The Technician is a VR action puzzle game about hacking your way through security systems. Usually while being shot at.
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Notice: Requires one of the following virtual reality headsets: HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. See the VR Support section for more info.

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October 16

Development Update: Tools

I missed my September post since I was a bit busy with PAX and working on getting some demos out to a small external audience, so let's go ahead and use October to cover what I wanted to talk about next: the technician's tools.Tools have been a key part of the game concept pretty much since the beginning, but have gotten nowhere near enough development or design time as they've needed. Since I'm still aiming on getting The Technician ready for an Early Access release by the end of 2018, it's time to play catchup on that front and bring a few of the tool designs into the game proper. As usual though, let me start with some general spitballing and summarizing of my current thoughts on how tools should work, what gameplay concepts I'm attempting to drive with them, and how I'm either succeeding or failing (spoilers: it's mostly the latter) at doing so currently.

The Big Picture
Frantic puzzle solving and working under duress has more or less always been the goal, so: how do the tools help with that? Well, ideally they'll serve a few different purposes and should:

1 - Give you more options to think about.
2 - Provide different (and hopefully fun) interactions for you to do in game.
3 - Add to the "push/pull" that brings you in and out of danger.

I should probably cover what these things actually mean (at least to me,) too. To the first point: when you're reading a board and trying to figure out what it is you're going to do, you should have several options at your disposal. This should make the puzzles feel less linear and give you more of a feeling of actually "hacking" the thing. As for the second: flipping switches and pulling cables starts to get pretty old after a while. Different tools should introduce different interactions to keep gameplay varied. Lastly: it turns out that pulling your attention back and forth between puzzle solving and getting shot at is a tricky thing to do properly. My current attempt to solving this problem is by distributing aspects of puzzle solving to require physical movement between tasks, and the tools are a key method of doing so.

The Tools
Let's look at what tools are currently kicking around in game and what they do. These tools are all part of "the kit," a crate full of goodies that the technician and their cohorts have smuggled in to help them with the job or breaking in to whatever it is they're breaking in to. The kit includes several traditional tools that the tech can grab and use, as well as several built-in, stationary components.

The Injector

The injector is a pretty basic tool that has shown up in some previous posts and images. It's a handheld device with a corded connector that can attach to several different component with the matching plug. Once connected, the technician can use the buttons on the device (or the buttons on their VR controller) to change the numeric value that the injector is sending. This is obviously most useful when dealing with the parts of puzzles that involve registers, ALUs, or other data-ful components, though any non-zero number will count as power for purposes of the 'dumber' components, as well.The primary design aspect of the injector is that it's physical and handheld. You need to grab the injector to move and use it, and you need to grab the connector on it to plug it into the various components you want to interact with. This means you'll need at least one hand free to manipulate it, and the cord on it means you'll need to be near the circuit boards themselves. The end result is that you're in a dangerous area with your attention divided and frequently unarmed as you put your gun down to work.

The Rewriter

The registers I talked about in a previous update aren't the only components capable of storing data. These memory sticks (in a fairly liberal interpretation of RAM) can also store data, and can be move around from memory slot to memory slot. Updating the values in these is often not a simple as updating registers via the injector tool; enter the rewriter. The rewriter is built into the kit itself, meaning that the tech needs to move between the board and the kit as they use it, in contrast to the portable injector which the technician will often bring to the circuitry and leave there. They rewriter isn't as immediate as the injector either - it needs time to access the mounted devices before it can read/write data to them. In some cases this might mean the player can take a breather in the relatively safer space where the tools are. On the other hand, sometimes the pressure of the encroaching guards can make those extra few seconds very costly.

The Neural Link

The 'NL' jack isn't really a single tool, but rather a whole set of them. It's also fills the role of a critical cyberpunk staple: cyberwear. This tool is physically attached to the technician at all times. To use it, the tech simply grabs the plug from behind their right ear and yanks it out. Similar to the injector's plug, the NL plug can be connected to any 'neural interface' (or similarly labeled) connector found on various components. Once connected, the tech can interact with the target component via numerous internal programs.Right now there are two programs to match the two current neural-enabled components. One is a brute force reader program designed for use with some of the blind registers that I talked about previously, replacing the injector-like handheld that you may have seen in that post. The other is an override function that enables you to alter the state of certain power nodes. This also replaces the other injector-like handheld that can be seen interacting with these "aux power" nodes in the announce trailer. Both of these programs take time; the reader takes time to access the target register, and the power override, while fast to activate, only functions as long as it is connected.In both cases the tech is effectively leashed to the circuit board area by the cable attached to their head, making this another tool enabling puzzle design to dictate the tech's positioning in the play area (and subsequently, in higher danger.) As I mentioned, it also removed several duplicate handheld tools, and thus the need for me to model and texture new ones (since I was, of course, just reusing the same asset for development.) This is just a happy coincidence and not abject laziness, I assure you.

The Injector, the Rewriter, and the Neural Interface are the three tools I have today, and hopefully you now understand what they are used for and why I created them.  So how well are they helping to fulfill those primary goals I mentioned before? Unfortunately, not very. They're a step in the right direction in some places; the injector is a straightforward way to interact with circuit data, the rewriter adds complexity and options to those interactions, and it feels fun to pull a cable out fo your head and plug it into the wall. However, there's still a lot of work to be done both in tool creation itself and in leveraging them when designing puzzles. The ability to push/pull the technician around is there, but the variety of interactions and available options presented to the player still feels somewhat limited. I hope to remedy this as I continue to add new tools and components to the game, but in the meantime hopefully these ones are still fun for you to use!
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August 16

Development Update: Leveling Up

This is the second in a series of development updates that I'm going to be posting roughly monthly to keep everyone apprised on the game's progress, talk openly about how I'm trying to solve game design problems as a first time game designer, and hopefully elicit some feedback and excitement for things to come. This second entry covers my current work on level design.

If you've seen the trailer for The Technician, you may have seen a couple environments: one relatively plain/empty "Tutorial Room," and one more detailed "Server Room" location. The Tutorial Room is relatively straightforward and was easy enough to make (and may not even appear in the final game), so I won't bother talking about it too much here, but I do want to talk about my thought process behind the Server Room and how things have evolved since then.

The Server Room
My goal for The Technician has always been for it to invoke that under-pressure, keep-your-head-down, bullets-whizzing-by-while-you're-trying-to-focus feeling. Initially, I tried to do this in part by having all of the hacking take place very low to the ground, basically placing all of the circuitry underneath a "desk" of sorts. Through a series of play tests with friends, I observed that this forced the player to be crouching down almost constantly; not only to dodge incoming attacks, but even just to get to the puzzle.  While this did cause some of the desired feeling of being under pressure, it also quickly became clear that crouching down so much was very uncomfortable and made the entire experience unpleasant. With this play-test feedback in mind, I decided to ditch the always-crouching idea and designed the new Server Room with a few new ideas:
  • Standing cover: The most prominent feature on the "server" in the Server Room is the large sliding racks on either side of the enclosure. When triggered by a specific component, these racks slide open to expose the main circuit area. The room is designed so that enemies can only approach from two directions, which means that these racks provide complete cover from incoming fire when they're open. Standing behind these and leaning out to the side to fire at enemies is a much more comfortable experience than ducking the entire time.
  • Some low cover: When the server's racks are closed, this high cover is no longer available. Instead, the only protection are the low, cooling structures in between the enclosures. I still wanted to keep some aspect of ducking down/keeping low to encourage that under-fire feeling, so this seemed like an ideal mix to me.
  • Multiple interaction areas:  The original tutorial room was a series of serial, bite-sized puzzles presented in an obvious sequence - it introduced ideas in a building-block fashion. This is good for learning, but for actual game play I wanted to have larger puzzles, though still be able to separate them into smaller subsections and create a flow between them. Creating the server room was my way of introducing this flow by separating puzzles into sub-sections with challenges of different lengths and difficulties. The enclosure has one main front panel, two large side racks, and several horizontal drawers - all containing circuit surfaces, and all of which are controllable via special components.
In spite of these changes and improvements, it turned out there were a couple of things I didn't like about how the Server Room turned out:
  • Ducking: even when it's infrequent, having to get down and stay there for really any significant period of time continued to be very annoying.
  • Limited enemy ingress: enemies could only ever approach and attack from the two sides and were corralled toward the player down the narrow hallway between rows of enclosures, making them much easier targets and preventing them from attacking from multiple angles.
  • Entirely static: The level was entirely fixed and, while the enclosure did provide a lot of circuit surfaces and several compartments that allow for a pretty lengthy puzzle, it was still only ever going to be a single-puzzle kind of space.
Introspecting and Improving
It took time and introspection, but I finally realized that the static nature of the Server Room highlighted a major Real World limitation: that fact that I can really only do so much. Not only is this my first time attempting to make a game, it's also a completely solo endeavor, meaning that my biggest bottleneck is the amount of time it takes to generate content, particularly content that I'm not experienced at making (which is really just about anything that's not code.)

In a world where I had more time and money, I would love for The Technician to take place in a bunch of different spaces, each with their own unique environmental interactions and gimmicks. In this world though, I'm rapidly running out of time to make a 2018 release, so I decided to try making one more level that would hopefully fulfill some new requirements I had:
  • Easy to iterate on: Cover layouts, enemy approaches, circuit board locations, types of puzzles - because The Technician has tons of components that can be combined in different ways, I feel the constant need to tweak, reorganize, and improve in order to eventually (hopefully) create the experience that I'm aiming for. The server room didn't allow for a lot of experimentation on these without also requiring a whole lot of work to reconfigure the level.
  • Supports multiple puzzles: Obviously, a puzzle game needs more than one puzzle. Unfortunately, as I already mentioned, I just don't have the bandwidth to develop multiple levels to match multiple puzzles. So, while the Server Room could only hold one puzzle (to which the player would have to load in, play, leave via either victory or failure, then load again), my new level needed to support all of my puzzles, and allow some sort of flow between them.
With these new goals defined, what did I do to try and fulfill them? The main point of this article is to introduce my new level, so let's finally get to it and take a look at:

The Space Elevator

Right away you might see the fairly obvious solution to my "multiple puzzles" requirement here: each floor has its own puzzle, and solving it will take you to the next floor (and thus the next set of puzzles). I needed a way to make this mechanic obvious to the player so I also added a few new puzzle pieces, including an elevator override control and elevator locks. The Technician finds the locks and disengages them to enable to elevator override, then hits the override to advance to the next level.

This new set-up also helps solve my iteration problem - I designed the cargo elevator to make it easy to try different permutations of cover, enemy approach vectors, and types of puzzles. The circuits themselves are located in compartments of varied layouts on the elevator's central column, and the tech's play area is now surrounded by numerous boxes and crates being transported up the shaft along with the player. The crates make for natural cover, and it's easy for me to move them around while I continue playing with the balance of "puzzle difficulty" versus "getting shot at." The layout also provides a handy place for all of the technician's tools and equipment.

In Conclusion
Landing on the right in-game play space for The Technician has required a lot of iteration (and will still require much more,) but it was interesting to uncover how real-world constraints like time and expertise influenced the type of levels I ended up having to design.  Play-testing with real humans helped this process along, as did thinking about how to make my goals achievable as a solo developer via changes in design.  I think the space elevator strikes a good balance between "visually interesting for the player" and "easy to play with permutations of game mechanics."  Hopefully with a bit more iteration in this new layout, I'll be able to get a satisfying flow of pressure and problem solving, with natural spikes in tension and adrenaline, as well as resting/recovery points for the player.

Thanks for reading, make sure to drop me some comments and let me know what you think. Next time look out for a post about the various Technician tools and equipment that I created for the game.
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About This Game

The Technician is a VR action puzzle game about hacking your way through security systems. Usually while being shot at.

Break, hack, crack, solder, and logic your way through circuit puzzles. Careful, though; security is onto you and bypassing systems doesn't get any easier when you're ducking behind cover. Cross the wrong wire or flip the wrong switch and watchdogs in the circuitry will only make the armed response more aggressive.

Corporate security too easy? Then create your own puzzles and circuits with the in-game editor and challenge other techs to see if they can break your systems.


  • Frantic, under-pressure puzzle solving - You know that scene in every action movie where the gang is holding off all the bad guys while the hacker tries to open the door and get them all out? Well I hope so, because that's what I'm trying to do here.
  • Immersive, physics-based interactions - VR is fun and physical; just plugging cables and throwing switches can feel good, and boy do I ever have a lot of switches for you to throw.
  • In-game editor - Every puzzle in the game was made with the in-game editing tools, so you'll have access to almost everything I did when making your own. I'm sure you can show me how it's really done.
  • Morrre? - It’s early yet, and who knows where we’ll go from here. Hop into the forums and let me know what you think!

System Requirements

    • OS: Windows 10
    • Processor: Intel i5-4590 equivalent or better
    • Memory: 8 GB RAM
    • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 970 equivalent or better
    • Storage: 5 GB available space
    • OS: Windows 10
    • Processor: Intel i7-6700K equivalent or better
    • Graphics: Nvidia GeForce 1070 equivalent or better
    • Storage: 5 GB available space
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