Staying Untrue to the Source
When I first started making Darknet, I got a lot of questions about movies like Hackers, TRON, Johnny Mnemonic, and The Lawnmower Man. My game was a clear homage to these masterpieces, so it was natural to bring them up. There was just one problem: I hadn't seen any of them.
I didn't want to be thought of as a fraud, so I quickly arranged to watch all the hacking movies I could. That was helpful, but also made me feel even more like an imposter, since I didn't fall in love with any of them. Some (Hackers, The Lawnmower Man, Code Hunter) could be enjoyed despite their quirks and flaws. Others (Johnny Mnemonic, Swordfish, Weird Science) were just bad. Ghost in the Shell seemed well-crafted, but it still didn't really speak to me.
So why did the idea of hacking in cyberspace appeal to me so much? My best guess is that my inspiration came from reading Neuromancer years ago. But, honestly, I didn't like Neuromancer much either! Heresy, I know. I don't remember how or when I was originally implanted with the idea of strapping on VR goggles and entering a computer system, but for some reason that vision has stuck with me and festered, even though I feel like a false fan of the fiction behind it.
I describe Darknet as a "cyberpunk" game about "Hollywood hacking", but the truth is that neither term fits the game perfectly. Hollywood hacking tends to be more retro and cheesy, involving frantic typing at text-filled terminals. Cyberpunk tends to focus on the gritty dystopian lowlife, where jacking into a computer risks pain and infection. Darknet is none of these things; it's clean, futuristic, serious, and empowering.
To some extent, I think that my love-hate relationship with my source material is a good thing. Strict conformity to genre standards doesn't lead to progress; to push a genre forward, you need people who aren't satisfied with the current state of the art. They're the ones who will take it apart and construct something new out of the pieces.
This isn't to say that I'm somehow against cyberpunk or that Darknet has no connection to the fiction that preceded it. In fact, I specifically designed a few features around scenes from my hacker movie marathon. But I'm not a genre loyalist, and I'm sure the final result of my efforts will disappoint some of the diehard fans. That's okay with me, as long as it clears the path toward some greater success.
For now, I'll continue to use the "Hollywood hacking" and "cyberpunk" descriptors. It's a convenient shorthand, and I'm still borrowing so much from the source material that only the biggest enthusiasts will see the differences. But if you're a cyberpunk fanatic, just be warned that those differences exist, and expect Darknet to color a little bit outside the lines!