Hello Operator

A high-stakes game of telephone switchboard operation.

Hello, Operator! is a game played on a vintage telephone switchboard from 1927, a refurbished Western Electric 551-A. You'll listen to callers using a vintage telephone handset, connect calls by physically connecting patch cables between ports, and receive feedback through a series of status lights. The game teaches you how to use the hardware exactly how it would have been used in 1927.

The game itself is a time management sim in the vein of Tapper or Diner Dash. You're tasked with working a manual telephone switchboard in the 1920s. Connecting a single call is easy; managing a dozen increasingly-impatient customers while you only have three or four phone lines is much harder!

Playing the game directly mimics "real" operation of the hardware. This was extremely intentional, as balancing that and making it legible was one of the most difficult design challenges on the project. I view this game as a way to take people who wouldn't otherwise be interested in learning about the past and turn them into self-driven learners. A big part of that was creating an experience about building mastery of a difficult task where that mastery directly maps to a historical task.

You could surely design a more compelling game that merely took inspiration from telephone switchboards, but if part of what makes this fun is the subversive nature of engaging in historically obsolete menial labor, having it feel authentic to the actual hardware felt extremely important.

If you're interested in the hardware, I've written a blog post about wiring it up.

Earlier prototypes of the game used a custom-built controller made out of wood, machined steel, and professional audio components.

Hello, Operator! was featured at alt.ctrl.GDC 2016 and as part of the "Strange Arcade" curation at IndieCade East 2016. It's been written about in publications such as Gamasutra, Kill Screen, Kotaku, and MAKE.