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!