I thought I’d stick to a similar formula as the last blog post so today I’m going to be writing about two point & click style “desktop simulator” games. I honestly dont know what genre these come under to be honest but I feel like they’re similar.
Anyway, let’s talk about Orwell.
Orwell puts you in the driving seat of a modern Owellian surveillance and policing system, pretty self explanatory right. The core gameplay revolves around the Orwell desktop, doing tasks such as sending and receiving emails, texts, highlighting information to keep in files, browsing websites and social media profiles, you can hack into some people’s computers and steal information that way, that kind of stuff. That might sound boring to some people like, why would you want to play a game that is just a normal computer desktop, and gameplay-wise you’d be right, there is little thrill in just pointing and clicking on icons and text, the real meat and potatoes of this game is in the writing/story and the overall concept as a whole. Because of this, I don’t want to spoil the story, as there’s no branching narratives or anything (something which would’ve been nice for this kind of game), so I’ll just say that I thought the story is decent, and has pretty much all the beats you’d expect from a game called Orwell.
What I’m more interested in talking about for this game though, is the visual design, as I find that quite interesting. The UI design is great, you know where everything is just by using common sense and the game’s tutorial/opening does a good job of showing you the ropes and what your goals are. The layout is pretty much spot on in general really, and I really like the monotone blue colour scheme as that really reinforces the theme of “security”, as well as paralleling a few real world websites that we all know and love. Blue is also the world’s favorite colour, which also instills a feeling of uniformity/conformity, which is again, very in line the themes.
The one issue that really really really bugs me about Orwell’s visual design is the illustration style. Every photo is a mosaic made up of triangles, and for some reason it just looks awful, arguably worse than my illustrations (which is saying something!). Most of the profile picture illustrations look okay, those aren’t what I’m really complaining about here, its really every other illustration, they all look so rushed and lazy…
There’s just something that feels wrong about them, its like they’ve just hit the bottom of the uncanny valley and thought they should just start digging deeper. When they use the triangular mosaic on backgrounds it normally works fine, it’s when its used on people thats the issue, and especially when you’re tying to get away with making as few details as possible. Like I said, they make it work sometimes, but its the times that it doesn’t work that stick in your head, and unfortunately it doesn’t work A LOT of the time.
Orwell: Keeping An Eye On You is Available on Steam for PC/Mac and the App Store on iOS and is probably worth playing if you like dystopian and high concept games.
#Hypnospace Outlaw (2019) by Tendershoot, Michael Lasch, ThatWhichIs Media
This is easily one of the most bizarre games I think I’ve ever played, and that’s both good and bad. In Hypnospace Outlaw you play as a forum moderator for Hypnospace (a fictional kind of internet that people go to and use in their sleep), in the late 1990s. Like Orwell, the gameplay entirely revolves around an in-game desktop, except Hynospace is like a full OS, it has the ability to add and remove programs, there are desktop pets (if anyone remembers those), you can download files, music, pictures, you can get viruses, its supposed to be a pretty accurate depiction of early internet forums.
The gameplay mostly consists of scrolling through webpages, clicking through to other webpages, reading webpages, looking up users to find more webpages, and finally (but most importantly), banning content on webpages. I tried to play this game on my own without a walkthrough or guide for at least a few hours, but there is just so much content that you’re given to moderate that it’s nigh impossible to know what the game wants from you sometimes (especially in the late game), so after 2 or 3 hours of browsing Hypno-pages looking for illegal uses of a fictional cartoon character, I caved and looked for a walkthrough. You really do have to be a full on detective to find a lot of the stuff the game wants you to on your own, it really does not give you much direction other than “heres kind of what you’re looking for, we’re not really sure, you’ll find it though” (which, again, is extremely frustrating as a player)
The story is pretty good though, although it’s hard to extrapolate the themes other than, guilt, responsibility, human nature, advancing technology. It feels quite realistic to me, I’m sure if you didn’t have to read a walkthough and figured it all out yourself that the story would be 100x more impactful, so if your IQ is above 300 you’ll love it.
The visual design of the game is absolutely perfect, it completely encaptures 90s tech in literally every way, I don’t really need to explain why other than to just show you this video. I guess retro aesthetics are pretty easy to duplicate these days, which is why small indie devs choose to go that route, but still I like Hypnospace Outlaw’s execution of retro because it still has its own visual identity that’s mixed in with the retro. The “retro-ness” also comes into the story later down the line so there is a reason for it being here other than “old = cool :)”
Hypnospace Outlaw is available on Steam for PC/Mac/Linux, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One and is 100% worth playing if you enjoy a very involved, fully immersive, gaming experience that makes you feel extra smart when you do an extra smart thing.