Mitch’s Dev Diary - There’s Something About Decking
First, some sharing -- our air conditioning hasn’t worked for about a week. It’s currently 88 degrees in the studio (and ironically, a breezy high 60’s outside). We are melting. Kohnert is wearing those goofy pants that unzip and become shorts. Although I mocked him this morning, I’m now thinking of tackling him and taking his pants. As the HBS Human Resources Representative, however, I’ve cautioned myself that this could be punishable by legal action or worse. I think I’ll grab some ice from the fridge and put it under my arms, instead.
* * *
As you may have heard, our Decker gameplay has gone through a few revisions. More than a few, actually. When we began Shadowrun Returns, we knew that trying to simulate the Matrix as it works in the tabletop game would be a huge task that we couldn’t commit to. So Jordan conceived of a system where the Decker would jack in and see an overlay on top of the physical world that displayed the local area network - what computers connected to others, what they controlled, and that sort of thing. An icon representing the decker’s avatar would then traverse the overlay and do stuff at different nodes. It gave us the ability to do some Matrix puzzle gameplay on top of the tactical combat system we were developing, but when we reviewed the design with our engineers, we realized that it would be challenging to integrate into our level editor, take too long to develop as a whole, and wouldn’t be an efficient use of our budget. So we abandoned this approach and started exploring other design concepts.
The other day, I held my breath and dove past our reasonably up-to-date design document and into the repository that is our OLD STUFF, looking to see how many stabs at decking we took - at least on paper. I found five, plus a sketch, a diagram, and the beginnings of what looks to be a card game. I know there are a few more documents on local hard drives. . .
Some of these designs were written during (what some would consider) normal office hours. But most were written late at night, over weekends, and sometimes during holidays. Each was an attempt by the author to move the ball forward to make decking a satisfying experience.
Finally, this February, we got together to review several other mini-game approaches - all of which were met with silence. (FYI, Harebrained isn’t known for its silence.) That’s when Trevor looked down, shook his head, exhaled his special exhale, and said, “Look, that’s not what Shadowrun fans want. They want decking. They want the Matrix.”
We all want the Matrix.
The issue was (and is) how we integrate the idea of a decker entering the Matrix with the rest of the game AND within the boundaries of our production reality. To do it (at least close to right) it would need its own look and feel. It would need new characters and environments and interface and sounds. It would need new gameplay features for cyberdecks and programs and intrusion countermeasures and Black IC and AI.
And, and, and. All the reasons why we said we couldn’t do it. . .
But we felt like we HAD to do it. It’s as much a part of Shadowrun as spell slinging.
We worked fast. We worked longer and harder. We brought in an old friend to help. We found issues we hadn’t anticipated. We got frustrated. We kept going.
So after all that, here’s how decking works in Shadowrun Returns. Throughout much of the game, your decking skill will allow you to hack computers in the physical world and gain information others can’t. The sort of hacker stuff you’d expect.
But several times during our story, you’ll jack in and enter a node of the Matrix that looks like this:
Among the people who created our visuals for the Shadowrun Returns Matrix is Dave McCoy, the artist who created the 3D Matrix art for the VIRTUAL REALITIES book published by FASA Corp.
To be clear, runs centered around the Matrix don’t occur often and you can’t jack in whenever you want to and travel the vastness of cyberspace. Nevertheless, Matrix runs should be quite a ride.
A Decker's Matrix avatar is automatically created based on his or her "meat-world" appearance. Every three turns a decker’s avatar takes in the cyberspace equals one turn the rest of the party gets in “meat-world”. (Things moves faster in there!) While the decker’s consciousness is running around cyberspace, his body is inert in the real world and the rest of the party needs to defend him until he returns. To exit a Matrix LAN, the decker needs to leave from the same portal he entered or eject and suffer dumpshock damage to his physical body.
As the decker’s avatar navigates a Matrix LAN node, it will encounter Intrusion Countermeasures (IC) which will attack him. To fight the IC, the decker uses computer programs and deploys ESP - Expert System Programs - which are “independently operating artificial life simulations”. ESP operate under the player’s control and each has its own abilities.
The decking skill is used to derive the decker’s “to-hit” calculation and the ESP subskill determines the power of his ESPs. The decker’s cyberdeck determines how many and what level of programs can be taken into the Matrix. There are a variety of different programs for attack, defense, buffing, and debuffing. The cyberdeck is also the decker’s first line of defense - damage the decker takes is first applied to the deck which has its own equivalent of health points called IP. But Black IC or attacks from enemy deckers can damage the decker directly. Every Matrix LAN has an alarm threshold and every action the decker takes within the LAN moves him closer to that threshold. When an alarm is tripped, it might trigger the arrival of Black IC, an enemy decker, or bad things back in the meat-world.
With all the danger inherent in cyberspace, why go there? Because the Matrix LAN nodes can control things in the meat-world like doors, security cameras, automated turrets, security clearances, and even poison gasses flooding into room. And, of course, the Matrix holds the most valuable thing in the 6th world - information.
Although runs in the Matrix are rare, when you get to play one, it’s pretty cool! We hope that the work that went into it pays off for you. Plus, the work we’ve done gives you even more building blocks for you to play with when you create your own stories.
Speaking of which. . .
We’d planned to release the editor at the end of the month but the Matrix work and other issues pushed it out a bit. We'd rather give you the right thing a little later than something a little broken right away. Early Access Backers will be getting a direct mail with more details and an updated ETA for the early release ASAP.
Also, we’re setting up two forums for the Editor on shadowrun.com. One is a Q&A that our designers will respond to and the other is a general Editor forum. They’ll both be publicly visible, although Early Access Backers will be the only ones able to post questions to the devs in the Q&A forum until the game is released. We're also working on a Wiki that will document the Editor and in which you can share knowledge, tips, and tricks.
Oh, and I’ve just been tapped on the shoulder and asked to remind you that pre-orders on harebrained-schemes.com end 4/28. So let your friends know that this is the last chance they’ll have to pre-order the Collectors Edition of Shadowrun Returns and get their hands on those USB Dog Tags. Take care.
It’s time to get back to the sauna.
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