In Visual Out, you play as a software program navigating the guts of a dying computer. But it’s nothing like the sleek neon lines of certain sci-fi interpretations of cyberspace. Instead, indie developer MadameBerry created her environment from the building blocks of obsolete tech — beige-grays and muted colors, blocks and glitches, and a low-res filter that makes it feel like you’re peering through an old CRT monitor. The platformer will launch on the indie game marketplace Itch.io and on Steam for PC on March 15.
Your character in Visual Out only exists inside a computer, and after escaping quarantine, you’re tasked with heading to the center of it all to find the operating system. Log entries reveal the story, including clues about the world which exists in a kind of alternate history timeline. And along the way, the OS occasionally speaks to you, alluding to the fact that you’re executing some kind of program that’s beyond your control or ken.
Much of the gameplay is platforming with the aim of exploring the environment. MadameBerry says that combat does exist, but it “takes a bit of a backseat.” Enemies can be used for other ends, perhaps like solving puzzles, rather than as things to destroy.
“Most of the time when I play a Metroidvania (or any exploration-centric game), combat tends to be the most tedious part of it for me,” said MadameBerry. “I don’t want to have to deal with shooting these six random bug-looking enemies to death so the door on the left opens, for instance. It’s incredibly arbitrary and I have places to go and new things to find.”
Visual Out started as a game jam project for Ludum Dare, a weekend-long event that’s happens every four months. The theme was “an entire game on one screen,” and MadameBerry decided to interpret that as a TV screen or monitor. Since the game jam, she’s expanded the gameplay and added new mechanics. For instance, it originally was more of a point-and-click exploration game, and now players can move around and jump using arrow keys. The character can also pick up six new abilities, such as tethering objects with a stream of data.
“Initial inspiration came from Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery, though as I expanded the game it became less similar,” said MadameBerry in an email to GamesBeat. “You can still see it in a few places, in particular the thin, pointy main character. I also drew from the .hack// franchise, which was beloved to me as a teenager.”
Quite a few games have experimented with old computers as an aesthetic. Some games mimic old messaging platforms like the AIM-inspired Emily Is Away, while others play with OSes, like Kingsway. Sophia Park’s Forgotten has you revisit a collapsing video game world inside an old computer that you abandoned long ago. MadameBerry suggests that old tech inspires a lot of developers partly because of nostalgia.
“Early personal-computer and early-internet eras came with a lot of limitations, and it’s easy to look at that and think of a simpler time,” she said. “There’s also a sort of brokenness in something that’s antiquated and poorly maintained, and thematically a lot can be drawn from that.”