What makes a good hacking system?

Nenen

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I'm trying to design a unique hacking system, possibly using the confines of the VX Ace Lite turn-based combat system (lots of changes) possibly another way.
So my first step was to think about what others have done in games, I mostly just had triple A titles, so...

I've played quite a few hacking minigames, and have been disappointed with them.

You usually get a reskin of some well-known minigame (i.e Bioshock), sometimes it's super simple (mass effect), and other times it's... random (fallout 3).

Of course, most games probably don't need an in-depth hacking system. But let's ignore that and simply look at them as they are.

______________________

- Bioshock took the old pipes game where you need to create a path for liquid to flow from one point to another, you reveal and switch the placement of various pipe shapes and rotations, and you only have a limited time to do it before liquid moves through the pipes. There's a few more details, but I'll leave it at that.
It does require more thought while playing then the other examples I'll talk about. But I still didn't really like it. Maybe others feel differently :p

- Mass Effect just had you match three 'code snippets'; the possible choices scrolled upward and you had to avoid certain ones. You had limited time to accomplish this.
(Again, could be argued that they didn't need a deep system, just let the player quickly past, but that's not the point of this topic)
It's more a twitch skill type of game, fairly easy to play, but no depth.

- Fallout 3... If your hacking level is good enough for a specific computer you can attempt to hack, (I disliked the level block, but whatever, moving on)
The game itself required you to 'put together the password' by selecting from a list of various groups of symbols and letters, each time being told whether it's part of the correct password. You have a limited amount of tries before you get lockedout. (You can't extrapolate it since it's randomized each time apparently).
I felt that this should have utilized some sort of detective work, though in most cases this may be impossible since you can't always learn about the original owner... sigh.

________________________

The only time I remember enjoying 'hacking' was many years ago when I played some game on the LEGO website...
Spybot: The Nightfall Incident

I barely remember it, and it can only be found on archive sites now...
I do remember that it was essentially a strategy game, abstracting the idea and so certainly wasn't 'realistic'. I wish I could find a way to download it through my phone then play it on my homecomputer :p

One point that comes with this subject which I'd like to make is that hacking in a game doesn't need to be realistic, (almost the automatic assumption for 'improvement') it can certainly be abstract or even weird.
But I do feel that it needs to be a quality part of the game...

Now I've probably rambled enough, and while I could add even more examples (the rebooted Deus Ex series for example) maybe it's better to let some dialogue begin (not just my monologue.)
 

TheoAllen

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Frankly speaking, puzzle games have "no depth". The solution is just one. Once you know the solution, then done, no improvisation. Or RNG, like Deus Ex hacking system (which sucks).

Let's look away at a different angle, Hitman. The whole game is basically a stealth "mini"-game. But you can solve the stage in many different ways. So, you could try to start how to make a hacking minigame that could be solved in many ways. It might as well as being a game on its own. Not just a mini-game if you're going to ignore the fact that many games do not need a depth hacking system.
 

Kuro DCupu

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I kinda agree with Theo.
Most of the time one puzzle only have one solution. The most we can do is reuse the same system to have different outcome. Go deeper and it's no longer a mini-game.

Anyway, my suggestion for "hacking" minigame would be 6x6 (or less) minesweeper.
- It's simple, yet make you feel smart.
- It has number, which again, make you feel smart.
- Isn't that the point it was called "hacking" minigame? To make you feel like a tech-savvy?
 

Nenen

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@TheoAllen
I suppose my opinion on puzzle 'depth' is a little different, but I see your point. Certainly having some ability to improvise would be ideal. But even a puzzle with a single solution can be done well.

@Kuro DCupu
The idea to a certain extent is to give hacking more... emphasis (for lack of a better word).
And while a minesweeper style minigame could work in another game, it's not quite the direction I'm working on.
 

Wavelength

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One game that (while it wasn't a great game overall) had a clever hacking system was Event[0]. The game had you interacting with an old chatbot-like AI that used to manage the space station you're trying to escape, and you could view archives of old records and chats that it used to have. Sometimes, certain letters would be in red (or similar), or by saying certain things to evoke an "emotion" from the chatbot, you could get certain letters to turn red. Putting those letters together would form a string that you could then type to the chatbot to unlock more rooms around the space station or unlock more archives that you could view (and find more codes from). I thought it was reasonably cool (and could have been even cooler if there was some sense of puzzle beyond that, like unscramble the letters you turned red to form a short word that pertains to this conversation). It definitely nailed the aesthetic of hacking.

I think there are some games that use Mastermind as a hacking minigame. It definitely fits the theme of "use logic and defiantly try to break the code", which feels appropriate for hacking. It's also nifty (and fairly unique among puzzles) for the fact that it has a failure condition. (Fun fact: creating a text-based game of Mastermind was the semester-long project we were assigned in my first college programming class!)

I think that if I were to make a hacking system in RPG Maker, and it wasn't something that formed the basis of the entire game (but was more of an occasionally-necessary side activity), I would probably do it in the form of a well-themed spin puzzle. For example, see the puzzle below: you can spin all of the three rings (outer, middle, and inner), and the goal is to line up the rings so that each of the three pink lines heading from the center to a computer terminal has three of the same symbol lined up beneath it.

Cipher Puzzle.png

This offers enough varying setups so that it can be learned but not easily mastered. It also offers a considerable skill element for both logical and visual thinkers, while allowing a player who just can't figure it out and is truly stuck to eventually guess-and-check their way to victory, or spin things around and see if they can visually pick up on something.
 
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Redeye

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One weird "hacking" minigame I brainstormed way back when was a game that sort of worked like the World Hardest Game which has you control a node, and the goal is to reach the other side without getting hit by Antivirus or Firewall nodes that move in specific patterns, and you only have a limited amount of "lives" before you're kicked out. Sort of like trying to find the "Pressure Point" in a magical seal in order to dispel it. Some instances of the minigame would likely have some curveballs and twists such as locked gateways that have to be unlocked by touching a "key point".

While I tend to ignore minigames that don't really serve much of a purpose, I do have a soft spot for tiny, immersive minigames such as Lockpicking, or in this case, Hacking, that serve as a cool alternative approach to brute forcing your way through an obstacle.

(I also enjoyed Fallout 4's hacking minigame due to the addition of hidden triggers that you can find in the code that erases incorrect passwords or restore your tries. I thought that was pretty cool)
 

BK-tdm

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The thing is, these "hacking systems" are:

Minigames, not a focus point (like in Hacknet) and if you too will use it to add some flavor to your modern/sci-fi/steampunk (because pipes are hack-able) game you have to simplify it too as adding a lot of mechanics or complexity will create an unnecessary wall to players who dont really care about the hack and more about the slash, even more frustration if you require your players to learn/git gud at it for story progress purposes.

And most importantly:

Abstract representations of what the media has taught people how "hacking" works. IRL hacking is a tedious, long process which all of the people who asks you "can you hax a fb account" wont ever grasp how tedious and time consuming it is to even get a wifi passcode, so you have to go with the "hollywood hacking", hi-speed keyboard typing/ Batman typing on his holographic keyboard near a terminal/ your android character plugging his cybernetic finger-now-transformed-tool into the RJ99 maintenance jack of the security door to get into systems, open doors, lock cameras and the like.

You have the option to fancy a "tech" minigame whose theme is techie but nothing like the real thing so you go Bioshock pipes (cause steampunk) or try to make it a little more real with servers, nodes, firewalls and the like OR you go Megaman Battle Network and turn hacking into killing representations (anthropomorphic or not) of the security system so you dont minigame it but just add another encounter utilizing your existing battle system.

Back to the puzzle thing you either have one or a set number of solutions to the puzzle if its set, you also have the option to randomize it but you will need a basic set of rules and simplify it more as to not overcomplicate it (because rng) and possibly create unwinnable rolls.

And now to cite some examples:
In Fallout 3/NV/4s case you missed the little detail that finding a set of [ ], ( ) or { }s will delete wrong words from the list/reset attempts, added as a little nod to how programming works (which techy people will mostly find amusing/like) and also you could make any "tech savvy" companion do the "hacking" for you in case you didnt want to spec on that/waste time on the minigame, theres at least one companion that can hack and other who can lockpick.

Alpha protocol used 2 systems, one was "guess the order" circuitboard where you had to touch the circuit pins so they lighted the corresponding numbers, thing is paths were crossed and entwined, not too complicated, it was a "circuitboard" so paths were crossed diagonally at most.
Second minigame was a "find the static series of numbers" in a constantly flipping soup letter, you had a set short amount of time to find the non-moving series of numbers in a constantly switching pool, the string was long (like 8 letters/numbers long) and were all next to each other so it was more of an excersise of looking for the unmmoving string.

We all know how Deus Ex made its ahcking minigame so "extensive" it could spawn its own mobile game.

You never see a lot of "best hacking minigames" articles, but you can see a lot of "worse hacking minigames" lists around the web, everyone has their own abstract idea of hollywood hacking and trying to translate it into a puzzle game sometimes turns entertaining and sometimes doesnt.
 

Nenen

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@Wavelength
The event[0] system sounds pretty interesting, makes me want to play that game. (Also reminds me of the indie game
Her Story)
Sounds like something that would be better handled with coding rather than eventing.

@BK-tdm
I certainly don't mind the abstraction of hacking. Though I remember hearing about an indie title that went for full realism (sadly can't remember how to find it lol)
EDIT: and I guess I missed the feature in fallout 3, I did stop playing it fairly early for certain reasons.
:kaoswt:
 
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