Mitch’s Dev Diary – There’s Something About Decking

First, some sharing — our air conditioning hasn’t worked for about a week. It’s currently 88 degrees in the studio  (and ironically, a breezy high 60’s outside). We are melting. Kohnert is wearing those goofy pants that unzip and become shorts. Although I mocked him this morning, I’m now thinking of tackling him and taking his pants. As the HBS Human Resources Representative, however, I’ve cautioned myself that this could be punishable by legal action or worse. I think I’ll grab some ice from the fridge and put it under my arms, instead.

* * *

As you may have heard, our Decker gameplay has gone through a few revisions. More than a few, actually. When we began Shadowrun Returns, we knew that trying to simulate the Matrix as it works in the tabletop game would be a huge task that we couldn’t commit to. So Jordan conceived of a system where the Decker would jack in and see an overlay on top of the physical world that displayed the local area network – what computers connected to others, what they controlled, and that sort of thing. An icon representing the decker’s avatar would then traverse the overlay and do stuff at different nodes. It gave us the ability to do some Matrix puzzle gameplay on top of the tactical combat system we were developing, but when we reviewed the design with our engineers, we realized that it would be challenging to integrate into our level editor, take too long to develop as a whole, and wouldn’t be an efficient use of our budget. So we abandoned this approach and started exploring other design concepts.

The other day, I held my breath and dove past our reasonably up-to-date design document and into the repository that is our OLD STUFF, looking to see how many stabs at decking we took – at least on paper. I found five, plus a sketch, a diagram, and the beginnings of what looks to be a card game. I know there are a few more documents on local hard drives. . .

Some of these designs were written during (what some would consider) normal office hours. But most were written late at night, over weekends, and sometimes during holidays. Each was an attempt by the author to move the ball forward to make decking a satisfying experience.

Finally, this February, we got together to review several other mini-game approaches – all of which were met with silence. (FYI, Harebrained isn’t known for its silence.) That’s when Trevor looked down, shook his head, exhaled his special exhale, and said, “Look, that’s not what Shadowrun fans want. They want decking. They want the Matrix.”

We all want the Matrix.

The issue was (and is) how we integrate the idea of a decker entering the Matrix with the rest of the game AND within the boundaries of our production reality. To do it (at least close to right) it would need its own look and feel. It would need new characters and environments and interface and sounds. It would need new gameplay features for cyberdecks and programs and intrusion countermeasures and Black IC and AI.

And, and, and. All the reasons why we said we couldn’t do it. . .

But we felt like we HAD to do it. It’s as much a part of Shadowrun as spell slinging.

We worked fast. We worked longer and harder. We brought in an old friend to help. We found issues we hadn’t anticipated. We got frustrated. We kept going.

So after all that, here’s how decking works in Shadowrun Returns. Throughout much of the game, your decking skill will allow you to hack computers in the physical world and gain information others can’t. The sort of hacker stuff you’d expect.

But several times during our story, you’ll jack in and enter a node of the Matrix that looks like this:

Among the people who created our visuals for the Shadowrun Returns Matrix is Dave McCoy, the artist who created the 3D Matrix art for the VIRTUAL REALITIES book published by FASA Corp.

To be clear, runs centered around the Matrix don’t occur often and you can’t jack in whenever you want to and travel the vastness of cyberspace. Nevertheless, Matrix runs should be quite a ride.

A Decker’s Matrix avatar is automatically created based on his or her “meat-world” appearance. Every three turns a decker’s avatar takes in the cyberspace equals one turn the rest of the party gets in “meat-world”. (Things moves faster in there!) While the decker’s consciousness is running around cyberspace, his body is inert in the real world and the rest of the party needs to defend him until he returns. To exit a Matrix LAN, the decker needs to leave from the same portal he entered or eject and suffer dumpshock damage to his physical body.

As the decker’s avatar navigates a Matrix LAN node, it will encounter Intrusion Countermeasures (IC) which will attack him. To fight the IC, the decker uses computer programs and deploys ESP – Expert System Programs – which are “independently operating artificial life simulations”. ESP operate under the player’s control and each has its own abilities.

The decking skill is used to derive the decker’s “to-hit” calculation and the ESP subskill determines the power of his ESPs. The decker’s cyberdeck determines how many and what level of programs can be taken into the Matrix. There are a variety of different programs for attack, defense, buffing, and debuffing. The cyberdeck is also the decker’s first line of defense – damage the decker takes is first applied to the deck which has its own equivalent of health points called IP. But Black IC or attacks from enemy deckers can damage the decker directly.

Every Matrix LAN has an alarm threshold and every action the decker takes within the LAN moves him closer to that threshold. When an alarm is tripped, it might trigger the arrival of Black IC, an enemy decker, or bad things back in the meat-world.

With all the danger inherent in cyberspace, why go there? Because the Matrix LAN nodes can control things in the meat-world like doors, security cameras, automated turrets, security clearances, and even poison gasses flooding into room. And, of course, the Matrix holds the most valuable thing in the 6th world – information.

Although runs in the Matrix are rare, when you get to play one, it’s pretty cool! We hope that the work that went into it pays off for you. Plus, the work we’ve done gives you even more building blocks for you to play with when you create your own stories.

Speaking of which. . .

We’d planned to release the editor at the end of the month but the Matrix work and other issues pushed it out a bit. We’d rather give you the right thing a little later than something a little broken right away. Early Access Backers will be getting a direct mail with more details and an updated ETA for the early release ASAP.

Also, we’re setting up two forums for the Editor on One is a Q&A that our designers will respond to and the other is a general Editor forum. They’ll both be publicly visible, although Early Access Backers will be the only ones able to post questions to the devs in the Q&A forum until the game is released. We’re also working on a Wiki that will document the Editor and in which you can share knowledge, tips, and tricks.

Oh, and I’ve just been tapped on the shoulder and asked to remind you that pre-orders on end 4/28. So let your friends know that this is the last chance they’ll have to pre-order the Collectors Edition of Shadowrun Returns and get their hands on those USB Dog Tags.

Take care. It’s time to get back to the sauna.


42 Responses to “Mitch’s Dev Diary – There’s Something About Decking”

  1. Oscar
    April 26, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    OMG!!! That looked AWESOME!!

  2. C.Ruel
    April 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm #

    My goodness Mitch. You guys have outdone yourselves. You guys have gone so far far over the top of anything me and my friends could have ever expected. +50 Karma.

    • 8BitDylan
      May 14, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      You really have outdone yourselves. I was reading through the diary in worry with all your backtracking and error encounters. The matrix is definitely a necessity, and you guys have nailed the virtual representation of that ethernet world perfectly. It looks stunning and we certainly will be excited to play those runs regardless of how seldom they occur.

  3. McDougle
    April 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

    Decking looks interesting(the more blocks- the better).

    But I can´t say I´m happy about the vague “a little later”, “updated ETA” & “ASAP”… I´d rather have something broken that will be fixed(there will always be bugs- even AAA games are shock full of em…) … instead of waiting a week… two, three or four weeks longer. :(

  4. Sean
    April 26, 2013 at 7:10 pm #

    As the resident hacker of my gaming group, allow me to say that this looks pretty awesome. Wiz, even. You were right. To me, hacking *is* Shadowrun. A game without a decent Matrix component is lacking the heart of the game. Oh, and Mitch? I actually liked Shadowrun 2K7. I certainly like it better than Counterstrike or any of the other such FPS games. I think that, had it not used the Shadowrun name, it could have lasted quite a while.

  5. Ceryk
    April 26, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    I remember it originally being said that you wouldn’t be able to go into the Matrix as an environment and that decking would be done through conversation options after someone asked if Decking would be like in the SNES or Genesis games. Nice to see that’s changed. An area network overlay seems like a nice compromise between jacking into the network and doing the whole Avatar thing and maintaining gameplay flow.

  6. Johnny Memphis
    April 26, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

    Awesome. Now I can possibly dust off Imago . . .

  7. Not of this World!
    April 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

    DUDE!!! Awesome….

    Thank you.

  8. Stavras
    April 27, 2013 at 12:05 am #

    Amazing! I present this game to all my friends! Love you guz! =)

  9. Stavras
    April 27, 2013 at 1:47 am #


  10. Drizzt
    April 27, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    Holy Dragon, that looks awesome! You guys are playing in German or was that the first Berlin campaign glimpse (in the lower left corner it says “Kraftwerk“…)?

    And I agree with McDougle on your release plans. If you clearly state, that there are known bugs, it’s no problem in my opinion (apart from that, I’m a fan of “release early, release often”). Many programs are shipped with tons of known bugs, without such a notice (which is a problem). Please reconsider your plans.

  11. Madcat
    April 27, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    One word…


  12. Veda
    April 27, 2013 at 2:27 am #

    I do hope we will not run in to Morgan(Megaera) or Mirage in there.
    That would be rather painful if they throw a tantrum in there!

  13. Peter Andersson
    April 27, 2013 at 2:38 am #


  14. Abbielle
    April 27, 2013 at 4:34 am #

    It’s kind of a relief to learn that you guys finally have the decking issue solved. Well done! :)

  15. p3ndr4g0n
    April 27, 2013 at 4:38 am #

    Beautiful. The ESP/agent/frame/sprite guys might be lil’ off from what I would have hoped for, but over all, I very much appreciate that you guys took the time to give us this (absolutely fraggin’ integral) aspect of Shadowrun. I also appreciate the Right vs. Fast release date change. This seems awesome! Keep up the good work, and I’ll tell my decker buddies to stop messing with your HVAC Slave Node 😉

  16. F0urEyes
    April 27, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    Quite amazing. But then, it comes in mind that the same thing could be done about astral plane. Just a thought…

  17. Felipe
    April 27, 2013 at 5:49 pm #

    This… looks… AWESOME!!!!

    I’m telling EVERYONE I know about this game… And it keeps getting better and better…

    Thank you guys for taking the time and going the extra mile to deliver this decking system. =D

  18. s4G1989
    April 27, 2013 at 8:49 pm #

    I was a tad disappointed with all of the reports on the Decker runs and apparent limitations… until update. It is more than i had originally hoped for.

    So looking forward to this game being released. Thank you and your whole team on just an outstanding effort

  19. Alatar
    April 28, 2013 at 5:31 am #

    Hello and congratulations.
    I learned about this game 7 days ago and since then I’ve watched gameplay trailers and every news I could grab on.
    I’m a big fan of Shadowrun RPG and let me tell you, for my (old) group SR was a thing about options, you have 3 layers of reality to play with. You can run a site from the Matrix, from the Astral or physically, and the hardest sites you must do it from all them at once. That’s what makes SR awesome.
    I understand that you just finally came up with the idea of how to do this and you will limit Matrix interaction (as you word it, I don’t expect more than 3 sites with Matrix overlays, am I pessimistic or realistic?) but, as you are going to keep developing the game and DLCs, I suggest that you develop (in time) a DLC to get Matrix overlays for all major sites in the initial campaign and the new campaigns you design.

    When I designed a run for my group I had to design it on 3 levels, Matrix, Astral and Physical, and that’s what I want for a SR videogame. Of course, not all sites will be important enough to have this, with a simple conversational or right click system to open a door or activate a camera it should be enough but think of the possibilities… I’m just exploring and I want to activate my astral senses and see what’s beyond, I want to connect to the Matrix and see what’s the site security, and maybe I discover that the apparently crumbling warehouse is a shaman’s den or a corporation data storehouse…

    That’s what would make me say that a SR game is AWESOME.

    As I say, I don’t think you can make it in this game but maybe in DLC and, why not? Next SR videogame.

  20. Dragon
    April 28, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    You all have gone above and beyond for us fans, you did what you believed could not be done, and I would kiss each and ever one of you for it.

  21. Krypter
    April 28, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    Outstanding! I too was a bit disappointed to hear the decking was initially cut, but this brings my faith back. Great work, thanks for putting in the extra effort to make this happen!

  22. Pete
    April 29, 2013 at 4:40 am #

    Very good news. Thanks for your effort and your understanding what SR should consist of and what the gamers want!

    My opinion is that you should bring out the game when it is done. Keep up the good work!

    Best wishes from Germany

  23. Case
    April 29, 2013 at 7:51 am #

    >>A Decker’s Matrix avatar is automatically created based on his or her “meat-world” appearance<<
    What's the chance of getting configurable persona icons somewhere down the road? Pretty please with sugar and everything?

  24. Mike
    April 29, 2013 at 5:08 pm #

    What I would have done for a shot at the collector’s edition of this one, but I didn’t see the announcement till now. After playing SR in all its forms for years, having a real honest to ghost Shadowrun is a sight to behold.

    This looks amazing. I’m so glad to see it coming together.

  25. Huskie
    April 30, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Fantastic! I was thinking that the overlay was going to be a good compromise but this is even better.

    You guys and gals deserve medals for all the awesome stuff you are giving us!

  26. Pyrex
    April 30, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    Matrix Runs are Rare?! Awe… The thing that really got me into Shadowrun in the first place was the Matrix! Part of why I always liked to play deckers! I also LOVE upgrading my deck and hardware! Faster CPUs and more RAM ect! Some black market software and much more! Please do not take that aspect away from the game. I used to just run up to terminals and jack-in just to find stuff and make a little extra scratch. A better deck means less of a chance of being detected and deployment of viruses and other software executions are faster. Please find a way to keep that aspect in the game intact or improve on it. Thank you!

  27. Bill
    April 30, 2013 at 11:12 pm #

    This is going to be great, I love the work you guys have done… but when am I got to get emailed for my steam key?

  28. Michael Chandra
    May 1, 2013 at 5:19 am #

    Pyrex: You still will be able to log in on computers and score info, but full-flex Matrix runs, demanding a Decker or else you’re screwed, are a different thing from a run where you can walk over to a terminal and access some stuff. At least now we won’t HAVE to bring a decker with us on every mission.

    Bill: Pre-Orders are getting their mails soon. To quote Robin HBS from the Shadowrun Returns forum:
    “Hi Guys – At this point, as long as you’ve received a Paypal confirmation you’re good to go. We’ll be sending out emails with a link to the HBS Account Website along with log in and password so you can set up your account in the next few weeks. We haven’t determined if we’ll be sending an email with your Steam key or if you’ll log into the account to get it but that won’t happen until we’re closer to launch.
    Hope that helps!”

  29. Eli
    May 2, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    1. Looks great (but please don’t make it rare – I can wait if needed to).
    2. I find it rather funny that all the DRM posts have so many replies, but such an important issue to the GAMEPLAY has less than 30 replies…

    I guess I don’t know what is really important in a SR game…

  30. Andrea
    May 2, 2013 at 5:09 am #

    Thank you harebrained. I hope you will someday get back the shadowrun licenses. You deserve it.
    Still playing third edition :)

  31. Alatar
    May 6, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Errr….. How is it that you have so many spams in these forums? Are they hiring people to write the CAPTCHA codes? Dizzy…

    Anyway, as I said, I think that just with this you got to find the right way for a Shadowrun game. Shadowrun without decking or astral is just cyberpunk with some magic skills which could be easily replaced by weapons.

    Please, follow the line with the Matrix and the Astral.

    But, I suppose this was too late, the game is already finished and this will be a latest add to it. Maybe you could start with the concept of a new game, with the astral and the matrix in their right places.

    Also, about the need to take the decker to all missions… Just make the place impossible (or very hard) to access without a decker in the first place, marking it as a place with a difficult matrix overlay. Same for astral. In the rest of places or missions, you can have astral and matrix overlay but with no need to enter them if you don’t want to, just making it easier for you to do the run.

    That’s more or less what some of my games were when I mastered them. Maybe you need to get some info but the site is disconnected from the Matrix so it’s secure and you need to break in to connect to the intranet, so the decker was the main character. In others, goal was different, and the decker just connected to make things easier, watching with the cameras, closing and opening doors, and all that, much to the like of Deus Ex: HR hacking computers just to make things easier.

    Anyway, thanks Biow….. I mean, Beth… Harebrained. 😉

    • Michael Chandra
      May 7, 2013 at 4:12 am #

      Mages still got spirits and spells though. But Astral is on the list as possible expansion territory.

  32. Jared
    May 7, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    So does this mean there won’t be a technomancer in the game? It seems as though, at least in the decking portion, you have combined hacking with technomancy to ‘summon’ sprites to aid you.

    • Michael Chandra
      May 8, 2013 at 3:06 am #

      Technomancers don’t exist yet in 2054. The Otaku, which later evolved into Technomancers, only came into existence during the Renraku Shutdown in 2059. They could use ware, though.

      And ESPs aren’t Sprites, they sound more like Agents. Sprites can boost your own skills, an Agent can’t.

      • Michael Chandra
        May 9, 2013 at 4:08 am #

        Apparently Otaku already started before then… Hm… Still, an Otaku is much different from a Technomancer.

  33. Michael Chandra
    May 8, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    To anyone who has questions about the game, or just wants to read more about it, please visit the official forum. :) You can find the link in the Shadowrun Tab at the top here, or just go to

    There, you can find a lot of topics and information, including a Q&A forum where people asked a lot of questions and got concise answers. Most of those I compiled in an unofficial FAQ that’s easy to find.

  34. Michael Chandra
    May 8, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Nobody’s saying deckers won’t be able to contribute with decking in the other missions though. They’re just keeping the full VR runs special, you can still control stuff and score useful intel in the other runs.

    • Alatar
      May 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

      I’m a fan, but also a professional (not in videogames). If I thought about Matrix and Astral after giving 10 minutes to it, I’m sure you guys have discussed it for long. I’m a BA graduated and I’ve been QA Manager for near a decade, and I’m facing similar problems with a project we’re starting.

      Problem is you have awesome ideas but it’s difficult to have them carried out, but you’ve got a social network and fans press and plead for things. But right now you’ve got a scheduled release with Steam, so SR has to be released that date, no later. I love the idea but I recommend you, don’t implement it if you’re not sure it’s going to work. You have the chance to release it as a DLC (a free DLC, please…) later on, when it’s polished. If you’re working on it and then you can’t test it properly to avoid crashes or other bugs, please don’t integrate it.

      As you say, deckers work just fine now in the game, it’s just that seeing the Matrix (as well as the Astral, did I mention Astral somewhere? :P) is something any runner fan wants, but don’t let that press you into making something on the last minute in a hurry. Believe me, I’ve been there, done that, sometimes it works, sometimes don’t, even if it works it doesn’t work as good as you intended.

      You have the DLC formula, if that’s something you believe should be in the game but was a last idea, give it free DLC, in Steam is easy, giving it away to people who purchased it through you or were funders shouldn’t be too complicated (hope so).

      Please, release a polished game, this is a game many people is anxious for, and if people get deceived it could be the end of SR games, and I really really want to give you my money for many SR games. Just a few names to remember, ¿Oblivion, anyone? It was so good that it was a success, but it took time… ¿Sim City, right now? ¿How many players quit or didn’t purchase it after the disaster?

      And sorry for the long post, it’s just that I don’t post usually and I’m a real fan (I played 1st edition and 2nd of the RPG, so it’s a long time with it).

  35. Serthy
    May 10, 2013 at 7:22 am #

    You guys are amazing, seriously, i have been a fan of the shadowrun series for at least 20 years myself and FASA has been good to me story wise over the years.

    The matrix has always been atouchy place because going there in the Genesis version wasa way to start smashing some hardcore credits, but now i can see that in this new revamped amazing delicious version of shadowrun that would actually make the gamer over powered.

    Personally the Matrix i believe should be a DLC add-on that would get gamers excited even more so to play as a Decker. Maybe introducing a higher tier of gameplay for the next level, because lets face it, this is never gonna stop and everything will be continuously developed and added on.

    I just wanna say in closing you guys rock! Seriously Rock, I am truly upset that i didn’t get into the kickstarter.

  36. Latasha Mcknight
    May 10, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    The decking skill is used to derive the decker’s “to-hit” calculation and the ESP subskill determines the power of his ESPs. The decker’s cyberdeck determines how many and what level of programs can be taken into the Matrix. There are a variety of different programs for attack, defense, buffing, and debuffing. The cyberdeck is also the decker’s first line of defense – damage the decker takes is first applied to the deck which has its own equivalent of health points called IP. But Black IC or attacks from enemy deckers can damage the decker directly. Every Matrix LAN has an alarm threshold and every action the decker takes within the LAN moves him closer to that threshold. When an alarm is tripped, it might trigger the arrival of Black IC, an enemy decker, or bad things back in the meat-world.

  37. John
    May 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm #

    Now all we need is a release date…I’m torn between wanting the perfect product and letting the developers take their time and wanting to tear into this game before the first of two deployments this year…Maybe they’ll let me take my laptop…