h8machine Demo

This writeup is about the demo for an indie game called h8machine, a card game based around the idea of internet arguments. The name is presumably a reference to everything modern social media has become. Before I talk more about h8machine though, I want to talk about a very different game: Binding of Issac.

Image of two blurry faces, one a red angry emjoi, the other a robotic one, sitting above the text h8machine.
Even the game’s splash art has that uncomfortable poorly-trained-neural network feel to it.

Binding of Issac, if you haven’t played it, is a roguelite themed around the idea that you’re an abused child who has escaped into the basement. You’re trying to avoid being murdered by your mother, who is hearing a voice telling her to kill her son. There’s a lot more to it than that, and it drags a lot of mechanics and ideas from the OG Legend of Zelda games. But it’s not the mechanics I want to talk about here, it’s the theming and aesthetics of both of these two games.

As you might gather from my description above, or from looking at the Steam page for 30 seconds, Binding of Issac could likely be described as gross or crass. Many enemies and mechanics are poop or urine themed, and the whole thing is deliberately repulsive. I’m not writing this to argue that you shouldn’t be offended by these things, but more to note that the theming of Binding of Issac likely turns off a variety of players who would otherwise be very interested in it. Binding of Isaac is carefully crafted and well made, but it’s a multilayered chocolate cake, carefully frosted to look like a massive turd.

So why am I talking about this in relation to h8machine? Well, h8machine gives off a very similar to vibe to me based on what I’ve played, and seen of the demo. That vibe being “Something very careful and clever, with the theming and flavor of bathroom stall graffiti.”

Instead of child abuse and fecal matter, though, h8machine themes itself around internet discourse. Your resources are emoji. Every enemy has a procedurally generated anime avatar, and all the cards are questionable internet arguments. Even the Steam page and description of the game have the tone of a cringe worthy copypasta.

Underneath all of that, though, I found the demo fairly engaging and interesting. The game bills itself as a sort of real time card game, with the maplike progression structure used in Slay the Spire and Inscryption. Instead of collecting individual cards, you collect “personalities:” sets of cards that you can run up to 3 of at a time, combined with offcolor/filler cards to make up your deck. You burn cards to generate resources of the same color, and try to construct your engine to wipe out your opponent before they complete construction of their own engines.

It’s not the greatest thing I’ve ever played, but it did convince me to keep an eye on it.

If any of this sounds interesting, I suggest you try to the demo, which you can find here on Steam. I honestly don’t know if h8machine will end up being good, but it feels created with the intention of being a good game, and not just being shock material.