ATDT Pre-Alpha Progress Update 1

Posted on Mar 13, 2013

Please excuse the poor frame-rate. I used QuickTime to make the recording and for some reason it was killing the frame rate on my system. The game engine is actually very snappy and runs at a full 60 FPS as one would expect for a simple 2D game.

ATDT by the way, is just a code-word I’m using to talk about the game for now. I’m not sure that it will be the final name for the game. But it does hint at what the game is about…

The inspiration behind this game comes from a number of different sources but the primary one being a book called, Underground, by Suelette Dreyfus. The wikipedia entry gives a good synopsis of the book:

Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier is a 1997 book by Suelette Dreyfus, researched by Julian Assange. It describes the exploits of a group of Australian, American, and British black hat hackers during the late 1980s and early 1990s, among them Assange himself.

I read this book more than ten years ago but it has always stuck with me. I was never involved in any of the groups or exploits generally associated with black hat hackers but I was very active in the BBS scene in my area and I’ve always had some fascination with those early halcyon days. In some way I connected with many of the protagonists in the book. They were intelligent, mild-mannered, and obsessive about learning how the world around them works. And I suppose I felt a kinship as figuring out BBSs was a frontier for me and I had no map or manual to speak of. It was a virgin territory and a secret world only I and a handful of people like me knew about.

As I’ve matured and learned what I know today about programming, operating systems, and security my relationship with this book has only become stronger. Where I found kinship with the characters in Dreyfus' book I’ve been simultaneously amused and disappointed with the portrayal of black hat hackers in mainstream media like Hackers, Swordfish, and the plethora of crime investigation shows. I’ve also watched how the reverberations from the events portrayed in Dreyfus' book continue to ripple across time. It seems like the battles from back then are still being fought as we speak. From anti-circumvention laws preventing consumers from unlocking their phones, to the massive government spying programs, to single-mothers being targeted by the copyright syndicate; it all seems like it started with curious tinkerers and paranoid governments clashing over a new frontier.

My game, ATDT, is built around a fictional conspiracy that uses a lot of this real-world computer crime history as its foundation. There’s a certain realism to the story that I want to maintain and a message I hope will come through.

Some other inspiration for the game came from Double Fine’s, The Cave. It is probably one of a handful of games that I’ve played, finished, and replayed several times. It might even have the distinction of being played through more than twice. I really loved how they refreshed the adventure game by simply changing up the control mechanics. I always really liked the adventure-game genre but the point-and-click control schemes seemed more like a technological limitation than a genre feature to me.

I hope that ATDT will be able to explore this further by adding action and stealth to the mix. Where The Cave had a few NPCs and monster obstacles it still felt strongly tied to the adventure-game cliche of these concepts as… well as obstacles. Your interaction with them is nothing more than a cut-scene or having the right object in your inventory. A strong part of the game play in ATDT will be infiltrating corporate and government installations and will require not only puzzle solving but either stealth or action to sneak past the guards or out-run them. ATDT will feature many optional paths to the goal and will entice players to think on their feet and plan ahead.

And finally one last element of inspiration that brought this game together is the venerable, Elevator Action. This was one of my favourite games of all time. ATDT will incorporate some of the aspects of this game and add a new layer on top. I hope to not only incorporate hiding behind doors and other objects but to have an, “incognito,” system much like the famous Assassin’s Creed games. The guards should be intelligent enough to tighten up security when they think something is going on. Disguises, social engineering, faked credentials should all be useful… if there’s a way you can think of to get around a security system you should be able to do it. However the guards should have the same options: if there’s a way they can stop intruders they should use it. Radios, shift rosters, etc. A disguise may work on an average guard but a shift-boss is going to know and recognize who’s on duty.

Which leads me finally to my last inspiration: a realistic portrayal of black hat hacking at the time! Realistic characters! A plausible conspiracy! And hopefully something to learn from all of this!

Anyway, I should get back to work… I’ll post more soon.