In the pulsating culture of the 1990’s, there was a callback to the Geroge Orwell novel, 1984. The novel which depicted life in a totalitarian state also created a hauntingly plausible society of surveillance, in which the Government could monitor its own citizens, collecting personal information, and exploiting it for a variety of purposes. In the 1990’s, many tv shows and movies interpreted an upheaval against big government and corporations, on par with Robin Hood. Movies like Enemy Of The State and Swordfish, depicted the use of cyberspace, both for political assassination and sociopathic revolution, respectively. Even the 1995 film, Hackers, depicted the wealthy and powerful exploiting the hard-working people, with their protagonist infamously shouting “Hack the planet,” in defiance of the corrupt.
Black Ice, from the Super Duper Game Company, is a game that takes these Robin Hood themes and applies them into a digital frontier inside your computer. Black Ice is a First-person Hack-’em up and First person Shooter that tasks players with taking the fight to the top percent and bringing them down. Players are thrust onto a digital grid, very reminiscent of the 1983 sci-fi-classic film Tron. In an arena-like setting, players will hack into colored blocks and unleash enemies in a bid to hack and take over a sector of the level. Fortunately, there is no in-depth coding as the hacking is done at the push of a button. The rest is up to the maneuverability and skill of the players as they shoot anti-viral software, which comes in the shape of glowing insects, such as spiders.
Super Duper Game Company, a San Antonio based company, had the opportunity to showcase Black Ice at Pax South Video Game convention, which took place in the same city. I had the opportunity to check it out on the show floor, and Black Ice made a very resounding presence in the sea of other games. What drew me in was the neon-colored visuals, as I am personally, a huge fan of Tron and Tron: Legacy. The two sci-fi films continue to be incredibly impactful in the fields of computer and video game culture, as well as the ever-evolving world of our increasingly digital society.
As I approached the booth, I noticed the primary poster of the game, which you can see is the featured image. In the center is a young woman, glowing red and wielding a massive cannon, fighting against the hordes of anti-viral programs. According to the developer, players are portraying that character, fighting in the digital world to take down the corrupt and powerful. It would be a daunting fight, but a rewarding one.
Right away, I found the controls in Black Ice to be very friendly and intuitive. The objective was to defeat these programs and hack as many blocks in the sector as possible. The final block had “PAX” written on it, and it would be the last challenge of the demo. Whether you wanted to proceed directly the last block or hack the smaller blocks was entirely up to the player. Naturally, I wanted to squeeze every moment out of the demo, so I decided to stay behind and level up the character. Every time I initiated the hack, a circle would form around me, and various enemies would descend. The key was to stay within the circle and defeat the enemies to successfully complete the hack. However, an alarm would sound, and the hack would stop, should I step out of the circle.
My initial armament began with a “n00b cannon”, which was just a basic energy shot. Soon, the more enemies I eliminated, the more weapons I unlocked, including missiles, beam lasers, and a “rainbow” shot, which was reminiscent of ” the More You Know” logo. Other weapons included a laser disco ball, and an AI controlled companion, titled “Ghost In the Shellfish” It’s safe to say that Black ice will have a strong sense of humor in the creative ways it finds names for its weapons.
The more boxes I hacked and the more enemies I downed, the bolder I became. Instead of doing one box at a time, I often did multiple at a time. This allowed me to clear large sections of the arena while earning a solid boost of XP. The XP then lent itself into traditional classes, such as extra damage, health, and hacking ability.
There may have been many enemies on screen, from spiders to flying robots. However, they were downed swiftly. The music, coupled with the stellar presentation, gave me the impression of being a video warrior, fighting on the Grid. Except, I wasn’t only fighting for the user, like Tron and Flynn in the movies, but fighting for the right of many hard-working users, being exploited by the powerful. By the end of the demo, I reached rank 10.
I held my breath as I entered the final “PAX” cube, marking the last fight of the demo. In it, two high-level enemies emerged and attempted to destroy the player. Unfortunate for them, I used my powerful laser, a literal “aimbot” and my trusty laser disco ball to dispel the final enemies. While tough, they went down fairly quickly, and that marked the conclusion of my demo with Black Ice.
I had a few moments to speak to the chief developer of Black Ice, Garrett Cooper. The development of Black Ice came as a response to the growing age of digital information and surveillance. What started off as a central desktop computer with 56k modems has evolved into unmanned quadcopters powered by Bluetooth. It has given striking thoughts into the power of digital information, who is wielding it, and how it is being wielded. Is it being used judiciously and fairly, or is it being used to manipulate and enslave the innocent? Is it being used to protect civil liberties or defend them? That is an answer that is up to the player.
Additionally, part of his inspiration came from the earliest days of modern computer hacking, and the stories that are now coming to light. One such story is the tale of user Dark Avenger, and the use of 1260, the first known use of polymorphic code. Also, the tale of Dr. Ripco and his public uploading of a means to breach TRW Credit, a publication that leads to his arrest of the US Secret Service in 1996. With all these themes, Garret is attempting to write a script for a single player experience. However, he notes, the more he writes about it, the more the finds it becoming true.
Black Ice was a very solid experience on the show floor, one filled with action, digital sabotage, and meaning. The game is shaping to be to be an incredible experience and you can follow along by visiting the website HERE!