One summer, a year or two before college graduation, my father decided to help my brother and I out and bought us laptops.
We decided (not knowing much about laptops in the mid-2000’s) to get Lenovo Thinkpads similar to what my father had. They seemed well-built, portable, and powerful. At that time, neither of us were into PC gaming. These were going to be our work computers.
When the laptops finally did come, my brother was more excited than I was. I had no idea what to do with it. The desktop I had at the time was an old, junky Compaq Presario that I used mostly as an internet machine and to play the occasional bout of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. So, I felt that this new laptop was useless to me.
I gave up on hardcore PC gaming in the 90’s during the era of rapid hardware development. At that time, new GPU’s and architectures were being announced every other week and being a young child with no job left me little choice but to stick with consoles like I had since the 80’s.
So when the laptops came, I had no idea what to do with mine. I opened it up, turned it on, updated it, and that’s it. For about the first week that I had it, I would just turn it on, mess around, turn it off.
As the days went by, as I did my research, I realized that because our laptops had dedicated Nvidia GPU’s, maybe I could go back and play all the cool PC games that I had missed out on.
My first two purchases were The Orange Box and Doom 3. They both ran amazingly. I was even more excited.
I began doing research into making my laptop run at max power and efficiency. I dove into the world of hacked third-party video drivers to boost my GPU’s performance and overclocking the CPU.
I would stay up until 6 am some nights, alone in my room, running benchmark after benchmark until I knew I could no longer push the thresholds without potentially damaging the computer.
It got to the point where I was able to push a mid-range business laptop to play Gears of War on high settings and Crysis on medium.
That Thinkpad was transformative to me, it opened me up to technology in a way cell phones and consoles couldn’t.
There are few things that could recreate that feeling of overclocking, optimizing, benchmarking late into the night, alone with a thermos of coffee and the sounds of trains and the songs of owls barreling through the distance.
Whenever I broke through some prior threshold, it felt like I was really doing something dynamic and exciting.
I was living out some deep-rooted technoir fantasy in my loneliness.
Nothing ever captured that feeling for me again. I would always try to find some way of visualizing that experience. It was the sort of experience that not even poetry could capture.
Words fail often. Sometimes you need something more visceral.
That’s why I would’ve never believed that an iOS game would be able to bring back that feeling of loneliness and technological isolation.
It looks like something the crew in Alien would play on their ship’s monitors.
The music of the game suits the atmosphere. The game’s soundtrack features a low-pitched echoed electronic stumbling that does an excellent job of conveying a cold, digital world.
The music feels like the echo of an alley in some technoir world. A place shrouded in darkness, alienation, and glitch.
868-HACK operates like a cross between a board game and minesweeper. Fundamentally, it is a game about making choices in the unknown. The player controls a smiley icon which they have to navigate through a level to an end goal.
The point of the game is to reach the goal of each level without getting killed by viruses and glitches while collecting as many power-ups, dollars, and energy points as possible. The player can only take three hits before losing.
The game is designed in such a way that the player has to decide how they want to approach each level: Do they need health? Do they need Data Siphons? Do they need powerups? Should they head for the goal to heal quickly? Should they milk the level for points?
This is a game about turn-based, strategic decision-making. This is a game about understanding your environment before even making your first move.
In a recent episode of the Insert Credit Podcast, a question was raised to the panel regarding what the first mobile game they played was that felt like a real game. 868-HACK is that game for me.
It has a cold strategic depth wrapped in a simple, low-res art style and claustrophobic level design reminiscent of having your eyes locked on a screen in a dingy arcade. The color palette only reinforces this with its bright, glossy, flickering neon shapes.
This game combines so many aspects of the late 80’s to mid 90’s cyberpunk scene that it is both a celebration of an aesthetic and a signifier of the dynamic impulse toward technological isolation. Its a game you’re never quite comfortable being in, but happy to occupy.
It is my understanding that Michael Brough made this game as part of a seven-day roguelike challenge. The idea that he could create such a cohesive aesthetic in such a short amount of time is phenomenal. Add to that the fact that it is actually an enjoyable, ‘real’ game and it becomes unbelievable.
868 is a different kind of indie game. While many indies are either trying to capture the 8/16 bit aesthetic or arcade action, 868 uses the culture of the era to represent the PC. The game is both a roguelike and a hacking simulation.
868 is effortless and curious. It digs into the cultural imagination of modern technology during its coming of age.
868 isn’t just the feeling of devouring the potential of technology in the summer night:
It is an eloquent memorial to the isolation of that act and the aesthetic of a stranger time.