Arcen Games

General Category => AI War II => AI War II - Gameplay Ideas => Topic started by: x4000 on August 30, 2016, 05:02:30 PM

Title: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: x4000 on August 30, 2016, 05:02:30 PM
This is a mechanic that is after my time, and that doesn't feel right to me.  However, I basically said "do as you will" to Keith since he and you guys like it.

Given I'm back in the driver's seat on AIW 2, I'd like to do something a little less numbers-y.  Well... that feels better integrated and like it has more punch, anyhow.

The proper goals for an effective hacking system would be:
- Clarity of what your options in it are.
- Ease of use of choosing those options.
- Having meaningful choices in there.

I believe the current system mostly hits the third out of those bullet points.  I'm not entirely sure what the full roster of options in that first bullet point even are, to be honest.

I very much like the general concept in play here, but it was added VERY late to the AI War Classic design, and as such was always a bit tacked-on feeling to me.  That's true of a lot of things that I came up with, too, like Minor Factions, by the way.  I'd like to handle it in a more centralized manner here, and overall we're going for something that is more cohesive from the ground up.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Pumpkin on August 30, 2016, 05:17:40 PM
I'd like to do something a little less numbers-y.  Well... that feels better integrated and like it has more punch, anyhow.
I do like hacking as it is right now but, hearing that... I might change my mind.

and overall we're going for something that is more cohesive from the ground up.
Yay for cohesive something!

Well, what do I want out of it? Advanced interactions. Risk/Reward. A resource to spend like Knowledge (and choices must be made because there is more things to do than points allow). In the Astro Trains topic, you talked about "verbs" for the AI.
AIs having more basic "verbs" to do things is important, I think.
I feel Hacking is "verbs" for players. It allows technical actions. Deepstrikes, gate-raids and threat-hunt are emergent players' verbs (we can see them as sentences, made with Raid Starships and galactic-shift-V-clicks as words). Hacking is a collection of premade sentences: download, sabotage, etc.

Maybe there is a way to make that more emergent. Maybe we could split the premade sentences into words and let the players assemble their own sentences. However I have no idea how to technically implement that metaphor.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: x4000 on August 30, 2016, 05:26:00 PM
I suppose I have a few questions, though, about what people like regarding those verbs.   There are a few things that occur to me in particular:

General Versus Specific
Knowledge and metal are global things, and that's very cool.  That makes good sense, and fits with other games.  Hooray global resources.

But hacking being global always felt slightly off to me.  If I'm hacking, usually I think about hacking a specific THING.  In other words, rather than saying "I'm gaining the ability to do some random something in the future by accumulating numbers," I'd rather do something like "here is my little fleet of hackers who are presently doing something RIGHT HERE."

Accumulated Over Time Versus Babysitting
I'm using the pejorative term for the one I like, just to frame it in the worst way possible since it is different. ;)  But basically right now you're accumulating hacking points over time even if you don't do something, just like you do knowledge.  All right, that's fine enough.

However, when you talk about things like warp engine raids, or deep strikes, or various other things like that... those are ACTIVE and fun things to do.  They are little missions you set yourself.  I feel like most of the results of hacking should be that way.  The danger, of course, is that you wind up with too many things that require you to go hand-hold some sort of fleet doing something-or-other.  But then again... isn't sending fleets to do something-or-other one of the most core parts of the game?

I'm not making an impassioned argument there, because I don't feel super strongly about it either way.  But it's worth discussing.


There are some other points I could make, but for now I'm just curious to collect opinions.  I'm not pushing for anything in particular right now, but I do want to take people's temperature on this particular issue since it's one I've not been real happy with.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Draco18s on August 30, 2016, 05:41:59 PM
I am ok with reworking the mechanics of how hacking "works."

I just don't know what to suggest.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Toranth on August 30, 2016, 05:42:27 PM
General Versus Specific
Knowledge and metal are global things, and that's very cool.  That makes good sense, and fits with other games.  Hooray global resources.

But hacking being global always felt slightly off to me.  If I'm hacking, usually I think about hacking a specific THING.  In other words, rather than saying "I'm gaining the ability to do some random something in the future by accumulating numbers," I'd rather do something like "here is my little fleet of hackers who are presently doing something RIGHT HERE."
I think Hacking Points as a global resource works, because you're hacking the AI, which is... pretty much everything not you.
On the other hand, you are correct that hacking is currently rather hands-off.  Plant the hacker, wander off, come back in a while to clean up and collect your prizes.  If you had to bring the hacker to the command station, or escape with your data module, or play a minigame - it would feel more involved.


Accumulated Over Time Versus Babysitting
I'm using the pejorative term for the one I like, just to frame it in the worst way possible since it is different. ;)  But basically right now you're accumulating hacking points over time even if you don't do something, just like you do knowledge.  All right, that's fine enough.
Again, I kind of agree with you.  I think you should be required to at least use your hacker to collect your Hacking Points, like you use a Science Vessel to collect Knowledge.  Maybe have Hacking potential that needs to be converted to usable Hacking Points through doing something in AI territory.


However, when you talk about things like warp engine raids, or deep strikes, or various other things like that... those are ACTIVE and fun things to do.  They are little missions you set yourself.  I feel like most of the results of hacking should be that way.  The danger, of course, is that you wind up with too many things that require you to go hand-hold some sort of fleet doing something-or-other.  But then again... isn't sending fleets to do something-or-other one of the most core parts of the game?
To me, Hacking is the alternate-path to achieving your goals. 
- Want more units?  You can capture another Fab at an AIP cost... or use HaP to download one from the AI.
- Need that Factory IV?  You can either capture the system (AIP) and drop lots of turrets/Force Fields on it (K, cap, Metal)... or you can spend 5 systems worth of HaP to have an "indestructible" version.
- Have you hit a huge roadblock, like 2 Mk IV Laser Guardposts and a Mk III Fortress under a Mk III shield right next to the wormhole you need to use?  You can spend hours throwing units at it (time loss, Metal, AIP), drop a nuke on it (AIP, system loss)... or you can Sabotage the worst pieces away.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Cinth on August 30, 2016, 06:58:12 PM
HaP as a resource, I think, works since all other resources are spent on specific things.  I'd then liken HaP to K in the way that it's practically finite.

Personally, I use hacking to add permanence to those things that act as force multipliers (fabs mostly).  More ships is always a good thing and better for it if you can't lose those new caps.


Minigames - I just don't see that being the greatest idea.  If it's going to be worth it and be challenging in any way, you create a save- scum situation and/or frustration.  Otherwise it's trivial and rather pointless.  Something you have to do and gets old after awhile.  Kinda makes me think of how the community reacted to nebulae encounters after they had been out for awhile (some never liked them from the start).  Those ended up with shortcuts to get the rewards.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Aklyon on August 30, 2016, 07:00:30 PM
Nebulae are minigames, but they're also (intentionally?) pretty long ones at that. I still like alt-champ myself, but mainly because it fits in with the rest of the game better.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: tadrinth on August 30, 2016, 07:06:46 PM
I like that HaP ties into the grand strategic nature.  Just like you can only safely capture so many planets, you can only hack so many things.  You get more HaP over the course of the game, but you can't go out and harvest it in particular; you just have to expand, with all the implications of higher AIP. The accelerating costs also encourage not just doing the same hack over and over.  I think that's all pretty elegant from a balance perspective.

Calculating costs is complicated by the fact that you may run out of ability to survive hacks before you run out of HaP. In theory, extra HaP reduces the spawns, but it's hard to tell how much you can actually survive. In practice, I usually hack a few things and then eventually stop doing any more hacks because the spawns are so bad or I can just make a run at the homeworlds.  Just finished up a game with 300 HaP to spare, for example.  Difficulty could be a little easier to gauge, basically.

Every hack is a little mini-mission because you have to escort the hacker out there and defend the device from the spawns.

Hackers themselves are slow and expensive, though.  I'd be just as happy with a drop-down from the HUD that lets you hack a planet, with or without the little hacking device.

The mission-y-ness could be improved by tweaking the hacking spawns, maybe?  There's not really a lot of counter-play at the moment. Either you have the ships to deal with the spawns, or you don't.  There's not much room to deal with unit type counters when there's a giant blob of mixed spawns coming out.  By the time the raid starship spawns, its too late to build any defenses against it. And hack responses aren't deterministic; if you get a raid starship, realize you needed to have built sniper turrets everywhere, and reload to build them in advance, you may end up with a pile of gravity drains, which require a totally different counter.  You can't plan for a particular response because its random. 

Making hacking responses a bit more chunky (bigger spawns less often), and giving a little bit of warning for the regular hack response spawns, both the type and where they're going to show up, might add to the counterplay a bit. 

That in turn would help with the fact that sitting around with a fleet for 5 minutes killing ships as they show up can be a little boring, especially for the early hacks that are pretty easy.  On the other hand, you usually want to neuter the system before you do a hack there, so there's some stuff to do as far as setup if you're being cautious.  And you need to clear a path to the system to get your fleet there. 

You already have to escort a hacker out to the target, but perhaps download hacks could involve escorting a unit representing the downloaded data back to a friendly system? Possibly with chase exos? 

I think you should be required to at least use your hacker to collect your Hacking Points, like you use a Science Vessel to collect Knowledge. 
Eh, don't think I agree here.  K needs to involve an element of risk or effort to gather because you spend it by clicking on a menu.  HaP can be autogathered because you take on risk when you spend it.  You need risk on on end or the other, but I think it's fine to have risk and effort only on one end. 

Plant the hacker, wander off, come back in a while
Do you mean you're just letting your fleet kill all the spawns as they come in without requiring any micro?  Or are you actually pulling your fleet out and ignoring the spawns while the hacker works?  Neither of those is ideal but they'd have different solutions.

Flavorwise, I don't think it's totally unreasonable for HaP to be 'gathered' by the hacker guys back at your home command station exploring network vulnerabilities.  If the network is pretty homogenous, then you can find those vulnerabilities from anywhere, possibly just by listening in.  It's only when you try to hack into a particular facility that you need to be send signals and therefore be pretty close to the target.  Or something. I admit, it is a little weird. Not so weird that I mind, given how much I like the implementation.

I think there's something solid about being able to provoke a fight with the AI for a particular objective.  There's lots of attacking predictable AI defenses (neutering and capturing systems).  And there's lots of periodic attacks by the AI to react to (waves, CPAs, exos).  But, there's not too many ways to pick a battle with the AI. The SF is sort of like that, as well as the strategic reserve, but hacking is unique in letting you prep the battleground a bit and asking you to hold against a steady onslaught. 

So, to sum up:
* Like it overall
* Keep the hard choices
* Telegraph expected hack response so you can decide if hack will be doable before you start
* Move hacking to the HUD/dropdown instead of a unit?
* Address 'hack and forget' issue
* Make hack responses more chunky or telegraphed?
* Shorter, more interesting hacks?
* Get data home with chase exos?
* Explain flavor better?
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Cyborg on August 30, 2016, 07:38:33 PM
I'm okay with some hacking changes. Right now it feels like a required mission, in much the same way as gathering knowledge. I like the minigame, but by all means I'm not attached to it.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: chemical_art on August 31, 2016, 12:01:55 AM
Will make hacking a project to brainstorm, but my first thought is to make it a secondary form of Knowledge:

"As AI worlds are lost the security blanket of the AI decreases. This allows certain techniques that we could not do otherwise. However, each time we use it the AI adapts, so we have to be selective in what we use it for."

I will say that  hacking was a crutch that allowed some ridiculous AI HW situations. That needs to go. Otherwise you get into that situation where no one would ever use hacking because it is needed to be saved for AI HW's alone. Every AI HW should be feasible before using hacking pre 9.0. That means core posts must be fixed. Just like how in a FPS it should be avoided that the "fun" guns are saved for bosses, it needs to be that hacking is not used for "boss" situations. We would never expect K to only be saved for the final HW run, right?

So hacking needs to be made as a tactical function, but not a function you only use on the hardest of AI situations, otherwise the hoarding effect occurs.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Cinth on August 31, 2016, 12:14:14 AM
Otherwise you get into that situation where no one would ever use hacking because it is needed to be saved for AI HW's alone.

I've never used HaP on an AI Homeworld.  I find it a waste of resources that are better served elsewhere.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: chemical_art on August 31, 2016, 12:18:02 AM
Otherwise you get into that situation where no one would ever use hacking because it is needed to be saved for AI HW's alone.

I've never used HaP on an AI Homeworld.  I find it a waste of resources that are better served elsewhere.

I have no doubt you have.

I will also say you are not like the average player. You are too good.

The average player will be hard pressed to face AI HW in current state, even if they remembered to save hacking points.

The very fact you know those resources could be better spent elsewhere is a knowledge that most players do not have.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Cinth on August 31, 2016, 12:27:10 AM
Otherwise you get into that situation where no one would ever use hacking because it is needed to be saved for AI HW's alone.

I've never used HaP on an AI Homeworld.  I find it a waste of resources that are better served elsewhere.

I have no doubt you have.

I will also say you are not like the average player. You are too good.

The average player will be hard pressed to face AI HW in current state, even if they remembered to save hacking points.

The very fact you know those resources could be better spent elsewhere is a knowledge that most players do not have.

Some of this needs to be learning curve and the other part just explained better. 

And to address something else you mentioned, K should always be spent either to buff up your defenses or in anticipation of the HWs.  In a regular game, I would expect to save up enough K to make a few last minute choices as to what I need for the HW.  I think it's a smart play there.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Kahuna on September 01, 2016, 01:28:44 AM
I think the "hacking point" system feels very artificial and forced. Doesn't make sense from a logical standpoint. Why does the player get more hacking points whenever the AIP increases? What IS a hacking point? What is the player actually hacking, AI's orbital command stations? Don't know. Doesn't make sense to me. But from a gameplay standpoint it does work.

Imo hacking shouldn't be a resource but a "verb"^^ as you guys put it. Hacking points could be removed and it could simply increase AIP. There could be hacking related technology to be unlocked with knowledge that would make the humans better at hacking so that the AIP wouldn't increase as much. Different Mark levels of AI Command Stations (planets) would have different security levels so hacking higher Mark Command Station (planets) would be harder and increase AIP more. Hacking higher Mark level AI Command Stations would provide greater rewards. Some things could be hacked remotely without having to go into AI's territory. Remote hacking could be done by building some kind of an immobile building. Local hacking could be done by building a slow but mobile non-stealthed space station/ship. Perhaps remote hacking could be one of the hacking technologies that could be unlocked with knowledge.

On second thought why does the player have to go to an AI planet to hack it? It's not like I'd have to go next to someone's computer in order to hack it in real life. So perhaps all hacks could be done remotely.

Anyway. AI's response to hacking could be AIP increase. The AI could also track where the hacking is coming from and then send a counter attack to take out the hacker.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Pumpkin on September 01, 2016, 02:34:53 AM
I think the "hacking point" system feels very artificial and forced. Doesn't make sense from a logical standpoint. Why does the player get more hacking points whenever the AIP increases? What IS a hacking point? What is the player actually hacking, AI's orbital command stations? Don't know. Doesn't make sense to me.

Quote from: AI War Classic
Hacking Progress is a measurement of how many holes your hacking teams have found in the AI's network defenses and can still exploit in relative safety.  As AIP increases more such vulnerabilities will be exposed as the AI focuses more on military matters.  The AI will always respond to your hacking attempts, but if your Hacking Progress goes negative (reflecting brute-force hacking attacks being made once all known vulnerabilities had been fixed) that response will quickly become far nastier.
Thematically, the AI is more "exposed" when turning more attention to the players' galaxy (AIP). When a vulnerability is "used", the AI patches it. Brute-force is possible.

Anyway, back to gameplay. I like this kind of ideas, making the hacking more "organic" (and less points and numbers). However, I see no proposal for new/different hacking responses, yet. Replacing "spend HaP" by "gain AIP" doesn't feel interesting, IMO. The "track hacker with fleet" is basically what currently is; a bit more refined, I admit. It's exo-like towerdef instead of dogfight; why not. I like the current hacking mechanism, though. I would love to see more types of hacking; the current mechanism doesn't truly bothers me.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Misery on September 01, 2016, 07:20:52 AM
I like the hacking system for the most part.  I like the risk-reward aspect, and also the fact that it's a way of accomplishing some major effect without upping the AI progress.  It's sort of an alternate route there, which is nice to have and makes for some interesting decision making.   I also like that the process of doing it is different; I cant just throw a horrible ship blob in there and blow the place up, that's not going to do it.  I've got to actually defend the hacking unit for awhile.  That's quite different from just plain assaulting a planet so it breaks things up a bit, which can be nice.

The one thing that bugs me is that the AI's response to this never seems all that interesting.  I dunno.  Something about the way it responds to it just seems a bit stale to me.  It's hard to describe. It might be interesting if it had some really creative/loopy possible responses to the hacking.   

As for the way the hacking mechanic itself works, that's all fine by me.  I don't see anything wrong with it.  But I'm not like, super attached to it either.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Tridus on September 01, 2016, 07:42:04 AM
On second thought why does the player have to go to an AI planet to hack it? It's not like I'd have to go next to someone's computer in order to hack it in real life. So perhaps all hacks could be done remotely.

You do if that computer isn't accessible from a remote network. High security organizations often have *at least* two sets of networks and computers: the ones that face the Internet, and the ones that are totally disconnected from it. You can't hack the latter without getting onto that other network, and that requires physical proximity (or exploits that can jump air gaps and other very high end stuff).

It's entirely reasonable that the AI would have some stuff that it considers high security risk and wouldn't have accessible from the universal network.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Tridus on September 01, 2016, 07:56:30 AM
But hacking being global always felt slightly off to me.  If I'm hacking, usually I think about hacking a specific THING.  In other words, rather than saying "I'm gaining the ability to do some random something in the future by accumulating numbers," I'd rather do something like "here is my little fleet of hackers who are presently doing something RIGHT HERE."

Professional hackers collect and stockpile exploit knowledge without always knowing what they intend to target in the real world, too. Then, when they get a target, they figure out if they have a suite of exploits that they can use to build an attack against that target. If not, they have to look for something more specific for that target itself (and when in doubt, just start calling up employees and asking for passwords...). People have sat on zero-days for quite a while, then sold them or used them on high priority targets.

Effectively, that's what HaP is. We gain knowledge of how the AI works, find ways to exploit it, and then when we choose a target, we deploy some of those exploits. The AI learns from that, and it gets harder next time.

Honestly, I don't entirely understand why you seem down on it. I think it works really, really well. Accumulating HaP isn't interesting in itself. But, is that even a problem? *Spending* HaP is a set of interesting decisions and trade offs, and the set of things you can spend it on increases as you scout farther out and gain more intel about what targets are available.

Maybe it's worthwhile to look at replacing the idea of HaP itself with something that doesn't feel quite as much like a late addition, but IMO the hacking end of the system works really well and doesn't need drastic change.
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: PokerChen on September 01, 2016, 03:59:32 PM
I'm going to just write down several major avenues in which the player progresses through the game, and ones that hacking influences:

1) Research knowledge acquisition. (ARS manipulation)
2) Materiel. (ARS unlocks and fabricator unlocks)
3) Scouting.
4) Reach.
5) Controlling the enemy's options. (locking down AI unlocks, Sabotage, etc.)

...looks okay to me. Well, I find that not having to defend Mark-IV fabricators is often too good of a boon to pass up. YMMV. It might be that hacking just needs better UI integration so you know clearly about clarity and ease-of-use.

...if only the AI hacks you, like in Mother Russia.

EDIT: I was looking at AI plots earlier, and had an idea. I think the way the Lobby allows you to customise down to the exact figures should be reconsidered. Consider this: what if you don't know what the AI is plotting on the long term, and must engage in hacking activities to reveal parts of their intentions? For example, if the Avenger plot is 100% or 0% chance (toggled on or off), you simply react accordingly. What if it's... 50%? Would you risk it?
Title: Re: What is "hacking?" Or more aptly, what do you want out of it?
Post by: Elestan on September 02, 2016, 02:16:09 AM
I very much like the presence of Hacking in the game, but I think the implementation could use some work.  Here are some ideas to play with:

Make AI Command stations have modules in them, to provide hacking targets that do different things.

One of the modules is the computer core.  Flying a Hacker in and target-clicking the computer core starts to "mine" the HaP from the core.  Each CS can only be mined for a limited number of HaP.

There are a variety of other targets that the Hacker can hack by flying in and attack-clicking on them.  In each of these cases, it drains HaP to achieve some effect:

The nice thing about this hacking approach is that it's way more intuitive.  You build a hacker, then you click on what you want to hack.  No messing around with special submodules.

I'd also suggest that there be different Marks of Hackers, with different abilities.  Maybe Mk1 has no cloak, Mk2 has a cloak, maybe Mk3 can target other ships with their hacking beams for no HaP cost; this just serves as a Paralyzing attack that does Reclaimation damage over time.

Regarding Hacking Response:  This is actually one of my least-liked game elements, because it involves the AI getting the "magic" ability to materialize a potentially infinite number of ships out of empty space.  This feels like a contrived gimmick; If the AI really had such a capability, it should be using it in response to all kinds of provocations, and gate raiding would be pointless.

IMHO, instead of just sending in a bunch of ships, the AI should do something more interesting.  Maybe if the player has a lot of excess HaP, the AI doesn't even immediately sense the hack.  After all, hacking is supposed to be stealthy.  At the next stage, the AI senses the hack, but not its location, so it starts a "trace" action through the warp network.  This could involve some eyecandy like a "probe beam" firing from the AI Homeworld and flying through a wormhole to strike an adjacent AI CS on the path to the system being hacked.  After some amount of time (maybe dependent on excess AIP and/or the type of hack), that AI CS relays the beam through a warp to the next system.  This "trace" continues until it reaches the system where the hack is happening.  Players can interfere with the trace back having other Hackers doing "Computer core" hacks on the systems in between.  If the system being hacked is cut off from the AI, an extra delay at the AI CS before the gap.

When the beam reaches the CS in the target system, the next hop is to the actual item being hacked (if it isn't a CS module).  The hop after that is to the Hacker...*kaboom*.

The nice thing about this kind of hacking response is that it's way more interesting/unique than just having to fight a bunch of extra ships.