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Top Secret Is A Game About The NSA Played Via Email

Top Secret [official link] is a “game about the Snowden leaks” that is played in real time by email. Interested? I really can’t say much more out here in the open. Let’s sneak down below where it’s a little more private.

Inspired by the real life events that saw former CIA employee Edward Snowden become a privacy activist/whistleblower/public enemy number one overnight, Top Secret plants you in the shoes of an NSA new recruit tasked with outing a snitch that’s leaking classified information to the press. Bloody nosey journos!

As you might expect, you’ve then to stop said defector by any means necessary. Here’s the game’s Kickstarter video:

Vague as this is, how Top Secret works is really quite neat. I’ve played a demo, which sadly is now unavailable. Without revealing too much, you kick things off by requesting a transfer to the NSA Signals Intelligence Directorate via email. You then wait for a reply. After about 20 minutes, I received this:

Another five minutes or so later and I received this:

I then entered a chat thread with a cryptanalyst who taught me how to encrypt and decrypt messages:

The way in which the game delays each response is really rather cool, particularly the deeper and more involved you get in its narrative. I’ve not been playing long, but I’m now three days in. Here’s a little more from the game’s Kickstarter page:

You will receive and reply to real emails from the characters in the game. You read and reply to them just like any other normal email you receive, directly from your inbox.

The content of each message suggests various reply options to the player. Including one of the options in your reply continues the story. E.g. for the message:

“Should we do X or Y?”

a valid response would be:

“Let’s do X”

But choose wisely! Your choices determine how the story progresses and can have unforeseen consequences.

For interactive fiction fans, Top Secret is more a choice-based (rather than parser) game. Email latency does not encourage much experimentation with replies, so the game tries to make valid options completely transparent. It’s about the choices you make, rather than working out the possible responses

Top Secret has just been Kickstarted and whilst the developers note playing via email is preferable, a DRM-free offline version will be made available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s due in May 2016. Unfortunately, its demo was only available while the Kickstarter was running.

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Joe Donnelly

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