Ciess Virtual Reality

Posted April 3, 2014 by in All

Developer: E McNeill
Release Date: 28-09-2013
Game Type: Puzzle
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
HMD: Oculus Rift
Control Schemes: Keyboard & Mouse, Xbox Controller
All Games: ,

Best Part:

Absorbing abstract visuals & a strong premise.

Worst Part:

Does not do enough to discourage grinding for cash, over developing skill.
Bottom Line

Ciess is a solid working prototype of a fun and absorbing hacker sim. It has some balancing issues to work out before a full release but as a demo it is well worth a look.






Comfort Level


Total Score

3.5/ 5

by Edmund
Full Article

Immersing the player in realistic environments may be the first application most people think of when introduced to VR, but if you are looking to see what can be done in a more abstract space then you should definitely check out Ciess.

It was the winner of the 2013 VR Game Jam and is currently being developed into a full game under the title Darknet. In Ciess you take on the role of a hacker and delve into an 80s-inspired imagining of ‘cyberspace’. You break into secured networks, earning money as you go to allow you to purchase enough tools to access the data your employer wants retrieved.

ciess VRThe networks are depicted as a series of connected spherical nodes that can be entered. The value of each node can be guessed at by observing the volume of high-value data that they transmit to neighbouring nodes. Normal data is depicted as white and valuable data as yellow. Selecting a node whooshes you into it and presents you with it’s security systems. These are represented as blue squares with shields in the centre, that bounce around a 2 dimensional grid. You aim at a security square by looking and can fire a hack at it, transforming it red and causing it to increase in size and take over the node. Other security squares will immediately move to intercept a growing hack. While touching, they both decrease in size until either the hack or the security system is elminiated entirely.  This means that on smaller nodes with a security rating of two, you will need to time your hack so that it is able to grow to a sufficient size before the other security system can eliminate it. On better defended nodes you will need to use multiple hacks wisely to confuse the the defenders.

This core mechanic definitely has some legs and could certainly be turned into a solid puzzle game, VR or otherwise. But, currently, the difficulty curve in Ciess is a little unsatisfying – and this is due mostly to the strategic layer. With the earnings you get from hacking low-level systems you can buy more hacks or viruses. Each hack allows you to take over another security square when trying to break into a node. Viruses can be deployed on any already hacked node to take control of all nodes that unprotected by firewalls and connected to it.

ciess Oculus RiftThe problem is the pricing of additional hacks. Buying one extra hack guarantees you the ability to take control of level 2 systems; it makes accessing level 3 systems trivial and level 4 systems quite acheivable.  Each new hack you gain pretty much entirely obsoletes the challenge and strategy of a lot of levels. The quantity of nodes available to you that you can definitely or easily beat is usually sufficient to earn enough you buy the next hack. The price of additional hacks doubles with each one that you buy, but this is not enough to allow the difficulty to keep pace with your increased resources. You are being timed, so this does act as some incentive to try to challenge yourself. But this is undermined by the simple fact that quickly beating easy, less profitable levels can still be more time-efficient than repeatedly failing at a lucrative one. Ultimately, this means that it is far too easy to brute-force your way through by farming nodes that are now almost impossible to fail at, until you have so many hacks that you can’t lose. Ciess never really challenges you to abandon this first order optimal strategy.

The viruses add a nice area-control layer onto the strategic level. Blue nodes protect adjacent ones with their firewalls, so you need to take these out to leave contiguous networks of unprotected nodes for your virus to compromise in one go. The trouble is that these blue nodes are usually only capturable once you have three or four hacks at your disposal and by this time the money to be gained from using the virus is often inconsequential.

This all may sound negative but it is only possible to go into this much depth because there is a solid game to critique here. It’s really just the economy that’s marring what is otherwise a potentially quite addicting puzzle game. The fact all of the hacks you’ve acquired reset when you move on to the next network suggests that Mcneill is aware that this is an issue with the current progression design. Hopefull this will improve in Darknet.

ciess virtual realityAs a VR experience, Ciess has a lot of nice touches. Being surrounded by this vast network is cool enough, but it’s particularly impressive when you’re inside any given node and can look around at the network from within. You can see all the other nodes, as well as the data moving between them from this new perspective. Other effects, like travelling through portals to new networks and the 3D grid that expands around you, work really well. It’s fair to say that the core hacking game does not require VR, and could conceivably be transposed onto other platforms, but it does work well on the rift. And the overall experience of inhabiting this stylised ‘cyberspace’ is absorbing.

Ciess will entertain you for the better part of an hour. It is very well presented and acts as a strong proof of concept. Some additional complexity and variety to the security systems, would probably go a long way to mitigating some of the problems highlighted in this review. It would be good to see, perhaps, different types of systems move and behave differently, or even some nodes limit the amount of hacks you are able to use at once. There are lots of options for rebalancing the economy. This is just the sort of thing that the developer wouldn’t have had time to properly iterate upon in a Games Jam competition. So Ciess should not reflect negatively on Darknet in this regard. Ciess is absorbing and provides something quite different from the vast majority of Oculus demos. You may not want to play it over and over again, but you should definitely try it out.

Check out our preview of Darknet



About the Author


Edmund Ward is a philosophy graduate who has focused on aesthetics and cultural critique in the information age. He grew up with 'the dream of the holodeck' and is prone to get very excited by new innovations in natural user-interfaces. Edmund is currently looking for volunteers to look after the glucose drip that will sustain his "fleshform" (as he insists on calling it) when he migrates permanently to VR.

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