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A Brief Introduction to Decker, Part 3: Radio Shack Attack

Part 1 of this series introduces Decker and how it relates to the roguelike game genre.

Part 2 considers the part of the game the supports the action: character development, examining the cyberdeck, and obtaining or building new hardware and software.

In this post, we’ll carry out a typical cyberhit against a future version of Radio Shack, and snatch a little bit of something for ourselves in the process. First, however, let’s review our mission.

The Mission

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We’ll rejoin our fledgling hacker at the hub. Click on “View Contracts” to review the mission.

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When we’re looking for a mission, this shows a list of available missions. If we accept a mission (which we have), it shows the details for the current mission. Our contract states that all we have to do is break into the Radio Shack computer system, and disable the alarm systems. We’re probably facilitating a robbery or corporate espionage. Contracts can have more complex requirements, such as not setting off alarms, or even completely trashing a system. For now, we’ll be satisfied with something this simple, and the lousy payment of 105 credits.

Note that the deadline is in one day. If we disconnect for any reason, that’s a day’s work done. Reconnecting can only be done on the following day, so we better be done by the deadline, or our reputation will suffer.

Well, what are we waiting for, let’s indirectly hurt some people!

In The Matrix

Clicking Enter the Matrix takes us to the matrix screen. Finally, some action!

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Not exactly the strange trip that William Gibson portrayed, but it’ll do.

Hitting F1 gives us a pretty good heads up as to what’s going on here, but I’ll elaborate a little.

  • Node – a visual representation of items/enemies within a node, generally you (the blue smiley face) and the system ICE, but also components within a node. The oval in the center, for example, represents the entrance to the system; this is a portal node.
    • Note: though the node contains a grid, you don’t actually have to move around within the node. You only hop from node to node, and can exercise your influence on any ICE in the node, or the node itself, while you are in it.
  • Software Loaded – shows the software actively running on your cyberdeck. Double-clicking an item activates that software.
  • Node Status – indicates the node name, software acting on that node (Smoke or Silence software, for example), and system alert status (green, yellow, or red).
  • ICE Status – indicates the status of the currently targeted ICE (marked in the node by a red crosshair), software acting on that ICE, and its health.
  • System Map – a diagram indicating the layout of the system, and your location, marked by a white crosshair. Symbols in this diagram indicate what types of nodes these are, here, the pink rectangle represents a portal node.
  • Deck/User Status – indicates your deck’s health, and, as you purchase more monitoring equipment, your personal health. The topmost panel shows the ‘health’ of your deck. The bottommost panel shows software affecting your status (currently Armor and Hide).
  • Mission Clock – the chronograph in the upper left of the deck notes the time spent within the system. As described before in part 1, Decker is a turn-based roguelike in which time stands still until you make a move. Each action you take lasts exactly one second.

Again, the game’s helpfile goes further into detail, but we have enough to go on for now. On we go!

Moving Forward

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Let’s take another look at our first screen. Recalling our contract, we’re looking for the I/O node responsible for maintaining the alarm systems at Radio Shack. Looking at the map, we see that there is only one place to go, and that’s up. Let’s start looking in that direction.

  1. Click the up arrow in the interface, or use the up arrow key.

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Great, trouble already.  The gateway ICE “Fence 2198″ has seen through our feeble Hide software and has barred us from leaving the node. It is demanding our user credentials! Hide allows us to pass through a system undetected, but it fails pretty often. Fortunately, we’re already bristling with a half-dozen ways of dealing with such a threat:

  1. We can disconnect, running away like scared children.
  2. We can silence the node and attack all the ICE within it, bashing our way through the system and likely setting off a red alert.
  3. We can attempt to trick the ICE with false user credentials.

That third option is the most attractive. Let’s be sneaky, let’s Deceive.

Engaging in Deception

Our abilities are pretty feeble, so let’s fire off a blast of static first with Smoke. The resulting electronic noise will raise our Stealth stat temporarily. Then, we’ll follow up with our Deceive software, and hope the gateway ICE lets us through.

  1. Click on the ICE that’s troubling you to select it, or hit tab until it is targeted.
    1. Note the ICE is in yellow alert.
  2. Double click on the Smoke and Decieve software in the left panel, or use the hotkeys: ‘K’ for Smoke, and ‘D’ for Deceive.

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Hey, it worked! But the smoke dissapated already! Let’s split before that Attack ICE gets wise.

Meet the System Core

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Just one jump from the portal node is the CPU node, or core. What horrible security. The CPU node is a great place to find, and we’re going to milk it for all its advantages. First, note these two important buttons:

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These may look a little different based on the skin you’re using (see part 1), but their function is the same. The top button reveals every node in the system on the system map, the bottom creates a backdoor, allowing us to zip right to the CPU node the next time we connect to this system. If we happen to take another contract attacking Radio Shack, we’ll start here rather than the portal node. The two buttons to the right of the system map button will crash the system or ‘politely’ shut it down, but they are only available if we kill off all the ICE in the node first, which is not a necessary task at this point.

  1. Click the system map button until a full area map is displayed.
  2. (Optional) Click the create back door button until a back door is created.

The latter step is trickier to pull off, and thus less likely to succeed. It may even cause an instant red alert, which will make your job much tougher. But, what the heck.

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Trouble again. The Protector ICE saw through our disguise and wants to verify our credentials. Fortunately, another Smoke + Deceive combo satisfies for now. Let’s try for that system map again.

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Not too complicated a layout. I/O nodes are yellow triangles on the system map, so we’ve narrowed our search down to two targets. There are other I/O nodes here as well – triangles marked with other glyphs – that have specific system functions, and can be ruled out as our target. These are useful for other hacks, such as disabling alarms or cutting off ICE reinforcements. You’ll have to investigate their use on your own, or consult the help file.

Before we hop off to the first I/O node, let’s push our luck for a back door.

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Bingo. No challenges, no red alerts. Let’s move on.

If This is Our Objective, I/O You a Drink

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Two hops to the left takes us to the first triangle on our map, IO-0000A. Pressing the Scan Node button, marked with spectacles, initiates the Scan software, which will tell us what the node does (hotkey ‘S’).

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Hm, nothing of interest here. So, now we know where our target node is: the topmost yellow triangle. Let’s hop on over there.

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On our way are a couple data storage nodes, marked by blue squares. These can contain mission objectives, but also valuable data in its own right: blackmail videos, pirate software, and passcode files. We’ll return to these later for some extra cash. Onward to the next I/O node!

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Ah, we’re in luck. A quick Scan tells us this is the node we’re looking for, and as a bonus, there are no ICE to bug us about our user credentials. Amateurs. All we have to do here is click the Activate I/O button to fulfill our contract! (It’s the button that looks like a light switch.)

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And just like that, our contract is complete, and we can collect our paltry fee. But why stop there?

Scan and Evade

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One hop to the left is a potential treasure trove of digital ducats: a data storage node. It’s like raiding the company database. It won’t be as easy as flipping that I/O node, however, as it’s guarded by Guardian and Attack ICE. In the future, a higher Stealth skill rating, better Hide software, and some custom hardware will allow us to worry less about ICE like this. For now, let’s hope we don’t have to deal with them.

The same Scan software we used to verify our target can be used to examine all the files in this node, but we’ll also need to use Evaluate to figure out which ones are worth stealing, and then take the time to download them.

  1. Click the Scan Node button (spectacles) or use hotkey ‘S’ to start a scan.
  2. Repeatedly click the Wait button (hourglass) or hotkey ‘W’ to pass time while the scan runs.
  3. Once the scan is complete, run an evaluation of the files to determine their value. Double-click Evaluate in the software panel, or use hotkey ‘E.’
  4. Repeatedly wait until evaluation is complete.
  5. Click the Download button to bring up a list of evaluated files to download.
  6. Double-click the file you wish to download.
  7. Continually wait until the download is complete.

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At any point during the above actions, you can be detected and queried by ICE, which will prevent you from performing your task.

Turns out, a curious bit of roving Probe ICE has done exactly that, and just might ruin our good time.

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A one-two of Smoke and Deceive fails, and the whole system is now at alert level yellow. This means that all actions, even just running idle with Hide, are now more easily detected. Worse, if we don’t answer this Probe affirmatively, the system goes to red alert, and we get attacked by the Guardian and Attack ICE present in this node… and more ICE gets called directly here. Here, we can:

  1. Run Silence to keep the node from summoning more help, but immediately get attacked by the present ICE. Plus, we risk Silence failing.
  2. Try Smoke and Deceive again, and hope for the best.
  3. Call it a day and disconnect. Since our primary task is complete, we still collect our money.

I’m going to hedge my bets and go for option 2.

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Whew. In the meantime, our scan is still running. Let’s skip to the finish line, run Evaluate, then see what we can steal for our private blackmail collection.

Downloading for Fun and Profit

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We’ve finished our scan, and have waited impatiently through an Evaluate of the most interesting files.  We have three items of interest in this node:

  • Records of illegal activity, worth 28 credits.
  • Source code for Slow software.
  • Security files that aren’t worth anything.

You can download anything you see here, but only the above three make any sense. The illegal activity records are worth 28, probably after you fence them to a third party who then ‘sells’ them back to Radio Shack or other interested parties. The pirated source code isn’t worth anything, but it does enable you to create your own Slow software in the project screen (covered in Part 2 of this guide). This can save you money otherwise spent at the marketplace. The security files are attractive, but worthless, and we’ll skip them.

We’re going to download the illegal activity records and the software source for Slow (and you can search the help file for what Slow does to ICE). As detailed before in Scan and Evade, we will:

  1. Click the download button. A list of available files appears.
  2. Double-click the file you wish to download.
  3. Continually wait until the download is complete.

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Download progress is shown on the Decker status panel. Leaving the node, or starting another download will cancel the download.

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Whew! There were no further queries or challenges from ICE, and the alert level stayed steady at yellow. There’s no further data of interest here. We’re done with this node.

Heading Home

Under normal circumstances, our poverty level would drive us to search out the other data storage node. For the purposes of this tutorial, however, I’m going to wrap things up. Let’s disconnect from the matrix and collect our pay.

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Here, we see that  our mission was a success, that we completed our objectives (just one, this time), and that we took home a little extra money in the form of stolen data. Plus, we’re rewarded with an increase in skill. Let’s visit the character screen to beef up our character.

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Increasing the Stealth rating by 1 point.

Stealth is pretty important, we don’t have to deal with as many queries from ICE, and we can do our work faster without the constant Smoke and Deceive. Your priorities may be elsewhere, though, and you may want to pump your attack or analysis skills instead.

To increase a skill, you must spend skill points equal in number to that skill. For example, if your Analysis skill is 10, you need to spend 10 skill points to bring it to 11. Skill upgrades quickly spiral upward, so you must continually work tougher jobs to get skill points.

To complicate things further, working the same level of difficulty of contract has diminishing returns in skill point rewards, simulating the effect of a lack of challenge on personal skill. This propels you to seek ever-tougher jobs to increase your abilities. Don’t worry, though, since you can play the game at your own pace and the only time limit I’ve seen is the need to pay the rent on time!

From the character screen, we can move on to the projects screen to build ourselves a copy of Slow, which we can then upload to our deck, or simply head over to the contracts screen to find another job:

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Ah, a job market that isn’t depressing.

Ah, I see that Radio Shack could use another lesson in humility. We’ve already demonstrated that we’re capable of stealing whatever data we’re interested in, and the fact that we left a good-sized back door behind makes this task doubly of interest…

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The dirty game is again afoot. Time to put those database raiding skills to good use!

Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial on Decker and have found it useful. If you haven’t tried the game yet, do so! It’s free, and it’s pretty fun.

Even if you don’t enjoy Decker, you may still find the genre of roguelikes and/or tactical, turn-based, single-player dungeon hack games attractive. You can check out more complex ones such as Nethack or Adom, or still simpler roguelikes such as DoomRL or even Drainstorm.

3 comments

  1. Hey, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy the game. Though Decker is unique, even now, among roguelikes, there are others out there. Maybe not with the same cyberpunk theme, but they’re out there!

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