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Hacking in Starmourn

Having some kind of hacking in Starmourn is important to us, mainly because a lot of people have mentioned wanting something involving it. It is, however, much tougher than it may sound like to pull off well in an open-world multiplayer game. There are a few problems, from my perspective:

  • We need a hacking system that doesn’t require custom work on our end for everything that can be hacked. Functionally, this means that it’s going to be pretty easily scriptable. Therefore, there’s not much point in a complicated system when players will just download a script, hit a button, and either succeed or fail. I think doing this well is so complex that to achieve any kind of ‘true’ hacking feeling, you need to go the direction of something like Hackmud, which is literally all about hacking.
  • Along those same lines, the system can’t impose a lot of extra content creation. We don’t have the bandwidth to do lots of content creation for a single type of activity in the game.
  • It can’t allow you to do material damage to other players who don’t consent to it. That includes things like reading someone’s private messages, where info might exist that is very private indeed, or hacking into someone’s currency account and draining it (trivial amounts might be another story….the sci-fi equivalent of minor pickpocketing.)
  • It can’t require players to constantly hack to open doors (a common suggestion, actually). That will get annoying in about 10 minutes. It’s the kind of thing that has to be used only occasionally, and mostly for flavor or as part of quests.

I think I’ve got some interesting possibilities though (keep in mind: possibilities only right now), including things like hacking into surveillance systems, allowing you to locate everybody in an area or on a planet, alarm systems that have to be hacked into and shut down before they summon reinforcements, automated defense systems that have to be hacked into before they blow your group to bits, bots that can be hacked to help you in combat, NPC spacecraft that can be boarded and hacked into to take control, and so on. There are a couple other interesting uses for them, but they involve spilling the details on some combat systems we’re not ready to do that with yet.

One thing we’re probably not going to do is make hacker a class, much as I know some of you would love that. It’s likely to be something everybody can learn how to do, just because of the realities of the population sizes of our games. Things like doors that need hacking into are annoying if you can’t find a hacker online that has the skill to get into the system controlling access to the door, as an example. What we may do instead is have some kind of regular ‘hacking’ be something anyone can learn to a medium level, while some particularly powerful combat-appropriate applications could be reserved for a tech-oriented class.

Anyway, just wanted to make a quick post about hacking as I’ve been working on the design problems around it this afternoon. Feel free to leave suggestions for how you’d like to hacking implemented in the comments!

(Note: Since then I’ve designed a hacking system that’s fits the above requirements!)

12 Comments

  1. Chris on October 26, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    I feel the most RP way to structure hacking ability would be to make knowledge of certain systems, protocols and functions develop as it relates to their trade. For example, a weapons expert would likely become familiar with whatever technology drives weapon systems, and can learn to repair, disable, subvert or even enhance such technology as his/her general weapons abilities progress.

  2. Sairys on October 26, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    I guess my expectation would be entering a virtual representation of the commsphere.

    Not like a massive sprawling space, just a few rooms like a lobby that you drop into when you enter VR, a protected room that you break into, then further rooms that you need to hack into to be able to do things. So the security services for a city would have a virtual space you hack into, then you can start turning things off or changing things around. Other hackables could be spread into other similar spaces which could make it a bit longer to do on your own but a group might be able to co-ordinate.

    Other possibilities (maybe in a more specialised skill) might be infiltrating comms of player orgs, maybe hacking some database in an org to do some identity theft for infiltration (masking your mindsim so it looks like the target so you can get past automated defences). With the other abilities they seem potentially to be a mix of stealth and raid support, useful for exploring places you probably aren’t supposed to, someone that might not actually be physically in a fight but who is working hard to make sure it goes in your favour. Of course, the abilities should work defensively as well, you can temporarily weaken a server to make it easier to hack and you can also strengthen it against intrusion (handy for keeping the annoying types out).

    I guess the other thing for me is that it should also be part of our every day world as opposed to the hackers system, like it’d be cool to have meet ups in VR where you just move across the network from wherever you are, maybe even project your avatar into AR. The areas that hackers break into might be places that are actually used by security or other government officials.
    Letters would move through through the commsphere, maybe even having shops that connect into it as well, ooh with delivery services. Maybe some kind of trading minigame could work with it?

  3. Brett on October 28, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Consider cyber-warfare suites that can go into weapon ‘slots’ on a ship. Hacking is then a tactical choice without requiring an actual mechanic to use it – it can function to debuff the enemy ship in various ways.

    Each ship type may have a different inherent defence against cyber attacks, but to make attacks of their own a weapon slot must be used for this purpose (or multiple slots).

    Of course, that is assuming Starmourn will allow us to customise the weapons on a ship with different options (short range dps, long range dps, shield generators, stealth fields, immobilising attacks, bombs, decoys, drones, beam attacks stronger against shields, etc.)

  4. TA on October 30, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Could do minor and major hacks. Minor everyone learns (aka pop the basic door) and then major hacking is a choice to learn and can be contested. Something like the charisma/debate system in Lusty?

  5. Sairys on October 31, 2016 at 6:56 am

    Kinda expanding my last post
    I’m imagining something a bit like Dreamweaving from Lusternia, except with general and specialised skills.

    You log on to AR, which transfers the players control to their characters avatar. (Effectively an incorporeal state) Because of the Mindsim and Commsphere, perceiving AR is a trivial thing, if it’s an ability this would be around inept in a skill which allows you to see and hear the avatars.

    This creates a “cyber” layer around everything that avatars can walk around without requiring extra building, you could allow avatars to transfer into the local VR or if there is a connection point transfer to the connected part of the VR layer. (This would be like being able to transverse to the ethereal plane in Serenwilde and ending up at the nexus not matter what, or if you go through a rift you end up where that rift is linked to).

    Full VR is an immersive but rather small environment, I’d expect by default that a player civilisations wouldn’t have more than ten rooms in their VR, if that many. Guild equivalents, if they exist, would likely have fewer. Any locks that need hacking wouldn’t exist the majority of the time, instead they would be generated on demand from a template and destroyed shortly after.

    If you have permission to enter a node then it should be simple to enter, if not then you need to break into it. Defences can be erected, maybe with some capacity for deception.
    If done right, this means attacking has the question of whether or not to rush, if you just smash your way in blindly you might be in trouble but also do you have enough time to take it slow.

    A lock probably isn’t defended, a quick and dirty hack that everyone knows should get you in fairly simply. The node linked to all the defences of a player civ is on their server, probably behind multiple nodes that you need to breach, it’s likely to take you a while, the defences are probably higher and more tricksy because of their hackers. At best, smashing through is going to set off alarms when you’ve still got two or three more nodes to breach. At worst, they might have some nastier defences (Black ICE is the concept, programs that trace you back to your physical body and start damaging your equipment/you). And if you’re rushing/stressing, you might not notice that there is a node which looks easy to breach compared to everything else and when you break through it launches a few surprises.

    Then, once you’re in you’d be in a space where you can do your hacks. If a node is tied to an item, using a command once inside the node would make an attempt to send a command through to the item. Hacking a door with the command open would open it, maybe there could also be a sealed state? The same thing could exist for chests.
    Maybe the progs could have a “hacked” event that overrides the defaults, a successful hack would trigger the event and send the command through allowing builders to devise areas that require hacking as part of the questing. Might need some tips for some quests, like… deleting a warrant for someone might pop up with the tip “Okay, now to DELETE the WARRANT” when you get into the right node so you would “hack delete warrant”.
    More complicated hacks, like the ones mentioned in the OP would potentially be their own skills, likely requiring you to find the correct node for the hack (such as the defence systems node for disabling defences, or the cctv node to scan the planet). Could still come back to the one command, just checking if you know the right hack. Though erecting and breaching defences would probably be unique commands, requiring you to figure out the defences they’re using and apply the right exploits/hacks.

    For “meatspace” effectiveness, you could use AR, the Mindsim, and Wetwiring. Specialists might be able to use AR to attack mindsims and wetwiring to mess with curing or to maybe cause the wetwiring to attack the body rather than healing it. Maybe with some special technique that allows you to maintain your avatar while also walking around in the physical world, maybe like how angels are summoned in Achaea and you send hacks through it to attack the target mindsim or to, effectively, create illusions in AR.
    Maybe they use Star Kith for overclocking their mindsim to allow it to create the illusions or pack the necessary punch to send an affliction through the mindsim protections?

    Mostly inspired by Ghost in the Shell, Shadowrun, Dystopia, Accel World.

  6. Khargal on October 31, 2016 at 8:23 am

    I think that if we are speaking of things like locked door there should be more ways to open it rather than hacking, like blowing it with explosives or kith, Though hacking is indeed may lead to tons of fun, lick hacking life support, defenses or even brains (mindsim). Also I haven’t found any information about cyber or bionic implants

    • Sairys on November 1, 2016 at 1:30 am

      Door destruction would be pretty cool, afaik it does exist in the other games but breakable doors don’t? At least in Lusternia, like the only doors that come to mind are on shops, which are top strength so they can’t be destroyed. It’s potentially the same in manses/houses, though people might have lower strength doors for sections they don’t care about and save the unbreakable ones for secure parts. Opens up some interesting quest options like you could have a key somewhere, possibly a hack, or just break down the door, if you break it down the mob inside could start yelling at you and complaining about their broken door 😛

      For implants there’s wetwiring which seems to be a catchall implant for healing, the character page has mindsim as a stat that affects curing so the systems are probably linked. The only other thing I’ve seen is a referenced to being chipped.

  7. Khargal on November 1, 2016 at 5:25 am

    Insurance and there is not more need for unbreakable doors. Insurance will repair blown up doors from time to time (of maybe some engineer classes) Insurance will pay for Your stolen goods, destroyed ships and so on. Let’s be realistic.

  8. Brett on November 3, 2016 at 10:00 am

    If nano machines are inside people’s bodies in Starmourn (or any machine parts, nano-sized or larger for that matter) might they also be hackable?

    I’ve just finished reading a surprisingly good book called ‘Nexus’ by Ramez Naam, near-future post-human sci-fi based on the real possibilities of advanced neuroscience. In it, people achieve telepathy (and a lot more) with the aid of nanobots that interface with brainwaves. They’re able to make each other do things essentially by telling the other guys nanobots to do things, while the other guy fights back similarly.

  9. […] I talked about hacking in my last post and I’m pleased to say I figured out something that I think is going to be really, really […]

  10. Matt on December 4, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    For the consent issue, what about having an entity or organization that acts as a “Bank” for both currency and info. Everyone has a digital safe deposit box and it’s part of a server with, understandably, the best and toughest security in the universe, something it would take a whole army of hackers to even think about attempting, then just say from an RP perspective that “The effort to hack this bank would most likely kill you, so no.”

    As for the pick-pocketing, perhaps some form of prepaid chip or card carried around by the player that functions as a digital wallet which carries whatever small portion of your wealth you carry around with you currently. Not sure how to handle large purchases like ships and bulk cargo, though. Maybe some form of Biometric cashier’s check which is useless other than to the two parties involved in the sale…

    Whatever you come up with, I’m sure it will be awesome 🙂

  11. mindw0rk on December 16, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    I want hacking to be a fun minigame similar to hacking in EVE Online

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