Saturday, 25 May 2013

Cliffs Notes: Background material for discussion of Odyssey Hacking

Hacking Minigame

Officially, the design influence was games like Rogue and Munchkin. During FanFest a few of us had a brief conversation on Twitter about the hacking game: during that conversation a couple of different games were mentioned, being Deus Ex and the old Amiga game Paradroids.
What follows are my "Cliffs Notes" on these four games: Deus Ex hacking, Paradroids hacking, Munchkin and Rogue.

Deus Ex

Watch this YouTube video for an explanation. This other YouTube video has more coverage without the step by step description of what's going on.


The objective of Deus Ex hacking is to get control of a network from the entry point to capture the pre-identified exit points, all exit points must be captured.


  • Disable defenses
  • Subvert defenses
  • Reveal node contents
  • Hide from automated scans


  • Real time
  • Disconnect does not count as a fail
  • Nuke consumable
  • Stop consumable
  • Fortify ability
  • Capture ability
  • Nodes have a strength which represents difficulty to capture (i.e.: time required)
  • Capturing red boxes allows you to instantly win the hacking game
  • Red boxes are defenders. If you are detected while hacking, they will inexorably trace you to your source and cut you off.


Start off trying to capture your way through the network to the targets. Each node is assigned a particular numerical strength which indicates how long it will take to hack that node. Each capture takes time, during which you can perform other actions. You can also choose to fortify nodes that you have already captured.

Each action you perform has a chance of being discovered. So a capture of a level 1 node might take a second and have a 15% chance of discovery, while fortifying a level 4 node might take 5 seconds and hae a 35% chance of discovery. Once you are discovered the red boxes will start tracing a path along the network to your source. Once your source is traced you are disconnected and your hacking attempt fails.

Along the way capture the red boxes if you can to instantly win the game, which grants you all the rewards from that level.


Check out this video of Paradroid gameplay. Thanks to @erikfinnegan for the link!


At the end of the limited hacking time, control more nodes than the enemy.


  • Flip a node


  • Real time
  • Competitors flip nodes by activating logic gates
  • Competitors have a limited number of flip attempts
  • There is a limited amount of time for the challenge
  • Logic gates are none, buffer, AND and OR
  • No logic gate means that a flipped node can be flipped back
  • a buffer gate means that a flipped node can not be flipped back
  • an AND gate means that two nodes must be flipped on the player's console to flip the actual node in the core
  • an OR gate means that one bit flipped in the player's console will flip two nodes in the core
  • at the conclusion of the play time, the nodes are counted. If the player has more nodes than the competitor, they win and capture the competitor. If the node count is equal a new contest is started. If the competitor has a greater node count, the player loses and may end up being shot and disconnected from the infiltration unit


CCP Bayesian reckons that part of the design process for the exploration hacking system was inspired by Munchkin and Rogue. There are two videos here, the Bowers Corner one is shorter but doesn't show actual gameplay while the half hour Table Top with Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Sandeep Parikh and Steve Jackson has the group playing Munchkin from beginning to end (with bits cut out in the middle).

Objective: get to level 10 first.


  • Race
  • Class
  • Items
  • level


The rules are complex, but the basics are:

  • Turn based
  • Draw a "Door" card (described as "kick down the door")
  • Fight the monster if there was one
  • No monster? Either "Look for Trouble" or "Loot the Room"
  • Successfully beating a monster gains a level and you take the treasure
  • Others can help you and/or hinder you by playing their various door cards such as "Steal a Level", "Curse", "Gargantuan Monster" (which adds 10 levels to the monster your soon-to-be-ex-friend is currently fighting), etc

Watch the Table Top episode linked above for a complete play through of this game.


Rogue and the collection of rogue-like games are worth investigating. My favourite is Nethack. It is a grid-based game, meaning that you move from square to square in the map, exploring the dungeon of Gehennom to find the Amulet of Yendor. As you uncover the dungeon you will meet monsters and allies, discover traps and treasures, and learn about fancy tricks such as writing in the dust with wands to get a clue as to what the wand will do when used.

Game play example on YouTube. It's pretty dull since you don't know what's going on. Get the game yourself and try playing it for a while.

Objective: plumb the depths of the dungeon to find the Amulet of Yendor and return it to the surface.


  • Race
  • Class
  • Level
  • Items


The rules of Nethack are far to complex to explain quickly. The basics are that every turn you make a move, then the monsters (if there are any) make a move. You can cast spells, use magical items, whack things with your weapons, use tools, get your pet to attack the enemies: you name it, the people behind Nethack have thought of it. Go read the Wikipedia article on Nethack for more details!

You die a lot.

Mass Effect

I'll include Mass Effect for completeness. Most importantly note that hacking minigames were removed from Mass Effect 3, I suspect that this was due to feedback from players that the hacking minigames didn't add anything to the enjoyment of Mass Effect. Liara T'soni even jokes to Commander Shepard about the hacking game, during the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC.

1: frogger style on the PC — from memory on the PS3 the hacking game is like Simon  (I'm on the other side of the planet from my PS3, I could be wrong)
2: hacking by matching code segments in a time-limited single-shot trial, versus bypassing by joining components in a timed single-shot memory game
3: none of that nonsense

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