Now, finally, onto business. I have recently been playing one game that caught my eye. I have been circling around it, intimidated by its lack of simple instructions and nonexistent graphics. But finally I plunged in it, propelled by christmas spirit (or rather, christmas boredom). It was worth it.
The game is called Uplink, a fine new entry in Introversion Software‘s catalog. The game began when I created an account for an Uplink corporation and received a gateway computer. The game “installed” an operating system from which I “connected” to the gateway and was let loose to the internet. There was a short tutorial explaining the basic functions of the simple user interface, and soon I was instructed to hack into a sandbox server. I bought a tracer tracker and a password hacker from Uplink’s web store with my starting loan and got to work. I was instructed to bounce my connection from different servers, so tracing my location would take longer. I hacked the server, took some data which took a large chunk of memory from my gateway. Then I was wished good luck and given a bbs from where I could take on missions for different companies, who would pay me to steal, delete or copy data from other companies.
After a period of uncertainty and familiarization, I transformed from a game designer playing a game in a dark room into a hacker, walking on a tightrope between riches and a visit from the interpol. I found myself fidgeting and drumming on the monitor as the password cracker runs through the digits of an admin password, glancing at the world map where one by one the bounce points of my signal are being traced. And when I finally gain access, I have about twenty seconds to find and copy/delete the required file, remove logs of my visit and log out before the active tracer finds my gateway. The fear transmits so well because I am not sitting behind a screen, controlling a computer character doing something; I am the character, using my own computer, risking my physical location. It is an insane feeling. And as my account grows and I upgrade my software, I start feeling more and more confident and professional. I check IP’s. I scan the defences. I request more data, memorize file names, map out good bounce routes, remove logs and generally feel like an actual hacker, as opposed to playing one.
How does Uplink manage to achieve this level of immersion? I can think of two reasons: One, it never breaks character. After launching the game executable, it jumps right in. The fake OS launches and requests a login and a password, and then you are playing. The game credits are hidden in a server, in a list of dozens, if not hundreds of others. Reason number two is within the game subject: A hacker is a sweaty nerd sitting in front of a computer screen, using a mouse and a keyboard to hack stuff. A player is a sweaty nerd sitting in front of a computer screen, using a mouse and a keyboard to play stuff. The game uses this similarity to its advantage, transforming the player into the character more efficiently than Kinect could ever do. In a way, playing Uplink is a bit like larping, which is an interesting observation.
I definitely recommend Uplink to everyone interested in what gaming has to offer. It, and another hacking game called Hacker Evolution are on sale in Steam right now. If you have a Steam account (Why would you not have a Steam account?), now’s your chance to pick up one of the most immersive games I have played.