Cyber burglar in the matrix

Decker logo

Author Shawn Overcash
Language C++
Platform Windows, Linux through Wine; (source available)
Version 1.09
Website http://www.caro.net/dsi/decker

A young talented hacker desires fortune. He has a plan how to earn it but it needs time and is going to take a lot of work. Unknown and underequipped but slowly making himself someone in this world.
EnlargeMoney is earned by completing contracts. A client demands that a number of objectives is met upon leaving the target system. Then you get paid, sell any additional valuable information you gleaned “by the way” and your reputation gets slightly changed. If the contract was challenging you also receive skill points.

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16 thoughts on “Cyber burglar in the matrix

  1. In my opinion, what this game lacked most in comparison with roguelikes in general, was a lack of replay value. Once you have developed a strategy that lets you win consistently, the game starts to get repetitive. There isn’t too much variety in contracts, you’ll find yourself taking the same steps during a contract regardless of the type (i.e. find the CPU, find the ICE entry point, loot data, etc).

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  2. The lack of replay value is indeed a major problem.

    There are a limited number of contract types, which becomes even fewer when you discount minor differences like downloading a document versus editing a document. All contracts of a single type play out the same way. Worse, as Burzmali says, even across types the contracts play out pretty similar. Differences only come into play when you find the target room, and even then it is mostly the risk of setting off an attack and of being noticed.

    There is also no real gain in advancing to a higher difficulty. When you move to a more expensive apartment, the game gives you access to more difficult jobs with higher rewards and the shop offers more expensive equipment. The computers you infiltrate are also larger. But difficulty itself is mostly only a matter of the level of enemy programs. The programs don’t really change, they just are harder to kill or fool and do more damage when they attack or trace you faster. Your own advancement is that your programs make you harder to kill, make you hit harder, and make it easier to fool the enemy. They don’t gain new behaviors, and all programs are available at the start.

    Gameplay does change slightly as difficulty increases, but only in the form that you can no longer as easily brute force a job. It isn’t really that new tactics are required, but rather that some tactics just don’t work as well as they used to.

    Another problem is the lack of incentive to advance the difficulty.

    There doesn’t seem to be a time limit on the game. Nothing drives you to advance, other than having bigger numbers to look at. There isn’t even a guide to how fast you might want to go. Nothing that says “The average player would be on their third apartment by now”. Yes, higher rewards make advancing easier, but the biggest expense is buying new programs to afford those more expensive missions.

    Decker feels more like an engine for a game than a game itself. It is pretty much a computerized version of the Netrunner rules from R.Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020 RPG manual. (Which arguably isn’t the greatest source, because the Netrunning rules in Cyberpunk 2020 were pretty poor.)

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  3. In my opinion decreasing game length by half would greatly benefit Decker. Small changes occuring could still keep interest of player. There are tracker ICE appearing, then killer ICE, phasing/hardened ICE, Trace & Fry … but too much time is available to get familiar with them and bored again.

    I disagree about lack of incentive to advance the difficulty. Raids on more secure systems are tedious and boring but give much more money. That means completing them results in more money/reputation collected in less player time. Buying programs at store sucks, They mostly have low quality stuff. It is better to rely on own programming or chip design skills. You want to see what’s there when you win but great disappointment awaits.

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  4. But the only real use for more money is to buy more powerful programs and hardware, which you’ll need to tackle harder systems. I know this is the pattern used in many games, but it is in its almost barest possible form here. Do tasks to raise your numbers to do tasks that require higher numbers to raise your numbers higher to do tasks that–

    ICE gets new variations at higher difficulties, but you still handle them the same way. Whether ICE knocked you out of the system or tries to kill your character directly, it doesn’t really matter. The reason is that you don’t want to get knocked out of a system at all, as that just means that you’ve wasted a day. ICE hits harder and gets more effective at tracking you, but that mostly just hammers in the lesson you should have learned fairly early on, that you simply don’t want to get noticed at all. Since ICE respawns unless you find the right room to turn it off, combat just isn’t that useful except for cases where you are forced into it. And since Silence has a random duration and can fail to execute, you want to avoid combat anyway in order to avoid raising the alarm (which causes everything to descend upon you and negates some of your stealth measures.)

    You’ll ultimately be using the same tactics from start to finish, unless you just want to rely on luck and don’t care about failures. I fairly quickly found myself playing on auto-pilot, though I kept playing for quite a while just to keep raising numbers.

    Programming and designing/burning hardware shows how meaningless game time is. The only real cost is paying your rent each month, and you can make that in a few days of jobs. So you’ve got two methods of improving yourself. You can do a job every day, building a ton of money and being able to buy anything useful whenever it manages to show up in the shop. Or you can just burn a month designing code or hardware to your desired spec, a task which consists of picking the type and level from menus, then just hitting the “Spend a day” and/or “Spend a week” button until the job is complete. The latter method is certainly much easier for the player. Just spend your months building stronger equipment, only spending a few days each month actually doing missions to raise cash for rent and whatever lucky purchases you might see. Or when you want to grab some skill points, particularly to raise your programming and hardware design skills (allowing you to make stronger projects).

    Power is only a matter of how much game time you are willing to burn, with no real cost to push you forward. (Indeed, raise the difficulty too fast and you won’t be able to succeed at missions until you either manage to get improved hardware/software, or fail to pay your rent and thus get dropped back down to a lower difficulty.)

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  5. Decker is a really good RogueLike game, and really exemplifies the term innovative.

    I have been playing it for a while now, it took me a while to get into it, but its quite well done and clever. As with other comments it needs more meat in the mid game, more abilities, more enemies and some random “life” events like “you got robbed on the way home” and lose $500; “you have to visit your grandmother” – you lose a day.

    Perhaps the player should only have 4 “real life” years (in college before s/he has to get a real job) in which to reach as high as possible – then you would not use all your days just developing your programs/chips to max. The PC could spend days in college to better his education, and this could reveal a randomly selected new ability (making each game different). Different classes of hackers would prefer different abilities – warrior class +5 to attack, -2 to stealth, stealth hackers is kinda the class that is currently played – some classes may be missing some abilities in order to enhance others or add new abilities not available to other classes. Each class would use a different icon.

    Also unused abilities could degrade, so if you focus on just building software and chips your hacking skills would be worse as you have not done any hacking. Some XP for killing ICE (nothing for respawned ICE) to raise your general “hacking” level to encourage more combat.

    Missions to kill all. Download all valuable files mission. Find the mystery file, hidden amongst the worthless files. Analyse all ICE until found the ICE with the magic code and capture it. Perfect stealth missions (cannot use any attack abilities, no red alert).

    A pet ICE. A charm ability. A spawning ICE. A duplicating/replicating ICE. Rotating tunnels. Stun attacks. Slow attacks. Random relocation ability/attack. Aging attack. Up and down stairs. The game is a really good base for the fleshing out of all this sort of stuff.

    Autosaving as you play so the game is permadeath would massively improve replayability (but this is an age old argument), the dead hacker (or graduated) could then somehow be a contact to the current PC. Enemy PCs would be great, very powerful PCs who may help you or fight you. Building your own network using money and equipment might be a good side game, this could churn out software instead of spending time to program it – and you would need to defend it by building ICE yourself to patrol it. This network would be saved and played by future PCs.

    Bravo for this game! Well recommended – current version 1.12 25/10/2008.

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  6. Mandatory missions to get to next XP level and/or next lifestyle level. Mission chains. Multipart missions. Reboot node, restores system to original state. False alarm – sends all ICE to the wrong room. Loss of funds for failed missions where the system shutdown. Hacker friend missions, raises social level – required a minimum social level to go up lifestyle levels (eg need 5 friends to get to mid level, need girlfriend/boyfriend to get to high level). More “Matrix” movie inspired stuff…

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  7. Some systems in permanent red alert state but won’t shut down (again encourages combat) – or minimum yellow alert. Spend turn tripling reflect effect ability. False target – all ICE attacks the targeted ICE if successful for one turn.

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  8. Current version differs because last binary ready for download was 1.09. I got enough problems by running it on Linux. Compiling for Win32 and then emulating it was just too much trouble. Stun and slow attacks are implemented. Just use confuse and slow programs. Keep in mind confused ICE may accidentally raise alert level. There is no need for reboot node. If you take too long at red alert level some admin will step in and prepare system shutdown. You will have some time to stop it at CPU/SPU node or to complete mission. When you attack some systems they may start at yellow alert. Okay, it is not permament. After you lower it to green it does not turn back to yellow without your intervenion.

    Reflect is overpowered. If you have this program at decent level it is not uncommon to have 125% of damage reflected back at the ICE instantly trashing it.
    As for other ideas I doubt they will be implemented. There is Java remake but it develops slowly while original game is no longer expanded.

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  9. Starts off good but is so goddamn repetitive that I soon grew to hate it. It’s like the formula for the game is set to be even at all stages. If you have all level 2 on a 10% difficulty then it’s pretty much the same as having all level 3 on a 15% and all level 4 on a 20%. And it takes so LONG to play. Even though the gameplay doesn’t change at all the author expects you to sit there and play it for many days on end. I got sick and annoyed with it after about maybe 8 hours of play. I feel I have mastered the game and yet was not even close to finishing it. IT SUCKS!

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  10. I warned about repetitiveness and boredom. This is why I strongly opposed Baines about money. You want cash to finish that thing faster. I decided to play Decker to the end in order to review it better. If you find no challenge in completing mission then you have won already because … you can’t win this game in a formal way. It took me four days playing casually to win this game. No more time should be needed.

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  11. I like Michal Bielinski’s comments – my thought was someone could take the basic concept, which is a good one, and build a game from scratch taking the strengths of Decker and dropping its weaknesses… with some thought to long term game design (eg more variety, some limits on developing powers other than money) along with an overarching plot and story to follow – perhaps with some randomisation for replayability. Finally add instadeath.

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  12. Where do I get that version? Another simple change to make the game more challenging/fun would be the longer you are in a level or in the system the chance of being detected increases. Once you reach the top lifestyle the costs, killer attacks (requiring rest and hospital) and hardware damage all combine to use your cash more and thus make it more interesting. Complaints of a RL being somewhat repetitive are kind-of in the genre, even Nethack and Angband get repetitive until something bad happens – although yes the mid game you make too much cash and the missions are too easy so it is just a chore without risk -> adding a patrol enemy that auto detects you if you stay in its sector for one turn might keep players from being on auto-pilot. The chance of detection should be higher when you are downloading – and there should be a chance to find a golden nugget file that is worth a lot more money. Programs found in-system should be better in some way than your self programmed ones and you should only be write a certain number of programs a month -> determined by your Analysis skill, or something. Some different layouts to systems would add variety: like a maze system, a long chain system (that is like a big square or grid spread out), a circular design and so on – a same level teleporter might be interesting with island sections and one or more IO node(s) that when activated unlocks a permanent door somewhere else on the level (and/or a red, green, blue key system with red, green, blue doors). A floor virus that spreads around a level once triggered that does some damage to you every turn you stand or move into the viral area – a virus scanner and virus cleaner hardware option to detect the virus on the map and to clean it, cleaning all infected squares kills the virus etc.

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  13. The golden nugget file should always be protected by a tapeworm of some kind and deciding to download it should always start a red alert.

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