Unpitiful Hacker: System Shock M-look Mod

By Kieron Gillen on February 4th, 2010 at 6:28 pm.

This is a big one. No, really. News reached me via Qt3 that Malba Tahan – henceforth known as Saint Malba Tahan – has created a mod for the original System Shock. As well as letting you configure keys and plays with resolution, it adds mouse-look to the game. System Shock is, frankly, one of the most important videogames of all time, and the difficulty in actually learning its pre-mouse-look controls the biggest impediment to people going back and play it now. With Malba’s work, that’s gone. Go see Jim write here to get an overview of the wonder of Shock and then, assuming you can get hold of a copy, go get the mod here.

UPDATE: And Nabeel has done a video of it in action, to show how it works.

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82 Comments »

  1. jsutcliffe says:

    Bah, I really regret having never acquired the original System Shock. GoG.com should get on the case.

    • Paul says:

      Agreed. Stupid EA should sign a deal with GOG immediately.

    • ZIGS says:

      GOG big boss said in an interview they’ll introduce a new major publisher in March, which will allow them to release some games from the top of the wishlist. Sure, could be LucasArts (since they have a few games in the wishlist too) but not on the “top” :)

  2. LionsPhil says:

    While I approve of anything that will make young whippersnappers play one of PC gaming’s greatest heights, I do emplore people to try the original controls. Their slight awkwardness somehow just works, and keeps you feeling vulnerable, which is important for a game not about being a powersuited spessss mahriiiine.

    The main problem, really, is that it’s almost-but-not-quite-WASD. WAXD or something IIRC, with strafe on ZC, lean on QE, vertical look on RFV, and stand/crouch/prone on TGB? Yes, that is half your keyboard dedicated to orienting and positioning your head.

    Besides, the lack of mouselook means you get smooth transition to the clicky multifunction displays, which are awesome. Autominimap, yo.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Lion: It’s also interesting that it allows you to redefine your keys, which may make even the basic controls better.

      KG

    • Nick says:

      I agree, the awkwardness of controls were slightly revolutionary at the time considering it allowed you to lean, crouch and even lie down and whilst it lacked elegance it certainly worked. Letting you rebind keys is a great thing, being able to wasd would be perfect. Heck even in the CD versions SVGA resolutions it still looked passable, it had clarity which was the main thing.

      I kinda liked the mouse pointer aiming too.

      If only I hadn’t already played through it about 4 times since it was released.. hmm, maybe once more.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      To be honest, I redefined controls in the System Shock way, for years after playing it. :)

  3. Thirith says:

    Man, I should replay this game. Although I like System Shock 2, I’ve always prefered the first game. Perhaps with this mod it’s finally time to go back to Citadel Station.

  4. Vinraith says:

    I’m depressed by my own shallowness, and deserve any grief I get for this statement, but I’m not sure I could actually bring myself to play a shooter that looks like that anymore. Non-action RPG’s and non-RT strategy games can survive graphics that antiquated and muddy, but games that require quick reactions and a clear sense of one’s surroundings don’t age well in this respect.

    • Unaco says:

      Your loss.

      It’s a fantastic game. I can remember just trying the demo one day, from a cover disc, when bored, not expecting much. Certainly not expecting what I got… which was an experience that seriously intrigued me. Went out and got the full game the next day.

      If I could, somehow, find my old SS Disc, I’d maybe crank it up. Instead, this has inspired me, and I’m going to finally try and get SS2 working on a multi core system.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Unaco

      Your loss.

      Absolutely.

    • Wizlah says:

      Vinraith, I wouldn’t worry to much about it being a pure shooter. there are some intense shooty bits in there, but a lot of the time you spend in the game is exploring and a mounting sense of unease. although it’s not quite as grim and as scary as it might have been originally, it is very engrossing in part because there are so many ways to interact with the environment. My old savegames are knocking about somewhere – once I got off the first level, I was put off because I suddenly realised JUST HOW MUCH I WAS GOING TO HAVE TO DO. It freaked me out. But I will go back to it.

      Really, it’s worth tracking down. I’ve only experienced a little bit of it, but I think it is one of the few titles with a big story that doesn’t let a narrative overwhelm the gameplay. the two co-exist very nicely, thank you very much.

    • Cynic says:

      @Unaco
      There’s no effort involved in getting SS2 running on a multicore machine. Get SS2MM and ddfix and you should be sorted. Head towards the looking glass forums for anything else you need.

    • Nick says:

      With super vga resolutions (cd version) its actually quite clear what is what and what is going on, it make not look shiney but it isn’t muddy.

    • Unaco says:

      @Cynic

      SS2MM == System Shock 2 Mod Manager?
      ddfix == Timeslips Dark Engine patch?

      I was just going to use an affinity fixer (start a parent process on 1 CPU, then a child process – ss2.exe – is limited to its parent’s affinity), but those fixes look alot better. I forgot it wasn’t the affinity thing that stopped it working completely on my system, but the problems with up-to-date video drivers. Thanks. Last time I played the game, I searched for ages for a satisfactory fix for the multi-core issue, but never found anything, and nothing but switching between old and new drivers, to play SS2 or other games, allowed it to run.

    • Cynic says:

      @Unaco
      Yes to both, and you are correct. It’s more often than not a video driver error that messes things up, or rather, SS2 can’t handle the amount of info it receives back from the drivers when it querys their capabilities.
      If I remember rightly, it’s adding the following two lines to your cam.cfg that fixes most SS2 errors.
      safe_texture_manager
      skip_starting_checks

      The mod manager does that, along with some other magic, when it reconfigures SS2 to be mod-compatible.

  5. Lewis says:

    Does this work with System Shock Portable? Because if so, this man has actually made one of the greatest videogames ever made basically playable and utterly brilliant right now.

  6. LionsPhil says:

    @Vinraith: I doubt you’d find it that much of a problem. SysShock is not DOOM. Thankfully, Looking Glass got this, and quick reactions are not a prerequisite. You’ll usually hear…things…before you establish line-of-sight, and a cunning player can get the right weapon ready, loaded, find themselves cover, set up explosives, get ready to apply appropriate dermal patches or power up cybermodules…

    Heck, this (and most) screenshots are in its “fullscreen” mode. I played most of it with the border with all the little cybermodule icons and such turned on. In 2009. For the first time. Age has not made it impenetrable, and I bet you’ll completely forget the big, chunky textures by the time you re-re-reaeeac£($)£()***-9= deck, because you’ll be too terrified by the atmosphere. Even in the endgame, running around with the iconic laser rapier, loaded down with a million medkits, weaponry which could pulverise a cortex reaver in seconds, and the resurrection machinery hacked up to respawn me for free, I still dashed through that bit as fast as possible whenever I had to go via it. Ugh.

    • Vinraith says:

      @LionsPhil

      I’d like to think you’re right, certainly. I hate having missed out on the System Shock games, especially because it’s not that I’m too young to have played them, I just didn’t know about them at the time. If they turned up on GOG I’d be hard pressed to avoid them, no matter what doubts I may have, and a mod like this is just further encouragement.

  7. RLacey says:

    Why did I leave my System Shock CD at home? :(

  8. rei says:

    This is awesome news. SShock was one of my favorite games of its time, but I never actually quite finished it. I ultimately gave up literally minutes away from the credits, in the final elevator that you share with Mr. Bazooka Hands. I just could not survive, and it’s been killing me all these years, but not enough to deal with the UI unfortunately. Now I have no excuse.

  9. Heliocentric says:

    Make it happen gog, sign ea. Get syndicate, get theme hospital, get dune 2, GET SYSTEM SHOCK!

    I’m refusing to pirate this eon old game because a small piece of me has hope.

    Justify my love(/maddonna)

    • TheApologist says:

      Yes! This! Pay attention to this Mr Gog.

      There was something brilliantly absorbing about theme hospital. It got something just right in the humour and the balance of the game.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The SysShocks are pretty much perpetial top-placers in GOG’s Wanted List. I think they know there’s demand by this point.

      This unfortunately probably means that there are horrible politics in the way. We’re probably lucky that people are getting away with distributing hacked-up SS executables without being hassled with DCMA takedowns and whatnot. :/

  10. LionsPhil says:

    @rei: If you absolutely, completely cannot get past who I think you mean, LINK CONTAINS SPOILERS The Hacker’s Guide to Sin, by the same guy who wrote the excellent Deus Ex anti-walkthrough Sunglasses At Night, has a mechanism for dispatching him through the judicious application of carefully prepared explosives. (If you’re trying to get to the bridge, I think you’re now far enough into the game that that link won’t spoil anything big.)

    @Heliocentric: Ugh. I am a stupid, stupid, stupid person, and completely missed all of Looking Glass’ works when they were actually new and thus there was some way to actually give them money, which eBay several years after they’ve gone bust does not fulfil. Oh for a time machine. :/

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      I have all the Thief games, and System Shock 2 boxed in “big boxes”. Sorry, like most people, I couldn’t possibly eBay them for anything. (Shame I was a little too young to be aware of the Ultima Underworlds when they were first released…)

      I never managed to complete SS1, so here’s good reason to try again. I really must play something other than Mass Effect (either) for a change…

  11. Muzman says:

    Great stuff. I’ve seen people hacking away at this for years inching toward a method, each one stymied by some quirk. I wonder if tech has advanced to the point where you can put some big input proxy/wrapper thing between you and the game. Must try.

    What Kieron and Jim say really cannot be said enough. We look for parallels with other media all the time like where’s gaming’s Citizen Kane? etc. I take that to mean; “what are gaming’s great works that fully utilise and extend their medium and every student and critic must study and appreciate?”. In that there’s been a couple, if you ask me.

    This is one. System Shock is an unassailable classic.

  12. Pidesco says:

    I got the CD version(which is essential, by the way) from ebay for a moderate amount of money, a couple of years ago, so getting the game shouldn’t be all that hard. There are always a few copies available on ebay, at any given time.

  13. crumbsucker says:

    Although I realize the importance of it in gaming history, somehow I never really liked the first SS. Absolutely adored the spiritual brothers: Ultima Underworld, SS2, Deus Ex… but not this one. Maybe because of the silly “matrix” sections, I’m not sure.

  14. The Unshaven says:

    To summarise?

    FUCK. YES.

  15. mcw says:

    Has anyone tried running it with System Shock Portable? The keys work fine but the mouse look seems to be deactivated.

  16. Pantsman says:

    YES. DEAR LORD YES.

    Now I just hope it runs with SS Portable…

  17. GoldenNugget says:

    I didn’t think the controls were that bad for SS1 (I played the portable version). It was pretty standard wsad controls with some additional ones to control your viewpoint. It felt like an early version of freeaim that we see in some realism games and mods like Infiltration for UT99 and Operation Flashpoint 1 and the ArmA games.

    Mouse look is always welcome though and I’ll give this mod a go when I can.

  18. dadioflex says:

    http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/24684/System+Shock.html

    The above thieves, have SS available to download. Surely that can’t be legal. Shame on them.

    • cjlr says:

      It’s even the CD version, so it has all the audio! Hells yeah!

    • BAReFOOt says:

      “Thieves”? Don’t be silly! What exactly did those “thieves” “steal”, that the original owner does now not have anymore? Hm?

      If someone has a business model, that has no relation at all to reality (trying to sell ideas/information as if they were physical goods, which they are not), that’s his own damn fault!
      And then having the arrogance of calling someone a thief, who does the only damn thing one can do with information?? (Copying.)
      Get real, man!

      An a software developer with an actual realistic business model (development is a service; customers are paying for the service; information is free!), I am offended by your statement!

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Great. My post ended up on the wrong tread. :/ Damn bugs…
      But you know who was meant. :)

    • Psychopomp says:

      Ooohhhh no. Stop. We’re not getting into this again.

    • Red Avatar says:

      Oi don’t call us thieves! *angry face* I’m one of the admins there! We actually have an understanding with the ESA which also represents EA and if we did break their rules, the download would be taken down real quickly but the fact it’s still there shows we don’t. We also take down any games that are still sold or sold again.

  19. Labbes says:

    I do think System Shock 1 is legally available for download on several “abandonware” sites. At least I got it from there.
    Stopped playing it because I couldn’t look around with the mouse. Problem solved!

    • Jad says:

      Well, you should put “legally” in quotes, as technically this is just as legal as torrenting Mass Effect 2. However, morally the latter is very very wrong while getting SS this way is morally ambiguous at least and probably morally okay, depending on your viewpoint. I do wish GOG would get this game (and even more so, its sequel).

    • Labbes says:

      I didn’t know that, as there really are no other things which are not free on that site (at least, none that I was looking for). Stupid me just assumed things.
      Might start looking for a legal copy on CD on amazon and ebay.

  20. bhlaab says:

    I have been waiting for this game to be remotely playable for so long thank you jesus

  21. Gritz says:

    It’s still a ways off, and it looks to be focusing mostly on Ultima Underworld, but the Abysmal Engine seems like a promising project. It’s a new engine for the original UU/System Shock games. Anyone interested in those should definitely be keeping an eye on it:

    http://abysmal.sourceforge.net/

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Another UU-style dungeon crawler is all I’m after. I don’t want open OVER-worlds, but labyrinthine dungeon mazes, just like Ultima Underworld. Sword, shield, inventory, secrets to find, and stuff to hack away at to level up. I can’t be the only one, surely?

      I just hope this engine gets somewhere and makes UU mods possible…

  22. hungSolo says:

    Having been in and out of gaming over the years, I didn’t get around to trying SS until a few years ago. I got the feel of the controls relatively quickly, but I think my attention was diverted by some new shiny when I couldn’t immediately figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing in the cyberspace parts.

    More than anything, I think it scratched a nostalgic itch for crazy-ass DOS gaming of old. That said, I know I only grazed the surface of a deep experience, and SS is on my list of “Really got to dig into that someday” games. If GOG shined it up and made it easily playable, that would be fantastic, but I think their anti-DRM stance will prevent that from happening with old EA and Eidos licenses. (Thief/Thief II are perennials on the want list, too.)

    • hungSolo says:

      Oh wait. They’re doing Activision games, so maybe I’m wrong.

    • phlebas says:

      Activision games have already started, though, and it’s well before March. So maybe that wasn’t the one they were talking about.

  23. ScalyWg says:

    ahhhh – Finally, a great game my computer can run…thankyou!

  24. Salsa_Shark says:

    if anyones having trouble getting SS2 working this pretty much fixed everything.

    http://www.strangebedfellows.de/index.php?topic=392.0

  25. bhlaab says:

    Okay, can someone tell me how to invert the damn Y axis?

  26. Caleb says:

    mouse look to daggerfall plz?

  27. Collic says:

    On the system of the System shock’s of old, is the system shock 2 beautification/ graphical update project still going? I haven’t checked on it’s progress for some time.

  28. John says:

    This is fantastic. I loved SS2, but I could never get into SS1 because of its control system.

    I love modders.

  29. nichevo says:

    System Shock 1 is awesome.

    Funnily enough I best remember all the near-useless cybernetic addons. The rollerskates that were impossible to control. The jetpack that consumed insane amounts of energy. The bio-monitor that displayed cryptic heart-rate and chi-level graphs. None of these things were important to the game, or even all that useful. Indeed that’s why they were so great. They made Citadel feel more like a real place and less like a computer game.

    And in what other game is your first weapon a lead pipe and your first enemy an angry vending machine?

    I got nostalgic for System Shock 1 near the end of System Shock 2, when you visit Shodan’s recreation of Citadel. Seeing those grey tiled walls brought back memories. So, it’s good to know about this mod.

    System Shock 1 beats its sequel hands-down, no questions asked, provided you’re willing to overlook graphics and controls. (Which is a pretty big ask.)

  30. Lars Westergren says:

    Hah, I remember seeing System Shock in my favourite store many years ago and thinking about buying it, only to notice it required A PENTIUM to work! Insane specs!
    :)

    • Subject 706 says:

      Actually, the insane specs for the time, (and the release of DOOM) is what held System Shock back from becoming wider known. System Shock stands head & shoulders above all similar modern games, excepting graphics and UI.

  31. bill says:

    Can we get one for Ultima Underworld (1 and 2) please?

    I tried playing 1 a few months back and I couldn’t really cope with the interface and keys. If i’d played it at the time i’d probably have done much better….

  32. mcw says:

    “E” toggles mouse look and it’s awesome.

  33. MadMatty says:

    I have very fond memories of playing system shock 1, there was real freedom involved, the atmosphere was tops, loads of weird gadgets… i dunno, utterly great. System Shock 2 was fairly dull in comparison,but with shinier graphics.

  34. Seniath says:

    Man. Just, man. I love System Shock 2, and own the first but tragically have never completed it. Hopefully this hack should redress that!

  35. nabeel says:

    I did a quick video if anyone cares to see before they try it. I really does make the game feel completely different.

  36. jarvoll says:

    This is definitely awesome news. I haven`t finished either SS games, but I have played large parts of both, and both are better than almost any other game I`ve played. This is the perfect opportunity to correct the error of my ways.

    Also, to get a bit meta: I am so in love with RPS. Where else on the internet (apart from the forum where this mod was created, presumably) would such news prompt such a flurry of loving and joyous responses? I am truly among like-minded folk here. Long live RPS (and the PC, natch)!

  37. Subject 706 says:

    Nobel Prize for the creator of this mod please? Barring that, perhaps an RPS-prize?

  38. oceanclub says:

    I hang my head and confess that despite 3 attempts, I’ve never gotten very far in SS2. I love the beginning, but invariably I get to a point where I’m fending off waves of zombies, monkeys (or perhaps zombie monkeys) with an ineffectual wrench. I guess I really should try again, but perhaps in the meantime I’ll try SS1 instead!

    P.

  39. LionsPhil says:

    @oceanclub: Ignore everything PSI, and put points into standard weapons. Buy varied bullet ammo, because using the right kind will down most things in one or two shots. Keep spare pistols and shotguns until you can get to the point where you can repair things. Once you get your hands on a assault rifle, marry it, and never let it go.

    (Annoyingly, I found pretty much every other kind of weapon useless in SS2, even on with comparable skill levels.)

  40. Guhndahb says:

    This is HUGE! Despite having more and more frustration with the controls over the years, I’ve replayed System Shock (which I very much prefer over its sequel) more than any other game. The chance to play it with mouse-look makes me all tingly!

  41. malkav11 says:

    I’d just like to say that some years ago, before I quite knew what I was getting into, I found and purchased the CD version of System Shock for a dollar. Yes, that’s right, $1.

    Best bargain of my entire life.

    If only I could replicate that feat with System Shock 2.

  42. Bret says:

    Kieron Gillen said:
    We’ve sainted them!

    KG

    I thought you needed 2 miracles for that.

  43. Shadowcat says:

    Although I am completely at home with the System Shock keyboard layout, I have to say that the one significant way in which System Shock 2 was unquestionably better than its predecessor was the excellent control scheme.

    There have been a few amazing things done to System Shock in recent years (such as modern-day high-resolution support), but without meaning any disrespect to the wonderful folks behind the other enhancements, the addition of SS2-style controls is the greatest one to date.

    The best PC game ever made just got even better.

  44. BAReFOOt says:

    What’s going on? I had mouselook back then! (CD version)
    I don’t see anything new here.

  45. Shadowcat says:

    BAReFOOt: No one recognises the method of mouse-based looking and moving that System Shock (and Underworld) provided as “mouse-look”.

    This is the SS2 control scheme magically* inserted into the original.

    (*) By which I mean incredibly skilfully.

  46. Bret says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    BAReFOOt: No one recognises the method of mouse-based looking and moving that System Shock (and Underworld) provided as “mouse-look”.

    This is the SS2 control scheme magically* inserted into the original.

    (*) By which I mean incredibly skilfully.

    Or they’re witches. We shouldn’t ignore possibilities.

  47. Jetsetlemming says:

    Damn it all to hell, I can’t get System Shock working on my computer. It ran fine on my OLD computer. Fuck. SSPortable runs horribly for some inexplicable reason, and trying to run the game exe directly with VDMS froze my computer when I tried to change the ingame res from 320×200 to 640×480, and trying via DOSBox crashed it to command prompt with a reminder to salt the fries.

  48. SystemOfAnUp says:

    i found System Shock 1 Here: http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=248×6094

    The website said it was legal

    I haven’t played it yet, is it fun?

    • geldonyetich says:

      The website said it was legal

      Don’t believe everytihng you read. The legality behind abandwonare is actually a pretty formidable gray area. I’m not even sure System Shock 1 is abandonware – I wouldn’t be surprised to see EA is selling it (somewhere).

  49. john says:

    http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=248×6094

    Above is a LEGAL SS1 download

    Is it fun, I haven’t played it yet