What is Hack, Slash & Backstab?

HSB is a multi-player arcade dungeon crawler with a twist!  We’ve all been there: stack ranking, team projects, student or employee evaluations on a curve – groups of people that need each other, but that are evaluated individually to the detriment of true teamwork. In Hack, Slash & Backstab, we adapt these broken models to a 2-4 player couch co-op dungeon crawler, and use a game setting to seemingly reduce the stakes. Work together as warrior, rogue, wizard and archer to survive a dangerous world. But only one player will be crowned the winner: it becomes a fight to the death, as betrayal and backstab become the tools of choice. #bewaretheknife

How Can I Play It?

HSB is currently in CLOSED ALPHA, as we are working to launch in the summer of 2016.  We are also continuing to hold events and get feedback from players during testing cycles, and public events at the Game Developers Conference 2016 and the RIT Imagine Festival.

We are continuing to make improvements and fixes, and have some additional features planned that are pretty great. Your feedback is very important to us, and you can contact us at the RIT MAGIC Center, or through the MAGIC Facebook Page.  You can also follow us at the HSB Facebook Page for all the latest stabbings and betrayals...

Who Made HSB? When? Where?

Hack, Slash & Backstab was produced in residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology in a studio course offered through the School of Interactive Games and Media, and the RIT Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity (MAGIC). It is published and maintained through MAGIC Spell Studios, LLC.

The original concept of HSB was created by Professor Andrew Phelps, Director of the RIT MAGIC Center in the summer of 2015. He started talking about these ideas with Aaron Cloutier and Jennifer Hinton at the MAGIC Center, and then offered an IGM research studio course in the fall of 2015 to help build the game (and learn about game production), with collaboration and support from MAGIC Spell Studios.

Following the course, MAGIC Spell Studios took it upon itself to leverge the prototype developed in an academic setting to a more comercially viable product: currently that work has produced the beta version available today. The preproduction, course, and subsequent development were all supported by the MAGIC Center, located in RIT Student Innovation Hall.

Artist's Statement

Our work, our play, our interactions, and our lives are rooted in teams and groups, in collaborations as we strive to tame our world, accomplish new things, gain understanding, and simply exist. It is through teams that our work, our discourse, our play, our engagement, and our experience is thrust ever forward. New knowledge today is increasingly discovered by multi-disciplinary teams, by combinations of designers, developers, scientists, practitioners, teachers, learners and explorers. It is in teams that we learn about ourselves, and about others.

But our society often overlooks the critical role of a team of equals, a collection of specialists, or a group pursuing a shared goal plays in all of our lives. We recognize leaders, we put star players on a pedestal, we reduce great works to a single author or artist, and we regularly enact systems of recognition and reward in which members of a team are simultaneously collaborating and competing. Science seeks a principal investigator, engineering a lone genius inventor, Art a single tortured soul. The pride of American individualism runs so deep it cleaves us from one another in almost every context. We now define entire corporations by individuals, to better consolidate the influence and actions of the entire capitalist enterprise, and can there be a more perfect crystal form of this fallacy?

In Hack, Slash & Backstab, we have sought to whimsically reflect upon this strange element of our society. In war, in sport, and in play is where we often come closest to recognizing a team not through its leaders or aggregate individual successes, but purely through its accomplishments as a group. In the world of HSB, we have chosen to purposefully mis-align the rules of the world from the reward structure: players are forced to work together to survive in a difficult, threatening environment, but are rewarded individually as winners when they successfully decide to put their own goals and interests ahead of the other members of the team. The first player that enters the portal at the end of a level “wins” that round, and to facilitate that goal any player can stun any other player at any time. While players need each other to live and progress through the world, there is a point at which the optimal strategy is to stun your partner and sprint for the gold. There is no second place.

Two key components emerge from this mismatched ruleset – the first is that players will, at some point in time, eventually betray or ‘backstab’ one another, from which HSB derives its name. The second is that when repeated rounds are played, or outside relationships inform in-game play, the history that a given player has with his or her companions is now fully relevant to the calculation of who will betray whom and when. Politics emerge, rivalries are established, and teams are torn asunder perhaps even relationships.

We offer this game to you, the player, in the hopes of spurring discussion, reflection, and consideration of how our organizations, societies, and audiences might change to better account for a world in which teams and collaborations are of ever increasing import. We offer this tool of momentary exploration without real-world consequence as a mirror to our own behavior. Can we be better team members, players, managers, and collaborators? Can we somehow change our environments to more readily accept and value friends, colleagues and partners in roles other than our own? Can we begin to understand that there doesn’t have to be a clear winner in life? Can we use a small arcade game to reflect on the real world, and rethink in earnest some of the ways in which we work and play? Or will we learn only to defend more cynically, shift alliances faster, and betray with ever more subtlety and surprise?

Hack, Slash, and Backstab. Beware the knife at your back.