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PC Games (Games)

The Making of System Shock 2 97

The British gaming magazine Edge, which has teamed up with the website Next Generation, offers up a piece looking back at the creation of System Shock 2 . The cult classic storytelling horror-themed FPS has survived as a popular and often-referenced game despite the eight years between now and its release. The piece covers the reasons behind that popularity, as well as the 'horror' of an inexperienced team taking on a dauntingly high-profile task: "The original System Shock was one of the games that made Levine want to move into the videogame industry in the first place. What made it so special? 'The feeling of being in a real place,' he raves. 'The feeling of a mystery, of unraveling it - not in an adventure game way, but in the context of an action game. You arrive and... what happened? That's a really good storytelling mechanism.' Austin Grossman and Doug Church's original idea from Shock was something Irrational expanded in its sequel. 'In Shock 1 you were a specific guy, you had a backstory,' Levine notes. 'With Shock 2, I started you out with the classic 'wake up with amnesia'.'"
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The Making of System Shock 2

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  • by Silverlancer ( 786390 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:36PM (#20960537)
    When Bioshock came out, I heard the hype, and was prepared to delve into the amazing awesomeness that Bioshock apparently was. Especially considering how good System Shock 2 was. So I expected that it would be as good as SS2 or better.

    I installed it and began playing.

    About two hours later I was bored out of my mind at the console-ized, dumbed-down mess that was Bioshock.

    I reinstalled System Shock 2.

    I played the entire thing through again and loved every second of it. System Shock 2 is without a doubt one of the best games of all time, worthy of any top 10 list as the best FPS-RPG ever. Probably even better than Deus Ex, though that's a hard comparison to make for sure.
    • I agree entirely with this post. With some of the addons (SS2 Rebirth, etc...), it can even be made to look a little better than the original graphics...
    • by Nasarius ( 593729 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:47PM (#20960643)
      Absolutely...spiritual successor my ass.

      For those who want to play through SS2 again, check out SHTUP [] and Rebirth [].
      • It is a spiritual successor. BioShock is essentially a steampunk version of SS2. Sure, many aspects of the game are dumbed down, but all the same elements are still there. Psionics, cameras, turrets, hacking, ammo types, weapon and character upgrades, audio logs, ghosts, somebody guiding you, the isolation and loneliness, med and psi hypos, food... it's all there.

        Even if some things were dumbed down, in terms of combat BioShock is far more advanced than SS2. There are so many ways you can dispose of your en
    • by Flavio ( 12072 )
      Have you ever played the original System Shock? That was really, really cool. Better than SS2, IMHO.

      The sounds, the music, the atmosphere, the game engine, all just above and beyond everything else in the genre.
    • Agree (Score:1, Redundant)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 )
      Can't mod you up anymore, so I might as well agree...

      Although I did finish Bioshock.

      Overall I really liked all sorts of aspects of the story in System Shock 2 more as well, beyond just the gameplay - in System Shock 2 you really felt more in-between two larger powers than in Bioshock (hopefully not spoiling too much for people that have not played either game).

      I would love to play through System Shock 2 again, but sadly I sold off my copy a few years ago.

      Sometimes I wish they would just update graphics and
    • by complexmath ( 449417 ) * on Friday October 12, 2007 @06:07PM (#20960835)
      System Shock 2 was far better than Deus Ex, in my opinion. For one thing, System Shock 2 felt quite nonlinear, while Deus Ex railroaded the player through the game from start to finish. Also, Deus Ex contained some racist content that had me considering just uninstalling the game for a while. Not to mention System Shock 2's unbelievable use of sound, fantastic level design, etc. It's easily in my top ten FPS games of all time along with System Shock 1, Thief 1 & 2, Ultima Underworld, Half Life 2, and various others I can't think of right now. But Deus Ex may not be on that list.

      As for Bioshock, I recently started playing the game and have been enjoying it quite a bit. I agree that the interface is more like a traditional FPS than System Shock 2 and thus "dumbed down" I suppose, but still more complex than Half Life and similar more pure FPS variants. What I really enjoy about Bioshock, though, is simply the realization of the concept within the game world. How often do you get to explore the shattered remains of a dystopian world inspired by an Ayn Rand novel? About my only potential issue so far are the few scripted "scare" scenarios I've encountered. I'd have preferred if they had been done in such a way that they at least didn't feel quite so scripted. Many of the scariest moments in System Shock 2, for example, were simply an artifact of situations I found myself in and the excellent sound work in the game--the ability to hear critters nearby but not know where they were, etc.
      • Also, Deus Ex contained some racist content that had me considering just uninstalling the game for a while.

        Um... huh?
        • Mostly sound clips / audio scenarios (I'm not sure what the proper term is). One may as well have been Mickey Rooney's char from "Breakfast at Tiffany's," though there were some other notable moments I can't recall offhand. The thing is that I'm not terribly touchy about that sort of thing, but for some reason these parts of Deus Ex really struck a nerve.
          • by fbjon ( 692006 )
            Do you mean the terrible voice acting in the Wan Chai market, perhaps?
            • The Win Chai voice acting was notoriously poor, but I wouldn't call it racist.

              Maybe it is to someone who's never actually heard an Asian person who has trouble with "r" sounds. That (and other) stereotypes aren't just conjured up by someone's imagination.

              I can't think of anything else. I guess maybe it's racist against Greasels. Fucking Greasels and their acid spit. They had it coming.
              • Yeah just a horrible stereotype. That's why I compared it to Mickey Rooney's character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
          • You're still vague. What 'exactly' was racist?
            • by LKM ( 227954 )
              I think he told you what "exactly" was racist. Just not what *exactly* it was :-)
      • by urbanriot ( 924981 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:17PM (#20961503)
        Well, both games are in my Top 5, but Deus Ex actually rewarded you with stories, points and situations that altered based on your gameplay. Kill someone earlier in the game, and a cutscene won't contain that character. Every level, you had at least two clear options on completing it... stealth or head-on, guns blazing. While System Shock 2 might have seemed more open ended, it most certainly was not; however that's a testament to the developers for making a game that seemed open ended when it was fairly straight forward. I don't know, I can't really contrast the two games since they're both personal favorites.

        System Shock 2 was far better than Deus Ex, in my opinion. For one thing, System Shock 2 felt quite nonlinear, while Deus Ex railroaded the player through the game from start to finish.

        Deus Ex contained some racist content that had me considering just uninstalling the game for a while.
        What content offended you? Are you of a particular race they offended?

        I'm not a namby pamby liberal who doesn't go out of his way to be offended by comments or content that doesn't directly apply to me, so I might have missed it.
        • Well, both games are in my Top 5, but Deus Ex actually rewarded you with stories, points and situations that altered based on your gameplay. Kill someone earlier in the game, and a cutscene won't contain that character.

          Within certain boundaries, yes. I suppose I was just expecting more because of the game's reputation as being nonlinear. For example, one level begins (I believe) in an air duct above a subway station, and ends with the main character's capture after exiting the station. But certain other
      • by Bodrius ( 191265 )

        I see BioShock more similar to DeusEx in its intention, and perhaps that is also why I enjoyed the game quite a bit, since by nature I do not think it could be as good as System Shock 2 on doing what SS2 did... but probably better at doing what DeusEx / Bioshock attempted (I still prefer Deus Ex, though).

        System Shock 2 was fundamentally a thriller FPS - its design and its intention allowed it to be quite non-linear because, besides the atmosphere, it didn't have a narrative to tell. It felt to
    • by vimh42 ( 981236 )
      Well, it's hard for me to comment on the consolized feel of Bioshock since I played it on the 360. It doesn't surprise me though that the controls didn't feel quite right on the computer. That is often the case.

      Take for example Oblivion. There are a lot of things that were downright annoying because of design choices for the console. Fortunately some interface mods fixed some of that. You mention Dues Ex, well the interface in the first was fairly well done but the second had some issues due to the console
      • No, the controls on the computer felt fine. They had a team dedicated to the PC version that built the PC interface from the ground up. I played the 360 Bioshock demo and the controls are *much* better on the PC and I don't just mean aiming with the thumbstick vs mouse.

        I think the "consoleized" complaint refers more to game design or gameplay. I hate traditionally PC games being consoleized, but I didn't really notice it much in Bioshock. At least nothing jumped out at me, as opposed to Oblivion.
    • Awesomeness is in the eye of the beholder.

      I've played through BioShock four and a half times now. It'd be five, but first I've got to finish Halo 3 on Legendary. Which will happen right after I finish The Orange Box twice, the second time with developer commentary on. Oh what wonderful problems to be having!

      Meanwhile, you go right on hating. Whatever keeps you warm at night.

      • I'm really fucking sick of people using the word "hating" or "hater." It's so juvenile and ridiculous. I'm suprised you didn't post "LEAVE BIOSHOCK ALONE!" Is it really so difficult to comprehend that some people just don't like certain games?
        • There's a difference between "I didn't like XYZ" and "XYZ sucks". The post I replied to stated opinions about BioShock (the former) in the tone of facts about BioShock (the latter). I'm happy to admit that some people may not like BioShock or may have overbought the pre-release hype. That doesn't make it bad, any more than my liking it makes it good.

          Whether taking one's negative opinions as facts counts as hating? I'll agree that it can be argued about.

        • P.S. If you hate the word "hating" so much, try substituting "spewing bile" for it in my post:

          Meanwhile, you go right on spewing bile. Whatever keeps you warm at night.


    • It's amazing how many elements of SS2 and parallels to SS2 are in BioShock. I played SS2 many times and when I played BioShock the whole time I was thinking "someone who never played SS1/2 will think this is the best game ever in this genre". BioShock is a reimaged version of SS2, consolized.

      Now, if someone would just RERELEASE SS2 on a new engine. Heck, the same engine BioShock uses. I think that would do very well - as long as they don't dumb it down for consoles.

      Hell, rerelease DX1 as well.
    • by Tim C ( 15259 )
      Probably even better than Deus Ex, though that's a hard comparison to make for sure.

      I love Deus Ex. (Don't talk to me about Deus Ex 2, it didn't happen).

      But SS2 "probably" better?

      Even now, 8 years on, from time to time I'll see something (a hallway in a building, the layout of a foyer, or just a feeling of a dark night) that sparks a little voice at the back of my mind: "Silence the discord..." Sure, I have memories of playing Deus Ex, but nothing as vivid or lasting.

      I've sought out survival horror games an
      • They're ALL great games! They all belong in the pantheon of Greatest Games for different reasons. Just because you prefer one over the other doesn't mean that everything else is crap in comparison. Deus Ex: A great political thriller with a plot that actually changed in response to your actions. Half-Life: Extremely well polished conventional shooter that aimed for immersion and realistic goals (activate generator rather than finding keycards). System Shock 2: Immersive and harrowing. Complex and realis
    • I did something similar. I liked Bioshock, though I agree it was dumbed-down. But, it gave me the urge to play System Shock 2. So, I played it with Rebirth and some other patches. It was probably my 4th time through. It was great! I played it all the way through on hard and I was engrossed (played for hours at a time, put all my other games on hold). After I finished SS2, Bioshock really didn't seem to great. It was over-hyped. Still, it's a decent game. But, it still can't touch System Shock 2.
    • Funny, because when I picked up Bioshock, I thought, "Wow, they captured the cool character customization, hacking, and plot of SS2, but actually got all the gameplay elements done right this time." To me, the world just felt more alive in Bioshock, and I didn't miss playing around with the inventory and the other elements they "streamlined" away.

      I'd accuse you of nostalgic bias, but that might force me to contemplate Chrono Trigger not being the best game of all time, so never mind.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    How unoriginal. I hope they sue.
  • by headkase ( 533448 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:37PM (#20960553)
    I still have the disc and I'd play it again in a heartbeat if it would just run on a modern system - I've tried everything. With patience, my media will hopefully be useful again someday once the Open Dark Engine [] reaches maturity.
    • I have SS2 working on Windows XP. Run it in Windows 2000 compatibility mode. Also, it's been a while since I tweaked it, but IIRC it also involved setting the processor affinity on the executable.

      I won't have an opportunity this weekend, but come Monday evening I'll be happy to check it out and post my findings here, if they're wanted.

      • Thanks for the offer, however I *really* have tried everything - check out the link in my other reply in this thread: it covers pretty much everything. :(
        • I'm sorry to hear that. I've had pretty good fortune getting old games to run on XP. Wish it could be so for everyone.

    • Do you have a dual-core machine? I've had SS2 running on my single-core P4, WinXP before, but having played Thief on my dual core machine I have an idea.

      With Thief 2 (which also uses the Dark Engine) you have to change the processor affinity so it just runs on one processor rather than both of them, otherwise the game will crash when you load the engine itself. To do this in Thief I Alt-Tabbed out of the main menu, opened task manager and adjusted the affinity (right-click on the process) and that solved my
      • You can use something like StartAffinity [] to get it to automatically launch with an affinity set.
      • I have a dual-core and I have tried setting processor affinity. I've also used imagecfg.exe to make the affinity permanent but still to no avail. I've used an unwrapper for the copy protection. I've downloaded the "xp-fixed" exe's but they just have the affinity set in them. Thank you for the tip I really wish it would work on my machine but I guess I can't expect miracles from a game thats almost a decade old.

        Through the Looking Glass [] has a comprehensive forum of things to try to get SS2 working but
        • by phlinn ( 819946 )
          Something you might try out of desperation that wasn't on that thread. Open display propterties, settings tab, advanced button, troubleshooting tab. Move the hardware acceleration slider down. I had to move it down halfway to run Soul Reaver, although it wasn't necessary for system shock for me. For system shock, I needed to eliminate safe disc, set affinity, and increase priority to high. I ended up writing a batch file to start it with the affinity and priority I wanted.

          I just noticed that the thre
    • My system qualifies as fairly modern (XP, core 2 duo, 3GB, 7900GT), and I managed to get it to work reliably. How:

      - You need to set compatibility mode for Windows 2000 on the executable (from the properties window).

      - You need to ensure that it only uses one CPU core. One way to do this is to start the game and before doing anything use the task manager to set CPU affinity to one core only. Alternatively, I've made a small .exe that does this automatically.

    • The version you can download from Underdogs works perfectly for me (XP SP2). The game's copy protection is one of the things that causes problems with modern systems. The Underdogs release has the protection removed, though you can also unwrap the executable yourself.
  • by Brian Gordon ( 987471 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:42PM (#20960607)
    Got to the point where you're avoiding cameras and every time you go around the corner a camera sees you. I tried various things to get past but it was just stupid, there was nothing to do. Tried various game guides, none of them had anything to say about it. So I'm not particularly fond of SS2 and I burn inside every time someone praises it.. I have a special hatred for video games that have a f'(x)=infinity learning curve and stump you after 9 seconds of playing. It's just not fun..
    • by Silverlancer ( 786390 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:49PM (#20960667)
      You can shoot the camera. It takes one shot with your pistol. ;)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sammyF70 ( 1154563 )
      if you mean the first one you meet, on the first level you are on : just run to the camera and hit it with the wrench, if you have nothing else you can use against it. works fine ;)
    • by HexRei ( 515117 )
      ...seriously, you had a tough time with cameras? you hear the alert, just duck back until the initial alert is over. then shoot it, run past it, hack it, or ignore it, as you wish. perhaps you should have given the game more time, the cameras are not that hard to deal with. or maybe it just wasn't for you.
    • by thegnu ( 557446 )

      I have a special hatred for video games that have a f'(x)=infinity learning curve and stump you after 9 seconds of playing. It's just not fun..

      Dude, that intro sequence is like 30 minutes the first time through. And anyway, SS2 is definitely one of the best games of all time. I'm sorry it frustrated you so much.

      Given the choice between friends and System Shock 2, I would probably go with friends. Probably.
    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @07:47PM (#20961767)
      Got to the point where you're avoiding cameras and every time you go around the corner a camera sees you.

      Back in, oh, 2001, I was playing through Shock 2 for the first time. I was at university at the time, and I got a summer job in a book warehouse, picking out textbooks to ship out to various schools around the place. The job involved trotting around this big building grabbing books out of various aisles and throwing them onto a conveyor.

      One day I was heading down an aisle in which the lights had packed in for some reason. It was dark. Not a problem, I have no fear of this. I walk down the aisle looking for the book that's on my order sheet.

      At this point I spot a red light on the ceiling.

      SHIT! I immediately duck to the floor and take cover behind my cart-o'-books, and reach for my gun to shoot out the camera...

      At this point I realise that (a) I don't have a gun, (b) that isn't a camera but an LED indicating that a lamp is live, (c) I'm a bit of a pillock.

      But for just a second or two, it was bloody terrifying. Thanks to the game designers for getting me so involved in their world. Salt the fries :-)

      • My SS2-overflow-into-real-life story: I'd spent a hard day/night slogging away at System Shock 2, and had just been doing the level with all the metal mothers on it. You know that noise when they die - the metallic BABIES-NEED-THEIR-MOTHERS-WHIRRR-GARGLE sound...?

        It was about 2 am, and I was a little *too edgy* to continue playing, and far too wired to sleep, so I turned on the TV and stuck in some video to calm down to. I must have dozed off, and when the player hit the end of tape, and kicked into auto-re
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Friday October 12, 2007 @05:55PM (#20960725) Journal

    The reason it was so good was that for the first time in a game, you weren't in a game. Doom shared that a bit, was one of the first games you could just play without reading the manual. Doom was "real". What I mean by that is that a door looked like a door, worked like a door. Med packs were clearly visible and so on. Compare this to say a driving sim, where you do not have working mirrors, you can only see straight ahead, you have to drive by jerking the wheel hard left or hard right. Doom was "natural".

    System shock was not, but it is the first game I remember where you really felt part of the world. Since then I learned that EVERY fps that you are alone. Think about this, even in Alien VS Predator, as either the alien or the marine, you are alone. Not so in System Shock. At one point you are reading mails from someone trying to find a safe spot, as you progress you are getting closer and closer and hope to find them alive. You don't offcourse, solo FPS is solo, but still, for a moment you felt like others were in the space station with you. A magic moment in a PC game. Perhaps even better then actually having an AI with you, this woman never got in my way, didn't commit suicide, didn't get stuck, yet I felt she was another human in this alien world.

    But this is about System Shock 2 right? Can I be honest? Didn't like it as much as the original, it was too much. I would have preffered they spend more time on the bugs and less time on the three different main classes and all the various options. Nice and all but endless choice is too often an excuse for not enough flesh in the story. Shodan is back? Yeah, okay, she was nice and crazy and all but we knew her already. There was no shock. Also, the first time you were a hacker, so no wonder you were a bit crap in the beginning with combat, this time you are a soldier, so why do you still suck?

    • Also, the first time you were a hacker, so no wonder you were a bit crap in the beginning with combat, this time you are a soldier, so why do you still suck?

      You don't suck. You just don't rock as much as you're used to from Quake. You can't run at 60mph, your punches aren't as hard as a sledgehammer... But if you're a soldier you do massive damage with weapons, if a sailor you can rewire all the turrets in the game to do your bidding, if a psion then you can fling cryo blasts around the place at will.


    • There are no classes in System Shock 2. But yes, I too wish they'd had more time to fix bugs.
      • by Maexxus ( 970160 )
        I think he meant Marine, Navy, and Psy-Ops :)
        • Yeah I know, but they're not classes. It's one of the biggest misperceptions of SS2. There are a ridiculous number of forum posts asking which class is the best, blah blah blah. Few people realise it just saves you having to spend some cyber-modules once you get into the game proper.
  • The guns broke down to fast in SS2 and when you add low ammo and respawning monsters that takes fun out of the game and makes it harder.
    • I agree. It bothered me enough to disable the weapon breakdown and monster respawning, and after doing so I had a considerably better experience.

      The guns broke down to fast in SS2 and when you add low ammo and respawning monsters that takes fun out of the game and makes it harder.
  • Man, how ironic. I just finished this game yesterday, no kidding! I purchased this one back in 1999 when it came out. I started it but then got distracted by some other game. I think it was called Half-Life. Anyway, I ended up moving on to other things like getting married and upgrading to Windows XP, playing Morrowind for five years, then recently upgrading to Windows Vista. When BioShock came out, I almost bit, but when I found out that its DRM bit back, I figured that maybe it was worth going back
    • That's just freaky, SO DID I. I grabbed it from underdogs a couple weeks ago and played it via Cedega in 'nix, so my OS problems were a little less challenging. I have always been told it's a great game but never got around to playing it during its prime (Half-Life, guilty as charged). Now I can see what all the fuss is about. The game was creepy, atmospheric, and difficult (which I appreciate immensely, more than the dumbed-down console ports that saturate the market today).
      I'd still say Deus Ex is bet
      • by Dahlgil ( 631022 )
        I did find myself comparing it with Deus Ex as I played. Similar feel in some respects. I couldn't say which was necessarily better. Deus Ex had more variety and a deeper plot, but SS2 had a more compelling atmosphere. I'd probably rank them with equal scores myself, but for different reasons. Neither, however, knocks my favorite off the top--Ultima Underworld, The Stygian Abyss.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      "Is that you SHODAN?"

      N-n-n-n-no, h-hacker.
  • When I started playing System Shock, I was really impressed. The graphics were good, the story was good, the atmosphere was scary and oppressive, but I just started to find it frustrating after a while. For example, the "zombies" not only seemed able to use any weapon they could lay their hands on, they were also crack shots, whereas I could only use certain weapons when I'd acquired the skills to use them and even then seemed to be unable to shoot straight or with any power. Maybe it gets better if you st
    • by Dahlgil ( 631022 )
      The zombies are really limited to just a pipe or a shotgun, they can't pick up anything else. By the way, I was also frustrated back when I originally played it and ended up putting it aside for a long time (as my other post testifies); however, this time I played it more thoughtfully. First, you can't just go around shooting at everything. Compared to the average FPS, your resources/ammo are very limited and you must make it go a long way. Early on I discovered that the easiest way to do this is (possi
      • I had the most fun with the psionic powers, but the psi hypos (if I remember correctly) were few and far between. However, I believe there are cheat codes to spawn additional hypos and ammo and such if you really want to. Think I used the gun mostly for taking out the occasional camera. The crystal sword was a great weapon.
        • by Dahlgil ( 631022 )
          I specialized in psi. To get hypos I would just hack a vending machine that had them to reduce the price, then buy ten to twenty of them.
      • Yep, that's the way I do it - only use the guns for cameras or the egg pods. I ramp up strength and agility and use the wrench, followed by the laser rapier. Once you get in close enough, a couple of hits will take out most monsters.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"