In the new indie game File://maniac, there’s a killer on the loose. Your job is to hunt them down. But instead of sneaking through dialogue trees or picking up clues, you’re opening folders and deleting files on your PC.
File://maniac, which came out last weekend for PC, Mac, and Linux, was created by Italian developers at Born Frustrated Studios and started as a project for the Global Game Jam, an annual event where developers have a weekend to make a game. In order to solve puzzles in File://maniac, you need to make changes to the game’s files on your actual computer. Getting rid of a locked door might require placing the door’s files in your recycling bin. Finding the password to a lock means opening up a handful of notebook files and searching until you find the code. It’s a different sort of puzzle solving, one that encourages the player to be aware of the game world’s artificiality. Games are just bundles of files, code, and assets. File://maniac doesn’t give you free reign to mess with everything and there are set puzzle solutions, but playing around with the actual game files creates a fun mixture of puzzling and “exploration” as you poke around folders and directories.
There are games with similar conceits. 2016’s Quadrilateral Cowboy is a heist game where players need to do on the fly coding to create solutions and bypass obstacles. Subserial Network requires player to browse a fake internet and open real files to hunt down androids. File://maniac never gets quite as complex as those games, thanks in part to a hint system that tells you what to do whenever you reach a puzzle. It’s never too detailed—a request to move a file, hints that you need a copy—but it undercuts the brain teasing somewhat. File://maniac compensates with style. The world is moody and slowly watching your directory fill up with messages from the killer creates a sense that you’re being watched. There’s a lot of tension, as if one mistake could lead to disaster.
File://maniac is short but that’s in service of a larger mystery. Playing through the first fifteen minutes of puzzles leads to the revelation that you’re stuck in a loop. The game itself becomes an even bigger puzzle, a massive lock box that you need to break. File://maniac’s developers have said they want to add more episodes and more puzzles. For the moment, there’s not too much, but it’s a fun experiment in game design worth opening up your directory for.