How To Win At Hacking: A Guide

2013-05-30

Odyssey is coming, and with it, the demise of “push button, recieve loot” hacking and archaeology sites. The hacking minigame is up in functional form on Sisi and I spent the better part of a day working on it, then explaining how it worked to all and sundry. Many people asked me to turn it into a post – most notably Trebor, mynnna, and my corp IRC – so here it is.

As has been previously reported, devblogged, and demoed at Fanfest, the hacking minigame itself is a cross between Rogue and Deus Ex played on a procedurally-generated board. It’s turn-based, so there’s no need for fast reactions or mouse clicks. You have a virus and you force your way through system defenses while looking for a core. Once you find it, you break it open and the container spews forth a ton of tiny little cans containing anything from Carbon to a faction tower BPC.

GAME SETUP

Here’s what the board looks like on Sisi with different pieces labeled:

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It’s a little different from previous iterations, and it feels cleaner and more open. Your probability of success at hacking a given container depends on two stats: virus strength and virus coherence. Virus coherence is the “hit points” of your virus, and boosts to this mean that you survive longer when fighting an enemy defensive node. Virus strength is how much damage you deal when attempting to hack an enemy node. Of the two, bonuses to virus strength are stronger. When you attack a node, it hits back according to its virus strength, unless your attack dealt the final blow to it, in which case it dies before it can strike back. This means that virus strength bonuses, by making it faster to destroy an enemy node, also increase your survivability.

There are four different types of defensive nodes you can encounter. Each enemy node has its own strength and coherence based on what kind of node it is and how difficult the site is. Uncovering one will lock the surrounding nodes so they can’t be interacted with. Here’s what the defensive nodes look like:

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A firewall and an anti-virus are basically the same thing, just with different strength/coherence combinations. Anti-viruses tend to have higher strength and lower coherence, while firewalls have middling strength and high coherence. Virus suppressors reduce the strength of your virus and have low to middle strength and a middling amount of coherence. Restoration nodes have low strength and high coherence, but boost all the exposed defense nodes for every turn they’re left alive. Lastly, the system core is the actual trigger for the lootsplosion. Mechanically, it acts like a firewall, with generally low strength and variable amounts of coherence.

There are also four utilities you can pick up, shown below alongside their effects. These utilities are incredibly helpful in ensuring your survival and getting you through some of the nastier defensive nodes.

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GOING HACKING

To go forth and do sites, you’ll need a ship with a probe launcher to find them (for an Odyssey probing overview, check out Kcolor’s video), a prop mod to slowboat the sometimes incredible distance from the warp-in, and as many hacking/archaeology bonuses you can cram in. You’ll also want a cargo scanner, as the hackable containers can be scanned to reveal potential loot drops. As I mentioned before, you’ll want to get the most virus strength you can get, followed by increasing virus coherence. If you’re not undocking for a specific site, you should plan to do either a hacking or archaeology site – they use the same mechanic. In nullsec, a cloak to avoid ganks is probably a wise fitting choice. What you don’t need is any tank or guns. As of Odyssey, rats have been completely removed from the hacking sites, although there are at last test a few bugged spawns on sisi.

When you start, you’ll have just a few unexplored nodes. Click on one, and keep clicking until you hit your first defensive node. If you find a data cache, don’t flip it over until you’ve explored every node touching it– some data caches conceal defensive nodes, and you don’t want a promising exploration route cut off too early.

When you hit that defensive node, what you do depends on what kind of node it is. If it’s a regenerative node, absolutely kill it right away. Every turn that node lives for will make the other nodes harder to kill. If it’s a virus suppressor, you might want to kill it– check whether it will kill you first. It will take you (node coherence)/(your strength) = n attacks rounded up to kill it, and in that time it will do (node strength) * (n-1) damage to you.

So for example, if you have 110 coherence/10 strength (post-suppression) and the virus suppressor has 70 coherence/20 strength, it will take you 70/10 = 7 hits to kill it. In that time, it will do 20*6 = 120 damage to you, so you will not survive the encounter. Bad luck, find a utility to help you out. This also demonstrates the value of a strength bonus (and the deadliness of the virus suppressor): with 20 strength, your virus would destroy the defense node in 4 hits and you would take only 60 damage.

If you run into a firewall or anti-virus, just go around it while unexplored nodes exist. Pick a different route and explore the whole board before going into combat you don’t need– the system core might be in an accessible but as-yet unexplored node, making your game easy.

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A game mid-hack. I’ve got plenty of coherence and plenty more board to explore, so it’s looking good.

As you explore, you’ll likely pick up utilities to use. When to use them is a strategic decision that becomes easier with experience. You’ll want to pick them up as soon as you see them, though, in case a neighboring node is revealed to be a defensive node. If that happens, you won’t be able to access the utility until you kill the defensive node, which isn’t often worth it.

Similarly, you’ll want to kill the core as soon as you can find it, assuming you can with your given virus strength and coherence. Again, you can use math to check this out. If it’s impossible, explore for utilities but try to avoid clicking on any of the core’s unexplored neighbors – if they’re defensive nodes, you won’t be able to hit it.

LOOTING

Once you bust open the system core, you encounter the controversial loot explosion. The structure being hacked jettisons a bunch of tiny little cans you capture and automatically loot. The idea behind this is that a partner is no longer a liability in a hacking site. The total potential yield from a structure is more than twice its Retribution value and the solo explorer is only expected to collect about half of it, leaving the other half for a friend.

Mechanically, you single-click on a can that’s in range (colored green) to start tractoring it to your ship with the built in tractor beam. The can blinks a little and a tractor effect starts sucking it in. All other cans in-range cans turn yellow for the duration of the tractor beam. Double-clicking on a can approaches it, although velocity changes have reduced the need for chasing down a can-swarm.

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My little exploration frigate chasing down cans

If you’re navigating around, it’s important to note that whatever you click on once the tractor is available again is what you’ll start tractoring in. Cans have different names based on their content. I’ve seen Scraps Container, Parts Container, Data Container, Materials Container, and Equipment Container so far. Scraps Containers are worthless, holding only scrap materials. Depending on the drops, other containers vary in worth; data containers contain data sheets, blueprints and the like, while materials and parts containers contain, well, what it says on the tin. These are the cans which hold the salvage in a relic site. Overall, I’ve gotten 5-10m a structure on average in nullsec (~40-60m/site), with some higher-value drops as well.

If you’re playing with a friend, they can hack another can at the same time as you. When someone finishes, the other person can minimize the hacking game and help collect loot.

THE FUTURE

CCP has taken a great deal of fire for the minigame in general and the loot explosion mechanic in particular. They’ve been really responsive to the feedback so far – the current thread is here and contains tons of blue posts. Balance tweaks are still ongoing.

Past Odyssey, CCP has stated that they want to keep iterating on the feature and make it more strategic. Utilities may eventually make it to the market, improving the yield of the sites in potential isk from the goods. The hacking game is also detatched from the cans themselves, meaning it can be attached to other structures in the future. Altogether, it’s a neat structure on which more interesting things can be built, and it’s already an improvement on switching ships or afking while a module runs.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Ali Aras, and originally appeared on TheMittani.com under his byline.)

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