It’s difficult to find an escape when pandemic and political unrest confine you to an Internet overwhelmed with the same. So – just use a fake Internet. With a fake 90s music sequencer and page builder. Seriously.

Hypnospace Outlaw (macOS/Windows/Linux) is a little over a year old, but honestly, 2020 should be its year. The game answers the question “what if vaporwave released an entire fake operating system?” So you get a game set in a computer inside your computer. There’s a complete fake operating system, a bizarro Windows98/Amiga concoction with tune player and even a generative music tool, and some seriously psychotic pastel color combos. (It’s like all the color schemes you thought were totally unrealistic in the 90s got… merged.)

And it’s an alternative online world, equal parts eWorld, GeoCities, AOL (like the old DOS version even), and other 90s odds and ends. (I think there’s even bits of Prodigy in there.) It’s a mishmashed ’99 – one with the vibe not only of the early Web but also the late BBS period, down to dodgy disorganized file archives.

You’re armed with a literal ban hammer, and eventually, there’s a plot to uncover, which can involve getting really obsessive about reading through message forums and so on.

All of this hangs together partly because the lead game designer is also a music person. The indie team was led by Jay Tholen, an American who wound up in Braunschweig, So in addition to über-Internet artwork and tons of engaging writing, you get treated to a seemingly endless supply of parody 90s music. And it’s brilliant.

That means that instead of being a chore, trawling the fake Hypnospace turns out to be a treat, partly for the music – some from Tholen, some tunes (Chowder Man) from Erik aka Hot Dad.

That includes this gem, surely an anthem for the year of COVID-19 if ever there was one:

The music has a mostly surreal retro vibe, like this from Jay:

At times it can be unexpectedly beautiful. The odd, dreamy “Eulogy” sounds like a lament for 90s tech optimism, with its perfect grassy Microsoft hillside wallpapers and Brian Eno sound cues and visions of unlimited wealth without consequence.

But maybe what’s most bizarre and wonderful is that, after you finish the game, your fake OS and Internet live on. And they built their own authoring tools, so you can make your own fake homepage and … actually even sequence music. It’s Windows-only, but hey macOS, users, install Boot Camp before the “Apple Silicon” Macs take that away from you.

Tune Sequencer is like a love child of an old tracker and the Music Creation series for the PlayStation. (I think. CDM readers may be able to better identify the lineage here than me.)

And yeah, you can use this to make your own chilled-out 90s tunes – just in case you aren’t finding inspiration right now in, like, Ableton Live Suite.

There’s a Page Builder, too – which you’ll obviously want, so you can make a fitting homepage for all the music you’re composing. And there is a way to distribute this to other users, via Steam. That may sound like a means to lavishing time on music that will lapse in obscurity, never to be heard, but … doesn’t that sort of describe all online music distribution?

He even gives away the tricks to making your graphics look aged and weird, using GIMP plus the charming Aseprite.

Oh hey, and Aseprite is really cool.

Jay isn’t stopping there. He’s making more bizarre, compulsive creations – like this thing that spins out 8-bit lo-fi graphic chaos on top of your stream which is definitely something we need right now.

Jay’s work is almost one of those various episodes of Star Trek where there’s some quantum anomaly spewing bits of the past into the present.

Also, oh my God, Computer Chronicles. (Weirdly technology really seems a lot better in the past. Not in a nostalgic way. In that this is objectively better – cool things are happening explained by friendly people, rather than horrifying things are happening, controlled by fascists. So – take us back there, Jay.)

There’s something strangely calming about listening to Jay talking in the background to unseen messages from participants, but then I got wrapped up playing a game where I had entire conversations with imaginary Internet posters, so uh… yeah.

Hypnospace Outlaw is on sale now. The soundtrack is on Bandcamp and also in a really affordable version with everything on Steam.

Hypnospace Outlaw on Steam

Ah, I love the 90s.