Imagine it’s 1999, and you’re going to bed. You put on a headband connected to your PC, and suddenly you’re able to explore a whole computer network while you’re sleeping. Such is the premise of Hypnospace Outlaw, a game that simulates said network, which is called Hypnospace.
Though in the game, you do a lot more than just explore Hypnospace. You’re employed by Merchantsoft, the creators of Hypnospace, to serve as a Hypnospace Enforcer. You’re tasked with reporting any unwanted behavior inside Hypnospace.
So strap on your headband, fall asleep and join me as we explore the dreamy world of Hypnospace.
Hypnospace Is Cool
Your role in Hypnospace is to keep an eye on the content the citizens (Hypnospace users) put out. If anything violates any of the 5 crimes, then your job is to report it to Merchantsoft so they can take action. The 5 crimes are called CHIMES, since it spells out what they are.
- C – Copyright Infringement
This includes any unauthorized display or distribution of protected works.
- H – Harassment
Basically bullying or content that targets individuals in Hypnospace negatively.
- I – Illegal Or Profane Activity
This covers the distribution of information on illegal activities. Drugs, weapons, disclosure of private information, and pornographic imagery falls under this.
- M – Malicious Software
Covers distribution of malware and viruses designed to manipulate systems without authorization.
- E – Extralegal Commerce
Since Hypnocoin is the only accepted currency in Hypnospace, any other form of commerce is illegal, especially if it involves real money.
Usually, Merchantsoft will give you specific objectives on what to do. Often it’s not hard to find clues on where to go, but it does require you to look in the right places. The good thing is that the writing is so good that even if you just end up reading random pages, it’s often just as fun as solving the crimes.
A Network Of Dreams
One thing you quickly learn browsing Hypnospace is just how real the characters in the game feel. The pages give you a big insight into the personalities of these characters. Their hopes, dreams, fears, and interests shared on this fictional network make them feel unusually fleshed out.
I can remember numerous times where I didn’t feel like I was playing a game, I felt like I was actually there, browsing the pages of real people. It’s been a while since I played a game with this level of immersion. Hypnospace sucks you in, unlike anything I’ve played before, simply because of how well it simulates this network.
It also feels like your actions as an enforcer have long-lasting consequences. I never felt like the game had me playing an outright bad guy, just someone doing my job, and it wasn’t always pleasant. Punishing someone for sharing copyrighted content when they had the best intentions is never a good feeling. Especially when they then end up forming a counter-movement to fight for the right to share said content.
But that is the beauty of Hypnospace. The exploration of the game feels extremely organic, and I strongly recommend playing without a guide. It allows the game to flow more naturally as you have these moments of calmly browsing pages in search of the information you need. It’s usually followed by extreme excitement and tension when you get into new places you haven’t been and find critical info for what you’re looking for.
Hypnospace became both a game that thrilled me and kept me hooked with its unique storytelling. I would often just read through pages to learn more about the people in the game, regardless if they were involved in anything or not. It felt like everyone had a story to tell, and everyone felt equally interesting. That is a hard thing to accomplish.
Much like old-school AOL networks, Hypnospace pages are divided into categories known as Zones. Each Zone covers a different demographic, with each zone representing a certain age group or interest. Not all the zones are available at the start of the game but more open up as you continue playing the game.
The Hypnospace Central is pretty much a place to find information on Hypnospace. It includes news, guides, and most importantly HypnoCure. HypnoCure is the number one (and the only known) antivirus for HypnOS, the operating system that runs Hypnospace.
The Cafe is usually the recommended place for Hypnospace newcomers. It doesn’t really have any set theme or demographic, and you can find representations for all zones in there. This is probably why they recommend it to newcomers.
Goodtime Valley is a zone for baby boomers, and it captures the boomer mentality perfectly. Most of these people are older, some of them really not good at making web pages, but they have a lot of love for the way things used to be. Of course, if any hoax is spreading, these people are usually quick to spread them as well.
Teentopia is self-explanatory. This is a place for the younger crowd, where teenagers and kids can hang out. This is also the home of some of the most interesting residents in Hypnospace…
Coolpunk Paradise is a zone all about the music genre Coolpunk. It’s kinda hard to explain but it involves the in-universe rockstar Chowder Man, the fictional soda Gray Peak Cola, and lots of samples.
Starport Castle Dreamstation
Starport Castle Dreamstation used to be a zone for geeks until the people inside decided to create their own zone within said zone called the Sovereign Alliance Of Imagination. This collection of pages only becomes available later in the game but houses some of the more interesting pages as well.
Open Eyed is a zone for free-thinkers and conspiracy theorists. Generally a place for people who want to share religious beliefs, spiritualism, and other alternative lifestyle topics.
I can’t say more without spoiling too much, but in addition to these zones, there are more places to explore as well that are hidden. Needless to say, Hypnospace feels bigger than it seems at first glance.
HypnOS – Sleeptime Computing
Hypnospace involves not just the network, but also a full-on computer OS to power it. HypnOS is a simulated OS environment that includes everything from music players to text document viewers. You can customize a lot of it too, and true to the spirit of the late 90s there are a plethora of custom cursors, wallpapers, sound effects, stickers, and themes to find on Hypnospace to make HypnOS your own.
Heck, it even has built-in support for virtual pets. You can download several on Hypnospace, and in true 90s Tamagotchi fashion, it’s your responsibility to pet them, feed them and clean up after them. In all honesty, I may have spent a ridiculous amount of time just taking care of pets in Hypnospace. Heck, there are even games you can download and play inside HypnOS, such as a maze game featuring Counsellor Ronnie.
A Chaotic OS
HypnOS manages to actually be a legitimately fun OS to use, and the game does a good job making it feel like a real OS as well. It even has keyboard shortcuts to make management a bit less painful, allowing you to quickly close all windows in case you need direct access to the desktop itself. You can arrange icons in any way you want as well.
My only gripe with it is that it doesn’t really do a good job with file management. Files you download cannot really be put in folders, and it has no actual file manager. So a lot of the time you end up with your download app stuffed with content you’ve downloaded to keep it from appearing on the desktop.
But while it does feel limited, it does feel accurate to the time period at least. The OS even has its own built-in support for MOD music, something I WISH was more common back then. Although understandably a lot of the MOD music in the game intentionally sounds like crap. It captures the plague of scouring MIDI pages only to find horrid renditions or conversions of a popular song.
While we’ve recently seen, and still do see a lot of 80s nostalgia in media, 90s nostalgia doesn’t get as much representation, unfortunately. Hypnospace is a game that perfectly captures the essence of the late 90s.
The game’s visual design draws heavy influence from 90s design aesthetics, especially with its GameBoy-esque low res GUI design. Considering you’re using cheap headbands, it makes sense the GUI wouldn’t be too high res. It also relies heavily on the use of pre-rendered low-poly CGI, and I’ve never seen any game utilize dithering to create a retro aesthetic so well before.
A Time Of Excitement
Hypnospace doesn’t just capture the 90s in its design, but also in the content. There’s a clear Pokémon-inspired “catch’em all” craze going on with Squizherz. People are discussing events such as an upcoming Y2K bug, a Twin Peaks inspired show that’s running on TV, and sharing their own fiction online.
As someone who was around in the 90s when the Internet was born and was there to explore it in the late 90s, I can confirm this is exactly what it was like. The game does an amazing job just capturing the essence of browsing the late 90s web, although in a fictionalized version.
That’s not to say the game relies solely on nostalgia, it just uses the 90s as a setting for its story. Heck, I’d argue the story wouldn’t really fit any other time period, given how much the plot revolves around the events around the year 2000. I can’t say more than that without spoilers, but it really is integral to the plot.
If there is one massive highlight of Hypnospace Outlaw, then it is the soundtrack. The game is stuffed with tunes of all kinds of genres, with an extreme amount of variety. The best thing is that nearly every music genre in the game is fictional and made up, but ultimately a reference or parody of genres that exist in real life.
You have everything from experimental krautrock to pop-rock, with a heavy amount of MOD tunes in addition to recorded music. Pretty much all of it is available for you to download in-game as well. Jay Tholen himself provides a lot of the music in the game, but there’s a huge amount of guest appearances too. Some highlights include The Chowder Man (a fictional rock artist portrayed by Hot Dad), Klyfta (portrayed by real-life psychedelic rock band Psychic Temple), Zared, and Basidia.
I also absolutely adore a lot of the sound effects in the game. Especially how your assistant HYPII talks to you in this text-to-speech voice that often pronounces things not exactly how they are meant to be pronounced. I don’t often see the use of text-to-speech working in games, but here it works beautifully.
A Dream That Ended Too Soon
If there are any complaints I have about Hypnospace then it’s really that the game feels too short. That being said, with how difficult some of the later puzzles are, without a guide you are looking at a good 20 hours of playtime. But I really wish there was more of this game.
That’s not a bad thing, of course, a game leaving you wanting more is always good. But I can’t help but wish there was more Hypnospace to explore. That being said, if you play on PC the game ships with tools to make your own Hypnospace pages and tunes to play in Hypnospace. And with the growing fan community around the game, there’s no shortage of mods to download.
But regardless of how short it is, the time you play it, Hypnospace is an experience like no other. It takes you on a journey that I honestly wish I could go into blind again. It shares a lot of similarities with the show Twin Peaks, which I even got confirmation was a possible inspiration. With its focus on dreams, sleep, and solving mysteries, I feel the game explores a lot of similar themes.
I haven’t been so immersed in a game in a long time. Hypnospace draws you in with its writing that makes its characters seem like real people. It blurs the line between fiction and reality, and while the premise might sound like cyberpunk, the experience is definitely very real.
Hypnospace definitely left an immense impact on me, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good adventure game. It perfectly captures a time when the internet seemed vast with content that had soul and expression and also felt like a dangerous place at times. A time when the world of computing was filled with excitement and hope for the future.
An amazing adventure game that creates its own unique alternate 1999 computer network, taking you back to a time when it seemed computers could do anything. Challenging puzzles, amazing writing, and an unforgettable experience awaits you in Hypnospace Outlaw.
- Excellent writing that makes the characters feel like real people
- Great diverse soundtrack
- Fun to explore outside doing the puzzles
- Several great minigames to enjoy
- Includes mod tools (on PC)
- Pure 90s nostalgia
- Occasionally buggy
- Feels a bit short
Sound & Music