The year is 1999. Pepsiman came out on PS1. Boybands were the music of the era. Google actually had legitimate competitors. It was still considered socially acceptable to play really bad .midi files on your crappy Geocities page, along with hundreds of .gifs everywhere, you know, for personality.
A lot of people might be too young to remember this. Or perhaps you didn’t have internet. Perhaps you’re wondering what this glorious digital age looked like. Never fear, Hypnospace Outlaw is here. Brought to you by Tendershoot, Michael Lash and ThatWhichIs Media, the game takes place in 1999, on the verge of y2k.
In the world of Hypnospace Outlaw, technology is a little different. Headbands have been created that allow users to browse the internet while they’re asleep. Hypnospace itself is a sort of platform that lies somewhere between a forum and a website hosting service, with users creating websites for themselves, their businesses or their interests.
Of course, a platform like this, like any online forum, could quickly turn into a special kind of Hell if left unattended. The player is assigned to be a Hypnospace Enforcer, a sort of moderator, to ensure that the pages on Hypnospace are all up to code. This means looking out for copyright infringement, bullying and harassment, illegal content and all kinds of nastiness.
Hypnospace is accessed through HypnOS, a custom piece of software on the player’s headband that comes built in with moderator settings.The really cool part about this is that it looks and functions like a regular computer, just, you know, from the late 90’s.
The hub of all the things you do in the game is therefor, naturally, just a regular desktop filled with various icons. These include basic things like a browser, an email application and sticky-notes to give yourself reminders. Plus, custom software such as the Hypnospace Enforcer case manager, where the player will be assigned various tasks revolving around moderating content based on the Hypnospace rules and regulations.
For example, an early case in the game has the player tasked with finding examples of copyright infringement which is, in this case, images of a cartoon from the 60’s. So, this involves looking through the various ‘sections’ of Hypnospace (there’s a teen zone, a ‘Good Ol’ Days’ zone, spiritual zones, etc.) and within these sections are users personal pages. Once on someone’s personal page, a few options become available. The player can open a list of various offenses, choose the correct offense and then flag the inappropriate content as well as the user themselves if they gain enough infractions against their name.
This might sound a little dull, but it’s important to note that your actions do not exist in a void. Anything you do will have consequences and the ‘users’ will react accordingly. For example, the Good Ol’ Days styled section I banned all the images from was a fairly peaceful place at first. However, after I brought down the heat, things changed. The users began asking, ‘why can’t I put images of this funny cartoon on my page?’ and the entire section began to change with users taking on a similar stance and calling out the Hypnospace Enforcers, creating new pages to protest and the like.
The pages and ‘users’ in the game are full of personality and it quickly becomes a rewarding experience to browse the various zones and pages on offer, learning more about the users while keeping an eye out for content you might need to bring the ban hammer down on. As such, this is a game that rewards curiosity and exploration. Certain pages might be hidden, not listed in the hub of a given zone, meaning the player will have to find other ways to access them in order to gain the full picture of not only the users, but the Hypnospace universe as a whole.
Once the player reports any infringements or completes the case assigned to them, they’re given ‘Hypnocoin’. An ingame currency that can be used to purchase various things from various vendors. Wallpapers, themes, sound effects and more can all be purchased with Hypnocoin as a way to customize your ingame desktop.
Being the 90s, of course, this also means there are ‘virtual pets’ and ‘assistants’ to purchase. Some of these are legitimate, I bought a cute little hamster pet which I got bored with almost immediately. Others are a riff on the old ‘assistant’ programs which were just cute fronts for data mining and malicious software, and it’s no different here. I downloaded one of them, had the assistant pop up to annoy me every 30 seconds or so, prompt me to look at advertisements and the only way to get rid of it was to pay a fee to download the uninstaller.
So, naturally, viruses and malicious software are also things you’ll have to contend with. Sometimes, they affect you, other times, you’ll have to deal with the consequences of them affecting other users of Hypnospace.
The game does have a fairly straightforward sequence of events to follow, but it’s really more of a suggested guideline as the player is encouraged to explore, find infringements that aren’t given to you through cases, and to learn more about the world. Which is all presented in glorious lo-definition which looks absolutely terrible in the most charming of ways.
Almost every page contains some music, from cute little jingles for various shopfronts through to an entire section dedicated to ‘Coolpunk’, the hit new music genre taking the world by storm. The pages are also filled with the most annoying .gif images, low resolution photos and text boxes placed in random places by old people who don’t really know how to use a computer.
In short, it’s probably one of the most accurate representations of 90s internet you’re likely to find outside of using the Wayback Machine.
Hypnospace Outlaw isn’t a unique concept. If I had to describe it to someone else, I would say, ‘it’s like a mashup of Orwell and Hacknet given a vaporwave coat of paint’. But its presentation and universe is absolutely a unique and nostalgic experience, as well as an absolutely delightful one.
The pages and storylines are full of personality, and I was always wondering just how passing out a warning or removing content was going to affect the ‘ecosystem’ of Hypnospace next. I wanted to explore to find all the hidden pages and uncover just what was going on underneath everything.
I wanted to download a bunch of really goofy themes just because I could.
This is definitely a game for people who want to experience a little nostalgia, or find out what things were like back then. Or, who just want a good detective story and love exploration.