Improving the Mini-Game

Every once in a while, when things get slow in the Aptetter constellation, I'll clone jump a character out to the Solitude region, to run some exploration sites. For those unfamiliar with Solitude, it is a pocket of Gallente-held empire space, but you have to travel through several null security systems (or a wormhole connection) to get there. It's an interesting mix of high sec, low sec and 0.0 - something for everyone's tastes.

In fact, EVE University maintains a remote campus in Solitude, attended by a cadre of students who want to learn what it's like to live in this diverse and remote region. Since it is somewhat isolated from the rest of high sec, Solitude is sparsely populated. This means that I can always find lots of relic and hacking sites to play in, with little interference or competition from rival explorers. It's a great place to practice and master the hacking mini-game that was released as part of the Odyssey expansion last summer.

Before Odyssey was released, I was somewhat optimistic about the hacking mini-game. It looked like fun - certainly more engaging than the simplistic click-and-wait design of the original exploration sites. One could only put up with watching your analyzer module cycle so many times before you began to wonder why you were torturing yourself by doing it over and over. At least with the new mini-game, I reasoned, there should be some level of skill and interaction involved.  Besides, I love puzzles. How could this be anything but an improvement?

Now that I've had time to play with the hacking mini-game, I'm surprised to discover that it's not as much fun as it looked. After a few dozen tries, it grew nearly as tiresome as the old click-cycle-repeat method of the previous design. Nearly, I say - so that means it's just a tad better. This is not a compliment. 

The hacking mini-game

The hacking mini-game

Hacking to Win

A good introductory guide to the hacking mini-game is one written by CSM8 member, Ali Aras, in a post on news site. She does a nice job describing the mechanics of the game, and gives some useful tips for winning. For those who seek a more thorough guide, I'm pleased to recommend the one on the EVE University wiki, which goes into more depth and specific tactics.

For example, one of these tactics is to use a cargo scanner before activating a data or relic analyzer. This tells me what I'm playing for, and what kind of spewing containers to look for if I'm successful at cracking the mini-game.

After starting the mini-game window, I always try to open the nodes around the periphery first, if I can. If I encounter a defense subsystem, I'll simply leave it and pursue another route - unless it's a restoration subsystem, which I'll attack straight away. Opening nodes around the periphery first gives me no real advantage other than providing an orderly way of progressing through the network, with out missing any particular node. I find that sometimes I can circumnavigate past the defensive subsystems and get right to the core, but that is probably just dumb luck.

If your style is to penetrate into the middle of the network and then branch outwards, that will probably work as well, but I find I then have to trace back and check for unopened nodes - which consume precious seconds. When playing the hacking game, it's difficult to monitor your surroundings at the same time, so you are always vulnerable to gankers. A faster hacker is a safer hacker. That's why I use the perimeter first, then move inwards approach.

Using this method, I find that I am successful over four-fifths of the time. I'm sure I could get very close to 100 percent success if I kept track of the scores of my virus strength and coherence more closely, but I confess that I rarely do so anymore.  As I've hacked through dozens of exploration sites, I simply got too lazy to do the math.

How to Improve the Mini-Game

I have a few suggestions for CCP Games on how to make the mini-game more engaging and interesting.

  • Let us save any unused utility subsystems discovered in the network, if the player successfully wins the mini-game. These subsystems would appear as items in the cargo hold. They could then be sold (or purchased) in the market, and used in other hacking mini-games.
  • Let us use stored utility subsystems at the start of the mini-game. The player would have the option of dropping up to three utility subsystems into the designated slots in the mini-game, before clicking on nodes. The advantage, of course, is that these subsystems can be used immediately on any defensive subsystems encountered. The disadvantage is that if all three of the utility slots are full, any new ones discovered are lost. This puts the player in the position of making a choice of stacking the deck before the game, but not being able to use any aces that may come up in play, so to speak. It'd add another wrinkle of choice to the game.
  • Let us affect what kind of containers are spewed forth in the game. This would be accomplished by trading a selection of container types in exchange for higher difficulty (stronger defensive subsystems). For example, if I only wanted data containers to spew forth, I could "turn off" equipment, material, parts and scraps containers, but increase the level of system defensive coherence and strength for each type of container turned off. This is another choice that increases my chance of getting better loot, but at a higher risk of failure.
  • Let us affect the speed at which containers are spewed forth. An option for reducing the speed would likewise increase the level of system defensive coherence and strength - another trade-off of more reward against higher risk. 
  • Seed the level of loot relative to the risk levels selected above - more risk of failure selected by the player means more valuable stuff, potentially. 

In summary, give us more choices and the opportunity to set the parameters of the mini-game - the risk versus the reward. That way, the "high rollers" with higher tolerance for risk can be rewarded commensurately, while the casual hackers can win with regularity but with moderate rewards.

As I said, the hacking mini-game is better than the old exploration mechanic, in my opinion, but it's still a bit too basic for my taste. Once I figured out how to win the game with a fairly high degree of regularity, it started to go stale. A few additional ingredients should spice up the hacking mini-game nicely, however, without making it too complex. 

If you have any other ideas, please post them in the comments! 

Fly safe! o7



Hopeful for Hacking

In a dev blog post, CCP provided a glimpse of the new hacking and archeology exploration sites to be provided in the Odyssey expansion. Unlike the current system, which requires activating an Analyzer or Codebreaker module on some wreckage, and letting it cycle until it is opened, the new system will require pilots to win a "mini-game" before the hacked container opens.

The new hacking mini-game

The new hacking mini-game

Based on the brief description in the dev blog, the mini-game sounds potentially engaging and challenging, and could also introduce a whole new set of hacking-related items into the New Eden economy.

Essentially, the mini-game's objective is to trace a path along connected nodes in order to reach and destroy the "core". The contents of nodes are revealed as you trace your path, and they can contain items that can help or hinder your efforts along the way. You do not have an unlimited amount of time to complete your task, and overcoming the challenges along your path will require intelligent choices in overcoming the "coherence" (hit points) of defensive obstacles. If you fail, the container self-destructs.

If you succeed, then the container opens and spews items into space. This encourages pilots to bring colleagues along with them, so they can quickly scoop up all of the scattered items before they dissipate.

Unfortunately, only one player will be able to work the hacking puzzle - no cooperative hacking play will be possible, at least for the first iteration of the system - so any fleetmates will have to stand by patiently for the hacker to either succeed or fail.

Based on what has been revealed so far, I like this mini-game approach a great deal.

  • It should make hacking and archeology sites genuinely interesting and fun, if the mini-game is as engaging as it sounds. I wonder how skills will affect the likelihood of success. At top skill levels, does the mini-game become semi-automatic, or will there always be a significant risk of failure, regardless? If the mini-game becomes too easy, then the challenge fades and becomes boring again.
  • I also want to know more about the utility subsystems and how they work - do they provide some interesting new items to buy and sell in the markets?
  • Finally, if CCP is trying to encourage teams of players flying together into exploration sites, I think they should provide some mechanism for cooperative play in the mini-game, eventually.  How easy this could be provided for depends on the design on the solo mini-game, of course, but I hope it becomes possible - that would give exploration sites a whole new dimension of playability.

In short, at first glance, it all looks potentially very cool - I can't wait to try it, once it is released officially. On the test server, the current version of the mini-game does not yet work completely, but you can get an idea of how it will function. Based on what I see so far, I'm hopeful.

Fly safe! o7