Monday, March 06, 2006

The Best Games You've Never Played, Vol. 2

A couple of fun, free time-wasters that I have run across in my search for entertainment are from an understandably under-represented genre: computer hacking simulations.

The first was mentioned recently in Computer Gaming World (and on 1up.com) as one of their 101 Best Free Games. Chen Luu of X-K Security has produced a short series of text-based hacking simulations that, if nothing else, reinforce some basic networking ideas such as DNS lookup and telnet connections. Not completely intuitive, I had to read through the instructions a couple of times to get the general idea of what I needed to do. I found v 3.1 to be the most polished and easily approachable, and while no two games are identical, the overall approach to each quest is basically the same: look up the IP address, ping it, do a port scan, then telnet in and crack the password. Same steps every time; what differs is the payload -- you may be asked to copy a file, delete a file, or insert a virus. Other than that, though, gameplay is fairly limited. Being a network technician, though, I find it challenging to get in and out in as short a time as possible while still achieving the quest goals.

The second game is actually one I found a couple of years ago, most likely while I was searching for something else. Decker, by Shawn Overcash, isn't so much a hacker simulation as a cyberpunk hacker RPG. Playing as a mercenary, um, 'computer intrusion specialist', you pick and choose among contracts which pay greater or lesser amounts to achieve various goals -- changing database information, erasing critical files, inserting a virus -- but with the added bonus of getting to keep anything else you find while sneaking around inside the target's computer. Of course, the target systems don't sit around and let you have free run of their data -- you have to deal with (or avoid) countermeasures which may disconnect or even kill your character.

With the money gained from sucessfully completing missions and selling off odd bits of information you acquire, you can pay for hardware and software upgrades to your cyberdeck: attack, defence, concealment, regeneration, and decryption (plus many other stats) are affected by the quality of components you can afford and the distribution of skill points.

The only thing that threw me off when first playing was the graphics -- although you have a character sprite in the main window, you don't actually move it around. Think 'Legend of Zelda' -- yes the original one. When you were in a castle, you had a main screen that showed Link and the enemies in a given room, and an overhead map in one corner that showed the room's relative position in the castle. In Decker, your character sprite doesn't actually move around the inside of the room -- directional movement only occurs between rooms on the main map. A little disorienting at first, it does allow for fast and easy gameplay when you get used to it. Of course, Decker's source code is available under the GNU Public License, so if anybody feels like changing that, let me know.

All right folks, that's it. Nothing more to see here. Now go out there and get your hack on.

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