HyperBound is a game hack project that I created as part of my senior project at Ryerson University. It follows the trials and tribulations of an unnamed amnesiac, who is thrust into a world that is completely unknown to him. Using a variety of hacking tools and an old Super Nintendo game as its basis, HyperBound explores ideas associated with video games such as non-linear narratives and spacial storytelling.
The main thrust behind this project was to use an existing video game as an interface for a large, hypertext narrative. By navigating through the hack’s game world, the user uncovers choices and information that will affect the outcome of an unfolding story. While entrenched in the world of HyperBound, the player becomes the protagonist: with the ability to explore, get lost, and discover secret paths within the narrative. HyperBound’s core game-play mechanic is the use of glitches as a metaphor for mental deterioration. One of the central trials of the game’s story takes place inside the protagonist’s mind. Failing this challenge causes the game world to crumble in a video game way: garbage blocks muck up the screen, dialogue becomes scrambled, and some of the hack’s content can even become completely inaccessible.
Along with the actual development of the game, this project involved a great deal of research and networking across the gaming community. I had the pleasure of conversing with new media artists and scholars such as Eric Zimmerman (CEO of GameLab), Henry Jenkins (co-director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT), and Cory Arcangel (the artistic mind behind “Mario Clouds”). Through their consultations, as well as my personal research, I managed to gain a better understanding of both artistic and commercial interactive media.
Since its completion, HyperBound has been distributed and displayed in a variety of ways. Its first public exhibition took place at the 2007 Ryerson Axis New Media Festival, where it met enthusiastic reviews from both students and faculty. Later on that year, it was granted a larger installation space at Heaslip House for the second annual Toronto Nuit Blanche Festival. During the course of the evening, hundreds of attendees stopped by to play the game on four available consoles.
After its festival run, HyperBound found a second life as a digitally downloaded game. It has gained significant popularity in several online gaming communities due to its accessibility and the allure of its retro graphics and game-play. Over the past ten years it has seen thousands of downloads, while the documentation video has racked up thousands of views on YouTube.
More recently, HyperBound was featured in Auntie Pixelante’s book, Rise of the Video Game Zinesters. The three page write-up focuses on how the existing structure of a video game can be co-opted to create a new narrative, and I have included an excerpt below:
HyperBound takes its name from “hypertext,” text that’s arranged in a nonlinear structure. (This book is a text: it’s arranged to be read from start to finish, one page to the next. A website, where you might click on a word to “link” to a page about that subject, is hypertext.)
What better model for the nonlinear exploration of text than the space of a digital game, where the player moves around the world by moving her character across the screen, encountering characters, and listening to what they have to say? That’s the part of the design of EarthBound that HyperBound has lifted. What it’s rejected is the fighting. The hack is purely about exploring the world and discovering the text, and original script written by Iantorno and his brother.
Despite these successes, I still treat HyperBound as an experiment and a learning experience rather than a fully fleshed-out game. It has taught me quite a bit about game design and interactive media and I hope to carry over this knowledge into future projects.