Hac (pronounced “Hajj”) is a videogame about the worst parts of driving. Washing the mud out of the grill; changing the battery; losing the keys in the space between the door and your seat; packing suitcases and sleeping bags into a trunk that’s way too small. More than anything else, it’s concerned with simulating all the laborious tasks that take place around and inform the actual activity at hand. The funny thing is this: performing all of these micro-processes is wholly satisfying.
The game’s solo creator, Greg Pryjmachuk, worked on the Formula One racing game series at Codemasters for over five years, rehashing the same designs over and over. Understandably, he got a little tired of it. “There’s only so many ways a designer can work under the tight constraints of FOM (Formula One Management), likewise, there’s only so many ways a player can drive the same car around the same track, year after year,” writes Pryjmachuk.
Hac is born of his desire to see what else can be done with cars and the driving of them in videogames. It’s about as much of an antithesis to Formula One racing games as you can get while still working loosely within the same genre. As Pryjmachuk describes it, Hac is “Euro Truck Simulator with a narrative.” It gives you a week to transport your grumpy, ailing uncle Lütfi to Mecca during the fall of the Eastern Bloc.
It starts you off in a cramped East Berlin apartment—part of a Vertragsarbeiter (contract workers) housing complex—a large brutalist structure that, along with the angular low-poly look, makes visible the oppressive politics of the place. Your first task is to gather the materials for your journey. Empty bottles have to be taken to the tap, the faucet turned, and filled up. You should also arrange tins of food into a small wooden carrier with a view to take as much as possible. None of this is vital: you can leave on your journey without supplies, but you’ll probably suffer in the days ahead for this absence. What you cannot leave without, however, is your uncle’s suitcase, two sleeping bags, and the car keys.
Once you’re satisfied with your haul, you then have to arrange it into the trunk of your uncle’s Trabant. This small 3D space works as your inventory for the journey, so some care should be taken to make the most of it. Once you’ve done this and managed to sit in the driver’s seat, and shut all the doors, it’s then time to start the car.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll immediately start fiddling with the dashboard and its encyclopedia of buttons. For some reason, I found myself emulating an experience I once had as a kid, sitting in daddy’s car and pressing all the buttons pretending I was an adult. And so, the windscreen wipers were flapping away, the horn was beeped for my own amusement, the hazard lights were being flicked on and off. Noise and motors were my entertainers, and I was thrilled.
Eventually, you’ll remember you’re supposed to put the key in the ignition to start the car. The fun is over, as now it’s time to plan your journey. Your aim here is to select a route to make the best possible distance that day. However, not all of the generated routes will be available as their viability is affected by your reserve fuel, food and tools available, and remaining time. You also have to watch out for unexpected events, such as driving over rough terrain that blows out your tires (which you then have to change). Another part of the route planning is making time for one or two stop off points. These offer you the chance to re-supply, upgrade and clean the car, and meet unique characters with potentially wise words.
So it’s not all mechanics and maintenance. While the micro-interactions build to form an immersive pilgrimage in this changing world, Pryjmachuk also hopes that by encountering other people, and using the language of the open road, Hac speaks to the metaphysical revelations of the road trip. “Hac looks to replicate the wild yet philosophical voice of the road found in the great literary experiences such as Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Kerouac’s On the Road,” Pryjmachuk writes.
What Hac is truly about is taking in every object and action through all your senses to a meticulous degree in order to enjoy every possible fraction of existence. As we grow older, it’s easy to become duller, finding less excitement as discovering the world loses its novelty. We find routines and begin to run on automatic. This is something that the Communism of the Eastern Bloc forced on people with its curfews and strict scheduling. Hac takes this setting just to have us break away from it, towards rediscovering the miracle of life by making every component that makes it tick along hyper-visible. Only then can we appreciate the holistic experience of living once again.
In the book that inspired Pryjmachuk, Pirsig writes the following: “The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” He uses the fine-tuning mechanical concerns of motorbike maintenance to reflect upon the world, comparing our bodies to the clockwork parts of a machine, our happiness as the sweet purr of a healthy engine. Pryjmachuk hopes for Hac to do the same.