The world of Static Sky pays homage to the “high tech and low life” focus of classic cyberpunk fiction. Hacking often plays a prominent role in these stories and we’re working hard to ensure that it is treated as a first-class game mechanic that opens opportunities for meaningful and emergent gameplay.
When we set out to design Static Sky’s hacking system, we didn’t know what it should be like — all we knew was that it needed to be more than the simple mini-game or dice roll present in most games. Rather than looking to games for inspiration, we turned to visual programming interfaces and professional audio software. Our idea was that hacking would be an opportunity to engage the player in their role as the remote operator of the characters (rather than something done by a “hacker” character class) and allow them to see and manipulate the underlying structures and behaviors in the world by rewiring the connections between objects.
With that in mind, we built a simple prototype scenario involving a camera, an alarm, and an automated gun turret (proof-of-concept demos are always more fun with live ammo). Once patched into this system by a character, the player re-wires the connections between the devices using a visual interface that is superimposed over the world. In addition to being able to manipulate the existing devices on the network, the player can upload their own pieces of software to interact with components.
In the prototype, the gun turret was positioned at the end of a long corridor. There was sufficient cover for the player to successfully move a fast techno-samurai to the turret (to initiate hacking), but the slower heavy weapons unit would be unable to make it from cover to cover while the turret was enabled. The catch was that simply disconnecting the camera from the gun turret would disable the turret but would also cause the alarm to go of, calling in enemy reinforcements before the player could bring their heavy up for support. The initially planned solution was for the player to load a “null device” onto the network between the camera and the gun so that the gun never gets a confirmed enemy from the camera and never triggers the alarm.
Sometimes, however, it is much more fun when things don’t go as planned. One of the debug virtual devices that we wrote when designing the system spits out random location vectors. During playtesting, a new (and much more entertaining) strategy emerged: The alarm would be intentionally activated as “bait.” When enemies responded, this debug device was plugged into the turret, causing the area to be sprayed with bullets. Realizing that we could not only bypass, but subvert, the enemy’s defenses added a new dimension to our design strategy for hacking in Static Sky.
Our system still lacks polish, but even in its current prototype state it is proving to be a fun and flexible way to add depth to the world. We’re really looking forward to seeing how we can open up our gameplay for re-wiring, to getting it into your hands so that we can see all the cool and clever ways that you find to manipulate the world of Static Sky. If you have any questions or ideas, please share them in the comments below.