Visual Out is an exploration game with a twist. The Windows, Mac and Linux game, which was released Thursday, invites players into the darkest recesses of an obsolete computer. In a technology industry that can sometimes turn a dismissive eye to yesteryear’s creations, it’s a stark reminder of the beauty found in forgotten digital landscapes.
“I crafted Visual Out to be a game that emphasizes movement and exploration,” Diane Mueller, the Ohio-based developer that goes by the name “MadameBerry,” tells Inverse. “I’m fascinated by the ways that people can push games past their limits.”
The game began as a competition entry in December 2014. Ludum Dare, a 48-hour developer competition, challenged contestants with the task to produce an “entire game on one screen,” which Mueller took and interpreted as “on one computer screen” rather than a single level.
The result is a love letter to the CRT monitor. Set in an old, blocky monitor’s final moments, the game is rife with glitches and artifacts as the stick character traverses a machine on the brink of death. You are a program defying your operating system, exploring its deepest depths to uncover why the machine was abandoned. Players battle enemies by exploiting issues, manipulating power to beat the boss of each of the four sectors with six unique abilities and upgrades. The slick visuals are backed by music from Abstraction Music.
“My hope is that Visual Out gets picked up by a group of speedrunners at an event like Awesome Games Done Quick, a charity marathon event where players beat games in as little time possible, often showing off exploits and ways to circumvent the game’s intended design,” Mueller says.
It lacks the flashy graphics of something like Call of Duty or Horizon: Zero Dawn, but Visual Out is a unique twist on graphical nostalgia. The gaming industry can be a rather unforgiving world at times when it comes to history, where consoles like Sony’s PS4 skip backwards compatibility with older software in favor of selling remastered titles at later dates.
“When I was growing up, my dad had a rule where any time we bought a new game console, we had to sell the old one,” Mueller says. “No questions asked. He sold the NES to buy my brother and I each a Game Boy Color — he now regrets this decision. That meant, if a console wasn’t backwards compatible, we lost the ability to play the games we owned for that system. When I was a kid, that was a huge blow.”
While reselling older titles digitally helps preserve yesteryear’s creations, and emulators are reaching impressively high accuracy for some older machines, Mueller thinks there’s something to be said about appreciating the time period when these games were produced.
“What becomes missing over time though, is the context under which these games were published, the expense — I think people forget that early video games were actually relatively expensive despite looking like something you could get for $5 nowadays — and the experience of playing with a physical cartridge on a blurry CRT,” Mueller says.