Fight or Kite: Hackmud is more than a MUD – it’s a living cyberpunk world


As these words loaded into your browser, sending bits and bytes across a vast array of interconnected wires and tubes, someone is typing away at a keyboard authoring a convincing script for unsuspecting users to run. Servers pass the data from one to another until hosts connect with clients. Somewhere among these servers lies a vast world. Not one you’re familiar with, though.

No, this world is hidden in far off corners of the internet only explored by those with a certain level of nostalgia for a web gone by. However, if you’ve ever pined for a cyberpunk world, or if you’ve watched Mr. Robot and felt the urge to dive into the web and hack away at others (in a totally legal and harmless video game way), then take the red pill and jack in. Hackmud is waiting.

Multi-user dungeons are the precursor to our MMOs

MUDs were basically the MMOs of the early web. They were typically adventure games without any graphics or fancy animations. Instead, you would have a terminal or command line interface for entering answers to a game’s prompts. “In front of you is a dark cavern.” You could type “walk inside,” and the game would describe what happens next. A simpler time, yet still fun and interesting. Our own Game Archaeologist did an excellent explanation of the history of MUDs. I highly recommend it for anyone who loves MMOs (that means all of you).

Even though MUDs are the precursors of today’s MMOs, they are not extinct. In fact, MUDs might have a simpler interface in terms of the animations, but they are far from simple and even farther from being lifeless.

Hackmud is a game designed around that ’80s and ’90s cyberpunk theme. Everything from the look and feel of the interface to the low-key electronic music just oozes with that classic hacker vibe. The gameplay itself focuses around solving puzzles, which usually takes the form of writing scripts to hack NPCs and other players. But that is just a fraction of what the game offers.

The right way to do a tutorial

If you didn’t know any better looking at the game’s client, you would think you were simply looking at a semi-custom terminal. To interact with the game, you write and run javascript. It might seem a bit overwhelming, but the game’s tutorial does a really great job giving you the beginner skills necessary to start playing.

Now, I love the tutorial for Hackmud. It is entirely sectioned off from the rest of the MUD. By that I mean, there are no other players in the tutorial. In a typical MMO, that would be offensive. Yet here, it works brilliantly. You begin basically as an AI within a local network, and you need to get out to join the rest of the world.

The tutorial will likely take between two and four hours to complete, depending on how fast you want to smash through it. For me, Hackmud’s tutorial alone was enough fun to be worth the price of admission, and that doesn’t even count the actual MUD part of the game! This is coming from someone who’s explained the importance of free-to-play MMOs too. It might be simplistic compared to some other dedicated single-player games, such as Hacknet, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

However, once you do complete the tutorial and break out of the firewall, the game truly begins. You will be dropped into the same channel as every other new user – and immediately be inundated with messages. So many, in fact, it’s hard to know whether these are real users or just bots.

Hackmud revolves around PvP

Now, Fight or Kite is MassivelyOP’s PvP column, not a nostalgia or MUD column. So where does PvP fit into this script kiddie terminal world? It’s in every line of code, actually. After being dropped into the main game, you’ll see dozens of messages containing various scripts. Many of them are advertisements for minigames that players have built, the most useful of which is actually a guide to get you started in this part of the game world.

While many of those scripts are fun and helpful, some of them are malicious scripts made by players. Now, you aren’t going to be killed and beaten by another player. But they can steal your upgrades and your money. The key is, you can’t be hurt unless you actually run the scripts that scroll by. Hackmud gives you a tool to run to check the security of any script too. So, if you’re afraid a script is going to steal your money, just check it out. It’ll show up as a security level, from FULLSEC down to NULLSEC. If you’re wondering why you would ever run anything other than FULLSEC, well, there are legitimate uses. One might be if you were playing or running a script that required payments to the author.

On top of the game-directed PvP of hacking each other, there are also games players have made to compete in. In that first channel you enter, you’ll likely see a Tetris game being advertised with a little leaderboard. It’s so strange and different, but so much fun if you embrace it.

The experience doesn’t have to be entirely solo, either. There are guilds, or Corps as they’re called here, that you could join. With them, you can compete in the game’s larger quests and events. And yes, this game does still get those: Just this past February the game had a big update.

There’s a living, breathing world hidden in these colorful lines of text

The interface into the game is nothing more than a black screen with different colored text. Yet as I spend time in Hackmud I am thoroughly engaged; my mind is completely enveloped by the game’s world and atmosphere. The unique and methodical music beats on as you type javascript commands into the client. I am completely immersed.

I can honestly say that I haven’t felt like a game was so alive and deep as I do when I’m logged into Hackmud. More than almost any other game, it feels real. It reminds me of watching an ’80s hacker thriller, with users logging into forums and message boards sending cryptic commands and scripts to each other. Even now, as I’m writing this column, I’m imaging how fun it would be to put a small RPG adventure game in Hackmud. It is a real gem hidden away. It does so much with so little.

That isn’t to say it’s going to be an easy game to get into. There is a lot of homework you have to do. Reading up the game’s forums and other write-ups is almost a requirement for doing anything after the tutorial, but one I think is well worth it.

So, what do all you high tech, fancy gamers with your 3-D graphics and virtual reality headsets think of a simple command-line MUD? Have you played one recently? My suggestion if you are a fan of the cyberpunk genre or just want to pretend to be a hacker is to give Hackmud a closer look. It is a very interesting game with a lot more depth than most people would expect.

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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