Part 4: Optimization proves less than optimalOptimization proves less than optimal
Another day brings another contract, and hopefully another payday.
First thing's first, our skill point goes into Stealth, simply because Stealth is our most frequently used skill between Hide and Deceive.
Second thing's second, as HenryEx has pointed out, a Light load gives us a +1 bonus to our rolls. That's just too good to pass up, so I've unloaded Medic and Analyze from the deck. Analyze won't be useful for a while now; we've met all the IC that shows up in low-rated servers. Medic is useful in certain circumstances, but that doesn't mean it needs to be loaded all the time. That brings us down to a Light load, and we're set to go.
Our mission is to break into Digital Systems, which for some reason doesn't actually have a good system, because someone wants product details on one of their shitty products. Now you may be wondering why this job pays a third less than our last one; part of that is just the random nature of how pay is determined, but mostly it's because our deadline is 4 days instead of 1. Remember how each trip into the Matrix takes a day? That means we have four chances to get this file (barring its deletion).
While we could actually jack out at the slightest hiccup, a better strategy is to jack out if the system hits a red alert, wait a day or two for the heat to die down, and give it a second try when we have 1 day to go. Once a system hits red alert, it stays on alert for a while. Generally waiting one day is enough to bring it to yellow when you try again, and after a certain amount of time it'll go back to green.
So, with our better understanding of Matrix stealth and a lighter load on our cyberdeck, we've improved our chances to remain undetected by 10%! Let's see how easily we breeze through the system:
Did I mention this game is pretty damn brutal starting out? Because it is. Fortunately, we Deceive our way past it (sparing ourselves an immediate jacking out) and proceed into the server proper.
After some fruitless exploration, we find this fucking Probe. Remember when I said that you have a spare second to Silence a node before answering a query? Well, if the node is silenced and you don't successfully Deceive, the inability of the IC to set a yellow alert automatically puts them on red alert, so you don't get a second chance to deceive them! Do you also remember how short Silence and Smoke last? And how they can fail? It just compounds the issue of having the node both silenced and smoked before you can run away! Here I am, one 40%-chance-of-failure away from having the entire server on red alert.
Fortunately I succeeded at it, and made my escape with the system still on green. Whew!
After succeeding at getting an area map from the CPU, here I am at the first Datastore. With only one Tapeworm on duty, I can take a breath and just relax as I look for the contract file.
Other than Worthless and Valuable (and *Contract* for targeted files), you can also find actual program files with Scan. They are, like IC, within one rating point of the server, and can be any program. To find out what a program actually is, you run Evaluate on the node and, as long as it's not the file guarded by that Tapeworm, you'll get a result.
In this case, it's a Medic 2 program, which is actually an upgrade for our current software! That's pretty rare, because it's only early on that you are forced to go into servers that are equal or higher rated than you are. Still, you could always find a program you don't actually have, so you can test it out without spending money on it in the marketplace.
Also note the red outline around the Datastore on the map; the contract file is also here. Huzzahs all around!
In addition to the program and contract file, there are apparently crazy people and someone quite late with their Christmas shopping. No wonder their products suck so much. Anyway, with the new Medic program and our job done, it's time to check the other Datastore for paydata!
And what do we find but another program! This one is a Piercing Attack program. Piercing Attack does reduced damage to most IC, but normal damaged to Hardened IC. We haven't met any of those yet, and it'll likely be a while before we pick fights anyway, but it's still something useful to have.
Now, I could jack out right now and call it a job well done, despite a couple close calls. But where's the fun in that? Let's take some pointless risks for the sake of showing things off for the LP!
Back in the CPU, you may notice a button that looks like a door, below the yellow Area Map button. This lets you (attempt to) place a back door into the server. Back doors don't last forever, but while they do last, you can choose to use them when reconnecting to the server. Doing so will place you right back at the CPU to start, instead of having to go through the Portal node. Their usefulness increases as the difficulty and complexity of the server increases, but they're still nice things to have.
So let's just try to access it, and...
Fuck. The Guardian caught me, I failed to deceive while the node was silenced, and Silence only lasted the one turn. I'm slightly fucked now! Once again, if I don't silence the node on the first try, it's red alert city, only this time the Attack IC will be pounding on me while I try to get the node silenced and smoked so I can flee.
After an embarrassingly long period of failure, I finally escape with only 5-10% of my health, but the system still at green. And no Medic program! But wait, I didn't actually Trash the Medic program, I just unloaded it! So I just hit that button underneath my program list, load Medic (which takes 3 turns for being 3 MP), and run it to restore my health. Bonus: Medic crashes on its own after running, so I don't have to spend a turn unloading it to get back to a Light load!
I love it when things work out. Back to 100% health, back to a light load, still with a green alert. If it weren't for the clock up there in the upper left, it'd be like none of it ever happened! I could have just left out all this failure and made myself out to be a super badass decker, instead of publicizing my failure!
Back in the CPU, I finally deceive the Guardian, but bad timing on silence means I triggered a yellow alert. No biggie, though! Now that the Guardian thinks I'm legit, I can try creating the back door until it succeeds! Or until I fail by enough to trigger a red alert!
Fortunately, the former happens before the latter.
Now, you may have been wondering for these past two updates what the green circle-looking nodes on the map are. Well, those are Coprocessor nodes. Coprocessor nodes are boring nodes where you can't actually do anything, and it's also where passive IC chill out while waiting for a yellow or red alert to swing into action. One coprocessor node, however, is the Security node. It's not only got an Attack IC on passive standby, but is guarded by a Guardian IC.
What we can do here, with the system on yellow alert, is try to cancel the alert. It can take several tries, and you have to hide from or deceive the Guardian to access the node, but it'll put the node back on green alert.
Presto chango! Change-o? Whatever, we're back at a green server. I will point out, however, that this will only apply to YELLOW alerts. If the system gets to a red alert, in order to cancel it you have to crash all IC present in the Security node.
With that done, lets take more stupid risks and demonstrate Decryption!
The first place we're going to try is the unguarded one, of course. Decryption is actually two tests in one: first it tests your Analysis to actually decrypt the Tapeworm. If it fails (since a success crashes the IC), it tests Stealth to see if the attempt is noticed by the IC. If your Stealth is high enough, you can try repeatedly until it works, but getting caught just once causes the Tapeworm to send an alert and crash itself. So, the first step is to silence the node.
And there it went, taking whatever file it was encrypting along with it.
Good thing there's another datastore!
This guarded, and thus more risky, move actually succeeded! Note that you want not just silence but also smoke on the node so you can run away immediately. Of course, this makes the Decrypt less likely to work. It turns out Smoke on the node penalizes Analysis and Attack by 4! At least it raises your Defense and Stealth checks by 4 to compensate. But hey, it's no problem, it actually worked this time! And it turned out to be encrypting actual paydata, so we got a benefit from doing so!
With nothing left to demonstrate, I flee the scene of the crime and collect another quarter of our rent, plus a skill point!
I think for this point, I'll throw it out there for you all to decide. What skill (besides Stealth) should I improve?