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File://maniac hides a serial killer on your hard drive for free

Games which kick over the fourth wall and involve the inner workings of your PC have always fascinated me. File://maniac isn’t the first of its kind, but it is an intriguingly dark take on it, and possibly the start of a larger series. Described by developer Born Frustrated as a “pilot episode” about a cyberpunk investigator, delving into the virtual dream-worlds of killers. In this instance, you find yourself at the suspect’s home, its door removable only by deleting the file for it from the game’s directory. Give it a look in the trailer below, or try it for yourself here on Itch.

The puzzles in File://maniac aren’t especially tough (at least from what I’ve played – I’ve not finished this episode yet), but they do feel a little more involved than other file-juggling games. You need to look at both the names, content and location of files. One puzzle asks you to rewire a circuit box, but you need to match the serial numbers of the wires, which are held within the files representing the in-game objects. Other puzzles are a little more grim.

As mentioned, there’s been a long history of games playing around with your file system. The earliest examples I can think of would be the shareware-era Operation Inner Space, which had you buzzing around your PCs file-system in a little spaceship, destroying corrupted data. It was little more than window-dressing, but it worked nicely. The 1997 Descent-like shooter Virus: The Game had you delving into your directory structure, with levels decorated with your (totally not porn) image files and with your sound files as backing.

Monkeying around with your files played a part in lovely little adventure OneShot, which John adored and reviewed here. Most recently, Nathalie Lawhead has been playing around with the concept with A Desktop Love Story and RUNONCE. By her own admission, A Desktop Love Story was apparently a bit of a bear to produce – messing around with file systems is generally not advisable, and making a game that can be poked and prodded like this seems tricky. Still, it’s a field I’d love to see explored more, and one I feel still has a lot of untapped potential.

As an aside, I can’t help but notice that this game shares a lot of plot (if not mechanical) concepts with the upcoming AI: The Somnium Files. Not important, but interesting.

File://maniac is available on both Itch and Game Jolt, and free. I’ve got my fingers crossed that the other episodes get made, having had a taste of things to come.

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Dominic Tarason

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