Saturday, 29 November 2014

Thin Vertical Slice

It's not even been a month yet, I feel like I'm jumping the gun with another update. But I've got so much done over the past few weeks I feel like if I left it any longer it would result in my brain exploding into an endless wall of text no one would care to read.

I'm going to present this in more of a bullet point form, as there are a bunch of small and large things I want to document here, so in more of less chronological order since since my last update:


Users are tangible things now, they have names, skills, homes and workplaces. They come in a variety of types, some separated by income brackets, some by affiliation. Different kinds of users will generate different amounts of network traffic, and their files and network traffic have different values based on what kind of user they are. A hacker will generate gobs of network traffic of a fairly high value, but has an extremely high security skill rating, which will make it much harder to steal from them. A low income average user has a lower security rating and lower value files and traffic.

Next thing I want to do with users is give them presence, so they can either be at work or at home, and depending on their job and function, this will effect gameplay. If a extremely skilled security officer in a corporate network is giving you grief, simply find out where he lives, hack into his home network, and set off his security alarm, causing him to go home and getting him off your back.


I always wanted to tie movement into the connections between networks. I still want to maintain the feeling of flying freely through cyberspace, so I've compromised and calculated the player's speed based on their proximity to network connections and how much bandwidth those connections have. The result will be that a player must more or less follow the connections between networks, and faster connections will act as highways between distant networks.

I've also replace the old camera controls with a new physics based camera. I think it feels much more satisfying to get around with these new controls. The camera accelerates, drifts, can spin and roll and interacts with the world more realistically. I also added a neat impact effect using the new post-effects (more on that later):

Traffic Visualization:

Network traffic is visible now on the connections between networks. Depending on that kind of devices are connected, and who is using those devices, different amounts of traffic is generated. A printer talking to a home network's switch will create very little traffic, whilst a web server connected to a firewall will create a significant amount of traffic. These effects can be seen in the video below, and are made all the more obvious with the new bloom effect (again, more on that later):

Network Entrances:

Networks are now contained spaces, with entrances consisting of devices like routers. You can 'pass through' a network by flying around it, but if you want to access the internal devices in the network, you first have to gain access to one of these entrances.

Once inside a network, they are kind of self-contained little levels, which you fly around and hack your way through. Still a lot of work to do here, I want to have the outside world sill visible through the boundaries of the network, though slightly blurred. And I would love to differ the style and appearance of varying types of networks. Cold, monolithic regimented looks for military and government networks, and warm, cozy, loose looks for home networks.


The Unity asset store takes most of the credit for these improvements. I found an excellent old TV tube shader to create the scanline, noise and chromatic aberration effects (check it out here:!/content/24046). I also added some bloom, glow, vignette and FSAA effects to some cheap graphics wins. The improvement in appearance should tide me over for a while and make me less embarrassed to show off what I have so far.

Messaging System:

This was going to start out as a tutorial system for new players, but I think will become much more integral to gameplay in the future. It's basically an email inbox. When writing the initial introduction message, it became apparent that a storyline could very well fit into this game, and as much as I don't really care for storylines in games, I do kind of look forward to writing one, no matter how flimsy, for HTP.


After creating a basic messaging system, I got a bit carried away and ended up writing a random mission generation system. I didn't really plan on having missions in HTP, but after having added them, I'm not sure how it would have ever worked without them. Here's a short video running through a simple 'steal the file' mission. The mission is only completable with debug tools, but it gets the idea across:

Name Generation:

Finally, after having added missions, and not wanting to simply waypoint the mission's goal out blatantly, I added random network name generation to the world. This will help me guide the player to a mission's target without directly revealing it, "Please steal file X from Mrs. Y, she lives near Z.". This was pretty fun to implement, I do love seeing procedural generation in the wild :) Though I have to say, most of the business names come off as a little 'new media' at the moment :S

Well that's it for now, I think I've got enough off my chest to carry on with the next push. I think the next thing on my plate is giving money a purpose and adding 'shops' to the game. Don't know how they're going to work yet, but I'll figure something out.

Now if you'll excuse me, there's 23 punk bands playing tonight for $15 and I need to get my drink on...

Hack the Planet!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Gameplay Brainstorming

Some lunch break gameplay ideas to help guide my development:
  • A frontal attack is too difficult on a high security target, so instead, discover a nearby person who works at the target and infect their phone or laptop with malware that has a chance of spreading to the internals of the target network.
  • If a target's primary entry point is too secure, but a currently unused backup entry point is less secure, a DOS or other disabling attack to the target's primary entry point could result in the backup entry point becoming active, allowing for entry into the network.
  • Some extremely high security, high value networks are air-gapped with the exception of a highly controlled satellite connection via another high security network.
  • A target's security personal are only human and can be distracted by attacks on secondary targets on a network, lessening the chance of detection of an attack on the primary target.
  • Harnessing the power of a botnet can make it possible to crack crypto-coin wallets.
  • Networks containing devices owned by VIPs can yield high value data which can be sold on the blackmarket.
  • Messing with VIPs' data will attract the attention of the authorities, raising your suspicion level.
  • A high suspicion level will cause the authorities security professionals to actively seek you out. You can reduce your suspicion and lower your chance of arrest by moving your home base.
  • Dwelling at the same home base for too long with a high suspicion level will result in the authorities probing your network. If these probes go unnoticed for too long, you will be raided and arrested. Taking the appropriate precautions and looking out for activity by the authorities at your home base will keep you one step ahead.
  • Moving your home base takes time and costs significant amounts of money. The new location should be chosen carefully.
  • Software and exploits can be purchased from other hackers, finding these hackers can be difficult and some will not deal with you until you've reached a certain skill level.
  • The presence of another hacker on a network can be identified by the unusual behavior of a device on the network.
  • Other hackers have home bases as well, containing their collection of software and exploits, these devices are extremely high security and difficult to attack. Doing so will not raise your suspicion level with the authorities, but will likely result in retaliation if detected.
  • Security advisories can be translated into exploits with a high enough skill level.
  • Every workstation has a user. Every user has a home network their other devices may be found on while they're not at work.
I've also added filesystems, money and time too, so here's a picture to keep things colorful:

Saturday, 8 November 2014

5k lines of code lighter...

So another month has past, there seems to be a pattern forming here. Maybe I'll make this a monthly update kinda deal. I've been finding much more time to spend on HTP over this last month, mainly because I've been making it a high priority to find the time. Things have been going very well, my decision to throw out my old art style was definitely the right one, and actually led to me throwing almost my entire code base away, a depressing thing as any programmers out there will know, but almost always worth the pain.

I had a gameplay epiphany the other day, on the toilet of course, where all epiphanies must occur. Up till then, I was never really sure how I was going to translate this strange simulated internet thing I've been creating into some kind of game, something fun. Up till then, I was adamant on simulating every tiny little aspect of everything as a node in a hierarchy. The world had cities, cities had sites, sites had networks, networks had computers, and computers had components. It was kinda cool, being able to zoom right down from the world level to the CPU level. Cool, but extremely costly. To generate the 100,000+ computers I wanted to make the game feel 'vast' meant simulating literally millions and millions of nodes. All the time. It didn't scale, and was really leading me to any kinda of gameplay.

So on the toilet, it dawned on me, I could simulate thousands of nodes without much difficulty, so if these nodes weren't individual components, but entire networks, I could easily have the hundreds of thousands of computers I wanted, and each of these networks, which would form the galaxy of interconnected nodes floating in cyberspace, the experience I wanted to create, could be its own sort of 'level', with its own puzzles and challenges. It's kind of hard to articulate how I think this is going to work in my head, so I supposed it's probably easier to just show you. So here is the closest I've come to a thin vertical slice of how the finished game might play so far. You'll notice for the first time a few actual gameplay elements going on as I take on a small home network and infect a computer with some malware:

I'm much happier with the visuals, as primitive as they are, I think I could do a lot with them. It's also nice simulating networks like this because I can happily simulate the physics on 100-200+ computers in these networks and get that nice movement as new nodes are discovered and the network fleshes out.

In terms of the user interface, I started out trying to use a 3D interface that surrounded each node and displayed relevant information, but I found it hard to read, clunky, and getting in the way of the cyberspace feel. The current system console UI started out as a quick and dirty debug placeholder, but it's starting to grow on me, I think with some love, it could actually work for the final UI. It suits the hacker motif and I can convey a lot more information then I could with a 3D in-world UI. So it'll do for now, and I'll see how it pans out later as the game gets more complex.

Whilst the gameplay is still very very early on, I'm still trying to be very careful to try and not corner myself into repetitive gameplay, so am trying to think of ways to encourage lateral thinking and emergent puzzles. For instance, when attempting to hack an ISP or other high security network, a full frontal attack may be extremely difficult, with layers of firewalls and intruder detection systems. But ISPs must have a human element, an alternative approach would be to identify a nearby home network in which one of the ISP's employees works, then attempt to hack through their relatively low security home network and plant some malware on their mobile phone whilst it's connected to their wifi. This malware may in turn find it's way onto the internal network of the ISP and provide you with a backdoor that would be otherwise very hard to establish. It's this kind of gameplay I want to encourage, and while I'm a long away from that level of gameplay now, it helps to keep that in the back of my head at all times.

Well I guess that'll do for this month, I'm very excited with where HTP is at now, mostly because I've gotten over a lot of the technical challenges now, and am able to work on some of the pure gameplay elements.. which is not only more fun, but much easier work in comparison. The next month should be quite productive if I can still make the time to work on HTP.

Hack the Planet!