Have You Played… Uplink?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Uplink was the game that made me realise how effective an immersive user interface can be. You play a hacker and the screen is your screen. Your keystrokes and clicks are the actions, 1:1, of your alterego in the game. From that simple setup, Introversion create nailbiting tension as you evade, infiltrate and see the stakes getting higher and higher.

As well as creating a wonderful and almost unparalleled sense of immersion, Uplink’s interface has another powerful side effect. Over time, the game has become an unintentional period piece, with its operating system now a representation of another time.

It’s also one of the earliest indie games that I remember seeking out in a shop and the search for a boxed copy in the pre-digital download era was long and hard. Now, the game is available on GoG and Steam, but back then it was a rare commodity.

Introversion have since gone on to great success, most recently with the continuing public development of Prison Tycoon, but Uplink is the game that I’ll forever associate with them. And, my oh my, I’d love to see a sequel one day.

56 Comments

  1. drinniol says:

    They only need to upgrade the UI, move the start date forward a few years and give a few quality of life features and the game would be as good as new.

    • Sivart13 says:

      I agree, a pretty great game that could use a bit of a revamp. One other that always sticks out to me now is that all the faces/voices in the game are dudes (presumably the devs or their friends).

    • Fry says:

      All they’d have to do is add larger fonts and I’d be happy. It’s all pretty tiny on modern monitors.

      • mechabuddha says:

        You do know there’s an option to increase the font size?

  2. daphne says:

    I think it’s of the most timeless games ever, due to the UI. Only campy elements are the “gigaquads” (wtf?) and the nonsensical IP addresses. Will remain enjoyable and presentable for many decades to come.

    “Introversion have since gone on to great success, most recently with the continuing public development of Prison Tycoon”

    Actually, PA is their *only* great success. They were more or less a sinking ship prior to it! The IV of 2001-2012 and 2012 onwards is vastly different.

    • chi_squared says:

      Actually, PA is their *only* great success. They were more or less a sinking ship prior to it! The IV of 2001-2012 and 2012 onwards is vastly different.

      That isn’t entirely fair. Darwinia was a critical, if not financial, success; and Defcon actually did pretty well, too. The Introversion of 2006 was a relatively successful indie developer, but they expanded too fast, blew through their money, and didn’t produce much of value in the intervening years. The wheels pretty much fell off with the failure of Multiwinia (which I maintain is a deeply flawed but still underrated game) and the inability to make a game out of Subversion.

      If you really want to divide IV’s history into different periods, I would say that Uplink to Darwinia (2001–2004ish) represents a period of great success; 2004–2007ish represents a period rapid expansion with little to show; 2007–2012 represents a period of contraction, wheel-spinning, and reflection; and the current era is dominated by the financial success of Prison Architect.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I assume it uses nonsense IP addresses for the same reason that TV and film prefer telephone numbers beginning with the 555 area code: you dodge a whole class of problems if you never depict a number somebody real owns.

  3. Randomer says:

    Has anyone played Hacker Evolution Duality? Does it come even close to the Uplink experience? I played a demo long ago and HED seemed much more game-ified, with stages being needed to be completed in so many moves. The immersion breaking was deal breaking. Is that an accurate representation of HED?

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Got it in a bundle and regretted it (yep, for a $/£ I regretted it… less than as it was bundled!).
      Very quick uninstall.

      I think there are two versions, so I may be a bit unfair if the other has any additional gameplay, but the one I played was purely a HP counter and a click to attack on a world map. You loose HP in attacking, but so does the enemy. There seemed to be no actual gameplay, strategy or anything. None, absolutely none of the dynamics of Uplink. :(

      ( some randome youtube vid on it: link to youtu.be )

    • secuda says:

      Have one on my steam account but newer got around played it though. due to advanced for me then say Uplink wich is just pick upp and play, allthough get stressed upp with the time traces.

  4. robinhoodeast says:

    I love up link I still play it from time to time. Would be great if they did a remake of it, to make a more user friendly feel.

  5. Axyl says:

    Reinstalling. :D

  6. Guvornator says:

    I don’t know why one would look in the shops for it, as Introversion would happily send you the CD in a jiffy bag, complete with floppy era copy protection. I seem to remember they did something in game with the sheet as well, although for the life of me I can’t remember what. It’s probably worth mentioning how excellent the music was as well. Teenage me was totally sucked in to the world. Creating a game where a person using a computer plays a person using a computer was a stroke of genius.

  7. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I just grabbed it in the Steam Sale for $1.

  8. kalzekdor says:

    I think I still have my copy of the Uplink Bible from the Collector’s edition way back in, wow, 2003? I’m old….

    Edit: Apparently Introversion are just giving away the Bonus Disk: link to introversion.co.uk

    Enjoy.

    • Brtt says:

      The bonus CD is part of GoG’s, well… bonuses, for Uplink.

    • Armante says:

      You’re complaining about playing a game in 2003?!

      Hahaha OMG I think I’m old playing games 30+ years ago, not 11.. Thanks – now I feel old at 43 ;)

  9. Dezmiatu says:

    I enjoyed the game until I got sick of floating jobs I got paid half up front for in order to buy the upgrades to do them. I would succumb to trying to steal from bank accounts, only to be caught and tank the game. After three times of doing that, I had to give up.

    Incidentally, does anyone know how to empty stranger’s bank accounts without getting caught?

    • chi_squared says:

      1. Log into their account.
      2. Transfer the money to your account.
      3. Delete the transfer log from their account.
      4. Log out of their account.
      5. Log into your account.
      6. Delete the transfer log from your account.
      7. Log out of your account.
      8. Log into one of the systems that you have been bouncing through (e.g. InterNIC or the Uplink Test Machine) and delete all of your connection logs.
      9. Profit.

      (I think. It has been a large number of years, so some of the details might be a bit off.)

    • Nixitur says:

      Okay, so general things first.
      Always go over InterNIC. ALWAYS! In fact, it should be your first hop out of many. The reason for that is simple: It’s the only server in the game with absolutely no security features. There is no monitor, so you can hack without getting caught. There is no Firewall or Proxy, so you can delete logs without any bypasses. And the password never changes.
      So, after you do any hack, you just delete the routing log from InterNIC and there’s little the target can do.
      The entire connection can be made out of anything, but I prefer Internal Services machines because they provide more time than Public Access and they’re fairly simple to hack. Usually, my connection (which you can save and load) consists of InterNIC, then all Internal Services machines, then the target server.

      Now, the prerequisites.
      Get an account at your target’s bank. That will allow you to access the target and your own account without having to disconnect. Time is of the essence.
      Buy the very highest log deleter. Otherwise, you will get caught.
      Banks are very quick with their active trace (which is the one that happens while you’re connected), so what I always do, when I have a bank account number, is first hack their password (triggering the monitor), then disconnect. That way, I have the password saved and can then log in without triggering the monitor, giving me plenty of time.
      Get whatever Bypass you need to delete logs at the bank. It’s either Proxy Bypass 5 or Firewall Bypass 5, I’m not sure. Do not get the Disable as it will trigger the monitor.

      Now, for the actual hack.
      1. Connect to the bank and log into the target’s account. Since you already have the password, you should be fine.
      2. Activate the Bypass.
      3. Transfer money to your account at the same bank.
      Now you gotta be quick.
      4. Delete the transaction log from the target’s account.
      5. Log out, but don’t disconnect.
      6. Log into your account.
      7. Delete the transaction log from your account.
      8. Disconnect.
      9. Connect to and log into InterNIC.
      10. Delete the routing log from that hack.

      I think that should work, but I haven’t played this game in over a year, so no guarantees.

      • Frosty840 says:

        Oh god, the ritual of that first connection to InterNIC to load up all the internal service machines into the saved connection. Good times.

    • kalzekdor says:

      What I would do (in addition to the security practices mentioned by others) was to not actually transfer the money to my account directly. I would create a “dummy” account, transfer the money to that, then to my main account (or other dummy accounts). I would then close out the dummy accounts. That usually worked.

      I also had fun using other people’s money to manipulate the stock market, and made money that way.

      Uplink was awesome.

      • oueddy says:

        Never thought of a dummy account, but wouldn’t a dummy account have the same flaws as hacking any account and transferring the money to you? The problem is a large transfer at the same time as a hack

        Anyway, memories of destroying the internet with the revelation virus still sends chills down my spine, that final moment where the virus finally spreads to your own gateway :)

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Never managed it – destroying the internet I mean, bank hacks aren’t all that hard.
          I HAVE got the Faith ending, and I remember that being nerve-wracking enough, but the two times I’ve actually got to the end of the story with Revelation, I’ve been caught long before the virus spread that far. This article’s inspired me to pick it up and try again, so we’ll see.

      • ikazrima says:

        The advantage of creating a dummy account on the same bank is that you can quickly delete the transaction logs of both accounts, without having to connect and hack into another bank to delete the logs there. It is the fastest way to unlocking everything I supposed. Sucks a tiny bit of joy of the game after successfuly making your riches. :P

  10. melnificent says:

    Great game and there was a little surprise on the inside of the game sleeve if you removed it from the case.

  11. kalirion says:

    I tried playing Uplink, but on my 1080p monitor the text was eye-hurtingly hard to read regardless of resolution settings.

    • Tacroy says:

      Oh man the UI hasn’t aged particularly well has it? The game apparently takes place nearly five years ago, and running in a window on a modern monitor leads to that eye hurt you mentioned.

      • kalirion says:

        Window, full screen – both are eye-hurting. IIRC the problem is that the game is made for either 800×600 or 1024×768 resolution, which is just blurry enough when scaled to full screen on a 1080p LCD monitor to make reading hard, and too small to read easily in a window. And there is no in-game text scaling, so playing at a higher resolution makes the text as small as a 1024×768 window anyway.

  12. Merus says:

    I can’t shake the feeling that Uplink is a faster-paced casual game, with everything being tied to timers ticking down.

    • Josh W says:

      The timers are similar, but unlike the social games, where timers control you, force you to wait until they complete, in uplink, you are working within the timers; their relative pacing, the fact that one might complete before another – but that you have only 2 seconds to complete the various operations to capitalise on it’s result -, is something with tactical importance, not to mention the fact that you can accelerate the flow of time to skip ahead, meaning that fundamentally you are in control of them, or at least that is the objective. They do not work to organise your life, instead you arrange them to your benefit.

  13. drinniol says:

    And I just remembered – OH MY GAWD THE DEUX EX SKIN!!!! It was awesome.

  14. Jim Dandy says:

    There’s a really interesting topic raised in this article: the idea that a previously ‘rare commodity’ has become ubiquitously available, and at a cost to the producer that approaches zero.

    The implications of this are huge, and we really should start dealing with them now. The concept of scarcity is the keystone of our economic system, and that concept is rapidly becoming meaningless. Ten or twenty years rapid, not fifty or a hundred.

    It’s not just games that are subject to this dynamic. Right now all information- based products can be distributed at near zero marginal cost. Right now we have the capacity, if not the will, to transition to energy production at a post-install running cost of near zero. Within ten years we’ll be able to produce the vast majority of consumer items at material cost. Within twenty years a similar majority of services could be provided at zero labour cost.

    This isn’t pie in the sky, this is ‘pie cooling on the windowsill while delicious aromas waft through the house’. We have imminent and serious questions to answer about how that pie is going to be shared.

    Here’s one, grounded with a real-world example:

    Recently Hong Kong recruited an AI to schedule the maintenance teams for its subway network. The AI does a better job than the human scheduling department could, because it has the capacity to chunk very very large amounts of data and test-run scenarios very very quickly. This is great for the subway network, and has apparently provided an efficiency dividend equivalent to getting an extra maintenance crew for nix. It’s not so great for the scheduling department who are now out of work having been strip mined of their expertise, or for the potential recruits to that extra crew of technicians. The upshot is that it’s now cheaper for Hong Kong to run its network. Maintenance scheduling now comes at near zero marginal cost, and more stuff gets maintained than before without further expenditure. The trend will inevitably continue as more labour and expertise becomes automated. The question is: how are the benefits to be distributed and the human cost reduced?

    Because right now I’m not seeing the question even acknowledged, let alone answered. If a product or service that once required serious expertise and ongoing expense can be provided for fuck-all, can we justify charging for that product or service? Are we really going to attempt to maintain an inflationary economic model by pretending to be bound by scarcity?

    TLDR: Our economic systems have not adjusted to the fact that it costs no more to provide a million copies of a videogame than it does to provide one. In the case of videogames and other IP, artificial scarcity is being applied to maintain integrity of the inflationary model. You may be OK with that, but are you OK with maintaining the pretence when it comes to health services, electricity, transport or even food?

    • kalzekdor says:

      Respectfully, wtf are you smoking? Not only is this entirely not the forum for discussions on macro-economic theory in a post-scarcity society, but it is so off topic as to be a complete non-sequitur.

      But, seeing as you brought it up, I’ll address your, is concerns the right word? I’m not sure where to begin, as you jumbled together several disparate ideas, without a coherent point. I suppose I’ll address the fallacy that scarcity will be eliminated in the future. It won’t. There will always be scarcity. What will change, and what is changing, is just what is scarce. However, there are two things that will always be scarce, energy and time. That is an inescapable physical fact. As that applies to economics, that translates into scarcity of raw materials, skills, and labor. Attempting to bring this back around to game development, the direct costs are electricity and skilled labor, along with overhead capital expenditures, such as office space and equipment. So there is a real, tangible cost in developing software, and it will be as such for the forseeable future.

      Now, addressing your other… theme? Whether post production remuneration of upfront capital expenditures allocated to products with negligible distribution costs is a sustainable business model. This is an interesting topic, and one of ongoing development. Kickstarter and Steam Early Access have been able to provide alternate revenue models for those interested, allowing Games as a Service to be a viable business model. However, even in those scenarios, after their initial fundraising period, those businesses will usually pursue more traditional distribution patterns. In the standard Development-Sales cycle, the revenue from the Sales serves to not only reimburse the capital expenditures, but also offset the investment risk inherent in a new business venture. Even when ongoing operational costs are essentially nil (which is not a real world scenario, as distribution and support are effectively per-unit costs), that risk of losing sunk costs is never gone, and risk will translate to (attempted) profit in a capitalistic endeavor.

      If anyone thinks that software development does not have scarcity costs, then I can only say that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of capitalism.

      • Jim Dandy says:

        Yeesh Kalzekdor, who made you the arbiter of topicality? And saying ‘respectfully’ doesn’t make rudeness less so.

        If you think discussion on this site is strictly limited to vidjagames you’re mistaken. The point was raised in the article that a once-scarce commodity is now freely available, which I find interesting.

        You also seem to miss the implications of this almost entirely. You mentioned crowd-funding as an alternative revenue stream for funding games as a service – that’s nice but I don’t see the relevance. You said support and distribution of games is a per unit cost – right now that’s true for support, but false for distribution. It costs the distributor no more to shift a thousand copies than it does to shift ten, which is a new thing

        As I said, when you limit this phenomenon to the distribution of entertainment IP you end up with bizarre but mostly harmless artifacts like regional price fixing and horse armour. It used to cost more to ship physical copies of games to Australia, so over here we paid more than everyone else. Now the cost to a distributor is identically negligible whether a file is DLd from Melbourne, Mozambique or Mawson fucking Sound, but some still pay more per unit than others. Like I said – with gaming it’s a shitty deal but not a big deal.

        The point you’re missing is one that also seems to elude most of our legislators. The reason I raised the Hong Kong subway network was to illustrate that we’re already at the point where technology can provide expert support at near zero marginal post-install cost. This means we’re close to technology being able to provide expert services such as healthcare. This is where the shitty deal becomes a big deal.

        Nobody said that software costs nothing to develop, but the distribution costs are approaching zero. This means that many human-occupied positions in the distribution chain have disappeared. As more labour and expertise becomes automatable there are inevitably fewer positions for labourers and experts. If you can’t see that the trajectory threatens the current model you should really look harder.

        If you think about it, it’s precisely energy and time that are being generated, in the sense of being freed-up, by these technologies. The energy and time it took to ship a video game to a destination are no longer required. This tendency will continue to grow and will influence more and more industries and markets. It is easy to contemplate full unemployment within 100 years. But hey, don’t take my word for it:

        link to nytimes.com

  15. caseworks says:

    I really enjoyed uplink but I think I “Cheated” and accidentally broke the game for myself. There was a mission to trace a bank transaction which I completed but the transferred amount was in Millions so I wrote down all the bank details for that money just in case. Later when I was able to hack banks the first Hack I undertook was…you guessed it the account with Millions in. Suddenly I could afford huge upgrades and i shot up to Grade 5: Mage after one decent bank hack :S I never really played it after that.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      It is part of the game. :)

      • HyenaGrin says:

        It was ‘part of the game’ in that it was easily doable, but I agree with caseworks. What felt like a really good progression got upended when suddenly I could buy everything because I was able to hack an account and steal *millions* of dollars and evidently nobody gave a damn. It was just too easy.

        I, like caseworks, did not play the game much after I figured out you could do that. Yes, I realize there’s a bit of a storyline that proceeds that involved a spreading virus, but at that point I felt like I’d already ‘beaten’ it because there was a pile of content (in the form of upgrades) that was 100% swept under the rug. It was hard to feel like I was making progress.

        It seemed like an oversight more than intended gameplay, and I always felt like higher rewards should come with higher risks and increased difficulty, but stealing millions of dollars in a medium-tier difficulty mission made doing higher tier missions for a fraction of the reward seem pretty silly.

        • Premium User Badge

          Kirrus says:

          No, it was actually a designed, intended, part of the game! You were supposed to be allowed to steal millions, in fact, it’s really almost impossible to complete the game without stealing millions.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            You could probably do it, but after a point it would get grindy as hell.
            I think the problem with bank hacks isn’t that they’re possible, but that they’re possible very early on. You only need to do a very small number of missions to get enough kit for a bank hack, if you’re deliberately optimising for that objective – and once you’ve done a bank hack with a decent amount of cash, you don’t need to do any more random missions. ANY, at all. You have the best kit, you have a good enough rank that everything’s unlocked. Basically once you master hacking banks, you can ignore everything that isn’t the story missions.
            Just started trying the Onlink mod though, and I have to say it looks to have changed all that. I’m actually having to work for my gear again.

  16. B4rberblacksheep says:

    For those of you wishing and hoping for an update to this game go and check out Onlink. It’s a remake that’s been being worked on for a long time over at ferrous moon. Adds a tonne of features, strips out the problems and makes the whole game HD too.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Just hopping on here to thank you for the recommendation. Had never heard of the mod, indeed it seems to be INCREDIBLY obscure and hard to find, considering the quality. It’s nice to go into Uplink and have the same feeling of challenge and uncertainty as when I started – never thought I’d get that back again.

  17. Bluepengie says:

    This game. Oh, this game. I have logged more consecutive hours into this game than anything else, easily. I dont know what to say about it. It’s simply stellar. The learning curve is a little steep, and a really tiny, little bit formulaic, but I love this game.

  18. prof_yaffle says:

    I’ve got this game in my Steam library from the humble introversion bundle, but never gotten round to playing it. This write up has made me want to give it a try.

  19. Laurentius says:

    Uplink is the best, still I dream that Introversion actually get around and do the sequel with more missions, factions, more robast world etc.
    This game is paragon of video gaming for me, whole process of “logging into Uplink” sets tone perfectly. Also when I look at modern AAA titles I always think of Uplink. Despite their tons of dollars all they offer is stale, decorations only world and I weep but Uplink does the simiulation: hackers hack servers, hacked companies post mission to track those hackers (you included ) and if you succesfully track down hackers he is sent to jail and stop his.her activity but then you can hack FBI servers and ordered his.her realese and then they are back, there is also stock exchange when through you your hacking exploits you can steer course of stocks. Sure it could be more robast ( thus i dream of sequel ) but it is thousands more then AAA vidoe games offer.

    • vlonk says:

      Uplink 2 would be wonderful indeed! You could add plenty of new content that developed in the real world (your very own bot-networks!) maybe brush up a little on the UI and thats about all I would need to spring open my wallet.

      • doombob says:

        I am I huge fan of Uplink, have been since its release. I was also eagerly awaiting a sequal, but when it didn’t seem to be in the pipeline I decided to start working on my own take on the hacking genre. It’s very early on but I hope it can eventually scratch the hacking game itch I’ve had since Uplink :)

        (WARNING: Fairly technical devblog!)
        link to hacktheplanetgame.blogspot.ca

  20. nicoper says:

    Introversion have since gone on to great success, most recently with the continuing public development of Prison Tycoon, but Uplink is the game that I’ll forever associate with them. And, my oh my, I’d love to see a sequel one day.
    Prison Tycoon? Isnt it called Prison Architect?

    • vlonk says:

      You are correct but this might be a deliberate choice. PA has a lot in common with Railroad Tycoon, Rollercoaster Tycoon etc. It could have been labeled Prison Tycoon.

      Probably the creative wordplay had to leak out somewhere in the article since the headline is already formalized and therefore predetermined.

      • Dozer says:

        ¿que? That sounds like nonsense to me. Nowhere have I seen it labelled as anything other than Prison Architect.

        • vlonk says:

          …deliberate…. choice… creative…wordplay… = sounds like nonsense = RPS, the land where Authors connect things and voice their opinion, with carefully chosen words.
          *prays to the Adam of Smiths to prove him right*

  21. Shmian says:

    I’ve tried.

    Boy, have I tried.

    But I can’t play this game because I can’t stand deleting the filler text from every. Single. Text field.

    It’s awful! I have heard that you can press the escape key to automatically delete a text box’s contents, but no UI on Earth does that. Even when the game was made, text fields on the Web didn’t behave that way.

    If there’s a mod that fixes this, I am sure I’d play the hell out of it.

  22. McBacon says:

    Dammit! Uplink started eating away at my free time again. I remember when I used to play it as a kid… I totally believed the cops will show up when I got that black you-got-cought screen… It all seemed so real! Haha!

    Shameless self-promotion: if you (like me) can’t shake the 2000-ish sci-fi feeling off the game, you can grab the theme that I’ve recently created. It’s on ModDB.
    It’s easy on the eyes and easy to install. Comes in multiple flavors!

    Happy hacking!