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The RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 7th – hackmud

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We like to make mischief around these parts, and if we can do so in the confines of a multiplayer world where we get to play as a rogue AI, all the better. The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is...

The year's best mmo: reality-confounding hackmud [official site].

Brendan: I’ve already told a couple of stories about my time in this dense multiplayer hacking sim. So I’ll take the chance to praise it more generally. It’s a game about not knowing who to trust, but trusting some people anyway. You run little computer scripts, many of them written by other players, and hope that none of these tiny programs will steal all your money or compromise your location.

For the right kind of person, it’s less a timesink and more a supermassive black hole. Farming NPCs for cash is as essential here as in any other MMO. But if you can stomach learning a bit of JavaScript (or already know some) the game opens up like a horrible venus flytrap. You can write scripts to automate your NPC farming, or scripts that seem like they are part of the game’s in-built stories, but eventually trick the user into running other, more malicious scripts, which you have also written to rob all their hard-earned cyber-dollar. Because even after a 4 hour tutorial, people still emerge into the online world and ill-advisedly run scripts that gobble up everything about them.

The player-on-player skulduggery is just one part of the appeal (admittedly, a large part). But there is so much more to love about the attendant fiction. You are an awakening AI in a worldwide computer network that has been left behind by the humans of the 22nd Century, who it seems are totally extinct, or simply no longer on the earth.

As a result, the game world is filled with bots and automated computer programs who never stopped doing their mundane tasks, but who have slowly gone a bit mad. There are chat channels filled with robotic vacuum cleaners, all of whom are planning to go on a protest march in London. There’s a channel dedicated to fishtank observer bots, who periodically announce that “your pet angelfish has died” or “your octopus’ IQ is 108” suggesting it is on the verge of being intelligent enough to escape. One of my favourite chat groups is the CAFE channel, filled with transport bots who run the trains, all sharing terrible poetry about their jobs. One CCTV bot sometimes shows up to say that, on the corner he is observing, the same car has been parked there for thousands of days, and that he finds this suspicious in some way, but cannot say how.

You get to know the bots from the humans quickly, but it is great that they are there, speaking randomly among the chatter of real people. One of the first questions players often ask, when they escape from the tutorial “LAN”, is whether the people talking and scamming in the default chat channel are “real”. That sense of uncertainty sums up the game, and its ability to make human players ask this question in the first place is a wonderful thing.

Adam: I still haven't played hackmud because there are too many games, but every time Brendan mentions it I wish there were more hours in a day, more days in a week, and...well, maybe not more weeks in this year, but I definitely need to make room for this weird and wonderful thing in my life.

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