Double Fine’s Hack ‘n’ Slash lets players break and reprogram the game

Hack 'n' Slash at GDC

The “hack” in Double Fine’s dungeon-crawling title, Hack ‘n’ Slash doesn’t refer to a violent act – hacking away at the bodies of foes until they die. Alice the elf has a USB sword, you see, and while it can be used as a mundane weapon, it’s much more useful as a code-altering device. 

Enemies, obstacles and puzzles can all be messed around with using the variables that Double Fine put in the code. If they have a USB slot, Alice can plug in and change their properties. 

Double Fine was at GDC to show off an early version of the game, and what at first seems intimidating reveals itself to be rather simple, demanding creativity and experimentation instead of an understanding of coding. 

Anything in the game that has a USB port can be hacked. An enemies damage output can be changed so that it does not damage – or even heals Alice – while blocks can be fiddled around with so that they can move a specific number of tiles with one push. Shoving in the USB sword opens up a simple menu and variables can instantly be manipulated.

With all of this power, it might even seem too easy. I mean, this is a game where you can change the loot you get from chests. But lots of objects don’t have USB ports, meaning that their variables can’t be changed. Unless you get ahold of their code.

Books discovered in Hack ‘n’ Slash are actually lines of code, and reading them transports Alice to a procedurally generated debug world. She can change a line of code so that a block without a USB port is set from false to true, magically making one appear, or she can alter the length of a bridge allowing her to cross a previously impassable chasm. And she’s rewriting the code by whacking stuff with her sword.

And all these changes are genuinely affecting the game’s code. It’s not just an in-game mechanic; players are able to fundamentally alter the game, rewriting the world as they see fit. Players will have such a degree of control that they’ll be able to break the game, corrupting their save file. When this happens, there’s an in-game fix where you travel back in time to the point before you broke in the first place.

Hack ‘n’ Slash is due out in the first half of this year

Cheers, Kotaku.