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Introversion Software’s seminal hacking sim Uplink may be fifteen years old but it’s still one of the finest hacks ’em ups, Brendan will tell you. It’s now looking super-fresh too, thanks to the amazing makeover mod UplinkOS [official site]. Along with a new look, UplinkOS brings fab features like support for opening multiple windows at once, now draggable and with tabs. Fancy! We’ve mentioned UplinkOS before but now, after several months of beta, a final release has arrived. Here, look at this swish style: … [visit site to read more]
Introversion Software’s 2001 hackathon Uplink [official site] is one of the most enjoyable depictions of real-world hacking in the realm of gaming. If you love Mr. Robot as much as I do, you probably remember playing through this relic back when it came out. It also happens to be one of our best ten hacking, coding and computer games.
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil explains why Uplink is the best depiction of hacking in gaming.
Films and TV shows have a patchy history when it comes to the accurate depiction of technology and computing. It's hard not to feel let down when a film like Inside Man uses invented over-the-top violence to prey on the worst assumptions of the gaming illiterate. It's hard not to roll your eyes when admittedly dumb shows spout streams of nonsense, safe in the knowledge that many viewers won't know any better. And that's just games. The more specialist the technical knowledge needed to understand a thing, the dumber its on-screen depiction seems. For instance, hacking.
But unrealistic depictions can be fun, too. Take the film Hackers, which I fully and unironically love. It's dumb, but in a way that lets everyone be in on the joke. It doesn't sneer like Swordfish; it celebrates. It invents a world of 3D operating systems and neon punks, and then works hard to make you want to be in that world. It helps that it was set in the '90s, and everything in the '90s was already ridiculous.
Uplink—the first game from Introversion Studios—creates a similar fantasy. You re a freelance hacker using a dial-up modem and an remote 8 gigaquad computer to work for a global organisation dedicated to cybercrime. To do so, you create long networks of connections and run various programs to break into a target server. It's absurd, but taps into the same feelings of excitement and subversiveness that are reason filmmakers keep unrealistically depicting hacking in the first place.
At their core these films are stories of a single person able to stand-up to and destroy an entire corporation. That same idea is at the heart of Uplink s campaign. It starts off small, asking you break into servers to delete specific files, but soon ramps up in scope. Once your skill rating is high enough you ll destroy research servers, track down rival hackers and frame innocent people for high-tech crimes. It all builds to a gloriously over-the-top technophobic finale, in which you're given the power to save or destroy the entire internet—Tumblr and all.
Uplink is great because it gets every aspect of this fantasy right. It's a tense sandbox of tools and possibilities that rewards initiative and punishes mistakes. It's a peerless lesson in how to make a game about hacking, and one I wish every maker of a hacking mini-game would learn from. Yes, it's unfair to expect a small section of an RPG or immersive sim to be as good as a game dedicated solely to hacking. I'm not saying these mini-games should have the same depth as Uplink, but there are some basic lessons that could be learned.
The most important lesson: tension. Too many hacking mini-games treat the hacking as a separate entity that's removed from the world of the game. Hack a shop in Bioshock, and the world stays frozen in place as you piss about with some pipe pieces. Break into one of Fallout 3's computers, and people politely wait as you play a word-based guessing game. This is pointless: hacking shouldn't be about the act, but the tension between the act and getting caught in it. (This applies to lockpicking, too. Automatic real-time lockpicking is inherently more tense than a convoluted mini-game in which the outside world ceases to exist.)
In Uplink, the tension is brilliantly realised through one of the game's most basic programs: the Trace Tracker. It emits beeps that mark the time remaining before a security system finds you. It starts out slowly, but as your window of opportunity diminishes it may as well double for a heart-rate monitor. The ramp up in tension it creates as you race to finish your objective in time is almost unbearable. Disconnecting with seconds to spare feels amazing.
Uplink's other stroke of genius is that it makes you click on and type things manually. It's such a basic idea: forcing you to use the real-world tools of mouse and keyboard, thus creating a difficulty curve that's directly based on how much pressure you're under. To break into a system, you have to juggle programs like the agonisingly slow password breaker, firewall bypasser, vocal analyser, proxy disabler and log deleter. That done, you still have to perform the task you've been hired for, whether it's typing in search queries or editing records. It's a race, and you'll only win if you perform every action to perfection.
That's what so many games get wrong about hacking. It needn't be complex, just frantic and demanding. Uplink has plenty of depth to its content, but the hacking systems themselves are relatively simple. You execute programs and perform actions. You manage your computer and search for information. You watch the timer and, at the last possible second, cut the connection. It's these basic actions, and the tension that bubbles under them, that makes Uplink the best example of silly sci-fi game hacking.
Introversion's delightful computer hacking sim Uplink is coming to those most cyberpunk of platforms, tablets. An iPad version was released yesterday, while an Android edition is "coming soon." Get your cyberglove on, decker.
Uplink turns you into a leet haxor for hire, sneaking into systems with malicious intent, stealing, sabotaging, and framing while you try to cover your tracks. Good fun, and now a fantastic way to make people sitting next to you on the public subterranean rail transport feel very nervous.
The iPad edition is available now from the iTunes App Store for $4.99.
The Humble Bundles keep on rolling, with a new 'pay what you want' indie mega-bargain arriving mere weeks after the last one wrapped up. The new Humble Introversion Bundle packs four games from English indie Introversion: hacking sim Uplink, RTS Darwinia, its multiplayer sequel Multiwinia, and Cold War 'em up Defcon.
The Bundle also includes two Introversion tech demos, the procedural city generator used in Subversion and a voxel-based destructible building demo. As Subversion is on indefinite hold, it'll be nice to get a good look at some of it at least.
The Bundle has already outsold Xbox Live Arcade's Darwinia+ within 41 minutes on sale, Introversion revealed on Twitter.
As ever, all games come DRM-free, but you can activate them on Steam if you fancy. And, as Humble Bundle tradition dictates, you can choose how you divvy up your money between the developers, organisers, and the Child's Play charity and the EFF.
Head on over to Humble Bundle to name your price.
Darwinia and Defcon developer Introversion stopped working on Subversion nearly a year ago, Eurogamer has discovered.
Subversion resembled a collection of tech demos but "the core game itself wasn't really that great", creator Chris Delay told us.
"What happened was, we were tinkering away on Subversion for ages and ages, trying to make some progress - and we did make a lot of progress on it - but we always had this worry that the core game itself wasn't really that great. There wasn't really much to do.
"We had literally years of tech demos but no sort of cohesive core game. It's the core game that was missing.
"Whenever we stopped and thought about it from a high-level point of view, in terms of what's the player going to be doing, where's the fun going to come from, we were drawing a bit of a blank, all the time.
"We finally faced up to it," he said.
Subversion, an infiltration and espionage game where gamers controlled a team of operatives moving through hostile high security buildings, is officially now on hold.
"It's on hold and we openly told everyone to forget about it for now, pretend it doesn't exist if you can."
Chris Delay, lead designer, Introversion
"Yes, that's exactly what it is," confirmed Delay. "It's on hold and we openly told everyone to forget about it for now, pretend it doesn't exist if you can.
"We do plan to go back to it - that's our firm intention, to go back to it after this game. But we wouldn't want to promise it or anything like that, or for anybody to get their hopes up, because we're a small company and we can't work on more than one project at once, so we always have to pick what we're going to work on.
"We had quite a few chats to discuss what we wanted to do and switched whole heartedly onto Prison Architect, and Subversion hasn't had anything done on it since then.
Prison Architect, a game about building and managing a high security prison, "fell out" of Subversion, Delay explained.
There was a Subversion mission where you had to "bust" a team mate out of jail, apparently. "You had to get this computer hacker out of prison," Delay said. "And we started all this work on this prison code code, and it was turning into a massive project just for one level.
"While we were doing it, laying out the prison in our Subversion map editor was actually really good fun. And that's the gestation of it, really - that's where it came from."
Prison Architect will be a PC game and, Delay said, probably also for Linux and Mac.
"It's still too early for us to say a lot about Prison Architect," Delay said. "We find it difficult to pace this stuff, because it's still a while off being released, and we don't want to give it all away at this point.
"It's not a 2011 game, but we're hoping for early next year to be launching this thing."
Prison Architect was recently submitted to the Independent Games Festival - the same competition Darwinia won back in 2006 - and Introversion hopes to launch around the time of the IGF awards (March 2012).
Will Prison Architect win?
"That was a very different time, when Darwinia won. Even now I don't believe Darwinia would sweep the awards," said Delay. "It was a different era then."
Six years ago, Introversion was crowned king of a soon-to-boom indie world. Today, Introversion still clings to those same high points. Mistakes were made, hard times were hit. But Delay is upbeat about the health of the British developer today.
"We get people on the forums and things going, 'Have Introversion gone bankrupt or something?' People really worry about Introversion because we did hit some really rough times, around 2008, 2009 time," Delay said.
"We don't even have an office any more. We got rid of our office; we've come right down to just the core team."
"We don't even have an office any more. We got rid of our office; we've come right down to just the core team. There's only a handful of us. It's like the first days when we started out and there was just three or four of us working on something, all working at home, just on the next new game. We've kind of got back to how it used to be, and we're quite enjoying it now for that reason, because we're able to just go ahead and make our own game again.
"It seems like a simple thing, but we didn't have that for a long time. We had a big team; we were up to 11 staff at one point, which doesn't sound that big, but that's very big for Introversion. 11 staff and a few freelancers all working on console versions of the game and stuff like that. We were a much bigger company then and we were spending a lot of money each month. That's what it ultimately came down to. And it wasn't really that sustainable like that.
"It sort of required us to have big success on the consoles, which Darwinia+ never really achieved. It actually continued to be outsold on Steam, even though the game's been out on PC for ages. The Steam versions and all the PC versions of Darwinia just carried on doing better.
"We thought [Darwinia+] was a bit of a misstep, a bit of a mistake, and luckily we have enough games out now - four main games and one console game - that continue to sell to this day, and that keeps us going."