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Video Game / Uplink

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Trust is a weakness

Uplink is a 2001 video game by Introversion Software. It can best be described as a Hollywood Hacking simulation. The whole premise is that you, an unnamed agent of the Uplink Corporation (an underground hacker-for-hire service), have just joined up in the ranks. Using your PC, you move up the ranks of Uplink agents by hacking different companies' computers and servers.

It's arguably one of the most realistic games out there, because you never see your character - in fact, the character is made out to simply be you, operating under an alias. You never see your character because he's/she's sitting in the same chair you are, typing in commands on your keyboard with your hands.

Compare with Net Runner. There was a fan sequel called Codelink, and there also exists a command prompt-based Spiritual Successor known as Hacknet. Not to be confused with the standalone demo for the original Half-Life, Half-Life: Uplink.


This game provides examples of:

  • 555:
    • The computers you hack into use nonsense IP addresses.
    • And the phonelines you ring for voice print IDs use nonsense phone numbers.
    • Your gateway is always No place like home...
  • All Crimes Are Equal: An unintentional example, but someone will go to jail just as readily for rape, murder, and arson as for jaywalking, spitting, and littering. Just so long as they've violated parole.
  • Apocalypse How : Between Societal Disruption and Societal Collapse if Revelation succeeds.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Also unintentional, but as a result of All Crimes Are Equal above, you can indeed send someone to prison for, say, genocide, conspiracy to overthrow the government, and parking on a double yellow line. They also have to be violating parole, as you cannot authorize arrest without that particular crime. So you can turn someone into a genocidal, mass murdering jaywalker...who was successfully paroled and subsequently violated their parole.
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  • Beeping Computers The Trace Tracker program.
  • The Big Board: The Game Within a Game on Protovision's machine.
  • Computer Virus: ARC is attempting to develop a virus to destroy the Internet. The first version you recover doesn't spread across systems, but a speed run demonstrated that it can eliminate the global network by running it on enough computers.
  • Copy Protection: A glossy black-on-black code sheet that asks you to enter the two character sequence at a certain intersection. When the game came out, it was indeed intended as copy-protection, as the game didn't have any kind of DRM and it was Introversion's first game, though now, with the rise of Steam and digital distribution, it has become more a bit of nostalgia. The codes themselves are also hexadecimal characters that allow you to access the game development bible hidden on the original CD if you convert them.
  • Cosmetic Award: There are 12 "Special Awards" to achieve, mostly tied to the completion of the storyline missions. However, since one can only take one branch of the storyline, it's impossible to earn all of them in a single playthrough.
  • The Cracker: The player. You can destroy a company's servers completely - at least datawise - and doing so will net you a nice little news article about how a mysterious hacker has cost the company millions. They don't seem to ever actually go bankrupt, although their stock will tank. You can hack into a bank and funnel money into your account - possibly even bouncing it around several times and keeping it in accounts on other bank websites, rather than storing it all on the Uplink Corporation Bank.
  • Creator Cameo: Introversion Software is one of the companies that hires you from time to time, and they have a website in-game about possible ideas for a sequel. Their IP has to be manually looked up first, as it is initially hidden from the list InterNIC has.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: The high-end Gateways tend to do one thing very well, to the detriment of their other abilities. The UNITY High-Security Platform has multiple redundant security options (but see Useless Useful Spell), and can hold 1 more CPU that most other Gateways, but has very little memory. The AM-CORE File Server has the most memory storage (256 Gq) and the fastest available bandwidth (10 Gqs), but can only hold three CPUs, which means the actual hacking process will be slow. The OMEGA Parallel Supercomputer can hold a whopping sixteen CPUs, which will allow it to crack any system extremely fast, but it has only 48 Gq memory, a slow 4 Gqs bandwidth, and only one security slot (which is bad, see Useless Useful Spell, again). The TRINITY-1686a Gateway is, however, the Master of None gateway: able to use 8 CPUs, with 128 Gq of storage and the second-fastest bandwidth (8 Gqs), it will nonetheless have difficulty completing more specialized missions, such as "Copy a Large Database".
  • Critical Annoyance:
    • The Trace Tracker. The lack of any other significant sound in the game except a quiet music soundtrack can make the slow but subtle beep rate increase into Nightmare Fuel, particularly if you've only got about five seconds left.
    • The motion detector will flash red regardless of who is near the computer, as long as there is more than one person (one person only makes it flash yellow; any computer upgrades you order are carried out by one person per upgrade). This could either be the FBI coming with your game over, or those 5 new processors you just ordered.
  • Developer's Foresight:
    • Anything that can be done on a computer can likely be done in Uplink. For example, if you need to delete a load of files on a server, you could either go into the console then access the registry and purge it, or delete them manually.
    • Also, when you connect to the Uplink Public Access Server and Gateway for the first time in the intro, the logo on your computer screen changes based on whether you're playing the Windows, Mac or Linux version.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: Robbing a bank to get a 6 digit payoff. Getting a mission that points you to a target account is relatively quick: they start showing up as "Trace a recent bank transfer" missions around rank 7, which is the rank after you start getting missions to hack into the Global Criminal Database, a particularly tough nut to crack. Banks, by comparison, are pretty easy. You only need a proxy disabler, a password breaker, and a voice analysis recorder, all of which are relatively inexpensive. But banks hate getting hacked: your trace time will be ridiculously short unless you bounce your connection through dozens of links, and if you leave any record, you're going to get caught. It's not enough to transfer the money and delete your connection log: you also have to delete the actual transfer log from the sending account AND your receiving account. And the passive trace is the fastest you're ever going to see: from time of transfer to completion of passive trace is less than five minutes, where other passive traces can take hours or days. It's very possible to complete the hack without all the tools, rush back to Uplink Services and buy all the software you need to cover your tracks, but it's very difficult. If you manage to pull it off, though, you'll easily jump up 4-5 ranks in Uplink, and have enough money to buy the best of, well, everything, trivializing hacks until you decide to start working on LAN hacks. There is an extremely easy way to get away with it that requires some preparation, however: hack the bank, transfer the funds, delete the transfer logs, and blow up your gateway. You don't have to worry about any passive trace, and this is much cheaper to do as it only requires Proxy Disable (because banks for some reason never have firewalls), Password Breaker and Log Deleter software. The preparation, however, requires a gateway with a security option, and installation of the gateway nuke.
  • Disc-One Nuke: If you know how, it's fairly easynote  to rob a bank and funnel a couple million dollars into your bank account, thereby allowing you to buy all the best hardware and software early on. The game even baits you with this early on; after a few safe missions to modify data in the International Academic Database, you'll find a mission to trace a recent funds transfer - in the order of 900,000 credits...
  • Easter Egg:
    • There are supposedly encrypted easter eggs hidden in the game's code. No, the game doesn't find and decrypt them for you when you do something, it's up to you to find and decrypt the right pieces of code.
    • At the beginning of the game, you're asked for a two-character code as part of the game's copy protection. The code sheet is written in hexadecimal coding, and it does say something.
  • Exact Progress Bar: Almost every program the player can utilize logs progress in this way. The v3 and below Trace Tracker will sometimes jump around a little, but still stays fairly consistent. V4 shows your Exact Time to Failure. The MapTrace HUD upgrade, despite costing more than the best Trace Tracker, does not show how much time you have until the trace is complete, only many bounces your hack has been traced through.
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: Justified, because it is a representation of Hollywood Hacking.
  • Feelies: Although even these are virtual:
    • The passworded "Game Bible"
    • The shiny bonus disc, with old builds of the game and their ideas for Uplink 2.
  • Fan Sequel: Codelink, currently in open beta. Here's their dev blog.
  • Featureless Protagonist: You have no photo in your school records, Social Security file, or criminal record. During the secret mission to steal the agent roster from the Uplink Internal Services machine, there's always one of the ten files missing - the one containing your own record.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: The InterNIC server is infamous for having no security measures whatsoever (not even a Monitor to trace you with) and never even changing the admin password. As such, it's frequently cited as the perfect place to start your connection-bouncing from, as after a hack you can easily break into the server within seconds and delete the logs to foil a passive trace.
  • Guide Dang It!: There are a number of things that you can only learn through trial and error, as the tutorial is designed to get you up and running and not much else. Specifically:
    • If you manage to hack a computer and log out without getting your fake credentials revoked, then when you bounce your link through that computer, it's much harder to trace through, giving you more time.
    • Government-owned computers are harder to passively trace through, as the government doesn't like people asking for their access records, politely or otherwise. Bouncing your signal through a government database, even the notoriously easy-to-hack International Academic Database, will give you more time to cover your tracks.
    • Never buy the Dictionary Breaker: see Useless Useful Spell.
    • The Connection Analyzer itself is useless, but allows you to purchase Bypass programs. By far the most important Bypass program is the Monitor Bypass, which can delay a trace from starting. Buying the Proxy and Firewall Bypass is eventually extremely helpful, but you'll likely have equivalent Disable programs that work just as well until you have enough money to upgrade to the Bypass program. But there's no Monitor Disable program, making the Monitor Bypass program extremely helpful.
    • Robbing a bank is a quick way to make a lot of money, but the first (few) time(s) you do it, you'll get caught by the passive trace. The Guide Dang It! here is two fold: 1) transferring the funds is easy, but covering your tracks is hard, and 2) after you think you've covered your tracks, do not advance time on the fastest speed: if you've missed something, you will have only seconds to blow up your Gateway and keep your ill-gotten wealth when the police show up, and if you advance time, you'll miss that opportunity completely.
  • Hacker Collective: The Uplink corporation. Since it was one of the first games, many followed their example.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: If you're working for Arunmor, this can happen in the final mission - you can destroy ARC's central mainframe with their own virus. The exact sequence of events: Be sure to hang on to the Revelation 1.0 virus file - you have two opportunities to get your hands on it. When the final mission starts, immediately infiltrate the ARC mainframe. Copy Revelation to their fileserver, use the console to delete the contents of /sys, then run Revelation. Don't forget to clear the transfer logs after that, and then you can start fighting the virus everywhere else. Since the version you've unleashed is 1.0, it won't spread.
  • Hollywood Hacking: The entire game can basically be described as a simulation based off Hollywood's portrayal of hacking.
  • Hyperspace Arsenal: Not per se, but by the end of the game you'll probably have a rather respectable collection of hacking tools at your disposal - from a simple password cracker, to software designed to help you map out and then abuse the hell out of a LAN.
  • Karma Meter: Of a sort. The game keeps track of whether you're a hacker or a cracker. If you attack big (presumably evil) corporations by stealing data or trashing their system, your reputation goes up. Doing missions that affect individuals directly (including tracing other hackers) makes it go down. Going down is easier then going up. Mission givers will react to your reputation. And if you sell the list of Uplink agents, your reputation will be locked into a completely amoral sociopath.
  • Last Chance Hit Point: Of a sort. The Gateway Nuke and Motion Sensor will give you a very short time to blow up your Gateway if an unauthorized person approaches it. Obviously, this is detrimental to the hardware (and any software you didn't back up somewhere), but as the alternative results in your agent being completely disavowed and forcing you to start a new game, it's a last opportunity to keep going with your current agent if you really messed up somewhere.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: The main story starts when ARC decides that Uplink's most proficient agent, who was working for them in a secret project, needed to take a nap.
  • Game Mod: A very impressive one was released October 1, 2016, called Uplink OS which completely overhauled the graphics of the game so it looks more like mid-to-late The New '10s common GUI design and less like a late 90s GUI design. Even the developers were impressed. Though it does have quite a few bugs still being worked out.
  • The Mole: You, if you manage to steal the whole list of agents of your very own company and sell it to a third party. Cue "suicide" spree among Uplink employees. To top it off, you'll receive a Special Award for doing so.
  • Non Standard Game Over: The normal game over is the feds getting their hands on your gateway. There is basically only one non-standard game over and two ways to acquire it. You can run any version of Revelation on your own system which, unsurprisingly, completely breaks it. When you follow the ARC missions, getting Revelation on your system is impossible to avoid and the end of the game.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: After you complete a mission to hack into a server and delete key files, a news story will note how the company has lost years of work. Apparently none of them have considered backing up their precious data on removable, offline media.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The blank screen when your account is suspended.
  • One-Gender Race: Not acknowledged in story but you will only see adult men in the databases. Well, it was made in 2000, back when there were no girls on the internet.
  • 100% Completion: Subverted - you can't get all 12 special badges in a single playthrough.
  • One World Order: There is only one government, which makes hacking their databases very convenient.
  • Only Smart People May Pass: The Protovision game server. It's the only server in the game that's immune to the Password Breaker: to even get in, you have to understand the WarGames reference.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish":
    • Downplayed - admins will normally use random strings of letters and numbers, but give their co-workers passwords from a list of common words shared by every company. Presumably, God won a survey of easily remembered words, closely followed by admin and then password
    • The password to the practice machine is always rosebud .
    • Although the password changes with each game, the Inter NIC passcode will always remain the same on that savegame.
    • Initially, even admins use highly insecure passwords, but as the game goes on and your notoriety rises, the cheap and cheerful Dictionary Cracker is about as much use as... well, a cream cracker. With the spate of hackings, massive amounts of data theft, data loss, server wipes, etc. etc., it's actually a nice touch that they do appear to wise up.
  • Password Slot Machine: The Password Breaker decrypts passwords in this way.
  • Permadeath: Get caught during a hack or passive traced, and your account will be suspended. To all intents and purposes, that game file is dead (justified in that Uplink disavows all knowledge of your actions, prevents you from ever reconnecting your gateway computer, and generally pulls the plug on your actions, while also implying that your gateway contains the only information that can lead directly back to you). You can go a bit meta and back up your saves, however.
  • Phone-Trace Race: As a variation, applies to network connections. A targetted company can trace unauthorized inbound connections in a way similar of the trope, closing in one node at a time. However, killing the connection at the last minute isn't enough, because companies still track down the hacker by examining passive logs that were used at a gateway (taking a few days to complete), requiring the player to cover their tracks later.
  • Piecemeal Funds Transfer: Averted; delete the logs stating a millionaire transfer and the disappearance of thousands of credits from dozens of angry customers will be forever shrouded in mystery.
  • Playful Hacker: You, if you so choose, anyway. Gain access to someone's academic record and give them a qualification as a Registered Sex Worker! Change someone's government records from reading 'Single' to 'Married' (or vice versa)! Plant a Bestiality charge on some poor random bastard's criminal record for the lulz! Give them a qualification in Mathsology, Archeomatics or Truthiness! Given that this is a British game, the most appropriate crime to pin on people is probably buggery.
  • Post Modern: A borderline example, as rather than having a distinct character that the player acts as, the player is the character.
  • Press X to Die: After the Evil Corporation hands you The Virus. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RUN REVELATION LOCALLY.
    • Although creative players can use it as a cheap (free!) alternative to a Self Destruct Device (which otherwise costs a significant amount of money and a hardware slot).
  • Real Time: Time moves in real time, even though people reply to messages instantly. You can speed up time though.
  • Save Scumming: Most clever players will back up their files, like any smart hacker should do. It's the only way to use a certain cheat code after the patch. TooManySecrets no longer works as a cheat
  • Scare Chord: While not a literal chord, any first time LAN hacker will jump at the shrill sound when the System Administrator logs on.
  • Schmuck Bait: ARC's email spells it out very, very clearly: "DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RUN REVELATION LOCALLY." And yet there are still reports of people who have destroyed their own gateways in that very manner...
  • School Grade Hacking: Hacking the International Academic Database is an early game mission.
  • Sequence Breaking: Instead of following ARC's instructions, you can destroy the whole Internet by yourself as soon as they send you the first version of Revelation. In fact is easier than sticking to the storyline since nobody else knows about the existence of the virus, therefore Faith hasn't even been conceived. The only difficulty added to this shortcut is that one must infect about twice the amount of computers that Revelation 3.0 would need, as well as amassing loads of money early to build a decent rig for the task (usually via bank hacking).This speedrun demonstrates it.
  • Self-Destructing Security: One security measure you can purchase for your gateway is a Self-Destruct Mechanism, intended as a last resort if the Feds are closing in on you. You lose all the hardware, but at least you avoid getting Game Over'd; if you have extra bank accounts set up you can use them to rebuild.
  • Sensor Suspense: The Trace Tracker is an absolute necessity, since it shows you how close you are to being backhacked and identified. Much of the strategy in the game consists of finding ways to increase the amount of time you can spend on a system before they start getting too close.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Protovision's machine is a homage to WarGames (it's the only machine you can't crack with the Password Breaker - you need to recognise the shout out to get the password (JOSHUA, of course), and Introversion (the developers) have an in-game website which mentions Johnny Mnemonic and Mission: Impossible. And then there's the Steve Jackson Games server, which has of course been pinched by the US Secret Service.
    • Also, the use of "Quads" as a measurement of data storage could be a Shout-Out to Star Trek, as quads are what the Federation computers use.
    • "Hello. I am the System Administrator. My voice is my passport. Verify me."
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • Subversion, which was explicitly declared a successor to Uplink, and was supposed to be more physical, with a more Cyberpunk look and feel. Sadly, in late 2011 the game officially descended into Development Hell, and was finally and definitely cancelled soon after.
    • The Protovision machine's depiction of The Big Board is like a foreshadowing of the their following game DEFCON.
    • Hacknet was conceived of as a spiritual successor to Uplink
  • Take That!: "Once again, the Global Criminal Database has been hacked. The system appears to have more security holes than the popular 'Micro Software' written in the late 20th Century". OUCH.
  • Tech Marches On: Inverted - the developers apparently assumed that technology would progress much, much, much faster than it did in real life. In the Uplink universe a 60 GHz processor is considered slow.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": Played with: administrators have random sequences of characters for passwords, which furthermore tend to change just after the player hacks the system. Civilians, however, use regular words for their bank account passwords. Another note is that there are two password-breaking programs available to buy in the game. One is the Dictionary Hack, and the other is simply called Password Breaker. Nobody actually uses the dictionary program as it won't always get you into a system, whereas the simple brute-force Password Breaker will get you in 99.99% of the time.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's set in 2010. Now officially recognized as being set in the past.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable: It's possible to render some of the data retrieval missions unwinnable by purposefully vandalizing and wiping everything on the servers you hack.
  • Unreadably Fast Text: Take a closer look at the output of the gateway installation program. You can read fast...
  • Unwinnable by Design: Once you make your decision in the first storyline mission, you've joined the associated faction. If you try changing your mind later (e.g. improve Faith when you first worked for ARC), your opponent in the climax will be overpowered compared to your own software.
  • Useless Useful Spell: The Dictionary Breaker technically works faster than the Password Breaker program. However, because it only uses normal words, it quickly becomes entirely useless: the more systems you hack, the more passwords will be replaced with essentially gibberish that the Dictionary Breaker can't break at all, and trying it will still initiate a trace, wasting valuable time if it doesn't work. The Password Breaker is slower, but guaranteed to work eventually.
    • The Gateway Nuke, at least on its own: it will destroy your Gateway computer without fail if you set it off, but you have no way of knowing if you need to without the Motion Sensor package, which notifies you if someone is approaching you Gateway (yellow = 1 person, red = 2 people, and more than 1 person is usually bad). Without the Motion Sensor to know when the feds are about to grab your highly incriminating computer, the Gateway Nuke is useless. This also makes the KRONOS Corp 80-860 and the OMEGA Parallel Supercomputer Gateways have functionally no security slots at all, as they can only have one security option (either the Nuke or the Motion Sensor, not both).
      • The UNITY High-Security Platform gateway is relatively decent, allowing for 4 CPUs (but only 64 Gq of data, generally not enough), but the main selling point is that it has 4 security slots. Unfortunately, there's only two security options, and multiple Motion Sensors are no more helpful than having just one (to say nothing of having multiple redundant Gateway Nukes). It's generally advised to ignore it and save up for the TRINITY-1686a Gateway, which is superior all around (though it still has a redundant security slot).
  • Viewer-Friendly Interface: Standardized login screens, massive loading bars and tasty IP-dialling visualizations.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Did you just complete a bank robbery for hundreds of thousands of credits and want to get away scot-free? Blow up your Gateway. Sure, you'll lose the hardware, but it means that you'll be completely untraceable: even if the police manage to trace your connection, the computer they'll find blew up, and you've got hundreds of thousands of credits to build an entirely new one, so what do you care?
  • Virus and Cure Names: Revelation can only be stopped with Faith
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: ARC seem like straight-up villains at first, but it's eventually revealed that they're a group of radical hacktivists who are appalled at the overly commercialized, corrupt state of the Internet and the danger to privacy and insecurity posed by the global governmental databases and wish to destroy it so they can start again from scratch.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: There's nothing to stop you from ignoring the storyline entirely and focus on freelance hacking.
  • You All Look Familiar: The game has a fair amount of portraits to populate its various databases with, but not enough to stop them from being full of dopplegangers on any given playthrough. But at least it's better than the voice clips, of which every single person in the game has one of a pool of about 3 or 4.