Hack the Planet!

The last couple of days, I’ve been implementing a Breakout-style hacking/lockpicking minigame.

When I started thinking about doors and locks in Die Augen der Welt, I realized that a lockpicking minigame based on a pin tumbler lock wouldn’t be thematically appropriate. Die Augen‘s world is a slightly futuristic alternate timeline version of our own world, so I imagined that most secure facilities would use electronic locks instead of mechanical locks. This meant I could develop a single minigame to be used for both lockpicking and hacking, because they share the core premise of unauthorized entry into an electronic system.

Although I couldn’t utilize the affordances of mechanical lockpicking, I wanted a minigame which modeled breaking into a secure system, at least in an abstract way. For inspiration, I talked to friends and looked at reference from hacking interfaces in other games. The node control minigame in Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a favorite for a few reasons: it was tense and fast-paced, it modeled the domain in a clever way, and it had room for player growth and expressive play. I wasn’t sure I could afford to develop and iterate upon a completely original minigame like DXHR did, so—validated by BioShock‘s appropriation of Pipe Mania—I looked for classic games I could repurpose as a hacking minigame.

My first idea was a sort of Tetris puzzle mode where the player would have to clear the board using a fixed number of pieces. In a very abstract way, the fixed bricks would represent firewalls and the falling pieces would be some sort of software to bypass them. But that sort of puzzle was more prescriptive than I wanted. There is generally only one correct way to solve them. And designing interesting and unique puzzle boards for each locked door or hackable machine in the game would be an additional burden.

I liked the simple, abstract affordance of breaking through literal barriers with a piece of software, which led me to my second idea: a version of Breakout where the goal is not to clear every brick but simply to get the ball to the far end of the board. In a way, this is a more intuitive model of breaking into a system, poking holes in each consecutive barrier. It fits my needs for the scope of the minigame, as boards can be both rapidly developed and reused. And it offers the possibility for some player growth or expressive play, if I choose to add Arkanoid-style power-ups.

The first pass implementation is completed, but the pace of this minigame needs further testing and iteration later, in the context of real levels with proper lighting and AIs on patrols and such. The main world simulation (physics, AIs, etc.) continues to run while the player performs a hack, so she may be discovered if she takes too long. This increases tension, but also requires that the minigame be able to be completed in a timely fashion. (I also believe it is generally desirable for hacking and lockpicking minigames to be brief because the player may play them dozens or hundreds of times over the course of a game, and these minigames can feel like a chore when they take a lot of time to complete.)

Die Augen der what?

“Die Augen der Welt” is German for “the eyes of the world.” It is pronounced /diː ˈaʊgən deːɐ̯ vɛlt/ (or approximately dee OW-gən day-ə velt for English speakers).

Introducing “Die Augen der Welt”

Hi, I’m David Pittman. In 2013, I co-founded Minor Key Games and released Eldritch. Last month, my brother Kyle announced that MKG’s next release will be his 8-bit throwback Super Win the Game. And recently, I’ve been teasing my own next game on Twitter.

One of the biggest lessons I learned from Eldritch was the value of marketing. I played that game very close to the chest and waited until it was virtually finished to announce it. I felt I couldn’t afford to divide my time between development and PR, but I was also simply scared that something would go terribly wrong and I wouldn’t be able to finish the game after all. This time around, I aim to be open and transparent about what I’m making.

My next game, tentatively titled Die Augen der Welt, is a political thriller stealth game set in a neon-soaked surveillance state.

I’m starting this blog with the intent of providing updates every week or so. Some weeks, I might share an in-depth exploration of a topic I’ve been wrestling with; other weeks, just a brief summary of recent developments.

For now, I’ll provide a brief overview of what I’m planning for the game (with the usual developer caveat that much of this currently exists only in idea space and is subject to change):

  • Single-player, first-person, story-oriented stealth game
  • Narrative inspired by modern surveillance issues
  • Woman protagonist in an Edward Snowden-like role
  • Focus on pure stealth; no guns, minimal violence
  • Handcrafted, non-linear levels
  • On Windows, Mac, and Linux in early 2015

If you’re excited about what I’m doing here, be sure to subscribe to this blog, sign up for the Minor Key Games mailing list, and follow on Twitter at @DieAugenDerWelt.

Thanks for your time! And if you have any questions about Die Augen der Welt, hit me up on Twitter at @dphrygian or send me an email at [email protected].