Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to run the hacking part of a cyberpunk game. Part I

This was taken from a recent email exchange I had with some friends in regards to running our own cyberpunk game.

First off, to dash Josh's hopes and dreams: This is a cool idea but of all the games we play, this is going to be one of the more expensive ones. Plastic tubes, foam and duct tape are cheap compared to any projectile driving device. Second, if you're going to represent technology, then it has to be to some degree realistic, what game are you playing if your "internets" is just a hand wavy alternate dimension/plane with the minor environmental effects? I think in both cases you'll require some sort of investment in enabling technology. GPS, airsoft guns, light or wireless access points. Something that will bring out the cyber part.

Making the interwebs is a very difficult prospect. I've tried games like "uplink" and have spent much time figuring out how to make "hacking" anything other than a drab and boring experience; mostly because its a drab boring experience. If life were more like the movie Hackers we'd be much better off but there would probably be more capsized oil tankers in the seas and far more dead artists threating the world for 25 million dollars. Row ... row ... row ...

I think one thing that could make this whole game more fun is distributed involvement. Because you have communication devices at your disposal, its possible to involve people who are not physically located at the game. For example. Joe schmoe is busy one weekend and cannot be onsite. He happens to be the puzzle solver sort of person so he knows a lot of what is going on. During game play something comes up, a player calls Joe schmoe and joe schmoe looks up on wikipedia the solution to the puzzle. Winner! Or, do you not want to consider the world wide web at your disposal?

I think another source of inspiration for this sort of game are ARGs. They do a good job of blending reality with gaming and since we're already in a derivative of the cyberpunk, dealing with real world tech in game would not be a bad thing. This game is also going to need much more preparation than another rpg because writing a website is not as easy as writing in script on a parchment.

Because we're not playing a tabletop game we can look at what shadowrun /current/ edition does with Decking. Because of the way networks have firewalled themselves from the internet a lot of decking is done inside. The running team gets the decker into the corp network, then they do their thing. Or they kidnap someone with approprate access and use their accounts. They did a good job of getting a character class that was essentially a solo gig and made it in integral part of the runner team. In otherwords even your hacker characters are going to have to get in there and be involved in modules. This also means that where people are in meatspace is relevant to where they are on the "interwebs."

Now, here is my pitch and Josh is in disagreement with me here. I think that you need a software framework to be easily able to build and interact with virtual puzzles. I think you'll need multiple gps enabled smart phones (iphone, android or s60) or wireless network + PCs, a server, wireless networking to get this game off the ground. Communications play a large part in the cyberpunk world -- especially when they go out and the players who have come to rely on their decker or their off-site drones lose some control. I also think you need some evolution of my software (http://missing.googlecode.com) or something like it (hopefully there is something better than the crap I have put together) to build any sort of technological layer on top of your game. Now the problem is you need this stuff to be accessible which means, like I mentioned earlier smart phones and laptops for the game.