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Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#1
Summary: Create a system for letting characters secretly do Bad Things, logging those actions, and allowing those logs to be obtained through hacking. This is needed in order to make unethical behavior risky -- not impossible, just risky.

AN ORIGIN STORY

In the April 2014 Devlog Discussion thread, the subject came up of players -- and presumably NPCs as well -- being able to perform clandestine actions in addition to their public actions.

One example would be taking a contract to deliver a valuable item, but secretly instructing some minions to waylay your freighter and "steal" that cargo, which they later deliver to you. Even if you pay a penalty for the delivery failure, if the item has special value for you it might still be worthwhile. Other economic shennanigans might also be possible if you can hide your actions.

In the March 2014 update thread, mcsven described needing to be able to create a fake ID to support this kind of devious behavior. He also pointed out that this could be extended to allow subterfuge in political/diplomatic gameplay as well.

This idea resurfaced in the April 2014 devlog discussion thread, with more emphasis on the point that making it work requires some way for characters to be able to hide some actions ("covert action"). I also suggested that knowledge of actions should matter, too -- NPCs need to be able to understand what it means to discover evidence that someone's been naughty. Providing both of these mechanics lets characters do underhanded things, but also creates a risk of negative consequences if the evidence of those actions is discovered.

I suggested some ideas for that in the April 2014 devlog discussion, but it occurs to me that this sort of buries a suggestion that more people might like to comment on. So I'm copying-and-tweaking that text into its own thread here.

DESIGNING A PAPER TRAIL SYSTEM

Although a false ID might still be useful, I'm thinking that the key component for a skullduggery system is a "paper trail." This would be a game mechanic that, for each significant action involving your character, a historical comment is added to an in-game file.

Some significant actions would be personal -- flew to Star System X, blew up a ship, mined an asteroid, discovered a new planet, etc. Those would generate long-term markers in your personal file. But an important additional class of significant actions would be key interactions with other characters. By logging these interactions, a paper trail is created that contains the evidence of all your meaningful deeds... and misdeeds.

RECORDING SIGNIFICANT INTERACTION EVENTS

The interactions part of this paper trail system needs some rules of play:

1. Every character has a "personal datastore" -- a physical object that contains the record of its owner's actions. Every official organization also has one "corporate datastore" associated with the character who runs that organization, but to which all members of the organization can write and read log entries. Finally, there is a universal "market datastore" that players can access that keeps the logs of all public contracts.

2. When you agree to a public contract, accept a private contract, or delegate or receive a goal, that interaction (including who you did the deal with) is logged to a datastore. (I assume this logging would have to follow similar rules as market trade logging to avoid chewing up too much disk space.)

A log entry for every significant interaction agreement is written to the private datastores of both parties. In addition, the log entry for those agreements may be written to other datastores:
  • Public contract: also written to the public market datastore.
  • Private contract: no additional logging.
  • Delegated organizational goal: also written to the organization's private corporate datastore.
3. Under certain circumstances (see below), other characters can access those datastores and copy individual log entries into a physical device.

4. Characters who obtain access to a device containing logs of some other character's actions can understand the meaning of that knowledge and use it to inform their own plans and actions.

CONSEQUENCES OF LOGGING SIGNIFICANT ACTIONS

These rules could have several interesting consequences.

Obviously you're not going to order nefarious things using public contracts. Even so, public contract logs should still be usable by NPCs for converting "what is my opponent doing?" pattern info into "what is my opponent planning?" beliefs for strategic competition play.

A log entry for every private contract would be written into the datastores of both parties to the contract. This means that trust matters, and creates motives for betrayal. Can you trust the NPC you paid to do some underhanded thing? If not, what are the odds that they -- and the datastore they carry that contains a record of your actions -- might suffer some unfortunately permanent accident?

CORPORATE DATASTORES

Something similar applies in the case of corporate datastores. I imagine this as a single datastore for each formally-constituted organization. Every significant interaction between characters who both belong to the same organization is logged into the corporate datastore. (I'm not sure how LT could distinguish between actions a character takes on behalf of the org and purely personal actions.)

Anyone in the org at or above the level of the highest-level character who did the deal would be able to read normal log entries. And official auditors for whatever legal body chartered that organization would also be able to read all normal log entries. There would, however, be an option for marking some log entries as "hidden." You'd only see those if you're the one who entered it, or if you're the one at the top of the organization.

(Note: I'm suggesting this "corporate datastore" feature because it supports corporate information warfare gameplay. Leaving it out would mean that, if you wanted to fight a corporation, you'd have to hack the personal datastores of multiple characters to try to find one of them with a record of bad behavior. That's not necessarily bad gameplay, but it's probably complicated enough that it would put off some players who might otherwise try this gameplay mode. Putting all of an organization's official actions in one place would promote this kind of gameplay.)

HOW TO CORRUPT AN ORGANIZATION

This implies that there might be two ways to hide bad actions related to an organization: mark dangerous log entries as hidden, and allow "off the books" contracts with characters who aren't in your organization.

Marking log entries as hidden in an corporate datastore implies that the organization itself understands that it's engaging in bad behavior (through the actions of its members acting on its behalf), since the person running the org could read any hidden logs and know who's doing what. If they don't fire your butt most rikki-tik, they -- and the whole organization -- become complicit in your activity.

Off-the-books contracts just become log entries in your personal datastores. This is the route you'd take if you wanted to hose an organization from within, or if you wanted to do something bad on behalf of the org but wanted plausible deniability.

THE ART OF THE HACK

These features combine to create some pretty nifty gameplay possibilities that complement the more overt shooty-bang-bang gameplay.

These could include double agents who get recruited into your organization (not unlike some of the backstabbery seen in EVE Online), or straight-up cyberninjas. In both these cases, enemies who can gain physical access to your datastore (personal or corporate) could try to decrypt it. In the case of an corporate datastore, they could also try to find and crack any hidden log entries. If successful, the damning log entries would be copied to the invader's datastore to use as they choose. Naturally, the owner of any datastore should be able to detect and fight such decryption attempts.

For obtaining access to a personal or corporate datastore, and for finding a specific log entry, I imagine that ThymineC's revised hacking interface might be just the ticket. You'd select the target datastore, then attempt to precisely match the unique frequency of the datastore's security program. When you think you've matched it closely enough, you click the "Do it!" button. If you're close enough, you get access without alerting the datastore's owner. If you're not close enough, the datastore's owner is notified of an failed attempt to hack their system.

If you're successful, then you get to try to find the log you want. And then copying an individual log to your personal datastore takes some time, so you can't just copy everything in one blast. (Just as a gameplay mechanic, I think allowing a hacker to copy all the logs from a successfully hacked datastore would make things too easy.) It might be fun to start a timer running at this point -- take too long to find some juicy information, and the datastore's owner is notified that someone is rummaging through their system.

OBJECTIONS AND RESPONSES

As with any system, this one is not perfect. Some questions I can think of:

1. Josh is not made of time. Implementing this feature might take time away from some other gameplay that more likely players would use.

Possibly true. That's a judgment call for Josh.

2. Many players may never use the "keep track of your significant actions" system. The effort spent on this feature would be wasted for them.

I would address this by finding additional fun uses for logging significant events. For example, it might be cool/useful to see a visual record of all the star systems you've visited -- a playback of this might look a little bit like the end-of-game playback mode from the original Civilization. (You can see an example of that in this video starting at timecode 7:15.)

Even if they don't use their personal or corporate datastores much, more players might find the public market terminal datastore useful for searching for the contracts other characters have offered or taken. But I suspect other enjoyable uses could be found for the personal and organizational databases.

3. Corporate datastores might be overkill. Maybe all that's really needed is logging significant actions to that character's personal datastore, and letting those be the target of hacking attempts.

I'd be open to this as a way to get the important parts of this system implemented. That said, I do like the idea of being able to hack corporate datastores to try to find their secrets. :)

4. If NPCs can do this, would it be fun to be hacked?

I'm naturally inclined to say "no, I wouldn't enjoy that," so I'd want NPC hacking of player characters to be very unlikely until they've taken actions to harden their datastores against intruders. Then it's a fair fight.

5. What if no hacking minigame is implemented?

Hacking is one way of making nefarious deeds risky. Without hacking, some other way would have to be found to maintain that risk of other characters finding out what you've done. Physically copying another character's datastore comes to mind, but I expect there are better solutions.

So, comments? Am I needlessly generating systems where existing game mechanics are enough? Or are there important systems required to make covert actions both possible and risky that aren't mentioned here?

Is this kind of information warfare too much for LT 1.0?

[edited for clarity/grammar]
Last edited by Flatfingers on Sun Apr 20, 2014 11:31 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#3
Thankee!

The basic idea is pretty simple: let characters do what they want, but record their important actions and give other characters a way (a hard way, but a way) to obtain the evidence of those actions.

The rest of my post was just me plowing through some of the implementation possibilities to see what might be needed for the idea to work.

Now that I think about it, I should add that this proposal addresses some of the questions in Hyperion's Contract Enforcement thread.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#4
Great post, Flat!

I have some comments that are in no particular order.
  • I would be keen for us to note that it doesn't have to be just for Bad Things. This system would also enable Robin Hood or Batman play options. The key point is that there are ramifications of doing this if someone finds out.
  • In some regards, what you're describing here would be a genuine extension to Josh's KS play styles - you're a Detective.
  • The potential for this system becomes incredible if you think about it for just a little bit; if nothing else, it gives you plenty of gameplay options once you've had enough of the primary challenges (exploration/empire building).
  • I agree that being hacked by the NPCs would be annoying... so it needs some consideration. I would suggest two things:
    • There need to be ECM (electronic counter-measures) options in addition to encryption. You need to have ways to protect your personal log. This feels like a natural extension of the research tree - if you think you fancy some Batman action, you can get your equivalent of Wayne Enterprises to do some heavy research in ECM to protect your actions.
    • I think the probability of an NPC hacking you could be related to your reputation. If you have a fantastic rep in a system, then an NPC in that system would be predisposed NOT to try and hack your log to see what you've been up to. Alternatively, an NPC in a system in which you're powerful but your rep isn't that great...
  • In many regards, the hacking part becomes the essential component of this system. I'm uncertain how I think hacking should be implemented. Thymine's system is thorough... but I think it may just be too involved; I may be tempted to say that I'd rather just have some sort of encryption/ECM rating system as per weapons, and if your hacking module is greater then it simply "wins" (i.e. it's just like combat). I need to think about it more. One thing that I do believe is that it should be only "do-able" when you're in your ship and flying around - i.e. another workspace, possibly enable by a hacking module.
  • After a successful hack, I think the game should help you to understand what the hacked NPC has been up to. This would probably mean displaying the log as a colour-coded list in which you can see illegal activity easily (e.g. it's highlighted in red).
  • Illegal is something of a potentially grey area... I think we'd probably want to say that there are universal laws that apply everywhere as a first. Otherwise the task grows enormously, since each region would have to write it's own ordinances.
Exciting stuff.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#5
Could the idea of finding information about your opponents be reversed so you could attempt to plant or fake information into someone else's datastore in an attempt to discredit them? If it worked you could ruin your opponents reputation, but if it failed then your reputation and the legitimacy of any further information you discover could be called into question.

Would the logging of data work in two ways so when you meet with pirates or any other nefarious characters then they have a record of the event as well and so the potential to discredit you, if this was the case then it could create a need to "tie up loose ends" after you have completed a mission. Perhaps the incriminating data could be salvaged from a destroyed ship and the AI would then take time to decode or even reconstruct the data if it is damaged, giving you a chance to try and stop them or the possibility of the data being destroyed, but this assumes that data is stored on-board each ship.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#6
Anonymouse wrote:Could the idea of finding information about your opponents be reversed so you could attempt to plant or fake information into someone else's datastore in an attempt to discredit them? If it worked you could ruin your opponents reputation, but if it failed then your reputation and the legitimacy of any further information you discover could be called into question.
This would be awesome as well. This is like Inception except without all the mind stuff, and I'm pretty sure Josh is a huge fan of that film.
mcsven wrote:Thymine's system is thorough... but I think it may just be too involved; I may be tempted to say that I'd rather just have some sort of encryption/ECM rating system as per weapons, and if your hacking module is greater then it simply "wins" (i.e. it's just like combat).
Sounds easy-to-use...but imo it's not involved enough.
mcsven wrote:There need to be ECM (electronic counter-measures) options in addition to encryption. You need to have ways to protect your personal log. This feels like a natural extension of the research tree - if you think you fancy some Batman action, you can get your equivalent of Wayne Enterprises to do some heavy research in ECM to protect your actions.
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mcsven wrote:I think the probability of an NPC hacking you could be related to your reputation. If you have a fantastic rep in a system, then an NPC in that system would be predisposed NOT to try and hack your log to see what you've been up to. A
Why?
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#7
ThymineC wrote:Sounds easy-to-use...but imo it's not involved enough.
Touche. Have to wait for the word from on high.
ThymineC wrote:Why?
Simply to stop NPCs spending their entire time trying to hack your stuff. Basically it's just the concept of "good cover". If you're a well known do-gooder, it seems unlikely that you'd be up to no good on the sly. That's not to say no NPC would ever not try and hack your log (perhaps a particularly evil one may fancy some blackmail or sometink like dat), just that it wouldn't be constantly happening.

It occurs to me that I'm still not sure, exactly, how you would perform some sort of covert action - or false flag operation - in the game. It seems that we deffo need some sort of universally applied Ship/Player ident system that you can either turn off... or simply replace with a new one. The latter would seem to be the best option. They should be REALLY expensive to buy, or you maybe able to salvage one from an NPC that you killed; in other words, at some extremely low frequency of occurrence, every now and again a vanquished foe drops their Ident system.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#8
mcsven wrote:
ThymineC wrote:Sounds easy-to-use...but imo it's not involved enough.
Touche. Have to wait for the word from on high.
True, though Josh did at one point say that the original hacking idea was "confirmed for LT2", and that one was even more in-depth than the revised proposal to the point of ridiculousness. It also didn't mesh well with the rest of the gameplay. But yeah, after that he might be looking for something a lot simpler.
mcsven wrote:
ThymineC wrote:Why?
Simply to stop NPCs spending their entire time trying to hack your stuff. Basically it's just the concept of "good cover". If you're a well known do-gooder, it seems unlikely that you'd be up to no good on the sly. That's not to say no NPC would ever not try and hack your log (perhaps a particularly evil one may fancy some blackmail or sometink like dat), just that it wouldn't be constantly happening.
But yeah, what you said in the second part. There's still going to be quite a lot of NPCs that are primarily interested in hacking into your databases to steal valuable information or sabotage your organisation, regardless of whether they think you're a do-gooder or not.

When I asked "Why?", I wasn't so much asking from a game mechanics POV (I get that), but more from a simulationist POV: "Why would a rational agent choose not to hack you just because you're a do-gooder?". A rational, self-interested agent that sees profit in sabotaging your corporation or obtaining private information about it might not care one way or another if you're a do-gooder, and IMO I would prefer that Josh doesn't tamper with the decision-making of NPCs and make them behave artificially in certain situations just for the sake of gameplay - I think he should design the surrounding mechanics in such a way that a rational self-interested agent would "naturally" act in a way that still made for good gameplay. So how can you design the system so that a rational self-interested agent won't hack you if you're a do-gooder? Or is there some other way that players can go about limiting the probability that they'll get hacked?
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#9
So how can you design the system so that a rational self-interested agent won't hack you if you're a do-gooder? Or is there some other way that players can go about limiting the probability that they'll get hacked?
What if instead of trying to prevent the chances of being hacked, you instead try and reduce the chances of them finding anything e.g. a player, with the right technology could masquerade as two different people by using a different ship and disguise yourself in communications. Each ship will only hold the activities of your actions aboard that one ship, and we could also limit possible hacking to when you are already in communication or contact with another ship or station e.g. a station might demand to see your logs and check that you haven't colluded with a faction they are at war with. Even trading could be used to quickly and briefly look into someone's data, I think that if the opportunities to steal information the information available to steal and what they have access to are limited enough, then the NPCs may take advantage of those rare circumstances, but it won't become a complete alternative to more conventional ways of playing, and will give you control over how likely it is to happen because a ship hiding in an asteroid field half way across the system can no longer steal your darkest secrets without you ever finding out.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#11
Andarra wrote:To be absolutely clear, in war; there is no such a thing as unethical behavior. The fact that you have even engaged in some form of a war, to begin with, is unethical; to claim certainty over any element beyond this is silly.
That would be an excellent conversation to have over in the Everything & Anything sub-forum.

If you'd like to make a constructive comment about a game design suggestion, this would be the place for that.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#12
Andarra wrote:To be absolutely clear, in war; there is no such a thing as unethical behavior. The fact that you have even engaged in some form of a war, to begin with, is unethical; to claim certainty over any element beyond this is silly.
This might be a fun read for you http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/OnWa ... 1ch01.html

As to the information warfare, I love it! However I think it would be important to make sure it doesn't have too much prominence in the game for people that do not want to play like this. I personally think the most fair way of doing this that allows the player to avoid it is to make it opt-in rather than opt-out. The idea comes to mind of having a network deep-access module. If you don't have one of these, you can't be hacked. However if you don't have a NDM, you can't access these sorts of logs. This would allow for detective play, and only detectives/other hackers would be at risk for hacking.

For corporations/factions you could simply make a datastore the very heart of the faction itself, a physical, even destroyable object (which if destroyed would immediately disband the faction and all records would be destroyed from the game**) that would be held in their headquarters, or perhaps carried around space in the cargo hold of an unremarkable ship, perhaps it could even be a ship itself allowing for its own security/functionality modules in the nodal system. You could simply say that this datastore is a faction owned NDM like any other faction property, and since any/all NDM owners are vulnerable to hacking, so are they. Just as corporations tend to be able to afford better security than the average person, they would purchase the same security additions that anyone else would, and access could simply be given to a hierarchical level and above.

This would mean you have to trust all the people at that hierarchy level to not to betray you, so perhaps it would be a bad idea to give it to anyone, lest your faction find itself Snowden'd, but even if it's just the VP's you still have that risk.

**This may add an interesting gameplay solution for cleaning purposes... if the game is giving you too much lag, blow up a faction datastore!
Now that I think about it, I should add that this proposal addresses some of the questions in Hyperion's Contract Enforcement thread.
I agree, such logs would greatly solve the problem of contract enforcement, perhaps breaking a contract would result in a new posting on the point of the party which broke contract, greatly disinclining others to make contracts with them. And given that with the market log system is set up it would have a sort of built in forgiveness as time passed and the log was lost to josh's algorithms.
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The conquest of Nature is to be achieved through Number and Measure.
It's better to have questions you can't answer than answers you can't question.

Imagination Fertilizer
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#13
Hyperion wrote:As to the information warfare, I love it! However I think it would be important to make sure it doesn't have too much prominence in the game for people that do not want to play like this. I personally think the most fair way of doing this that allows the player to avoid it is to make it opt-in rather than opt-out.
I appreciate your point. As I said, I'm not sure I like the idea of being destructively hacked in a game when I'm focused on other gameplay.

That said, let me ask a few questions to see where this might go.

1. Playing Limit Theory means that NPCs will be able to -- and will -- do things to your character. They may attack your character's ship physically; they may undercut your deals in the marketplace; they may say false things about you to other characters to try to diminish your reputation with some factions; and so on.

Why should hacking your character's datastore be treated differently? Why should that be a thing, unlike other things, that NPCs are not permitted to do unless you opt in?

2. Let's say you choose to not to opt in to being open to hackage. Should that be a global switch, such that no one can hack anyone's datastore? Or should all NPCs be potentially exposed to hacking, and remaining unhackable would be a special capability (like saving your game) that only your player character can enjoy?
Hyperion wrote:For corporations/factions you could simply make a datastore the very heart of the faction itself, a physical, even destroyable object (which if destroyed would immediately disband the faction and all records would be destroyed from the game**)
I like this. :) I had thought briefly in my initial post in this thread about the possible consequences if personal and corporate datastores were unique physical devices.

I'm not sure about making personal datastores physical devices. Having it stolen or destroyed would be such an enormous loss that I just don't think it would be fun for most players. (Some, possibly; most, I'm guessing not.) And I definitely wouldn't make any market datastore a real device -- if that belongs to a government, destroying it would pretty much destroy the entire civilization!

But making a corporate datastore a physical device... that has some gameplay potential, as you described. I think the default protections would need to be very good to avoid constantly being griefed into nonexistence. But maybe there's a way to do this such that there's some enjoyable risk without becoming a constant not-fun worry.
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#14
Why should hacking your character's datastore be treated differently? Why should that be a thing, unlike other things, that NPCs are not permitted to do unless you opt in?
The way I was envisioning it, is that you would have two different layers of network access, the top layer would constitute general access information, such as market data, news, public contracts presently available, Faction/zone polices and laws, etc. This would be the publicly available information layer in which most NPCs would interact.

However if you had an NDM, it would grant you access to the lower layer of the network. This would be a two way gate, without which you cannot be directly affected from. This lower layer would be the historical datastores, and hacking would be a matter of breaking into the various nodes on this lower level. The detection risk would be related to the success in the hacking minigame. The player could have their information broken into by an NPC, whether they have an NDM or not, however the NDM would be what grants direct access to the owner and their ships/stations, and thus can enable the takeover/sabotage of the hack victim directly.

All NDM's would be is a door to the lower level. Historical data nodes could be protected by purchasing a data protector, which would either make hacking their node more difficult, or notify them if someone was trying, and they could scramble the locks or even be informed of the hacker's identity. However if you an NDM, without cybersecurity you have an open door into your ship's computer. Your investments here would be in things which would protect that door from attack, allow you to have a greater chance of success in the hacking minigame, or allow you to get in undetected.

And I definitely wouldn't make any market datastore a real device -- if that belongs to a government, destroying it would pretty much destroy the entire civilization!

Precisely! but also precisely the opposite! I imagine market datastores would only exist at stations. Since economies would vary in scale and complexity, some stations will be greater market hubs than others. I would assume that if you have a fairly strong economy, that station is pretty safe. if a strong station like that is destroyed it would be devastating to that market, but i think they would have bigger problems on their hand anyways. However if the datastore is not the station itself, but something on it, you could evacuate the datastore to a place that is safer, keeping all the market data for the area it covered, so if you came back later, the contracts and everything it stored would still be valid.

So a secure station would almost certainly mean a secure datastore for the region, but contracts and market data could be rushed away to safety if needed, and could also be destroyed or captured, doing damage as devastating losing the station itself.

I am of course assuming that datastores would be based on local information only, with the exception of faction datastores. This would mean you can only hack datalogs which transpired at that station or in its range of influence, but it wouldn't make sense for you to be able to hack a station a hundred jumps away anyways.
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The conquest of Nature is to be achieved through Number and Measure.
It's better to have questions you can't answer than answers you can't question.

Imagination Fertilizer
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Re: Unethical Behavior and Information Warfare

#15
Hyperion wrote:
Why should hacking your character's datastore be treated differently? Why should that be a thing, unlike other things, that NPCs are not permitted to do unless you opt in?
The way I was envisioning it, is that you would have two different layers of network access, the top layer would constitute general access information, such as market data, news, public contracts presently available, Faction/zone polices and laws, etc. This would be the publicly available information layer in which most NPCs would interact.

However if you had an NDM, it would grant you access to the lower layer of the network. This would be a two way gate, without which you cannot be directly affected from.
Factional Layer Access Gate.

Capture the FLAG!

On first impression I like the idea.

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