalities that shines through as you can see what the person is doing on the platform. They could be making and selling artwork, writing short stories, expressing their opinions, talking about the personal lives, acting as enforcers themselves to report wrongdoing on the platform, or just having a bit of mischievous fun as you’ll become more aware of what is going on in each user’s life.
I’m also quite a fan of detective games that require a little more then just solving a puzzle, you have to hunt for the answer in Hypnospace Outlaw and the puzzles do encourage you to look closer at the lives of the users and what they are writing. Its not brain bending by any means and reminded me a lot of the the Nancy Drew PC games from the 2000s were you really had to sit down and write out clues and thoughts for the puzzles as they were very cryptic.
I do have some cons and these are more based on what I think some players should be aware of if they want to make a decision to purchase this game or not.
First, when you look at how long it takes to finish the story of Hypnospace, its pretty short. It only took me about 5 hours to complete then your out of cases and pretty much left on your own. Contend wise and cost wise, its problematic. Your basically paying $20 plus tax for a 4-5 hour story and the rest is completely up to you if you choose to mess around in the universe of the game. This can be awesome for some players or a massive problem. It really depends on who you talk to, but for my readers I have to address it. Its a short game if you just power through the story. If you spend a lot of time reading each blog and exploring each zone, that adds a few hours. However, not every player would do that so just be aware and decide for yourself if the price vs content time makes sense to you.
Second issue was the story itself, I’m a little torn. Its okay but its not great. Also I think the main point the developer was trying to convey was a bit muddled in all the silliness and references. At times, I forgot there was any narrative, I know there was as the story does end but you can still playing and exploring.
Third I think while the detective work is super fun, it can be almost too complex. As in the players are completely on their own at times without the ability to get a hint. Sometimes, it can devolve into just checking each web-page for clues or ideas. This was a common complaint I found on steam when reading the feedback and I can see that as for some of the puzzles. I had to grab a paper and pen and write down my thoughts for two of them as they were a little more on the cryptic side. Not everyone likes those detective puzzle solving games which is a majority of what your doing.
Overall the game is something I personally enjoy and can see many people really liking. Oblivious the reviews show the same sentiment but the game is a bit slow with the progression at times with the puzzle solving being a little overly time consuming and yes it is short. The game strikes me more as if this game fits your definition of something you would dig, try it! If you hate detective puzzle games with LOTS of reading, this is not for you.
More About the Developer and Others involved with the Game
According to the game’s fandom wiki page, there was a version of the first iteration of the game called “Hyponospace Enforcer” which you were able to download from Jay Thonlen’s itch.io page in 2014. The game was taken down and no longer able to be downloaded. I was not able to find any images online about it so I cannot 100% confirm that was true. This was apparently the first time any version of the game was made public. The game then appeared again on Kickstarter on September 7th 2016.
According to the campaign page the game was already partially funded by the profit made from an earlier game that was developed by Tendershoot called Dropsy. The majority of the funding for the game was as you would expect to pay for staff to work on the game as well as merchandise that was promised in the kickstarter.
Tendershoot is the official developer of the game but in reality the studio is just one person, Jay Thonlen. However, the Hypnospace Outlaw project did include others according to the Kickstarter, one of those people being Mike Lasch. According to Jay’s website, Jay acted as the lead designer, artist and music/sound person while Mike handled the programming of the game and also acted as a co-designer.
Jay Thonlen has had a long career in the gaming industry with his previous game being Dropsy. It was a point n’click game that was released in 2015 and in collaboration with another studio called A Jolly Corpse, a three person team who developed two previous games before Dropsy. Dropsy, much like Hypnospace Outlaw, was well received by critics and gamers upon its official release after a successful kickstarter campaign.
Besides Jay’s video game projects, he is also a musician who not only created music for the game he has also released tons of songs on his bandcamp account mostly within the electronic genre.
Another studio involved in Hypnospace Outlaw was. ThatWhichIs Media which is another small indie development studio run by Corey Cochran out of Orlando, Florida. Corey has collaborated with several other game developers and studios and has also produced and published their own titles, mainly to the mobile platform. Much like Tendershoot, ThatWhichIs Media is a one person operation all the way and has been in the industry as as an independent developer.
There was also one final developer on the project, Xalavier Nelson Jr. He is a former PC gamer columnist and currently a game designer who has worked on several other games including Can Androids Pray: Blue and An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs. I actually watched some gameplay footage on YouTube and looks intriguing. I’m considering doing a small piece about it for the blog as its design and themes are quite peculiar. So its a perfect here. Check out his itch.io page to see his other work, he has quite a library of games.
Jay was the main person behind the sound and music but there was also one other person involved in the soundtrack, he goes by the name Hot Dad (aka Erik Helwig) and is a comedic musician from New York State. The game reached a stretch goal where the team promised to get Erik to compose songs for the game. He produced a whole bunch of songs and quick melodies for the game under an album that is now called The Chowder Man. His work is both humorous and really well produced, I highly recommend checking out his discography. My favorite songs from the album is The Chowder Man’s Hotel Room and Ready to Shave. Its just a great combination of fantastic music and funny lyrics.
Overall the Hypnospace Outlaw project has a wealth of interesting and talented individuals that I recommend checking out.
What is the Future of Hypnospace Outlaw?
A couple of interesting things happened since the game was released. On November 19th the officially launched a modding update where you can create any web-page, any zone or whatever you want within the world of Hypnospace. Its possible to create your own story line and characters according to the developer. There is a bit of a learner curve but the wiki page allows new users to learn how to mod the game and includes video tutorials. They also added other smaller game updates with new content throughout the months.
Besides that big update with the modding tool, I haven’t seen or found anything new to date on the game. Most likely it will be bug fixes and usual updates for the foreseeable future.
Final Thoughts and the Vaporwave themes within Hypnospace Outlaw
I did find something really funny at the bottom of the kickstarter campaign. In the Frequently Asked Questions section, someone asked this:
“Is this game Vaporwave/whateverwavepunk?“
This was the developer’s response:
“That’s really up to the person viewing it. I just dig old operating systems and the times when people saw the internet as less of a homogenized thing and more of a wild west scenario. If I had to use up one of those weird genre/movement/aesthetic labels, I’d go with Cyberfunk. Like the non-dingy, whimsical, Alice-in-Wonderland alternative to Cyberpunk.”
So it looks like some people thought there were some vaporwave elements in this game and to be honest there is in Hypnospace Outlaw.
Some of Vaporwave’s core themes besides nostalgia is anti-capitalism and is seen by many as favoring acceleration which is the idea of pushing capitalism so far that it ends up self-destructing and pushes for social reform. This is of course a very, very basic way of describing it as its a more inept topic but when I was playing Hypnospace Outlaw you can see as you explore the background of what Hypnospace was and turning into, its obvious the platform was having its own identity crisis that mimics what the internet is going through in the real world.
Hynpospace at one point was a fun place where people can talk and share more about themselves as well as explore their hobbies but the platform was slowly becoming more focused on making money. As you read more on the history, the founders were in a bit of a cross roads with each other. One envisioned a cyber world with lots of advertising and generating massive profit off while the other wanted to keep Hypnospace in its original mission as a sort of strange but open space where people can express themselves freely and keep its creativity.
This is exactly what I see going on in the internet today. I watched it grow from a place with lots of blogs, sloppily put together experiments with software and web-pages, and people talking into YouTubers making money by selling and plugging merchandise to kids and using clever marketing tricks and click bait to earn that much desired ad revenue. Art, animation and people with interesting hobbies have been pushed out to make room for Instagram celebrities that generate lots of revenue for the platforms. While some are in all honesty genuinely entertaining and make good content, there is a vast majority that are plucked out and pushed onto the viewer in a not so inconspicuous way because they are deemed as “brand-able” or fit the goal of the site. Its become more and more obvious that the internet is becoming a hyper consumer-focused marketplace as companies race for attention and to get consumers to buy and buy and buy more using influencers, clever marketing tricks, and pushing consumer culture more heavily onto younger audiences who now look up to the internet for guidance and entertainment.
Hypnospace Outlaw feels like a precursor to that eventual future much like many websites and services as they moved further into the 21st century and how they are now in the present. When you think about almost any creative project with lots of potential, it almost always turns out like the internet has, financially focused.
Its one of the reasons why I think Hypnospace Outlaw is a vaporwave game, maybe not in 100% style and aesthetics but the themes are there if you take some time to explore the game’s universe.
Out of the majority of games I talked about on this blog thus far, Hypnospace Outlaw is one of the most unique indie games I have ever had the pleasure to play. Its bizarre, engaging, and just so much to play especially if you’re into a detective games where there is almost no hand-holding and the developer just lets you go and discover the world for yourself. As you read the blogs, learn more about the users and the type of environment they engage each other in, you become invested in the world of Hyponospace Outlaw.
Its a welcome blast from the past with references from the bygone era of the internet and it is a welcomed breath of fresh air as it is truly unique. I have yet to see something like Hypnospace Outlaw.
Hypnospace Outlaw enjoyed a great deal of success and accolades from the gaming community. It was a finalist in the 2019 Independent Games festival for the Seumas McNally Grand Prize and received lots of praise by the gaming community and critics for the its design, hilarious references to internet culture of the past two decades and interesting game-play. I certainly am interested to see what Tendershoot will work on the future as this game is certainly an achievement.
If you’re interested in trying the Hypnospace Outlaw for yourself, the game is currently available on PC for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.
You can purchase the game on Steam, GOG.com, and Itch.io.
Also listed a few other fantastic articles on the game that I recommend: