What Does One Hack?

Hacking is something players can do to unlock access to....something. That something could be, for instance, a door, a commsphere terminal, a weapons emplacement, and more. Doing so might get you access to a new area, Marks (the currency in Starmourn), the ability to control a weapon turret, and so on. Hacking could be a quest in and of itself, or it could be part of a longer quest.

Everyone gets a hacking skill, and this skill is increased as you successfully perform the harder of the two kinds of hacks described below. As your hacking skill goes up, you unlock new hacking abilities.

How Does One Hack Something?

Well, as mentioned above, there are two types of hacking. Think of them as the short and longer version. In the short version, we simply perform a difficulty check comparing your hacking skill vs the difficulty of the thing to hack. This is what we'd use for trivial hacks like unlocking a door that isn't that important.

The longer version is considerably more involved! In order to do this:

    1. You’ll find a terminal connected to the grid you’re trying to hack. Each grid has a difficulty rating, and it’s essentially impossible for you to hack a grid very far above your skill level.
    2. You’ll leave your physical body behind, taking the form of a virus that’s trying to penetrate into the processor array of the grid, where you can unlock whatever it is it controls. To do this, you need to find the password. Your physical body will be vulnerable while you’re hacking the grid, so in some cases it may be advisable to bring along protection.
    3. The grid has various types of defenses it will deploy against you, from polymorphic antiviruses to firewalls to honeypots and more. Each behaves differently – for instance, the firewall will stop you from propagating in that direction, while polymorphic antiviruses transform into more powerful antiviruses after absorbing enough Ops from you.
    4. Those defenses will try to destroy your virus by attacking its Ops, which is short for GigaOps and represents the capability of your virus. The higher your hacking level, the more Ops you’ll have.
    5. Making this a bit more difficult is the fact that each grid is randomly generated when you enter it, and you don’t have a ‘map’ of it. Only n/e/s/w directions exist, and the map will unfold square by square as you enter new grid circuits (themed name for rooms here).
    6. You have various functions you can deploy against the defenses, like Ping(), Infect(), Overwrite(), Backdoor() and more.
    7. Each of those functions uses up Ops, as does movement via the Propagate() function. Further, your Ops tick down simply by being in the Grid, so there’s time pressure.
    8. The grid defenses will attack you, draining your Ops as well, though you’re able to recover Ops from destroying some types of antiviruses.
    9. Certain types of antivirus defenses will drop one character of the password. When you think you have enough to guess what the password is, you find the processor array, and take a stab at the password. If you’ve waited until you’ve found all the letters in a password, you’re assured of success, but sometimes you may realize that you’re going to run out of Ops if you do that, and so are forced to take a guess based on which letters you have. For instance you may see “GA*GO*LE” and reasonably guess ‘gargoyle.’ We pull the password from a list of somewhere around 40,000 English words, so most players will never encounter the same password twice. Guessing the password incorrectly will cause immediate failure, causing expulsion from that grid and keeping you locked out of it for a period of time.

It can be challenging, but there’s the random factor to deal with in terms of grid generation, what enemies get generated in the grid, and where. All grids aren’t equal, and it’s quite likely that a grid of a particular difficulty rating may be substantially easier or harder than another of the same difficulty rating simply through the vagaries of procedural generation.

In the name of keeping things thematic, you’ll also find that the ‘combat’ you engage in with the antiviruses feels... a bit different.... from other types of conflict.

For instance, here's a short example with notes from me on the right:

LOOK                                                               (My command.)

Directory list of 3,1                                    (3,1 is the grid location I'm at.)
ICE/                                                                 (ICE = Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics - they're the defenders you have to defeat.)
@antivirus                                                    (@antivirus and @honeypot are two types of ICE with different abilities.)
[106/140 s]                                                   (I have 106 out of 140 max Ops, and I have 'sync', which is the equivalent of balance.)

INFECT ANTIVIRUS                                    (I attack!)

UseSync(3.00)                                            (I lose 3 secs of sync.)
Infect.Result(“antivirus”, 11)                  (I hit the antivirus with 11 Ops of damage.)
[99/140 *]

OpsLoss(3,@antivirus)                            (The antivirus hits me with 3 Ops of damage.)

[96/140 s]


Load(“Overwrite self-replicating_antivirus”, 300)

[92/140 *]

Overwrite.Result(“antivirus”, 24)
antivirus.Delete()                                                       (The antivirus has been vanquished.)
PasswordUpdate(“D”) -> Display($pass) -> DE*****

We're also intending to have another form of hacking that is completely different from this, but that'll have to wait until post-release.

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