hyperbound is a hack of earthbound (the name is a portmanteau of that and “hypertext”), created by michael iantorno as a thesis project. iantorno inserted an entirely new script into the game, written by his brother and himself, repurposing earthbound’s locations and characters for the telling of this new story. (the protagonist wears his pajamas all game to help differentiate him from the protagonist of the original.) hyperbound is akin to a piece of interactive fiction – a piece of hypertext – but instead of typing commands or clicking images, you navigate the world the way you would a 1994 super famicom game.

earthbound’s combat and experience systems have been stripped away: the story is told entirely through seeking out and talking to (or, rather, listening to) the inhabitants of the world. the writing unfortunately isn’t very strong – the authors tried to stick maybe too close to the tone of the original title – and could have used some proofediting. (“its” in place of “it’s” everywhere.) nevertheless, the game world interested me enough, and gave me enough leads to follow, that i reached the game’s conclusion.

hyperbound’s other neat trick, demonstrated in the video, is the use of the glitch as a metaphor for mental deterioration. as in earthbound, one of the central trials of the game’s story takes place inside the protagonist’s mind. fail this challenge, and the game world crumbles in a videogame way: garbage blocks muck up the screen, dialogue becomes scrambled. i was able to finish the game without seeing this at all; the fact that you can easily save before the trial and reload if you mess up means that there’s probably no real consequence to it, which is too bad.

and despite finishing the game, i don’t feel as though i’ve solved the game’s central mystery. though one of the consequences of the game’s structure is that you can reach the ending without having seen all of the story (seeing more merely tips your odds of making the right choice at the critical moment), and it’s clear that there was material i missed.

7 thoughts on “hyperbound”

  1. by missing elements of the game, did that give you the urge to replay the game to see what you missed?

  2. i did in fact play the game more and found some stuff i missed. at this point, finding things i havn’t seen is a needle-haystack situation, so i’m glad that the structure of the game allowed me to reach the ending without having to pinpoint every last one of these plot points.

    i still don’t feel as though i have a really good sense of the events that led up to the start of the story, and i’ve seen, as far as i can tell, almost everything.

  3. Hello, my name is Michael and I made this game. I was wondering where the sudden spike in my website’s traffic was coming from, and after a little investigation I found it was from you and Tomato at EarthBound Central. Thanks for the links!

    While I’m here, I thought I might address some of the points you make about my game. I think this is one of the first times it has actually been reviewed.

    First of all, I agree with you when you say that the game suffers somewhat due to the player’s ability to save/reload state constantly. This was something I discovered shortly after I began distributing the game online. When the game was originally presented at the Ryerson Axis festival and the Nuit Blanche festival in Toronto it was in the form of an installation piece. This prevented little “cheats” such as save states and frame-skipping and helped encourage the user/player to make mistakes. In a way HyperBound requires the user to make mistakes, and I feel as though an element of the game is lost when played directly on an emulator.

    Regarding the dialogue… in retrospect, I underestimated how much I let the original game influence my creative process. When me and my co-writer were fleshing out dialogue for the game we both seemed to lean towards a style very reminiscent of EarthBound. This lead to the hack having a very similar atmosphere to the original game – something that takes away from the “freshness” of my game’s concept. On the upside, the recognizable dialogue has made it very easy for EarthBound fans to connect to the game, and they have increased the popularity and distribution of the game greatly.

    I have had trouble with “its” and “it’s” since I was 7. I think next time I make a game I’m going to put it through another round of proofreading.

    As for the game’s central mystery… I left it somewhat vague for a couple reasons. One of the main ones is that I wanted the player to fill in the gaps of information with their own imagination. I’m sure the answers people put together in their own heads are probably more intriguing than anything I could think of.

    Let me know if you have anymore questions regarding the game and I’d be happy to answer them. Thanks!

  4. hi, michael!

    though i think ambiguity is important and not all questions need answering – the little details can be left to the player’s imagination to fill in – there are some questions that, by raising, you’ve promised to answer.

    for example: how the protagonist lost his memory in the first place. i’ve wandered around the world and spoken to a lot of people, and though i’ve learned things about the protagonist they weren’t answers to questions i had. in fact, they were the little details: that the protagonist goes to such-and-such school or calls in to such-and-such radio show. you’ve drawn me in with the promise of a mystery, but that mystery is the one thing i’m not getting clues to.

    which is why the ending is so anticlimactic: though i’ve reached the end, i havn’t found an answer to the first question the game asked. the story hasn’t been resolved.

    i’ve continued playing the game because i’ve been trying to find the girl who appears in this old photo. if she doesn’t exist i’m wasting my time.

  5. re: comment 4, yeah, i am in agreement with this, though i did enjoy the game. i was hunting for a phone to call the radio show, thinking that doing so might reveal something new (e.g. the protagonist’s favorite song). i also looked for the girl in the photo, and/or more family.

    a couple of things i do like about the game, besides those covered in the OP, are the way the game gives reason to the weird/arbitrary rpg convention of talking to random strangers. not that i usually have a problem with this, but it was neat to have the game explicitly tell you to talk to everyone you could. also, so often the npc’s in rpg’s are superfluous; you might get a little bit more flavor from talking to them–and i generally do in any case–but they are far from central/necessary to the game. it’s nice that this whole game hinges on that (although i suppose it sort of has to, without battles).

    also, in addition to geographic reordering of the earthbound setting, which i enjoyed, hospitals become a new focal point. whereas the drugstore was probably the first place you would hit when you entered a new town (or the weapons store, inn, etc. in a conventional fantasy rpg), here i found myself looking for the hospital immediately, even if only the second hospital provided any answers. it’s neat how places take on completely different significance.

  6. yeah, the exchange with the radio host really leads you to believe there’s going to be a phone you can use to call in. i figured that there probably aren’t any phones in hyperbound, though, because in earthbound phones serve so many important functions that have been either relocated or rendered irrelevant in hyperbound.

  7. Heh, well, I’m not going to pretend that the game is perfect by any stretch of the imagination. There were some things that were probably left a little too ambiguous for most people’s tastes, and I can understand the frustration that some had with the climax/resolution of the game. I will learn from both the successes and failures of the game, and apply the knowledge to future projects.

    I think it would help to take a look at the game as more of an interactive experiment than as a traditional video game. Those who look for a standard “get from point A to point B” experience will more than likely be disappointed with my odd little hack. It would probably be better to treat Hyperbound less like a game and more like a toy… something to play, tinker with and explore.

    Regardless, I doubt I will be making another game that is quite so experimental anytime soon. I do have a couple different projects on the go though; one of them being a more straight-forward narrative game hack written by my brother (among others) and produced by myself. I should have a flurry of new updates for it up on http://www.hyperbound.net in a little over a month, so watch for it!

    And if there are any more questions or comments please feel free to contact me directly via michael@hyperbound.net.


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