The early 2010s were an extremely chaotic time for the video game industry. While AAA titles found themselves under scrutiny due to shady business practices and stereotypical releases, the indie scene was absolutely thriving with the rise of digital distribution. Surprisingly popular titles like Limbo and Minecraft proved that gamers were hungry for new and innovative experiences even if their production budgets weren’t comparable to the GDP of a small country.
This explosion of indie success stories led to more developers taking risks and releasing their own little experiments, resulting in even more creative titles. In some ways, this wave of unorthodox game design culminated in 2012, a year that gave us classics like Fez and Travelas well as one of my favorite interactive media of all time.
I vividly remember melting in my room during a then-unprecedented South American heat wave when I first came across Dennaton Games. Hotline Miami. At the time, I was just recovering from my first bout of depression and wasn’t exactly keen on trying out a new game. Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that he There was something special about this ultra-violent flashback, and I ended up playing the whole thing in one sitting, starting an annual tradition.
Even a decade later, no indie game has come close to leaving a lasting impression on me as a Hotline Miami did. Hell, even Dennaton’s underrated sequel couldn’t quite live up to the original, and that’s why I’d like to explore the brilliance behind this masterful murder simulator and why there remains a point of landmark in the game and interactive storytelling. So spin your pixelated DeLoreans and grab your favorite animal mask, because we’re going for a ride.
The story behind Hotline Miami actually begins in 2004, when Jonatan Soderstrom started working on a simple action game inspired by hyper-violent media like Mark Millar’s Kick ass and the Rockstar original Grand Theft Auto. While the aptly named super carnage was technically never complete, its single descending level of mayhem was a hit among Game Creator aficionados, even though the game was infamous for being nearly impossible to beat. In fact, issues with the title’s bloodthirsty AI led Jonatan to abandon the project for over half a decade.
In late 2011, Jonatan teamed up with Dennis Wedin to try their luck at becoming professional game developers. Recognizing the potential of super carnageDennis suggested the duo flesh out the title’s simple yet addictive formula and come up with a new story and setting.
Inspirations were plentiful, with the team borrowing elements from all sorts of media when creating the lo-fi world of what would become Hotline Miami. Neo-noir thrillers like those of Nicolas Winding Refn To drive provided the template for the unnamed protagonist (the iconic Scorpion jacket even entered the game as an Easter egg), while edgy superhero stories like Kick ass once again inspired the context of the game’s morally ambiguous vigilantism. The game’s infamous animal masks were also inspired by a combination of superhero tropes and slasher villains.
In the end, it was Billy Corben’s hit 2006 documentary cocaine cowboys which provided the story with a time and place, with the name also serving as the game’s working title during the early stages of development. After deciding on a nostalgic dive into the violent underbelly of 1980s Miami, the developers soon realized that their fun little experiment should somehow justify players committing brutal mass murder. In a stroke of genius, the duo decided to incorporate this ethical dilemma into the narrative itself.
During the game, an unnamed protagonist would receive encrypted phone calls and then show up at Mafia hangouts to kill everyone inside. Rinse and repeat. One could even argue that Hotline Miami attempted to program players as victims of the MK Ultra conspiracy theories that inform part of the game’s rich history. players engage in massive bloodshed and then attempt to return to “normal” lives.
This addictive cycle is a perfect example of the unique storytelling opportunities offered by video games. This beautiful marriage of story and gameplay allowed players to think about the impact of the protagonist’s actions in a way that could never happen in any other medium. Much like a Hideo Kojima production, the game also cleverly breaks the fourth wall by challenging both the player’s enjoyment of those pixelated deaths as well as the games industry’s longstanding love affair with the virtual violence.
These metas are actually justified by the rapidly deteriorating mental state of the protagonist, as it is ultimately revealed that the iconic “Jacket” (as he was dubbed by fans) has been in a coma for most of of the game, remembering only a distorted version of events. . Even after waking up, it’s clear that Jacket’s point of view is questionable at best, and the game’s bizarre double climax doesn’t bother to clear things up.
Despite the intentionally obtuse narrative (which was clearly influenced by the work of David Lynch), the story is still emotionally satisfying. This is mostly due to subtle moments of character development scattered between levels. This makes sense, as many of the game’s more human-like elements had real-world influences. The “girlfriend” subplot was inspired by Wedin’s own personal experiences with relationships and depression, and even Beard’s fan-favorite character was based on Swedish artist El Huervo.
Of course there is no discussion Hotline Miami without mentioning its game-changing soundtrack, so I have to explain how the title almost single-handedly spawned a new generation of Synthwave music. Dennaton’s team originally assembled the game’s now-iconic soundscape after scouring Bandcamp for unknown electronic musicians. They eventually assembled a ragtag team of extremely talented artists who would maintain mainstream popularity long after contributing to the success of the game.
Featuring absolute bangers from artists like M|O|O|N, Perturbator and Scattle, Hotline MiamiThe soundtrack of eventually became just as influential as the game itself, even among non-gamers. Yet the signature sounds of SM are key in setting up this high-octane experience, with the music encouraging players to “unleash the beast” then forcing them to consider what they’ve done once the level is finally clear .
This musicality eventually affects gameplay, with players finding their rhythm as they kill and die over and over again. The sequel takes this concept to the next level, with even more intense music and challenging level design, but getting into it would require a whole other article. That being said, it should be noted that often maligned Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a worthy sequel to a classic game, even if its status as a maverick anti-sequel prevents it from achieving the same popularity.
I could discuss Hotline MiamiThere are several balancing issues and that irritating final boss level, but these minor annoyances don’t make sense when you consider the big picture. An orgy of sights, sounds and satisfying gameplay, the game’s greatest strength is its ability to change your thought process while playing it, and that’s why I think it’s one of the defining moments of interactive art during the 2010s.
Encouraging players to meticulously plan brutal homicides, then forcing them to consider the horror of what they did without spoiling the fun, it’s no wonder this legendary title is still worth revisiting 10 years later. . From launching Devolver Digital to rock star status among game publishers to inspiring countless videos, songs and even other games, Hotline Miami is a shining example of the power of indie gaming.
While I’ll admit it’s technically not a horror game, Hotline Miami is definitely gory and often gross, so I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this retro gem is still a staple for horror fans 10 years later.