The title is misleading. Hardwired is set 131 years later than Cyberpunk 2020, but still, at least to me, the setting seems more coherent and “realistic” than that of 2020:
The desiccation of the soil is forcing farmers worldwide to use more and more water to extract any food at all from the land. But the sinking groundwater table is destroying virtually all traditionally cultivated plants.
Fossil fuels are running out or can no longer be used without massive additional costs due to their impact on the environment. Meanwhile, operators are shifting heavy industry into orbit in order to circumvent environmental protection regulations. The “orbitals”, as the corporations based in space are called, are growing more and more, a lucrative business. On Earth, on the other hand, the foundations of life are deteriorating daily. Tensions between “dirtside” and “orbitals” arise. These escalate to such an extent that the orbitals begin to attack the Earth with their mass drivers (electromagnetic cannons that fire nickel-iron mixtures into orbit to create radiation “screens” for future generations) by firing 10,000 tons of rocks at it. This attack, known as the Rock War, lasts 12 hours. Now the planet resembles more of a lunar landscape in places, while other formerly poor continents are flourishing. “The United States is a Third World country,” notes the source.
The USA is splintering into its individual states. The government in DC can only stand back and watch powerlessly. Independence turns many former US states into secure lands with fortified border crossings. This in turn brings smugglers into the picture. In self-built armored hovercrafts (“tanks”), they bring coveted goods to where they are needed.
In contrast to 2020, where cloning was still outrageous (we remember “Land of the Free”, a complete boxed adventure that was all about the first successful human clone), cloning technology in Hardwired is possible, but very expensive and still buggy.
There isn’t. In Hardwired, it’s the “Face” (short for “interface”).
There isn’t. The “consensual hallucination” of Gibson, the “matrix” of Shadowruns, the three-dimensional virtual space, which in a way stands as an icon for cyberpunk, is completely missing in Hardwired. In its place is something that I find far more interesting in the game: a hacking system. A player who plays a hacker, or “(Console) Cowboys” or “Crystal Jock”, as they are called, has accounts of varying degrees of influence in various networks, has to write programs in a very oldschool way (in a “programming language” called “Evolved BASIC”, or eBasic), exchange or guess passwords, or cheat or buy, and do all the things hackers do (or at least what I, as a non-hacker, think they do).
“Black ICe” does not exist – simply because the author Jon Williams does not believe in the technical possibilities that so much juice could ever flow over a data line that it would fry a person’s brain. A nice quote about that:
Nobody dies in the Net. Dying because of what one does in the Net – that’s different.
So the really dangerous thing in the Net are not just any programs, but the SysOps that monitor your system. They are the ones who locate intruders and possibly send troops. This makes hacking exciting again.
I already mentioned above that the player who embodies a Decker writes small pseudo programs in a pseudo programming language called “eBasic”. From experience, this also hits the nerve of contemporaries who are interested in this role, but at the same time have no current programming experience. One of my former players spent joyful hours writing “programs” that his Decker could use during the game. An example from Hardwired:
(…) a crystaljock wishing to break into a secured computer and steal a file while simultaneously providing himself an alibi could write the following program:
WAIT 2 HOURS
CALL 786-7787 (Korolev)
LOGON IVAN SMITIKOV
ACCESS SECUREFILES DIRECTORY
LOAD FILE SECRETDATA
SAVE IN DECK DIRECTORY
The crystaljock tells his deck to run this program, then heads out to spend a night on the town, making sure he is seen by a number of people during the next three or four hours. The deck obediently waits two hours, then logs on to the Korolev computer and downloads the desired file while the crystaljock is establishing his alibi.