Preview: Hypnospace Outlaw

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There was a time once when the internet was fresh and new, unfettered by the glut of banner ads and social media sharing. It was a time when anyone, anywhere could make a GeoCities page for their favorite band or their dead cat and have it pop up on Webcrawler for all the world to see. It was a time of flashing text and unironic low-res skeleton gifs, webrings and shrines to Aeris. That time has long since past, but some of us aged folk recall our mystifying adventures in this brave new world as a magical, formative experience. It’s been a long time coming but someone has captured that magic for us to relive and for younger kids to experience, and they call it Hypnospace Outlaw.

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In an alternate 1999 where technology clearly outstripped aesthetic sense, Hypnospace has become the premier virtual space for the wired world. Accessed and controlled directly from your mind while you sleep, Hypnospace is a vast, untamed land of webpages and downloads to peruse. Of course, as we all know the powers of the world wide web can be used for great evil, and beaming evil directly into your brain can’t be good for you. Hence the foundation of the Hypnospace Patrol Department and their recruitment of volunteers like you, to trawl the sundry tubes of the hypnoweb and flag violations of all shapes and sizes.

Despite the sci-fi backdrop, Hypnospace controls just like an old copy of Windows 3.1. You open and click around pages like you would normally, you can save images and sounds and programs to your desktop, you can change your wallpaper and theme to all kinds of gaudy things, and you can even get some of those aggravating assistants to bug you about things you never knew you didn’t care about. Everything here is mouse-driven, with clickable tags on each page taking the place of search terms to turn up related spaces. You can “stamp” pages to bookmark them with specific traits, and you can even wiggle your mouse to make pages load faster, just like we thought it did when we were young and ignorant.

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There are dozens of pages to pour over in the beta, from bad schoolkid poetry to online fortune tellers, and the scads of font-abused text reads just like the unhinged madness you remember from the days of Time Cube. But you’re here to work, and as a volunteer enforcer that’s just what you’ll do. Your enforcer program allows you to receive emails about potential violations, including copyright infringement and extralegal commerce, and gives you some general hints about where to find it. Once you locate an offending asset, you can mark it as one of the five different violation types. If you mark something correctly, you earn HypnoCoins that can be spent on Hypnospace services. Make a bad mark, and you get fined. If a specific user commits enough violations you can flag their account for investigation, ending the career of serial harassers or scammers.

The result is a neat little scavenger hunt through the online detritus of yesteryear. The beta only includes three assignments, but each is a fairly unique search to find your targets. In one case I simply had to locate a fan of an old cartoon to turn up copyright violations, but in another I had to follow a trail of unlisted pages to get at the meat of a harassment case. Programs and other downloads can play a part in your search as well, giving you new ways to access hidden or unlisted pages. While the beta is limited in how complex your searches are, there’s a lot of potential here for varied and involved hunts across Hypnospace.

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More than anything, though, there’s a real sense of fun and wonder to Hypnospace Outlaw. It’s a love-letter to a very specific period of internet history, and captures its worst excesses in charming snippets. Playing with the retro interface and loading goofy backgrounds is a treat unto itself, and there’s even an included editor for making your own GeoCities-esque pages and sound files. Assuming this gets built out with a full web of pages to search and a plot to follow across them, Hypnospace Outlaw stands to be something special in the realm of adventure games. And even if it doesn’t, there are plenty of animated flames and dancing pizzas to keep you entertained.

Hypnospace Outlaw is slated for release sometime in late 2018. Be sure to check back post-release for a full review!

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