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History of Hacking games

I often think, before indulging in a series of reviews, we need to take a little look into history to see what has come before it. We did this with our series on Dungeon Keeper and now I’m choosing to do something similar with games that revolve around Hacking. So join me in a little history lesson about the first few games that simulate the process of hacking and attempt to make it ‘fun’.

We start our historic trip with a game called System 15,000 which was released in 1984. It was originally made for the Commodore 64 and later ported to both the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro. Now remember that I have not actually played this game for about 30+ years so forgive me if my memory is a little hazy. I admit that I did have to do some digging to find more public information about the game which included the Wikipedia entry. According to that System 15,000 is actually the first game to depict hacking in any way. You play a friend of a friend who is commissioned to retrieve the missing sum of $1.5m from a company. In the instructions you are given a single lead in which to start with and from thereon in as Sherlock Holmes might say “The game is afoot”. The game then simulated dialling into various BBS systems in order to find out information where this money may be. I admit that I never actually finished the game, but I do remember very distinctly there was one point where it simulated your system being investigated by an external entity. During this time your not actually allowed to use your system and it makes you wait for an incredibly long time to continue, it was most odd.

System 15,000 dial screen on Spectrum

System 15,000 – Dial screen – Spectrum

In 1985 we find a game called Hacker which was released on a fair amount of the systems available at the time. Hacker took a very direct approach with it’s storyline, the cassette inlay had instructions on how to load the game and that was pretty much it. The World Of Spectrum archive page will give you the exact copy that went into the actual inlay. I have to admit I do love how this was done, and so did a lot of other people because the game was very critically acclaimed. Eventually you gain control of a robot that traverses tunnels deep within the earth guiding it towards some bits of documentation that have been shredded and distributed for security reasons. Your robot visited spies dotted across the world to acquire these bits of the documentation, all of which you would have to bargain with using money or one of the various other tools you gain in the game. It’s of note that the Wikipedia article mentions that different copies of the same game have different items that the spies want which is very inventive gameplay for the time. Like many of the games in the 80’s the game had no save so if you failed then you had to start from the beginning, failure was hard in the 80’s.

Commodore 64 Hacker Screenshot

Hacker – Using the tunnel – C64

Just a year later Activision followed up on the success of the first game and released a sequel Hacker II. It was notably more difficult than the original and once again you’re put in charge of controlling the robot to retrieve the “Doomsday Papers”. It follows on from the first one presuming that you were successful in your task. It appears that the U.S government took an interest in your previous activities and hired you for this particular job against the Soviet Union. Those off you who were alive in the 80’s will remember that the focus on the main threat during that time was Russia whereas in today’s games it’s all about the middle east being the main threat. Once again you are assigned a robot which has been smuggled into a high security Siberian base. Your job is to manipulate the robot through the base using your hacking skills to change the video surveillance system in order to not be spotted by the security guards. The game was again very critically acclaimed for it’s realistic (at the time) looking video system.

Commodore 64 Hacker II screenshot

Hacker II – Video manipulation – C64

Then there was Neuromancer a game based upon the William Gibson novel of the same name but sadly I never actually played it. I am a big fan of Mr Gibson’ work and feel like I have missed out on a part of hacking games history here. Maybe one day somebody will release it as freeware and I can play it.

I have three articles planned where I intend to visit some of the newer iterations of this genre starting in two weeks time. We shall start with Uplink by successful UK developer Introversion Software who you might know from the more recently released Prison Architect. Following that I’m going to look at Hacker Evolution Duality by Romanian developers Exosyphen Studios. Finally we will take on indie developed Hacknet, made by a single developer in Adelaide, Australia going by the name of Team Fractal Alligator.

Have you played any of the games we have mentioned or any other games that focus around Hacking? We’d be really interested to know about them, what made you play them and what your experience was with them? Let us know in the comments below or over on our Facebook and Twitter pages.


One response

  1. Pingback: 10 Influential 80’s Geek Films | GeekOut South-West

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