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    My friends and I are the type who love Zachtronics games and things like Factorio and Kerbal Space Program.

    These games are great and can teach a lot - and yet, once played for a few hundred hours, they start to feel empty. After a long conversation probing this problem, one of my group’s most elite players said something I find very profound.

    “Nothing simulates engineering as well as doing engineering.”

    “Hacking”, as you use the term, is basically a very specific kind of software engineering. Unlike aerospace engineering, it’s very accessible and rewarding in a short time - unlike game development. So maybe the real reason there are so few games like this is that the people who would be making them are off hacking things instead.

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      Yeah, I think you’re right. After a while, these sort of games start feeling like work, at which point you might as well do the actual work instead, and gain something from it!

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      Ah, here is a topic I am somewhat well-versed in! Uplink is a classic – I spent plenty of time with it in my adolescent years. There are definitely more than 2 of these games!

      • Slavehack - an MMO of sorts. You have your own box & IP address and spend time hacking into both NPC machines and other players’ machines. It has a non-linear “quest line” of sorts which allows you to upgrade your software (viruses, firewalls, password crackers, etc.). A big part of the game is clearing access logs when you access a remote machine because other players might find your IP address and try to make you part of their botnet ;)
      • Blue Sky - Made by exosyphen studios, who have made a lot of hacking games. At the time I played it, I remember it being described as an uplink clone, but “Blue Sky” was definitely almost as well-known as Uplink.
      • Hacker Evolution - Also made by exosyphen. This was the first hacking game I ever played as a kid, so it holds a soft spot in my heart. At the time I seem to remember people describing it as “worse uplink”, so I don’t know if it still holds up. They seem to have spun a whole series out of this, with some quite recent entries (released in 2015 and 2016).
      • Hacker Experience - This was announced on HN and reddit a few years ago. I remember playing it briefly and enjoying the interface. It reminded me of a more modern take on Slavehack. Here’s an article about what happened to it and here’s a video of someone playing it if you want to see what it was like. It looks like someone took the source code for Hacker Experience (it was open source if I remember correctly?) and put up Hacker Wars.
      • hackmud - I’ve not personally played this, but it looks quite interesting. I’ll probably give it a try sometime.

      Lastly, Digital: A Love Story is really more of a visual novel, but it has some hacking themes, and I quite enjoy the narrative. I highly recommend trying this one, even if it isn’t a “hacking game” like the ones above.

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        I have tried both uplink and hacker evolution, and I can see the characterization of “worse uplink”, however its important to remember that uplink is a really good game. I think hacker evolution is still fun, but if you’ve never played uplink it’s probably worth playing through first.

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          This is all very interesting, thank you for sharing! Do you think these games use total immersion, or is it something specific to Uplink and Hacknet?

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            Hmm, I don’t recall any of these games being “totally immersive” as you describe. I seem to remember Slavehack had a radio station and corresponding live chat, but I might be mis-remembering. The forums were also a bit like game cheating forums, with people posting their “wins” and “tutorials” on how to hack–it wasn’t role play, but it had a similar atmosphere to me. Anyway, this has all gone away since it was many years ago and I’m probably mistaken on some details :)

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          Seems to me that a sufficiently advanced hacking simulator turns approaches the real thing. Maybe the thing you’re after is something like PicoCTF (https://picoctf.com/)?

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            The video game Hacker by Activision was the first “hacking simulator” I played (in 1985). It wasn’t very realistic, but it was fun.

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              There was hacker and hacker 2 by them. Mostly guessing iirc. I’d suggest doing a solved CTF challenge by hand in an area of hacking the OP is interested in learning about.

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              It’s a lot more than a “game”, but hackthebox.eu is worth checking out.

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                I want to say that Duskers mentioned in the blog is a really enjoyable and atmospheric game.

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                  Casey Joint by Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation is pretty unique. It’s a hacking game that’s mainly centered around random keyboard mashing minigames. It’s pretty rough around the edges but lots of fun for an hour or so.

                  Dev diary (download in the last link):




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                    I remember playing Dark Signs Online (first version in 2008 and reboot in 2012). Good times.

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                      If you are a student Immersive Labs have some gamified hacking, but this is mainly through virtualised systems and networks, where you have to answer questions, rather than an actual game.

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                        Somewhat related to hacking games, I miss programming games. The first I really loved was The Koshan Conspiracy where you had a computer in your wrist that was programmable using a visual language called “Parallel Token” http://zach.tomaszewski.name/uh/ics491/bobshot.jpg http://zach.tomaszewski.name/uh/ics491/koshanpres.html

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                          A while ago I had fun at http://www.hacker.org/

                          Basically a collection of hacking related puzzles with highscores.

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                            https://www.hackthebox.eu/ is a good one too

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                              I’ll add to the growing list here Red vs. Blue by ThreatGEN. It is a simulator and game but very much focused on providing a realistic environment to train teams for real operations (defensive or offensive). They even have a Steam release which has a lot of the features of the ‘Corporate’ edition.