A Brief Introduction to Decker, Part 1 (a cyberpunk hacking roguelike)

I’ve played a few roguelikes on and off (mostly off) for the past ten years or so, starting with the venerable Nethack. I would play Nethack for a week at a time, building new characters, delving deeper within the Mazes of Menace, until I hit a kind of ‘research wall.’ I always became disillusioned by the need to access information outside the game and build arbitrary ‘ascension kits’ to succeed at a reasonable pace, instead of simply discovering winning strategies over time.

I think I’ve put Nethack down for good, but that doesn’t mean I have to go on without the more compelling features of a good roguelike. Luckily, there are quite a few rogue-inspired games around that cater more to casual play, and Decker is one of them. Taking place in a William Gibson-like cyberpunk world, you ‘punch deck’ to travel through cyberspace and commit cybercrime, all in the name of cyberprofit. Like many roguelikes, Decker has a bit of a learning curve, though it isn’t as complex as many of them. It is, however, worth more than an initial screenshot might indicate.

It's not the prettiest thing around, but having graphics at all already separates Decker from other roguelikes.

Here, we're breaking into Chevron's mainframe to shut down some security alarms, and steal some valuable files for our own purposes.

What’s a Roguelike?

2009-08-03_nethack

The current standard in dungeon hacking, Nethack. The graphics are rendered using ASCII characters.

I’ll put it briefly: if you don’t know what a roguelike is, check the Wikipedia definition for the most thorough description. Roguelikes are turn-based RPG games that usually share the following traits:

  • They’re often concerned mainly with combat, killing enemies, gathering experience points and items, upgrading your warrior, and moving on toward your ultimate goal, usually a McGuffin of some sort.
  • They’re difficult, often coupled with ‘permenant death,’ such that once you die, you cannot restore from a previous save.
  • The combat is usually turn-based, in that you can ponder your strategy as long as you like before striking.
  • The graphics are usually very simplistic, consisting of ASCII characters or simple glyphs representing items and enemies,
  • The ‘dungeons’ are randomly generated, resulting in a new play experience each time.

Though not a roguelike itself, classic action clicker Diablo borrowed a lot of the above traits to become one of the most popular PC games of all time. It’s kind of a real-time roguelike, though some of the nerdier roguelike players look upon its relative simplicity with a certain disdain.

Many roguelikes take place in fantasy dungeons, with rocky cave walls, magical attacks, and fantastic creatures. In Decker, you hack computer systems instead of dungeons, and launch software attacks instead of magic. Your enemies are varieties of ICE, or Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics, in place of orcs and goblins.

Getting Decker and Improving the Look

Decker’s free, of course. Download it here, then install the game.

Though it is unusual for a roguelike to have graphics, Decker’s rather eye-scarring in its initial form:

2009-08-03_decker_ugly

My eyes!

Fortunately, Decker’s look is easily modifiable, as each of the screen elements above is a bitmap that can be easily replaced by someone with sufficient skills. Unfortunately, owing to Decker’s niche appeal, the few fan-made skins available aren’t of professional quality. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt the gameplay much, which is fairly basic and requires a good deal of imagination anyway.

In addition to interface graphics, the graphics representing ICE, files, and other elements in “the matrix” are modifiable. Sounds are also easily replaced. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any, and lack the time or artistic merit to create my own. This project could do with an artist’s touch, and the developer certainly welcomes it.

Visit the skins section of the Decker homepage, download the skin of your choice, and unzip it directly into the DefaultGraphics folder of your Decker installation, overwriting all files. If you need to revert to the original skin, you can always just reinstall the game.

I chose the first skin in that section, and my Decker install appears as shown on the top of this post.

Next

So, we know roughly what to expect from Decker and can keep it from burning electric blue into our eyeballs. The next post will cover Decker gameplay.

Read part 2 of 3.

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