The forgotten cyberspace of the Neuromancer computer game


William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer is far from forgotten; the times seem almost uncannily like an interregnum between the world he wrote in and the world he wrote. But the 1988 video game adaptation is another matter. [via]

Mark Hill:

The game’s developers were challenged with portraying this futuristic nonspace while still creating an accessible and interesting game, and all with computers that were barely a step up from a calculator and a potent imagination. The end result is surreal, abstract, and lonely. It’s a virtual world that’s simultaneously leagues beyond our internet, yet stunted and impractical, a world where you can bank online before doing battle with an artificial intelligence yet won’t let you run a simple search query and forces you to “physically” move between one virtual location and the next. It’s cyberspace as envisioned by a world that didn’t yet have the computing power to experience it for real, a virtual 2058 that would look archaic before the turn of the millennium.

Hill gets it, especially how the game seeks to understand cyberspace as a city. But I think he’s wrong in suggesting that contemporary hardware limitations ("a step up from a calculator") were the game’s undoing. If anything, I feel that the cusp of the 16-bit era was perfect for implementing Neuromancer as a solipsistic, non-networked adventure game. Indeed, much of the history of the 16-bit era can be read as increasingly successful efforts to implement the vision of Neuromancer as a narrative experience rather than a labyrinthine multidimensional bulletin board.

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