OTC Designer Notes #11: Hacker Array

The following is an excerpt from the Designer Notes for Offworld Trading Company. The game, an economic RTS set on Mars, releases on April 28, 2016, and is available for purchase here.

Probably the most difficult building to use in the game, the Hacker Array is the only way a player can influence the demand side of the supply-and-demand equation. The building emerged from the random event system (inspired by M.U.L.E.) which randomly triggered resource shortages and surpluses during the game. These random events add some nice chaos to the resource market so that it is not so primarily driven by the players. Once they were in place, however, we began to wonder what would happen if a player could trigger a random event, especially if the other players couldn’t tell if the event was real or not.

Thus, the Hacker Array lets players start artificial shortages and surpluses, which can be a great tool used at the right time. One of the best aspects of the Hacker Array is the paranoia it creates in other players. As soon as a Hacker Array is spotted, players start to doubt the events – maybe one Electronics shortage is inconclusive, but two in a row? (The best, of course, is when those two consecutive event were actually real!) In fact, we had to make an important rule change to the Hacker Array shortly after coming out on Early Access because players quickly discovered that if they built not just one Hacker Array but two or three or even more, they could trigger multiple concurrent shortages of a stockpiled resource, driving the price up so quickly that they could win the game just be selling at the top price. Therefore, we limited multiple hacks of a single resource from processing concurrently; players could still use multiple Hacker Arrays, but they needed to be manipulating different resources.

What makes the Hacker Array so tricky, however, is that unlike the other advanced buildings, there is no guarantee that the building will help its owner the most. A player might short Steel after noticing that he has the most Steel Mills on the map but end up helping a different player who was holding a stockpile of 500 Steel and then sells out of it before the original player realizes what is happening. One of the tensest moments of the game is watching the price of a resource climb up and up and up with one’s cursor hovering over the sell button, trying to win the game of chicken by selling for the highest price just before anyone else does.

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