Hackerman, oh Hackerman… Thou were mine betrothed and I loved thee.
From it’s infancy as an idea to it’s death as a complex web of UI code, I loved making Hackerman and even though it failed, I still treasure it. It taught me many things, I naively thought I already knew, I just wish it hadn’t taken my roughly 7 months to get it through my thicc skull.
So, why did Hackerman fail, when it had such passion behind it?
I had a singular undefined idea in my head and the thing about those, is that they hide all the ugly edges from view. They’re great for daydreaming, but bad as a design doc.
I didn’t bother too much with planning, but I also did too much. You see, like any programmer worth his salt, the structure of Hackerman’s many systems intrigued me, and I coded them with glee and no thought to how they’d affect gameplay.
As the months went by, it all kinda started to look like the fuzzy idea in my head, but I had yet to truly play it.
When I had cool ideas, I’d implement them and soon the game was bursting with those wonderful interconnected programs, that could so effortlessly interact with each other, like a coders wet dream, but I still hadn’t played it.
The game had it all. There were AI guards, that had radio conversations, which you could snoop on. And there were Hackable Objects, that could be turned into distractions and cameras which could be hacked and used to look around before entering a dangerous room.
But then, I played it. After a good 6 months in development, I had decided to get a vertical slice done, so I could start testing (please test way earlier than that omg). I got it done, but something was off.
Yes, you could hack a generator, to distract a guard, so he’d leave the CCTV room, only so that once, he went back, you could use a nearby camera to snoop on him typing in the key code, which you’d then steal to get in later and that’s fucking awesome (link)!
But you could also awkwardly stumble around with 500 windows on your screen, that didn’t really do much except some niche thing. It was all kinda contrived.
It allowed for this cool scenario to take place, but not many others. I wanted it to be a hackfest, where a player could hack around and find their own interesting way to solve a problem, but instead it ended up being more like point-n-click puzzles of the past. A game about trying to guess, what the heck, the designer was thinking.
I did finally test it on a real person, that wasn’t me and they couldn’t figure out how to do anything. I’m fairly sure anyone watching the concept video, wouldn’t understand what the hell is going on. Alas I also realized, that I had toiled for 7 months and still had so far to go. I wasn’t ready for a multi-year commitment, especially not to a project, that I now saw, had been built on such shaky grounds.
Maybe in the future, with my superior knowledge, I’ll be able to reformulate, what it means to be Hackerman, and then I’ll rebuild it. And I’ll give it the juicy designs, it deserves.
Oh, Hackerman, thou wilt always be in my heart!