In Neocron 2, a hacker is anyone who uses electronics and skill to open things they weren't supposed to open, or to go places they weren't supposed to go. You use the same basic tool for all of this, the Cryton's TL30 Hacktool. (There are other, more expensive models of hack tools. They were meant to be used in a part of the game that was never implemented, and they convey no advantage. Ignore them.) A hacktool is a wrist-mounted computer, presumably with some kind of electronic probes for outputs (although they're not shown). To wear it, you put it in one of the slots in your Quickbar. To use it, you press the number key for that Quickbar slot, and "fire" it at the thing you want to hack.
When you start out, with only a little bit of the Hacking subskill (under the Intelligence main skill), you can mostly only pick electronic locks. This will let you enter secure parts of hunting areas, and let you steal equipment from locked storage boxes. You can also hack the genetic replicator system so that instead of reassembling you at the destination point, your software representation "wakes up" inside cyberspace, in a place called HackNet, with its own destinations, uses, and enemies. As you rise in skill in Hacking (and Tech Combat), you can add software modules to your hacktool to let you engage in combat with intrusion countermeasures software, enemy software viruses, and enemy runners inside Hacknet. As your skill continues to rise, you gain the ability to help your clan by hacking outpost security terminals in the Wastelands, converting the control of those outposts to your clan. And eventually, you get good enough at hacking to be able to use your hacktool to crack open the dropped equipment belts that runners leave behind when they're killed if they don't have a Law Enforcement chip installed in their brain.
THE BASIC PUZZLE
The basic interface for hacking, the starting place for all hacks, is the hacking puzzle. This represents a computerized lock. Down the center are a row of tumbling letters and numbers, representing tumblers in the lock. On the left are your electronic probes. Use your up and down arrow keys to select a probe to light up, and then click the right mouse button to activate that circuit. If you picked the right circuit, it will activate one or more of the tumblers in the center of the hacking screen. Then the computerized lock will use its defensive probes to attempt to solve its side of the puzzle, in an attempt to cancel out your probes.
The number of probes you get is determined by your Hacking skill; more skill equals more probes. The difficulty of the puzzle is based on the difference between your Hacking skill and the difficulty rating of the lock. If you have a much higher skill, you'll get a trivially easy puzzle. If the lock has a much higher rating, you'll get an impossible puzzle. The puzzles are somewhat random, though, so it's worth trying a couple of times if the difficulty is at all close, if you could have almost solved that last puzzle. Each time you fail at hacking a lock, your character will receive a small electrical shock.
How do you know which inputs to pick? Between your probes and the tumblers are a series of circuits, or pathways. They are connected, or terminated, by four different symbols, called gates. They're called the and gate, the or gate, the not gate, and the terminator:
Where you see an "and" gate, you have to light up all of the inputs to get the output to light up. Where you see an "or" gate, lighting up any of the inputs will cause the output to light up. You won't see very many "not" gates on your side of the screen (unless you're way, way over your head); they invert the signal and turn it into one that helps the other side. And a terminator, as you might expect from the fact that the trace doesn't go anywhere, stops the signal cold.
The puzzle will continue for 30 seconds, or until both sides have used up all of their probes, whichever comes first. If at the end of that time you have at least 11 tumblers lit, you win, and the lock will be unlocked. You'll be able to tell if you get more than 11. Each time you light up a tumbler, one of the asterisks in the lower-right edge of the puzzle will light up. The ones you have to have are bold-faced. If you have any non-bold-faced asterisks lit, it means you have 12 or more tumblers lit.
Since you will probably never have 11 probes, what you obviously want to do is to find places where "or" gates cascade, or at the very least where you can light up as many things as possible with as few "and" gates as possible. In a normal difficulty puzzle, there will almost always be places on your side of the screen where a single probe will light up 3 or 4 tumblers.
The lock always uses its probes to respond to yours. And it moves much slower than you do. So if you start by lighting up tumblers at the bottom, you can force the lock to waste time moving its cursor to the bottom. On the other hand, if you have way more probes than you need for this puzzle, you can often force it to use up its probes early by lighting up exactly the right number of tumblers at the top of the puzzle; this will get you out of hacking much quicker. That can be important, because ...
WHILE YOU ARE HACKING, YOU ARE BLIND AND DEAF. For that 10 to 30 seconds, you can not receive chat messages (unless you're using an external voice chat program like TeamSpeak or Ventrillo). You will not see your usual health bar. You will not hear gunshots fired near you, nor will you hear them hitting you. Make sure that your environment is safe, or that some field medic is covering your back, before you engage a hacktool, or some sniper will wait for just that moment to blow you to kingdom come.
WHAT IS THERE TO HACK?
Supply Boxes: Scattered throughout the world are various small metal boxes, they look a lot like toolboxes, called Supply Boxes. About every 15 minutes, if there is at least one player in the zone, the boxes refill with a certain kind of loot. The boxes used to tell you what kind of loot, but that lead to the most valuable and easy-to-get-to ones being "camped" and fought over 24 hours a day. Now, it's a bit of a search, and every hacker has his or her own list of favorite Supply Boxes. As a rule of thumb, nearly every box that contains valuable items is in a dangerous environment. But not always, so it's always worth checking a Supply Box a couple of times to see what it spawns.
In particular, there are locked Supply Boxes at the end of all Dome of York Storage Areas and Bunkers. In Neocron City, there are low level locked Supply Boxes in the level 1 and 2 sewers, and at the ends of the Outzone Storage Areas. In the Military Base, they're in rooms inside the Storage areas. You can also find them at the far end of many Wastelands underground areas.
Here are the known kinds of Supply Boxes, and about how much Hacking (HCK) skill it takes to open one:
- Basic Supply Boxes: The same stuff that's in Rotten Boxes, plus occasional medical supplies. About 20 to 30 HCK.
- Light Weapon Boxes: Low-TL pistols and melee weapons, mostly. Sometimes junk, though, so they can fool you. About 30 to 50 HCK.
- Light Armor Boxes: The sweet spot, if you can find them; easy to hack, valuable stuff - a random selection from anything sold by basic armor vendors. About 50 to 60 HCK.
- Psi Boxes: I don't know if these still exist, but if they do they drop random level 1 or 2 psi weapons. About 80 to 90 skill.
- Heavy Weapon Boxes: Higher TL weapons, especially cannons. Around 120 to 140 HCK.
- Heavy Armor Boxes: Power armor and rare armor. I've never managed to open one, and haven't even found any yet, but I remember them taking about 160 or more in HCK.
Warbots, Mad Copbots, and Other Bots: Warbots are actually first-generation power armor suits, basically battlemechs, left over from two wars ago. Their pilots died with the suit on autopilot and auto-defense. Animals in the wastelands disturb the dirt in old battlefields and dig them up all the time. Once you "kill" one, about 55 to 90 HCK (depending on the model) is enough to open the operator compartment and steal any spart parts or valuables on board. Mad Copbots and Amok Copbots are Copbot cyborgs who've been driven insane; about 30 or 40 HCK is enough to unlock the armor on one's corpse and loot them. There are also a few other robots and/or cyborgs that can't be looted until they're hacked. This makes a little bit of hacking a very valuable skill, because Warbots are among the easiest sources of the rare parts that are needed to build the most valuable weapons in the game.
Outpost Security Generators: Each Wastelands outpost has a terminal somewhere that controls the security settings for the outpost, including who owns it. To defeat that, three different hackers with about 140 to 150 or more in HCK have to take turns getting to that terminal and defeating the lock on it. Then and only then can a fourth hacker (or one of the first two) enter Hacknet and convert the outpost to their clan. I'll cover this in more detail in a later guide to outposts.
Dropped Equipment Belts: If a person without an LE chip dies, they usually leave behind a locked equipment belt. How much stuff is in it, and what stuff, is determined by their soul-light. A person with positive (green) soul-light drops one item. A person with a soul light below zero but above minus 16 (yellow) drops 2 items, I think. A person whose soul-light is between -16 and -32 (red) drops 3 items. Below -32, it's five items. To encourage combat in war zones (zones that contain outposts), you drop one less item in a warzone than you otherwise would, so if your soul-light is green then you won't drop anything in a war zone. The item(s) to be dropped are chosen at random from the ten most valuable weapons, pieces of armor, unimplanted but carried implants, or pieces of loot that you're carrying. (Construction, Research, Recycling, Salvage, self Implant, and regular Repair tools never drop.) If you have positive (green) soul-light, this will never include the item in your "safe slot," item one on your Quickbar, as represented by the padlock next to it.
You can always open your own equipment belts, or (if you don't have an LE yourself) those of anybody that you're teamed with. To open any other dropped equipment belt, you must first unlock it. To do so, you can't have an LE installed yourself, and you must defeat the lock. At 100 soul light, this takes somewhere around 180 to 200 HCK; very few people can open a level 100 belt. At -32, though, it's as low as 90 or 100 HCK.