Yesterday I posted a long write up of my thoughts on Fallout 3. In my haste to get that written and get off to bed, I forgot one of the main points I wanted to talk about, although in retrospect I think that it deserves its own post anyhow.
The Hacking Minigame
Scattered across the Wastes, whether in museums, house, or random places that just happen to have turrets nearby, you'll stumble across old computer terminals. These may be useless systems that just contain a random citizen's poetry about the current situation, or control the turret system you're about to walk into, or do anything in between. Some of the terminals are just open, these are almost always of the useless 'poetry' variety. Most, however, are password protected which gives you two ways to get inside of them. Ok, possibly three if there's a "D - none of the above" choice, Such as just blowing up the turret you want stopped.
The easiest way to get in is searching the surrounding area for a password. Yes, just like in real life, the denizens of the Wastes write down their password, and stick it in their desk (or in their pocket, or corpse...). I chuckled a little bit the first time I found one of these in a desk.
The normal way to break in to the terminal is the hacking minigame. I've seen a few of these over time, ranging from simple "Guess the password" Flash games, to HBH and Hack This Site, and this was probably the simplest one that captures the feel of real hacking.
When you open up a locked terminal, you'll see a screen like the following:
At the top you see 'Attempts Left', this starts at 4 most of the time, and counts down. If you ever use all your attempts, the computer is locked down, and unless you have a special skill you're out for good.
Below that is a bunch of plaintext and garbage. This is supposedly a recovered password file, and its up to you to figure out what's the correct password. You do this like Mastermind, you pick a plaintext string, and it'll tell you how many letters are correct, and in the correct spot. If the password was Grapes, and I clicked on Kitten I'd get back 1/6. Statistically this becomes very hard once you get up to hard terminals that have 8 characters and a bunch of choices. The way to make it easier is to look through the garbage for hints. Anytime you find matching braces, parenthesis, or brackets, you select the first one and it'll either remove a dud string, or replenish your allowance. Unlike the plaintext words, you must mouse over the first character in one of these garbage strings to see the whole thing highlighted. On my old TV this was a lesson in squinting and frustration, trying to pick out the parens from braces.
Once you correctly input the password, the computer is forever open to you (and you get 44 experience, regardless of level!).
The reason I liked this minigame, is its darn close to reality. Not in the actual skills used, but through the sifting through of a bunch of garbage, trying to figure out what's valuable and what's just another corrupted file. You have to sit there, be patient, and keep trying. In some cases you have to cancel your attempt because you're about to lock the system, and start all over again. Sure, when script kiddies can just release a botnet these factors are mitigated, but at the heart of it all, it comes down to noticing the little things (oh, look, an old Apache install), having to piece things together (Hmm, they plugged all the holes in Apache, but I noticed there's .php pages, maybe mod_php is old), and hoping you're going after a user that's careless enough to leave their password laying on the desk.
And of course, there's always the ability to bypass getting into the system, and simply pick the lock on the safe, or destroy a turret or two and forget about the system.
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