Making of: System Shock 2

By Kieron Gillen on April 3rd, 2008 at 6:29 pm.

Yeah, see what we did here.
[Since it’s Space Week, it’s a good time to pull my Edge-commissioned Making Of System Shock 2 feature out of Stasis. The material for this was drawn from the lengthy conversation I had with Ken Levine last year. So, yes, before Bioshock. I’m quite fond of this piece, if only as it reveals the secret origin of the Psychic Monkeys…]

The lights are low. Everyone’s panickedly fighting against a seemingly impossible, oppressive deadline. At every turn there’s a crippling lack of resources. Viewed by any objective criteria, the small inexperienced team doesn’t have the skills to achieve their aims. They’re all crammed into a single room – in fact, half of one, since it’s one room bisected with screens. When you look at where and how Irrational worked on their first game, it’s easy to think of the claustrophobic horror of RPG/Shooter System Shock 2 as a pure product of its environment.

In fact, when looking at their situation in their early years, you begin to wonder why Irrational’s co-founders of Ken Levine, Rob Fermier and Jonathan Chey splintered from Boston’s illustrious and much-missed Looking Glass software in the first place. “Looking Glass was obviously a really impactful experience on me,” Levine says, “It was my first job in the games industry. I’d met a lot of people who I really respected and admired – people whose legacy is more known to the intelligentsia of the gaming field, and is still being felt. I left because despite how talented the people were there, in some ways it more like a university than a games company. There really was a dialogue about advancing the media, but not a lot about making successful products.”

You can imagine trying to explain this to your mum. No - it's not vomit. Its - er - an alien lifeform. Yes. That's right.
Coming from a film-industry background, Levine felt they needed to find a balance between art and commerce. “I thought – probably naively at the time – Hey! I can do that,” Levine says, “I had no idea what that would actually mean, as I was a cocky guy who thought it’d be easy. We went off on our own and very quickly found it was challenging.” Almost fatally so. Their first project, a single-player version of early isometric shooter Fireteam had been canceled, when its publisher decided to concentrate solely on multiplayer. This left Irrational at a loss, until Paul Neurath, head of Looking Glass, called them with an opportunity. While they’d left Looking Glass, they were still on good terms with their previous employers. In fact, their half room was actually buried in a corner of the larger company’s studio.

Neurath’s offer was incredibly open. Looking Glass had, in developing Thief: The Dark Project, developed their own in-house engine. All of Irrational were experienced with it, having all worked on Thief. Why not make a game with it with us? Any game you fancy, really. “We immediately started designing,” Levine says, “The three partners sat down, and we ended up with a game design which was basically our design for Shock 2, but in a totally different world. It was a kind of Heart of Darkness story, with a military commander gone crazy and your mission was to go to this crazy space-ship and assassinate him.”. This was pitched around various publishers. The one who bit was Electronic Arts, who – through their purchase of Origin – were the possessor of the System Shock IP. They suggested that the game could, in fact, be System Shock 2. “And we said… um… sure,” Levine laughs, “I rewrote the story and changed a few of the things, but the game design never changed.”

Hello, Ian Curtis here! I read RPS every day.
It was a rare opportunity. The original System Shock was one of the games which made Levine want to move into the games industry in the first place. What made it so special? “The feeling of being in a real place,” Levine says, “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 here? That’s a really good storytelling mechanism.” Austin Grossman and Doug Church original idea from Shock was something Irrational expanded in their sequel. “In Shock 1 you were a specific guy, so had a backstory,” Levine says, “With Shock 2, I really started you out with the classic “you wake up with amnesia”.”

Abstract techniques and settings weren’t all the Shock license gave them. It gave Irrational access to one of videogames’ most startling antagonists, the hubristic Artificial Intelligence SHODAN. In the first System Shock, she frustrated and mocked the player at every turn, a rare case of the primary antagonist in a videogame being an almost constant presence. “My job was to try and work out how to present SHODAN in a fresh way to the player,” Levine recalls, “They’ve encountered her in the first game, and if she just says the same things she did then in the second, why is it Shock 2? Why isn’t it Shock 1.5?” The resulting notion was to team up SHODAN with the player as an ally. An uncomfortable, prickly ally, but an ally nevertheless. “That was pretty daring for the time,” Levine talks of the initial appearance of SHODAN, “Villains only appeared in cut-scenes, do their thing and then disappear when you jump on their head three times. It was really fun to try and do something a bit more sophisticated. That twist at the beginning- even how she was introduced to you – was an important part of continuing her character and making sure the player knew what they were dealing with.”

SPOILERZZZZZZZ!!!!!

In the working partnership with Looking Glass, Irrational provided the design, art and programming, while their old company provided the Dark Engine’s technology base and the services of their Quality Assurance team. Looking Glass also provided other talents, including their Sound maestro Eric Brosius, (who has been involved in everything from Thief to Guitar Hero). His work on System Shock 2 is particularly memorable. “One of the reasons he creates such powerful soundscapes is that he creates a soundspace which has a bit of ambiguity to it,” Levine argues, “You can’t identify every single thing you can hear. Sounds, voices, things people are saying, things you can’t hear that are of unclear meaning…. That creates a great deal of tension. It adds another element of mystery, another element of suspense.” Sound is undoubtedly one of System Shock 2’s highpoints, with Designer, Writer and wife of Eric, Terri Brosius reprising her role as SHODAN, sitting alongside a host of memorable roles, from mutants to robots to… psionic monkeys?

The latter, while one of the most fondly remembered of the game’s cast, were actually an fortuitous accident. Finishing a motion-capture session two hours early , Levine was bullied by Jon Chey into just doing something to justify the time they’d paid for . “So I said [to the motion capture actor]… do monkey motions,” Levine says, “We had no monkeys in the game but we did it anyway”. These assets had to find a home, and Levine hit on the idea of lab-experimented apes, gaining sentience and being justifiably annoyed about their treatment at their hand of man. “All those story elements we had to back-solve. I find I tend to write best in those situations, when I have a constraint set already.” Levine says, “I have these psychic monkeys… so I had to work out how and why, in a way which wasn’t ridiculous and hopefully kinda scary. When my back to a wall, I tend to work better”. Not that everyone saw the appeal of Psychic monkeys originally. “Everyone else was “Dude – you’re fucking insane. We’re not having monkeys in the game”,” Levine laughs.

That's some sophisticated RPG elements right there. IN YOUR FUCKING FACE.

That was about as easy as the development got. Every element was problematic. “No time. No money. I had no experience,” Levine states, “I’d never shipped a game before that.” In fact, of the three founders, only Chey had actually done so. “I think that only one or two people on the /team/ had shipped a game before,” Levine says, “That was a blessing and a curse. We had no idea what we were doing in some ways, but we also had no idea what we couldn’t do. That’s why the game feels innovative to some degree, as we were figuring it out as we went along.” It wasn’t just the team that was inexperienced. The Dark Engine itself was far from finished technology, as Shock 2 was well underway before Thief came out. “It was still pretty broken,” Ken says, “It ended up giving us a lot of powerful things, but it constrained us in a lot of ways.” For example, the oft-ridiculed low-polygon models were resulting from having to make a conservative guess of what the engine would definitely be able to manage and still be playable. There was also some misplaced effort, in creating the co-op multiplayer which was patched into the game post release. “It was a real distraction,” Levine laments, “There are a number of people who really enjoyed it but the amount of time versus the amount of reward for that versus what we could have done on the rest of the game… I don’t think it was a win. The single player game would have been much, much, much more stronger if we had that time back.”

Not that it hurt Shock 2’s critical standing; despite slender sales (“I don’t know the exact figures, but It certainly wasn’t a blockbuster.”) its only grown in people’s minds since, a key influence in people’s anticipation for Irrational’s Bioshock. “When I first did it, people would just look at me unless they were the intelligentsia of the intelligentsia of the game industry,” Levine says, “But now there’s so many people who know it. I’d imagine if the game was still available commercially, it’ll still be selling at this point. It’ll probably have doubled in sales – and would probably have been a small success at that point. It may have made money because it was so cheap to produce.”.

Away from the matters of its financial performance, in terms of why it lingers in the imagination, Levine settles on the immaterial. Despite all the problems of its development, Shock 2 engaged with the imagination. “I think it has an atmosphere. Not a lot of games have atmosphere, and that really draws people.” Levine argues, “It’s not a Lord of the Rings atmosphere, and I think people are drawn to that.”

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61 Comments »

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  1. Seniath says:

    Aha, it’s back. What had I said before it got eaten… oh yes;

    Since playing System Shock 2, I’ve not set foot in a zoo for fear of having flashbacks to Med/Sci whilst visiting the monkey enclosures.

    What else can I say on the topic? My love for SHODAN is well known. Words cannot describe it.

  2. Kieron Gillen says:

    Some of you may have seen this post appear and disappear for a bit. If you read it then, 300 or so words weren’t in the middle. WordPress 2.5 is officially not good.

    KG

  3. Kieron Gillen says:

    Er… I think I may have closed the comments thread on this one earlier by accident. Man!

    KG

  4. Caiman says:

    I remember writing to Irrational and telling them Shock 2 was the best game I’d played. Ok I’d just finished it and was able to overlook Chaos: Battle of the Wizards for a few minutes, but I distinctly remember thinking in those heady moments after Id finished it that I’d probably never play a game as good as that again. I hate that I was right.

  5. trunk3h says:

    What I woudn’t give for a remake of this game. cel shaded higher polys whatever. Its still the greatest game iv’e ever played and ive never finished it.

  6. lungfish says:

    SS2 is probably my all time favorite game, played it when i was about 14/15 at around the time i was (for some unknown reason) reading far too much philosophy and a fair bit of Conrad, aah, the memories of overly analytical/pretentious discussions at school.
    Strangely i never finished the thing back then (i think it may have been those bloody moving teeth from near the end), and had to wait until uni to rediscover it.

  7. malkav11 says:

    System Shock 2: one of the best arguments as to why the current sales model for videogames is fucked.

  8. Gwog says:

    Played the ol’ girl not too long ago, and found it quite fantastic still. X years ago I had the incredibly idiotic idea to collect original production game concept art, and I think I pested Ken for six months on ICQ for some Shock 2 art before finally giving up on the entire endeavor together.

    At least I got a Shock 1 piece that had been hanging in LG’s foyer.

    Nice article, here, good stuff KG.

  9. Putter says:

    *Possible spoilers*

    My playing of SS2 was really a shame. I unfortunately read an article on some game site about it, and it ruined the SHODAN plot twist. That is cited by many as one of their favorite parts of the game, and it was entirely ruined for me. [Note: Certain plot elements of FF7 have also been ruined for me in this way, but it too was my fault].

    It’s interesting to learn that Ken Levine wanted to leave LGS because they weren’t focused on commercial status, but rather solely on advancing the industry. I can see how that might be a problem for a publisher, but why for a designer? Obviously one wants their projects to be successful and to get a lot of exposure, but to me it seems advancing the media and working with those legends, or “intelligensia” as he calls them, would be the more important thing as that stage in his career. Maybe his newness was part of the reason? Anyone care to make a guess as to why he wanted this? I know if I would have been working at such an innovative studio I would have stayed until the bitter end, but that may well be hindsight or disconnection talking.

    Entirely off-topic, but that I think SS1 is a significantly better game than its sequel. I feel that the minimal exposure of SS2 is a lesser crime when compared to how few people, even amongst core PC gamers, have played its predecessor. I felt the atmosphere so much more, even though I played it after I played SS2. The low-poly counts on SS2 took out some of the fear and the immersion, and the breaking weapons served more as a huge frustration than as a suspense-builder. Both were good though. I loved being called an “irritant”.

  10. Alex says:

    I finished this gem of a game a few months ago (again) and it still got to me. It still is better than most of the games i saw (and way better than BioShock) and SHODAN is… simply great.
    I wish this could be redone with better graphics, but, somehow, I think that those low-poly models where important to the spooky atmosphere.

  11. Razor says:

    If you haven’t tried SS2 with the Rebirth mod, get it. Now. Replaces alot of the low poly-stuff with higher poly models.

    Either way, still one of my all time favourites. More games should have that level of depth to the story and play.

  12. Irish Al says:

    SHODAN = sexiest woman in gaming. Easily.

  13. Pidesco says:

    System Shock 2 is the best argument ever for the idea of games as art. And that’s from a gameplay design perspective, too.

    Just awesome.

  14. Paul Moloney says:

    Any idea if they’ve thought of selling SS2 through Steam? I would imagine it would be a sure fire winner.

    P.

  15. Voidman says:

    Grotesque midwives, monkeys, hybrids, hissing spiders, eerie lights, deserted corridors and distant hum of the ship. But most importantly the crew logs telling better story than any cutscene. The menace of the Many and small dramas of insignificant people…

    Bioshock is good and sleek but not that good.

    System Shock 2 new texture maps plus new models (Rebirth is not the only one set done ;) ) plus some bug fixes and mods (all courtesy of the fan community – (hint) just look for strangebedfellows out there in the vast abyss of the net; it’s all there and more)

    The VonBraun incident looks better today than it ever had.

  16. Seniath says:

    @ Paul Moloney: SS2 was published by EA and EA have their own digital distribution system, so it’s probably not likely :(

  17. RazorBlade79 says:

    SS2 is one of my favourite games ever, they did a hell of a job with it. Plus, I am one of the few guys who played a lot of coop and appreciate the work. I’m glad they did it.

    This game had incredible sounddesign, I still like the graphics, the german translation is probably the best which has ever been done and it’s the scariest game I have ever played.

    Also I think SS2 is way better than Bioshock, because the RPG aspect has been dumbed down so much and it is sold as an action game. SS2 was scary, interessting, creative all because it was mainly an RPG to me.

    Also futuristic scifi > bioshocks 50s scifi ;)

  18. Mman says:

    Funny the hanged guy got a picture here; that was one of the most memorable scenes for me. Namely because his expression made it look like he wasn’t terrified of the fact he was hanging, but what was watching him hang.

  19. Ravenger says:

    The bit that really freaked me out was the ghost scene with the woman who was being turned into one of those cybernetic midwives, pleading with her captor “I don’t want to change…”

    I think SS1 was better in terms of story and level design (the levels were very logically laid out, conforming to the supposed layout of the station), but SS2 had such incredible audio, and a much better control scheme and interface.

    I’d love to play a SS1 remake in a modern engine, but I believe legal problems prevent that.

  20. Chaz says:

    Another game that I thought had a great creepy atmosphere that was every bit as good a SS2, was Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. As with SS2 that also suffered from having relatively crude graphics for the time, but it’s so thickly drenched in atmosphere that they can still be quite chilling. Although it doesn’t have the RPG elements of SS2 I’d still recomend it to anyone looking for another genuinely scary game with a great atmosphere.

  21. Seniath says:

    I picked that (CoC) up on release, and got up to the irritating stealth section before putting it away. When I got my 360, I lost the save and that was that.

    Until this easter, when I brought it back from home with me, intending to play it. Only to discover that it can’t be played on a 360 using a VGA cable :(.

  22. Chaz says:

    Ah, I got it for the PC, it was only £15 on release. The PC version suffered from a few bugs that caused the game to crash out some times at certain points.

    Yeah the stealth bits could get a bit annoying especially when coupled with the check point type save system. It’s well worth persevering through though.

  23. Ravenger says:

    For more making of SS2 goodness there’s a great postmortem of SS2 by Jonathan Chey here:

    http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/3406/postmortem_irrational_games_.php

  24. Nick says:

    The System Shock games are sublime. I can’t gush enough and the best part is none of that gushing is nostalgia based, they are just that good – like a classic movie. We shall not see their ilk again most likely, which is sad.

    Call of Cthulhu was a brilliant little game, the stealth sections were RUBBISH but the rest was superb. Sadly there was a bug that meant you always got detected towards the end and had to run a lot to stay alive, after 15 or so deaths in a row at that part I couldn’t bring myself to continue. It really is worth playing though, it was like a modern take on advenure games but with guns thrown in (the fact you spend so long without a gun was awonderful touch too).

  25. Jonathan says:

    Things you guys are overlooking
    a) respawning enemies
    b) a REALLY bad hacking game
    c) repeated textures so it was hard to tell where you were
    d) the fact it came out a year after half life but has rubbish dice roll combat and much, much worse ai (kinda funny really given how your fighting an evil ai and spend most of your time dealing with merely bad ai)
    e) difficulty spikes
    f) the fact that specialising made the game almost impossible to play (hackers with nothing to hack, psi players with no boosters for forty minutes)
    g) weapons breaking meaning you had to keep backtracking or else fill your inventory with a dozen identical weapons
    h) it was very linear (keycards were essentially opening new levels and these weren’t exactly expansive)

    Don’t get me wrong it is still a fantastic game with a superb villain but stripped of nostalgia, I first played it two years ago, the holes show up. I also agree with people above who say the first was best, I played that this year through Home of the Underdogs and has aged better.

  26. Kieron Gillen says:

    I don’t necessarily thing what you’re saying is totally wrong – I also agree that it always had flaws, despite being a great game. But this is a great line: “(kinda funny really given how your fighting an evil ai and spend most of your time dealing with merely bad ai)”.

    It’s not actually fair – the Shock AI was doing a lot more than the HL AI ever was – but I do see the point.

    KG

  27. dhex says:

    the first was one of my favs way back when, but i find the control schema unplayable now. i tried, lawd help me, i tried. i still remember running to try and get to the last survivors holed up by the pod bay and thinking “why didn’t i run faster?”

    re: ss2: respawning enemies isn’t such a big deal, and i liked the weapon breaking elements as well. this wasn’t a game about badassery, but about running for your life (punctuated by bits of badassery).

  28. Seniath says:

    “this wasn’t a game about badassery, but about running for your life (punctuated by bits of badassery).”

    Shortly before the work really kicked in, I’d started playing SS2 again. I made it to the cargo bays in Engineering. My pistol was almost broken. I had bugger all AP bullets. I was surrounded by Protocol Droids and those Security Robots.

    Realising I didn’t stand a chance, I decided to end it all by throwing myself from the top floor of Cargo Hold B.

    And then hit quick load.

  29. KingMob says:

    The atmosphere of this game – claustrophobia, sound effects, the creatures moaning – made it the most frightening I’ve ever played.
    I only made it through about half the game before I had to quit and now I’m afraid to go back.

  30. lungfish says:

    really must track down another copy (lost mine in a move, i suspect one of my old flat-mates to have thieved a number of my games), but when i did own it whenever i played through I’m pretty sure i didn’t bother with guns at all and just used the melee weapons. The one thing i love about SS2 above all other things, is of course the story (SHODAN a close second), or more specifically the way in which it is conveyed to you, the audio logs of the dead or mutated crew were far more effective at both conveying the plot/backstory etc and maintaining the tension than any amount of CG cutscenes. The only games to come close to the experiences on board the Von Braun were the Thief series, and only then intermittently, nothing approaching the ever present dread generated in SS2.

  31. Grandstone says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Jonathan, personally. I love the game’s atmosphere, but good GOD do I hate the weapon-breaking system. It’ s also hard to tell which stats are actually going to be useful without playing through the game as far as you can once, then again, and again, until you find the right set of stats to use the good weaponry.

    On the other hand, I really do love the atmosphere–SS2 on Easy Mode is still the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. You even get scared of the monkeys. The respawning enemies almost don’t matter, because they have to respawn to create the right feeling of dread for the player.

  32. Karacan says:

    System Shock 2 is the basis of why I love coop. It was nice in Doom, but it took the different classes (which really felt different in the game, too) to make coop being really, really amazing.

    We went through the whole story with two people, and I would love to play through it again with all three classes, or maybe two marines, one hacker and one psycher…

    *sighs* I loved the RPG elements, because they worked so extremely well. And the respawning enemies helped the atmosphere, even though I despise respawning enemies.

  33. Ravenger says:

    Another thing about SS2 is that it didn’t run particually well on the hardware at the time. It had tremendously long loading times, and the frame-rate in the Body Of The Many went into single figures for me. I think I was playing it on a 350mhz PC with a Voodoo 2 at the time. (Recommended specs 266mhz, 8mb D3D card).

    Nowadays of course it loads blindingly fast and the framerate is silky smooth. It even works on XP for me.

    The Thief games don’t work as well, even though they’re based on the same engine.

  34. Jonathan says:

    Reply to Keiron
    Sorry if I came across like Morpheus yanking the chain out of the back of your head and showing you the world like it really is. It’s just all the backlash over Bioshock, which I still think is effortlessly the best FPS of the past 2/3 years, not being as good as System Shock. The way I’ve always seen that is as your favourite obscure indie band has had their latest album put up for a Mercury award. Ooh, the old fans don’t like that. Essentially my point is that most people don’t remember the whole game, just the bits they liked. Luckily there was a lot to like not least of all the first signs of Levine’s peerless art design and “toybox” game design became the two trademarks of Irrational. It’ll always be Irrational never 2K Boston never

    Also it’s important to remember most of the famous Shodan lines were from the first “Look at you hacker…….” “If you go through there I will kill you”

    Thanks for the compliment of sort of agreeing, I think you’re smashing.

  35. Kieron Gillen says:

    Jonathan: Yeah. Especially post-Bioshock, the Deification of SS2 annoys me a little, and I’m a guy who’s written treatise about SHODAN. It’s really good, but it’s not worth a church. A good chunk of the changes to BS are *improvements*. But this is so not the thread for this one…

    KG

  36. Cigol says:

    It’s a shame they didn’t make Bioshock ten years (or so) ago, eh. Oh wait ;)

  37. Jonathan says:

    No one going to call me on plagiarising Charlie Brooker?

    I definitely agree with the changes in BS (a really unfortunate abbreviation) being improvements. Not least of all the hacking. Someone, anyone, look me in the eye and tell me the SS2 system is better than the one in BS.

  38. Larington says:

    I’d agree the weapon breaking stuff – There are three ways you can go, stuff never breaks making the game mechanic pointless, stuff breaks too fast making the game mechanic frustrating or you get the balance right where a weapon becomes a scrap of glorified metal at just the wrong moment and gives you an oh crap moment. Sadly, SS2 didn’t quite get the balance right, but I still award it points for trying.

    Theres been ‘discussion’ going on about mini-games in the forum for Deus Ex 3 among fans, thats been an interesting read. Some think there should be mini games there where your skills affect how easy those mini games are, others are saying they don’t want no stinking mini-games (Citing bioshocks minigame as being ok at first but downright irritating after the 10th time, which is fair enough) and me, personally, I favour the idea of doing both and letting the player choose which option to go for when starting a new game. The vehicles thread is comical, there are people there who seem to want Deus Ex 3 to have GTA driving elements… Eew.

  39. Cigol says:

    I dunno, nine years ago it seemed pretty decent.

    I didn’t realise that Bioshock had any hacking sequences? You must be on about those screensavers that pop up occasionally? You know the ones, where you have to click a few times and it unlocks? I had a lot of fun with those.

    …and by fun I mean; wasted my time with needless clicking that could have been abstracted into a progress bar and nobody would have noticed.

  40. Jonathan says:

    Reply to Cigol
    I think your talking about the System Shock 2 hacking. The one where you click random boxes until you get three in a line. No skill, no tension, no nothing.
    Also, nine years is a long time, when was the last time you played it through?

  41. Pidesco says:

    While the hacking minigame in SS2 was just as bad as the one in BS, there’s one huge, enormous, flabbergasting difference:
    It happened in realtime, it cost very precious resources, and it had a much, much higher chance of failing.

    Yeah, those were three differences. Sue me.

    I’m looking you in the eye, Jonathan.

  42. Rahul says:

    EA, who reserve rights to the SS IP would definitely have something in the offing- since EA have at least renewed their rights over the same, some 20 odd months ago. Either that or 2KBoston are waiting for EA to green light the resurrection with EA getting to publish the game?

  43. Jonathan says:

    Reply to Pidesco
    I’ll accept your real time argument, but as I said before the game was unfairly hard and losing resources to do a hack is just plain unfair. Why is failing a plus point when it costs so much in the first place.
    Also hacking in BS cost eve, to zap/freeze, as well as money or an autohack. Also when you fail, it’s your fault, it’s not because the computer rolled and decided you lost it’s because you suck. Besides I *like* the minigame it keeps the tension up, its got a groovy steam punk machine works in the background and was just pretty fun. More importantly, it becomes noticably easier if you start specialising by buying up engineering tonic slots instead plasmids. Punishing specialising is why I had to restart SS2 a dozen times just so I could get to the halfway point.

    Even the realtime aspect doesn’t factor into it that much as the SS2 settings weren’t exactly the most populous of gaming worlds.

    But come on kids! Kieron said this isn’t the place for such talk.

  44. Caiman says:

    I hate it when people try to convince me that my sublime gaming experiences were all in my head. “Oh you’re just looking back on that with rose-tinted glasses”. What tosh. I remember very well how much I enjoyed that game. Looking back now it might have aged a little and its flaws may be slightly harder to forgive, but that doesn’t change my experience at the time. And that’s why I remember it so fondly, just as I remember 3D Monster Maze so fondly.

    As for the weapon breaking, well try psi-powers – all the advantages of good weapons, none of the flaws!

  45. The Unshaven says:

    I came to SS2 late in the piece, when there were already easy mods to cut down on respawns, turn off the crazy weapon degradation or adjust it, and as such I can say the game was Truely Awesome with those tweaks.

    It’s a pity that the EA situation makes it unlikely it’ll be released on Steam, as people have mentioned, since it would be perfect for it.

    – The Unshaven.

  46. perilisk says:

    “Someone, anyone, look me in the eye and tell me the SS2 system is better than the one in BS.”

    Take that request down to TTLG and put on your flame suit. Personally, I prefer BS’s hacking, but at the same time it began to wear thin at the end due to the lack of variety and the increasing likelihood that it wasn’t time that was going to get you, but just a randomly generated impossible board. Not being real-time also made it substantially less interesting.

    For what it’s worth, BS’s failings were in many cases due to trying be SS3. Things that kind of make sense in cyberpunk-meets-Star Trek settings (hacking, security robots, replicator machines) don’t really translate well fictionally. Mechanically, they were fine, but they just felt tacked on. Accepting that Rapture’s post-apocalypse-in-a-bottle setting needed mechanics that better reinforced its plot and background fiction would have been a step in the right direction.

  47. Cigol says:

    The fact that Bioshock came nine~ years later seems to be missed on you Jonathan. It’s really no achievement to have done something (marginally) better than a game that old – and yet make similar mistakes the same time around.

  48. Sören Höglund says:

    The actual hacking minigame in bioshock is better and more involved, certainly, but it’s actually worse in the context of the game, I find, because it’s so much more prominent and intrusive. And really, failure is no more fair in Bioshock than in System Shock 2, since the game’s so easy with a mouse that you either fail immidiately because the board is set up to fail or you win.

  49. lalahsghost says:

    Can we say SS2 on steam??? ~_~ I mean, $5 is better than having people bootleg “abandoned” retail software for lack of knowledge for a better term…

  50. J says:

    “It was a kind of Heart of Darkness story, with a military commander gone crazy and your mission was to go to this crazy space-ship and assassinate him.”

    Feels like they went back to System Shock 2’s original premise to start with for BioShock.

    The BioShock backlash is very disappointing.

    I think SS2 criticisms about breaking weapons and respawning are really overstated. It wasn’t that hard to keep track of the state of your weapons and the decay wasn’t that full on. It was right on the main screen even.
    The respawning too wasn’t like a flood or anything, made sense to me in the context of the game.