HTCU Simulator

Posted on January 27, 2011


You can get simulator games for almost every activity these days. I had a job a few years ago where the suspect spent days on end flying virtual airliners around the world – he spoke with contempt of people who skipped the ‘long bits’, and would only share his hobby with other hardcore pilots who could commit to a full 24-hour flight, complete with refuelling stops and diversions for bad weather. His favourite routes were quite apposite – Thailand and the Philippines featured heavily – and it was a great way to pin him to the keyboard for long sessions of activity. After all, how many trojans are going to start up MS Flight Simulator and go half way round the world, whilst keeping up a running commentary on MSN about the muck it’s downloading while chatting to the copilot on Skype?

I’ve dabbled in the sim world in my time, although the sheer strangeness of Ship Simulator freaked me out a little – I love ships, but taking a virtual container ship across a featureless, flat Atlantic is not my idea of fun. Sim City was more my cup of tea, with the water pipes, electricity and god-like power over your fellow man. I seem to have little patience for games these days though, and the only one I can play for any length of time is Sid Meier’s Pirates! I bought it for Son of Monkey, obviously, but I can often be found terrorising the Spanish Main long after he’s scooted off to bed.

Simulators can serve a purpose other than fun though – they’re so realistic now that they can be valuable training tools, at least in the theory behind flying a helicopter or navigating a busy shipping lane. The US Army has been using America’s Army as a recruiting tool for some time now, focusing on the team-building and planning stuff rather than the ‘Leroy Jenkins‘ technique of FPS-playing. Thinking about this led me to the idea that maybe the computer forensics community could develop an HTCU Simulator game, partly as a training tool for prospective recruits and partly just as a bitter sneer at the world. Here goes:

Player Classes

When you start a game, you choose whether you want to play as a police officer or a strawb. Both classes have their good and bad points – playing as a police officer you start a bit older (having had to keep the mean streets clean for a few years first), but you retire young and with a huge payout, at the expense of a bigger monthly pension deduction. In addition to this you get the pluses of free local travel (got to perfect that ‘pretend to be asleep’ skill to at least +5 if trouble breaks out though!), sock allowance, rent allowance, moustache allowance, boot allowance, tie-pin allowance*, and a much higher rung on the tottie-grabbing ladder at Christmas dos. You also get to point out that ‘the job’s fucked’ with a bit more authority. Disadvantages of playing this character are that you can get moved to any random post at a moment’s notice, are tied to the pension and are sworn to defend the honour and person of any gimp who needs it, although not if you buy the ‘back injury’ upgrade.

Playing as the strawb, you get to work until you drop dead of old age or lose your job in a wave of budget cuts, with no hope of upward movement for the next 40 years. Advantages are that you can mutter about leaving for the private sector a bit more convincingly and you’ve got a certain coolness among your geek friends.

Eras of Play

Once you’ve chosen who you want to play as, you choose which era you want to play in –

  • ‘Prehistory’ – you’re a DC in a fraud squad and know how to use a computer. The avatar for this era is a caveman with a 5 1/4″ floppy and a porn star moustache.
  • ‘Early Years’ – you use Encase 3 and Norton Diskedit, and feel as if you have a relationship with the authors of DDOs through their pithy comments in the code. The avatar is a happy, youthful geek like the ‘pipboy’ from Fallout 3.
  • ‘Golden Age’ – the mid- to late-oughties. You have a training budget, a couple of conferences and workshops per year, and most of the equipment you need. You know almost everyone else in the LE CF circle at least by name. You have a backlog, but it’s manageable. The avatar is a strong-chinned, noble worker looking towards the horizon in the Soviet-heroic style
  • ‘Fin de Siècle’ – you cower under a barbarian government and have little training, equipment or hope of advancement. The backlog is insane because of disk size, broadband use and a raised level of perversion in society. You feel like the last man on the roof in Saigon. Your avatar is a drowning sailor being machine-gunned by leering Nazis.

Once you’re started, you get some training. The nature of this will depend on what era you’ve chosen to play in. If it’s prehistory, you write your own course. If it’s current day, you get mentored by a cyncial old-arse who’s under pressure to complete his own caseload from a sergeant who’s on the verge of going Colonel Kurtz under the weight of the backlog.

During gameplay, cases come into your virtual in-tray and leave as you complete them. Now and then you’ll get one with lots of tricky problems, and successfully unlocking them all will move you up a level. Most of the jobs however – particularly in the later years of the game – become like the old ‘Daley Thompson’s Decathlon’ game on the ZX Spectrum – you hammer a couple of keys as fast as you can, only instead of making Daley do a good long jump, you’re categorising images in a race against the clock. Lose the race and the case gets thrown out on abuse of process. Win and you get an identical job with an exponentially higher number of images. You can choose to mitigate the number of images you have to categorise by absorbing the hash databases of other forces but the trade-off with this is that you then have to spend just as much time re-categorising all the wrong ones.

During the day-to-day business of the game, you also have to contend with an expanding waistline and a diminishing toolkit – points are gained from other players by appropriating their handy white Phillips/flathead double-headed screwdrivers and putting your initials somewhere on them.

After a certain amount of time in the game, you may get a lucky break and go on a ‘Unicorn-Hunting Course‘. This will be a bit of light at the end of the tunnel of doing the same case over and over again for 90% of your time, and you’ll return full of enthusiasm and desire to use your new skills. Other departments will eagerly request your unicorn-hunting skills, and you’ll unlock a mini-game where you try to get out from under the daily grind to do some unicorn-hunting. You are unsuccessful.

You can complete the game by retiring, applying out of the HTCU or becoming so consumed by the oily, black kernel of disgust that builds up within you from wallowing in other people’s brain-filth that you’re disciplined after making a defendant eat his own rectum on the landing at crown court.

Other features could include ‘Boss Roulette’, where you get a new chief/inspector every day, each with varying degrees of enthusiasm for their new role; ‘Recover the RAID’, where you have to forensik your own workstation after a PoS Lacie dies again, and  ‘Elastic Band Wars’, where you put each others’ eyes out with office supplies. Happy gaming, kids!

* please don’t complain about the inaccuracy of this in the comments, as ever I’m only saying it to raise a cheap laugh.