Last year, I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Jay Tholen about his delightful point and click adventure Dropsy, which managed to melt my cold, frosted heart. So when I heard he had started a Kickstarter for a new title called Hypnospace Outlaw inspired by the early Internet, I was on it in seconds. Immediately after watching the trailer, I got in contact with Jay to discuss the game's origins, digital pets, and Vaporwave.
TechRaptor: Where did you get the idea for Hypnospace Outlaw?
Jay: Hypnospace Outlaw's major thematic inspiration is that weird time when computers became accessible enough so everyday people were using them, but before the homogenization that came with the big social media revolution. It was rough around the edges, and you were never sure if you were downloading a gem of a game/screensaver/whatever or some kind of weird adware toolbar thing. It's also inspired by the mythologization that came with a bunch of uninitiated folk starting to use a new technology. Not knowing the boundaries of what was possible with computers inspired a lot of people to dream big about Information Superhighways and communicating instantly with pen-pals in Australia! I'm also implementing superstitious stuff like wiggling your cursor around to make web pages load faster.
The game is set in a world established by a teeny tiny game I made in 2014 while working on Dropsy called Hypnospace Enforcer. I enjoyed the weird corporotocracy where everyone wore headbands at night to access the internet as an escape from their horrible normal lives, and had been pining to revisit it after Dropsy was finished.
TechRaptor: How have you gone about creating the visuals for Hypnospace Outlaw?
Jay: The OS, virtual pet, and highway graphics were created a bright Pixel Art style that should be recognizable to anyone who has played Dropsy. I whipped up a custom 20 color palette that most of the OS art draws from. My program of choice for that side of things is Aseprite. The goofy 3D animated gifs presently on the pages are stand-ins, borrowed from classic gifmaker Sevenoaks, and I'll be replacing them with my own funky pre-rendered original creations as the game progresses.
TechRaptor: Hypnospace Outlaw looks to be a pretty big departure from your previous game, Dropsy. What sort of challenges have you had going from a more "traditional" game like Dropsy to a genre bender like this?
Jay: Actually, Dropsy may be the odd one out here. I've been making games since my time in the Klik & Play community as a wee little lad, and most of my output has mushed genres together. Not as much in a 'I'm pushing boundaries!' way, they just end up weird because I keep adding cool stuff to them. Hypnospace is a welcome relief after Dropsy because adventure games get a little boring as a creator. You know the story, you know exactly what will happen when you click object A on object B, there's no surprise. You're just drawing in content until it's done. If there IS a surprise, it's a bug.
In Hypnospace, there are dynamic systems that can catch me off guard, and I can still lose at my own game. Makes it much more fun to work on every day.
TechRaptor: What sort of purpose do the digital pets serve?
Jay: The virtual pets, while featured prominently because they're adorable, are really just one of a number of downloadable minutiae in Hypnospace. Like bleeding cursors or desktop themes, they'll just be another fun thing to spend earned credits and/or time on. They're a stripped down version of what you may remember if you've ever played a Catz or Dogz game. You can feed them, pet them, play with them, or buy them cosmetic accessories. They'll also be present on the Highway trailing the cars of their owners.
TechRaptor: How can you combat or avoid the adware and viruses that infest your HypnoOS?
Jay: Adware and viruses act as quasi-status effects in Hypnospace, only instead of your health dripping down, you'll have to contend with pop-up ads spawning over the screen while you're trying to drive. Players will be able to cure them either with a one-shot treatment, or a 'subscription' to an invasive Norton-esque program called HypnoCure.
TechRaptor: The trailer claims you can interact with Hypnospace Partner Brands. Just what sort of interaction are we talking about?
Jay: The Partner Brands in Hypnospace are hugely powerful entities that end up shaping changes in laws in the mid-late game. Eventually players may find themselves at odds with these changes, which is where most of the 'interaction' will come into play. Players may also be able to download their lovely cursors, sponsored pets, and wallpapers, so there's that too.
TechRaptor: Will Hypnospace Outlaw have a story mode or endgame of any sort?
Jay: Yeah, definitely. Plot points will be revealed to players via emails from Dispatch, changes that Hypnospace Citizens make in their pages, and chat logs. As in Dropsy, I'm a big fan of allowing players to learn about the broader setting at their own pace. As players are entrusted with more laws to enforce, they'll eventually face ethical dilemmas that will push the game into an endgame sequence.
TechRaptor: What sort of laws are being broken in the Hypnospace that players have to be on the lookout for?
Jay: In the early game, players will be on the lookout for citizens bullying other citizens, speaking negatively about Hypnospace or Partner Brands, amd other minor violations. As more scumbags are apprehended, players will be entrusted with going after hackers and rogue AI, and checking out code anomalies on the highway. Things get pretty weird. As mentioned previously, there will also be laws that players may be hesitant to enforce. Refusal to enforce laws may be result in penalties, which may complicate caring for pets adequately, among other things.
TechRaptor: And finally, I just gotta ask: how much Vaporwave have you listened to over the course of developing Hypnospace Outlaw?
Jay: Ha! I do enjoy much of the output on the Orange Milk label, though believe it or not, I haven't listened to much lately. I've been digging recent stuff from my friend Harrison's project Dragon Warrior a lot lately, it puts me in a nice place. It's not at all what the name sounds like either.
Thanks again, Perry!
TechRaptor: Likewise, thank you for your time!