Developer Dan Clark Introduces the First Digital Runner
#ConnectionEstablished->HostName:Database.Zero->setnick: TheWhiz //Filter:Chat
Reeve: No lie, I jacked out right then
PrincessSpaceKitten: You are such a wuss, Reeve
Thinfoil.Hate: it’s an AI guys. true AI unshackled and free roaming.
Threeve: ya I’ll bet you jacked alright
Reeve: Frag off, poseur
+Threeve has been kicked.
PrincessSpaceKitten: Can’t be AI. It’s impossible to get human-level intelligence without a bioroid brain or super-core. It couldn’t free-roam.
Reeve: It was freaky is what it was. Like a monster...all tentacles.
TheWhiz: What are we talking about?
Recently, we announced the upcoming release of Data and Destiny, the fourth deluxe expansion for Android: Netrunner, which introduces 165 new cards (three copies each of fifty-five different cards) that focus primarily on NBN and three new Runners – Apex, Adam, and Sunny. While NBN receives more cards than any of these Runners, the Runners have nonetheless received far more of the early attention… and rightfully so. After all, these Runners represent more than new ways to approach your cyberstruggles as an Anarch, Criminal, or Shaper.
Apex, Adam, and Sunny don't fit into any of the established Runner factions or their paradigms. In Android: Netrunner, Runners are defined by their motivations. Anarchs run to tear down the Corp-sponsored order, Criminals run to make a quick credit, and Shapers run as a means of exploration and expression. But these three new Runners? None of these motivations apply. Accordingly, each is more than an identity; each is the centerpiece of a flavorful new Runner mini-faction playable directly out of Data and Destiny.
Today, we boot up our Data and Destiny previews with a look at one of these new Runners – Apex (Data and Destiny, 29), the game's first Digital Runner. While there's a lot of speculation about Apex and what it means that he, she, or it is "Digital," very little is known with any certainty. Instead, we have mostly rumours about a tentacled monster, prowling chat spaces and other corners of the net… and devouring them.
To distinguish fact from fiction and to unravel the mysteries of Apex, we turn to developer Dan Clark, one of the people responsible for the original design of the whole Android universe.
Who or What Is Apex?
In Android: Netrunner, Runner factions are defined by their motivations. To oversimplify: Anarchs run because they are angry, Criminals run because they are greedy, and Shapers run because they are curious. Given this, the design challenge in Data and Destiny was to create runners whose motivations didn’t map cleanly to the existing archetypes. We explored a number of ways to solve this puzzle, and one that clicked was the idea of a runner whose motivation was hidden, either from himself – such as with Adam – or from the player audience.
As we explored the idea of a Runner with a hidden motivation, we liked the idea of a “digital” presence, even if we weren’t sure what exactly that meant. One ideas was that it might be the signature of an AI Runner. However, we’ve been pretty clear that “strong” AI in the Android universe is only possible by modeling a human brain, either on the megacomputers of Haas-Bioroid or, more commonly, through the parallel optical brain of a bioroid or the wetware brain of a clone. So if Apex is an AI, what does that mean? Would it mean that Apex is a “weak” AI, striving to achieve sentience? Or would it mean that Apex is hosted on a megacomputer somewhere, or that it's a brain-map of a once-human Runner, or an emergent outside-context problem that “evolved” in forgotten corners of the Network on the moon?
One thing that became clear is that there is no reason for anyone in the setting, aside from Apex, to know the answers to this question. If Apex’s motivations are hidden, why not its nature? The fact of the matter is there’s no reason to be certain that Apex is even an AI. An avatar can look like anything, after all. Maybe Apex is the manifestation of an animal brain that's been wired up and jacked in for years. Maybe it’s a human being who’s been jacked in his or her whole life and isn’t even aware of its own meat body.
So, what is Apex? Anyone who tells you they know the answer to that question is lying or mistaken. Apex is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. But Apex is coming, devouring all the data before it, and it's time to get comfortable with ambiguity, with the unknown.
This theme is reflected in Apex’s mechanics, too. It’s the only Runner that installs cards facedown. What are the facedown cards? Like Apex, no one knows. And, like Apex, it doesn’t necessarily matter. As cards like Prey (Data and Destiny, 31) make clear, all data are the same to Apex. They're bytes of food to be consumed, or competition for the processing power it needs to achieve sentience, or nothing more than a plaything for its inscrutable amusement.
The only thing that is certain about Apex is that when it reaches your servers, nothing will ever be the same again.
–Dan Clark, Senior Game Developer
Playing as Apex
When you play as Apex, you subsume data into your identity. To what end, no one knows. Perhaps you don't even know, yourself. Nonetheless, though the reasons you feast upon data may be unclear, the effects are evident… and apocalyptic. As you Prey upon Corporate servers, they disappear. When you enter new sections of the Network and make them your Hunting Grounds ( Data and Destiny, 35), they alter. Yours is an Endless Hunger (Data and Destiny, 33) for ever more data; whether that hunger is literal or figurative doesn't really matter. What matters to others is how it impacts them. What matters to you is whether or not you can sate it.
As an icebreaker Endless Hunger is exceedingly powerful, weighing in at eleven strength. However, it's also expensive. It doesn't cost much in the way of credits; it's free. But it costs you all your basic MUs, and each time you want to use it, you must trash an installed card. Normally, this means trashing a card that takes you one action to draw and another action to install, but when you're Apex you can install one card facedown for free at the beginning of each of your turns. Still, you have to draw the cards you want to install, and you have to discard one each and every time you trigger Endless Hunger. Additionally, as a Runner in Android: Netrunner, cards are effectively your life. The more cards you install and discard, the fewer you leave in your grip and your stack. If you run out entirely, you'll find yourself stalled, at best, or flatlined, at worst.
Accordingly, you'll likely want to invest a good portion of your twenty-five influence toward card draw or similar effects. While you don't have access to non-virtual resources and, therefore, many of the best persistent card draw effects, you can still gain quick access to multiple cards through Diesel (Core Set, 34), I've Had Worse (Order and Chaos, 32), and Quality Time (Humanity's Shadow, 87). Levy AR Lab Access (Creation and Control, 35) can double as card draw, even as it salvages the installed cards you trashed to fuel your hunger. And while a Harbinger (Data and Destiny, 34) isn't really card draw, it can be trashed not just once, but twice, to fuel your Endless Hunger or to prevent damage via Heartbeat (Data and Destiny, 32).
Who Will Solve Your Mysteries?
When you play as Apex, there's a secondary effect to all your card draw. Your presence is already massively ominous and foreboding. The fact that you're drawing more and more, building toward an endgame that no one understands just adds further depth to the mystery that is your existence. From the outside, you appear to be little more than a force of raw destructive power, consuming all you touch. But is there a greater design behind your efforts? Is your insatiable appetite for data driven by some other, deeper need? Does it need to be?
To explore the cyberstruggles of Android: Netrunner as the game's first digital Runner, you'll need to pick up a copy of Data and Destiny, so head to your local retailer to pre-order yours today. Then, stay tuned for more previews of this expansion, including a look at the Runner identity Sunny as presented by developer Damon Stone!