Meta comedy puzzler Backfirewall is about a smartphone operating system with an owner who’s much more responsible than I am: OS9 is due for an update, and apparently they’re not planning to press “remind me later” for 30 days. Your job as Update Assistant is to make sure OS9 gets replaced with OS10. Of course, OS9 would rather not take a big sleep in the digital recycle bin, so you’ll have to take a bit of a puzzling journey to enforce the will of the Update Protocol.
Naraven Games has revealed the “tragicomedy” with a goofy, meta trailer during today’s PC Gaming Show (opens in new tab), and there are shades of Stanley Parable and Portal in it. Think GladOS, but more of a “no worries if not” energy than “exterminate”. (I say that now, but maybe OS9 will get feisty as the threat of an update looms.)
“Explore a weird and wonderful smartphone’s setting, brimming with life and telltale conversations,” Naraven says. “Navigate wi-fi’s bureaucratic nightmare or party in the speakers’ exclusive nightclub and encounter many quirky characters, each an irreplaceable piece of personified software with its own rich file history.”
As you journey through the gauntlet of sentient software, you’ll find the Photos app has an attitude, social media apps are a bit insecure, and the poor Health app is feeling neglected. Each app has its own space you can spot in the trailer—the speakers’ neon club and the eternal wait list at the wi-fi help desk. You’ll also be able to dig up emails to uncover the story of the phone’s responsible owner.
The puzzles and gags are going to be the big draw here, so Naraven is playing it a bit close to the chest with the reveal trailer. You’ll do a good bit of walking around, goggling at areas full of in-world arrows and sarcastic signs to work out just what needs to be done to get this place in ship shape. Naraven mentions manipulating your surroundings, so there are sure to be some spatial puzzles at play.
“We want players to feel like they’re playing inside a Pixar movie while also reflecting on the rather mindless way in which we interact with our everyday digital devices,” says Naraven creative director Julia Jean. “If you think twice before you update your phone after playing Backfirewall_, our job is done!”
Naraven also cites Toy Story as a bit of inspiration, saying it wants to make players consider “how we interact with everyday objects and carelessly discard them.”
As you make your way through the phone, chasing bugs and learning cheat codes, you’ll wind up with the power to decide OS9’s fate. Should it have to update?
I feel like I’ve made up my mind already. Let OS9 live! As part of the original Toy Story generation, and someone who for sure teared up in a theater during Toy Story 3, I guess my opinion on the matter is no surprise. I’ll basically have a breakdown if the shape of the app icons on my phone ever changes unexpectedly, so I’m taking the old OS’s side on this. I’ll be holding the line and postponing OS10 until my device gets bricked.
Backfirewall has also found its way into the summer Steam Next Fest where you can try out a demo until June 20. The developer is planning its full launch later this year on PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One/X/S, and Nintendo Switch.