Official development blog

Robot Hacking: Upgrades

Last year Cogmind got an expansive new robot hacking system with a lot of hacking options to use as either a primary or supplementary strategy. Overall it’s not as powerful as the simple placeholder version used in Cogmind’s early years, but it’s a lot more versatile.

That said, as it was designed bothacking does become less reliable in the late game since it can’t directly deal with prototype threats, plus it can become a bit too challenging to acquire enough Relay Couplers to continue hacking while also dealing with other threats. Dedicated robot hackers tend to fall behind the power curve.

Among the easier approaches to addressing this issue were a few additional minor passive RIF effects added in Beta 7.1, followed by Beta 7.2 increasing the value of Couplers higher in the complex, but these can only be so effective so we need other ways to prop up so-called late-game “summoner builds.”

In the context of Cogmind I call this build style a “bothacker,” but in general roguelike/gaming terminology the strategy resembles a summoner since when not hacking robots for information or to induce other side effects, the best hacks are often outright control over other bots and you might need to rely on allies to do your fighting for you.

In this light I could see several more abilities which would complement such a build nicely, but would clearly be too powerful to immediately give to all players who gain the ability to hack robots. The logical conclusion here is to add something fairly rare in Cogmind: permanent upgrades!


In a lore sense these technically aren’t physical upgrades, but instead additional knowledge about operation of the Relay Interface Framework that enables Cogmind to take advantage of it in different ways. Each time Cogmind connects to an additional RIF Installer beyond the first, another ability is gained.

Of course that means entering more Garrisons, but this is something bothackers tend to do anyway either as a way to gain more Relay Couplers or (interestingly) escape trouble. With the passive RIF abilities added in Beta 7.1, Garrisons clearly became a “home to bothackers”--no passive alert gain, collect more Couplers, or maybe add some allies, and adding new abilities into the mix solidifies that route for bothackers seeking to become more powerful in the long term.

There is a pool of possible abilities to learn, and the player does not choose one--RIF abilities are learned randomly, although the opportunity is never wasted by relearning the same ability again, for example. Learning abilities continues to shrink the pool until every ability has been learned (in theory, anyway--that’s a lot of Garrison visits!).

Some abilities can be learned more than once to increase their effect, while others cannot be learned until after one or more others are learned. In a gameplay sense this latter limitation keeps the clearly most powerful abilities from being obtained too early, although there’s enough variety to keep it from being a linear progression with every playthrough.

An interesting side effect of learning RIF abilities inside Garrisons is that it can force players to skip other benefits at a given depth, by losing access to branches and their respective benefits. This kind of sacrifice is common within Cogmind’s design, and important, here allowing RIF abilities to be relatively powerful since they’re balanced against other good strategies. (RIF already makes it impossible to establish two of the most effective alliances--technically they’re still possible if RIF is installed after they’re established, but by then there will also be less time to upgrade RIF abilities, so we’ll see how that balances out! Always interesting to add entire new systems that may or may not synergize with others and see how players react :D)

Note that although Garrisons become much more challenging later, as a RIF-capable build (with new abilities, no less!) players will have many more tools to deal with them, so I think it balances out.

RIF Abilities

So what abilities are there?

If you want to avoid spoiling them and would instead prefer discovering these abilities on your own, bail out now--this is as far as you should go!

Well first of all, all the existing passives added to RIF earlier are now considered “abilities,” just given for free all at once. Adding them as abilities serves as an explicit way to show and describe them for new players, as I’ll show later in the UI. And of course as abilities all these things need names :)

  • Alert Monitor: Know the ambient influence level while in 0b10-controlled areas.
  • Garrison Interface: Gain control over Garrison Access machines, making it easier to hack them, and easier to escape once inside. Also automatically detects Garrisons up to a range of 15.
  • Coupler Protocols: Use Relay Couplers to interface with their respective robots.

Here are the new abilities that can be learned (where those which can be improved by learning them multiple times are shown with their progression of values):

  • Coupler Efficiency: +4/10/20 effective code value to all Relay Couplers. Packing more punch into each Coupler eventually gets quite good. These values are equivalent to a 20%, 50% and 100% increase in the hacking potential of an average Coupler.
  • Robot Detection: Know positions of combat bots within a range of 24 while matching Coupler attached. Also distinguishes squad leaders (L).

Inherent Robot Detection is essentially like a weaker version of FarCom--although it has a somewhat longer range, the types of robots it can detect is limited by Coupler type coverage.

  • Patrol Navigation: Know routes of patrol squads within a range of 24 while matching Coupler attached.

Identifying the current route of a nearby active patrol.

  • Alert ID Control: Block the influence of kills by allied former 0b10 bots while matching Coupler attached. This is quite powerful in combination with an allied army, theoretically making it possible for a good hacker to snowball a pretty large force of allies that can do all the dirty work without the biggest associated drawback: rising alert and Demolisher dispatches.
  • Structural Interface: Reveal any hidden door or phasewall on sight, and pass through phasewalls normally.

Finally a way to take advantage of phasewalls! (Not to mention the advantages of having a built-in partial Structural Scanner.)

  • Program Shield: Fully prevent Programmers from hacking allied former 0b10 combat bots while matching Coupler attached (no range or sight limitations). The biggest threat to allies are Programmers, and this offers a passive way to deal with them.
  • Autooverride: 20/40/60% chance to automatically trick target system into believing it is allied with Cogmind. After 10 turns the network will perform an automated quickboot to restore it to normal, a process which takes anywhere from 5 to 10 turns. Checked once per visible combat bot while matching Coupler attached, separately for each Coupler.

Autooverride is basically equivalent to an overwrite_iff hack, but automatic and free :). Turn squads against themselves, and each other.

  • Autoassimilate: 20/30% chance to automatically rewrite all target system data, permanently converting it into a fully controllable ally. Requires 6 turns to complete the process. Checked once per visible combat bot while matching Coupler attached, separately for each Coupler.

Autoassimilate in action--basically equivalent to a formatsys_high hack, but automatic and free. It still has the delayed effect drawback, however, so using your Remote Datajack to expedite the process might be a good under certain circumstances.

Notice that all of the above abilities are essentially passive! This limits their impact on the UI and controls, making them really easy to manage--everyone loves passive abilities :P

The only active element is that most of the new abilities also require having a matching Relay Coupler attached (e.g. a [Grunt] version for applying a given ability to Grunts). While this somewhat limits the scope of abilities, it also makes even low-value Couplers useful in many situations.

Still, you can imagine a high-level bothacker with all of these abilities being… um, very effective!


Naturally with a new range of abilities we’re going to need a way to actually see which ones we have.

On the first time connecting to a RIF Installer, there’s a new tutorial message inviting the player to check out a new button in the top-right area of the HUD. Conveniently there was just enough room to add a [RIF] button right next to the RIF-based Influence readout.


The new [RIF] button as it appears on the HUD.

The main annoyance of having the button there is its neighboring Evasion window, which expands whenever the cursor passes over it, and it’s highly likely the cursor will pass over it to reach the new [RIF] button xD. Part of the reason for designing the Evasion window that way was because the cursor would never need to be up in that corner anyway, but oh well it’s fine--not really much of a deal I don’t think.

Keyboard access to the new RIF window is via Shift-Alt-f. That command technically had another feature associated with it (reswapping) which was removed as a result, but that was a very old 7DRL feature that I don’t think many players were using anyway, not to mention there are now multiple useful ways to swap parts, not even including the broader “reswapping” system coming with Beta 9--one could say it was perfect timing that this key combination got repurposed :)


Sample RIF ability window.

The new RIF ability window lists all the abilities in the order in which they were learned, as well as their current level and a description of each effect.

At the bottom is a reminder for new players that more abilities are available and how to get them (otherwise there’s no way to know this…).

Overall I’m liking this direction for late-game bothacking, and look forward to seeing what people do with it!

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