Note: I’m mostly summarizing what JackMule taught me over a series of PMs. He figured out nearly all of this on his own.
868-HACK is an unapologetically opaque game. For some this is a charm, but for me, I’d rather just look everything up and start playing the “real game” straight away. Annoyingly, there currently isn’t a place I could find online that explained much. I had to dig around and ask. As a result, I’ll be explaining the biggest unexplained rule: the secret level. Then, I’ll discuss some basic strategy implications. At the end, I’ll talk briefly about why I consider Imbroglio’s secrets good, and 868-HACK’s secrets bad.
If you don’t want to go “full spoilage”, I’d recommend watching this maddeningly inscrutable YouTube video as a hint. Otherwise, this is your last chance if you don’t want to be spoiled.
1. Explaining the Secret Level
The secret level can be accessed multiple times per game, but only once per sector. In practice, you might visit 3-4 times. It is accessed by entering a CHEAT CODE of 868-565-27, where the numbers correspond to your Prog slots, like so:
In the above screenshot, I used:
8. Ice -> 6. Pull -> 8. Ice -> 5. Reduc -> 6. Pull -> 5. Reduc -> 2. Undo -> 7. Wait
This takes you to the secret level, where you’ll see something like this:
Some things to note:
- You don’t have to enter everything in one turn. You can input the first part of the code, then move around some, then enter the rest if you’d like.
- At the beginning, it spawns the same number of baddies as the level you just left. For instance, I just left level 6, and I have 6 incoming baddies when I enter the level.
- The level always has 2 score tiles on each edge, and one Prog tile in the middle.
- Floor tiles always have at least 2 resources, making the level very resource rich.
- Although you can’t see it in the screenshot, there are 3 siphons that spawn instead of the usual 2.
- As usual, you exit through a portal (in this case, it’s in the lower left corner). When you do, you’ll be taken to the next level. Since I left from level 6, I’d go to level 7 once I exited. From there, you can enter the secret level again.
2. Some notes on strategy
The secret level is a very strong source of resources and points, and should be entered as often as you can get away with. As a result, knowing about the secret level should change your valuation of progs considerably.
A. Undo is the best prog in the game
With the secret level, Undo goes from being decent to easily the best in the game. It’s currently featured in the top 3 scores in both classic and plan B, and would probably be featured in all of the top scores if everyone knew about the secret level.
The key to Undo is that if you input the entire code in one turn, it counts as an input for entering the Secret Level and refunds all other previous prog costs. The ideal places to put it are 7, 2 and 5. In slot 7, you’re refunded everything besides the final dollar you spend on Undo. In slot 2, you have to pay for your Undo and whatever you’ve placed in slot 7. In slot 5, you lose two dollars from each Undo you cast, plus whatever you placed in 2 and 7.
In short, you save a lot of resources. It’s borderline mandatory to consider visiting the secret level.
B. Calm is super great
Baddies in hack spawn more often the more siphons you use. Since each secret level visit gives you more 3 more siphons than you’d otherwise get, by the time you hit level 8, it’s not uncommon for a monster to spawn nearly every turn. Calm is a great (and perhaps obvious) solution to this issue.
C. Progs that can’t be cast twice are worse
Some progs, while powerful, can’t easily be cast twice in the same turn, for whatever reason. Here’s an attempt at a full list:
- ATK+ (if you already have used it this sector)
- Quit (XD)
Even though many of these are quite strong, you generally want to avoid putting them in the slots that need to be used twice: 5, 6 and 8. As a side note, this is yet another reason why Undo is good. Placing Undo in your 5th slot lets you put most of these in your 6th slot, and placing Undo in the 6th slot lets you put most of these in your 8th slot.
Going a step further, Calm really needs to be in a “free” 3rd or 4th slot to be very useful. Even if it’s placed in the 2nd or 7th slot, you can’t use it at the start of the level if you want to go to the secret level. Sad times!
D. Cheap, spammable progs are great as “filler”
If you want to get to the secret level, it’s good to have flexible, cheap progs, especially for filling your 5, 6 and 8 slots. These aren’t necessarily the strongest progs in a vacuum, but their low cost and flexibility makes them staple “filler” for your eventual combo. You’ll want to give extra weight to picking up these:
- Undo (XD)
- Wait (careful, this messes with Undo and may make you take a hit)
3. Good secrets and bad secrets
To conclude, I’d like to close with a small amount of game design discussion. As if spoiling Hack wasn’t enough, I’m also going to spoil Imbroglio now. If you’ve read many Imbroglio pieces from here, you won’t be seeing anything new. But if you were just linked here from somewhere and haven’t experienced Imbroglio yet, I’d strongly recommend checking it out. Great game!
Players like secrets. They enjoy being surprised by new, cool stuff, so it makes sense to put them in when you can. That being said, there are good and bad ways to add secrets to your game, and I think (sadly) that 868-HACK has subpar secrets.
From my view, good secrets follow the following criteria:
- They don’t punish players too hard if they don’t know about it.
- They are discoverable with dedicated play.
In contrast, bad secrets are the opposite:
- They confer huge advantages to players that know about it.
- You pretty much need to look them up to find them.
Good secrets bring a community together in the joy of discovery. They incentivise paying attention and figuring out the game together. Bad secrets fragment your community into those that know about it, and those that don’t. They punish the ignorant that aren’t willing to look up the answer, and create groups that are playing two entirely different games.
Imbroglio had two major secrets – one pretty good, and one amazing. Comparing and contrasting these to 868 Hack’s secret level, I think there’s a large disparity.
A. Dragons and Unicorns
Dragons and unicorns are powerful monsters that come out after a ton of turns. They represent a pretty fun “Oh shit!” surprise when a player first sees them. Of course, if you didn’t know they existed beforehand (or what happens when they die), you’re probably at a disadvantage from someone that planned for them. But they are fairly easy to discover, and overall a nice secret.
B. Clearing the game
When Imbroglio first released, it was not known that there was a maximum score of 256. As such, discovering that was extremely exciting and fun. Even better, this secret does not confer a big advantage to the people who know about it. Both the knowers and the unknowers play pretty much the same and try to max points.
In addition to subverting expectations, this is also just flat out good design. High score games tend to devolve into variance maximization, and setting a max score is a good way around that. For more on this topic, I wrote an article here.
C. 868 Hack’s secret level
And now, let’s return to 868 Hack’s secret level. 868 Hack’s secret level confers a large advantage to those that know about it – on good runs it can double or even triple your score. It is also impossible to ever figure out through “good play”. The only way to find it is to use outside information (the prequel to 868-HACK was called “86856527”). (edit 8/1/2017: not completely impossible. There is actually a subtle UI indicator in the bottom right that may help clue people in)
As a result, the leaderboard is firmly separated into people that know and abuse it, and people that wonder how the heck players are scoring 150 in a single game. This strikes me as profoundly distasteful – a small minority of knowers gets to occupy the top of the leaderboard while everyone else just scratches their head.
I’d argue 868-HACK’s secret level makes the game worse even for players that know about it! There’s a considerable luck factor in whether you get Undo or not. Games become much longer. There’s more pressure to restart a streak, hoping to get two or three very high scores while the powerups are still easy.
Overall, if I could change one thing about 868-Hack, it would be the secret level. There are a number of possible ways to improve the situation:
- Separate leaderboards for secret level players and non-secret level players (thanks BrickRoad!)
- A tutorial to how you get to the secret level after you score enough points the fair way.
- A more straightforward way to access the secret level.
- Just deleting the secret level altogether.
That’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the secret level. Thanks for reading.