These days most people know the basics of the top-down action adventure game. You know, "the Zelda-like." Character with a sword, walking through dungeons, solving puzzles and fighting monsters, opening chests. Time to introduce a major twist, no?
Enter Hack n' Slash, a new game from Double Fine and one of the most creative and weird things I've seen at GDC this week. I saw the game on the floor at an indie mixer at the IGN offices earlier this week and it initially didn't seem all that remarkable. Then project lead Brandon Dillon started to explain to me what was going on.
The hero in Hack n' Slash looks pretty standard at first. She's wearing green armour and has a sword. But it's not an ordinary sword — it allows her to hack into the game's source code and rewrite the parameters for objects and even enemies in the environment.
Any object in the game that has a port can be hacked, which brings up a text box that lets you reassign the properties and parameters of the object. Want to lower the amount of damage a boss does? Cool, hack into him and change his damage parameter. Make his damage negative, and he'll heal you. Want a chest to give you way more hearts? Hack in and change it.
It may seem like it'd be a cinch to manipulate the game and make it too easy, but that's the idea — the puzzles are based more on creatively tweaking the objects' code than on the traditional challenges of a game like this.
Dillon was sure to say that the game isn't just pretending to change its code, every tweak you make is actually rewriting the source code. That may not seem like a big deal with little things like boxes and chests, but later in the demo he showed me a tome that will let the hero go deep within the source code and make huge, fundamental changes to the way the game operates. It's also apparently possible to corrupt your save and make the game unplayable, at which point you have to pull out to a (narratively explained) version-control map that lets you travel "back in time" to before you changed the code that broke the game. (I didn't see that part, but apparently it's very cool.)
I'll be curious to see if a concept like this can actually remain approachable as it gets more complicated, but I'm fascinated by the concept and really hope that Dillon and his team at Double Fine can pull it off. Double Fine says the game will be out in the first half of 2014, so brush up on your programming chops.