Many Questions: System Shock 2 Comes To GOG

By Adam Smith on February 13th, 2013 at 11:01 am.

Today, Good Old Games announce that they will finally, and exclusively, be selling a digital download version of System Shock 2. It will be available tomorrow. I envy those who can now play for the first time, but there is no longer an excuse not to indulge in yet another playthrough of one of the finest and most frightening games ever made. I spoke to Stephen Kick of Night Dive, who secured the rights and worked on the release, and Guillaume Rambourg at GOG.com. How did all of this come about and what is System Shock 2′s place in gaming, past, present and future?

RPS: The story of the System Shock rights and trademark has frustrated people for years. As I understand it – and I may well be wrong – Looking Glass retained the rights while EA held the trademark. When Looking Glass ceased to be, the rights passed to Meadowbrook Insurance Group and without both, the series cannot be revived. What negotiations, with any parties involved, have taken place in order to secure digital distribution rights?

Stephen Kick (Night Dive): The rights are still held in a very complicated tangle and going into all of it makes for very dry reading. The short version is that negotiations began in October of last year. I pitched the rights-holder with the focus being on the digital distribution of System Shock 2 and–as much to my surprise as anyone’s, possibly–here we are today.

Guillaume Rambourg (GOG.com): We, of course, have been working on getting System Shock 2 on GOG.com more or less since we started operations, and we were absolutely thrilled when Stephen contacted us from Night Dive indicating that he was able to secure these rights.

RPS: System Shock 2 has been one of the most requested games on GOG since GOG came into existence – how much effort has been going into securing rights and for how long?

Kick: It’s been a very lengthy process that’s required a great deal of patience and research. Before negotiations began I had very little experience in the realm of business so the idea of starting a development studio and potentially working with the System Shock license was incredibly daunting. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time, but to be honest I never imagined I’d see the day. I had just replayed the game while travelling through Guatemala on my netbook, and found myself completely immersed in the story and lost in the atmosphere.

I didn’t expect the game to hold up after all this time, but I found myself more engaged than I had been with any game for as long as I can remember. I really started to wonder why the game was no longer available and it lead me on a search for old interviews, articles, videos, forum posts, or anything else I could find relating to the game. I even contacted members of the original development team to get their side of the story. What I discovered was a mystery that needed to be solved. Knowing that gamers may never have the chance to play such an incredible game fueled my desire to make it happen.

Rambourg: We have contacted lots of publishers, developers and lawyers over the past 4-5 years – mostly industry veterans actually – to better understand the big legal puzzle behind this game and identify who owns the trademark, the IP, the code, distribution rights and so forth. We got lots of answers, sometimes aiming at the same direction, sometimes pointing in conflicting ones. You know the drill: one step forward, two steps back. It was a real investigation a la Tex Murphy. A very tough case, definitely, but we never lost hope.

And actually the unexpected occurred: one day Stephen contacted us and informed us he secured the rights for digital distribution of System Shock 2! He had heard of GOG and our popular community wish list–which allows our users to request games and site features they want to see on GOG–and the fact that over 34,000 users had voted that they wanted to see SS2 released on GOG made Stephen wanna join forces with us to make the release happen.

We could scarcely believe that our wishes had finally been answered, and after the usual legal checking of bona-fides on our end, we entered a deal with Stephen and there we are, talking to RPS about the digital return of one of the best PC games of all times. That’s a great day for everybody at GOG–and for all PC Gamers out there too!

RPS: You have updated the Night Dive website to read: “System Shock franchise to resurface with GOG/Steam release”. What is your involvement in the release and is the digital version an update, with high-res textures etc, or a straight re-release?

Kick: Night Dive Studios secured the license to distribute the game, and made the initial modifications to allow the game to run on most current operating systems.

Rambourg: There are some user-made mods out there which do phenomenal work on the game’s stability, but none of them were quite perfect, so we took the game to our expert techninjas to analyse and swat the remaining bugs. It was some work to get it done, but as this is a game that we’ve wanted to release for four-plus years, it was also definitely a labour of love.

Kick: This release is the original version in all its glory. Fans will be able to apply the mods they know and love, and hopefully we may see some new mods from the community in the future.

Rambourg: We definitely hope that having a legal source for this ground-breaking game will spur more interest from the community.

RPS: What other work are Night Dive involved in? I hadn’t heard of the studio before now and the website doesn’t give much away.

Kick: We are currently developing an original IP, and unfortunately I can’t say much more than that. We are a team comprised of veteran developers with a passion for gaming, and we hope you’ll enjoy what we have in store. We’re also always on the lookout for old games to bring back for new gamers to appreciate.

RPS: Can you go into any detail on the difficulty of ensuring the game works on modern PCs? It has been a common reason for people to keep old machines running.

Rambourg: As we mentioned, there are a number of community-made efforts that help a lot with stability on newer systems; they’ve pointed the way for us, and the game runs pretty much flawlessly on Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8. Our most recent build has gone through all of our test team PCs without a hitch, and the game is definitely polished up and ready for its time in the limelight again.

RPS: Will there be any extras included with the GOG download? Soundtracks and the like?

Rambourg: Yes, indeed. With the help of Stephen, we’ve pulled out all of the stops to make this a virtual collector’s edition. In addition to the soundtrack, the GOG.com version of the game will have concept art, maps of the Von Braun, a interview with Ken Levine, the first pitch document, and much more.

Kick: It’s going to be a fantastic archive of System Shock 2 assets.

RPS: Although Bioshock is in some ways a spiritual successor to System Shock and its sequel, they are very different. Shock 2 is much more RPG-like, with a full inventory and skill progression paths. Do you think the weight of demand is partly because there hasn’t been anything quite like it since?

Kick: SS2 had an innovative design that formed the foundation for many modern games while seamlessly blending the best of both the FPS and RPG genre. No other developer has been able to replicate that sweet spot, and I think that’s really special.

Rambourg: It’s a game that appeals to the hardcore PC gaming fan; while it has more accessible controls than many early shooters, the gameplay is tough, but plenty rewarding for someone who has the skill to bull their way through – or the cunning to figure out clever ways around.

Kick: Bioshock was definitely more approachable for console gamers, and I think if they had made the game as challenging as System Shock it would have alienated that market. It’s difficult to keep everyone happy these days when the success of a game is determined by units sold or a Metacritic score. Ultimately, I hope that introducing SS2 to new gamers will inspire them to expect more from their gaming experiences.

Rambourg: After playing something as tense and thought-provoking as System Shock 2, I think “World War 2 FPS #37″ doesn’t feel quite as satisfying an endeavour. I’d love it if this encouraged fans to ask for more robust gameplay from their developers!

RPS: I regularly cite Shock 2 as the most frightening game I’ve ever played but I haven’t revisited it for almost a decade and worry that age may have diluted the atmosphere. Is that an unfounded worry?

Rambourg: The best horror games work not because of what they show, but because of what they hint at. Imagination is scarier than anything you can show, and every byte of this game is filled with dark hints that pull at your imagination. The testers who’ve made sure this game runs on modern OSes have assured me that the spooky audio logs are just as affecting now as they were a decade ago.

Kick: H.P. Lovecraft once said that, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” I have a feeling this idea played a large role in how SS2 was designed. SS2 doesn’t rely on cheap scare tactics like creatures jumping from vents or enemies spawning behind you. The fear and atmosphere stems from the cryptic and frightening audio logs you discover that subtly reveal the horrific tragedy that has befallen the Von Braun. The sparse resources and non-regenerating health create a tension that fill you with dread, and the rapidly decaying state of the ship and your mind elevate the terror to a whole new level. I’d recommend playing the game alone in the dark with a good headset for the full experience.

Rambourg: But only if you’re not prone to heart problems!

RPS: Along with the Thief games, Shock 2 perfectly fits my definition of a ‘good old game’. It comes from a time when first-person games seemed to be exploring new environments and methods of interacting with the world, something that appears to be on the rise again, with such as Dishonored and Human Revolution going some way toward reviving the tradition. But how important a part of PC gaming history do you reckon Shock 2 is?

Kick: Like I mentioned before I think SS2 laid the foundation for future games that blend genres. What I really loved with SS2 that Deus Ex and Dishonored exercised was the decision not to include a full multiplayer component. Personally, if I play a game I want it to be one or the other. The expectation of including a multiplayer component to a single player centric game is completely unrealistic and sometimes I feel it’s just an excuse to add another feature on the back of the box. It may seem obvious, but you’re essentially asking your studio to develop two games simultaneously which often comes with sacrificing the quality of both the single player and the multiplayer. Overall you end up with a mediocre experience. All three of these games remedy the lack of multiplayer with an experience you can enjoy multiple times, each time in a completely new way. SS2 has three distinct classes with dramatically different play styles that are challenging and fun to master all their own.

Rambourg: System Shock 2 is the culmination of the innovation that the developers brought to the FPS genre starting with Ultima Underworld. The FPS genre got its first blowout success with Doom in 1993, so this is 6 years later and someone is creating something that–in many ways–bears almost no resemblance to the game that put FPS gaming on the map. And it’s brilliant! It’s a touchstone that you see referenced in many ways in games from Metal Gear Solid to Mass Effect. And Deus Ex and Bioshock, of course. The storytelling, the way that immerses you through a variety of channels – even the focus on tension, isolation, fear. It all takes you to a place that the first person perspective is uniquely suited to, but does so in a manner very different than Doom or Quake.

RPS: SHODAN and GlaDOS construct rival deathtraps. Which is the most deadly?

Kick: The fact that SHODAN can create and alter reality to her will is pretty terrifying. Especially since she’s totally insane. GlaDOS was trapped inside a potato battery by Wheatley, a lesser artificial intelligence. So I’m going to have to go with SHODAN!

RPS: Now that System Shock 2 is secured, what will replace it as GOG’s most demanded game?

Rambourg: Actually, our community wish list shows we have quite a bunch of LucasArts’ titles to sign next and we will do our best to satisfy our gamers. Heck, we just signed SS2 after all, so impossible is nothing for GOG! If you guys want to support us, make sure to vote in our community wishlist so that we can give more weight to all our ongoing and upcoming business talks. It worked for SS2, so it can work for other titles. I know that some people may think that voting in the wishlist doesn’t accomplish anything. I’m here to tell you it does. It gives us ammo to sign publishers and sometimes – like with Stephen and Night Dive – even opens the door for opportunity when we need it most!

RPS: GOG had a Colonization screenshot with a colony called System Shock 2 – tease, coincidence or promise? Loom was on there too!

Rambourg: At the time, we didn’t know that we’d be releasing System Shock 2, no. It was more like an Easter egg (or cry for our prayers to get heard!) because we have constantly been asked–for the last four years–when we will release System Shock 2. Perhaps I should tell our team to post more screenshots like that and maybe we’ll have the good fortune to sign the remaining top games from our wishlist!

System Shock 2 will be available at GOG.com tomorrow from 11:00 AM GMT, for $9.99.

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192 Comments »

  1. farsighter says:

    For some reason, I did not find this game as enjoyable as most gamers seem to. While the environment is pretty good looking, the level design is mostly disappointing, and aside from a few jump shocks, I didn’t find the game very tense or scary at all. I also saw the “twist” coming from a light year away.
    I think it’s a very atmospheric game, but not an all time great, just like the succeeding game Bioshock.

  2. FesterSilently says:

    *cough* NOLF*cough*

    Pleasepleaseplease!

  3. kud13 says:

    I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again:

    GOG is the best.

    Now, pleeeease, give me Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen!

    Also, SS2 is amazing. I played it for the first time ever 22 or 3 years ago, without any mods, and the game was superb. I also went into the last levels with a single rifle clip, and needed to make every single shot count. Some of the most memorable gaming experiences of my life due to that, since literally every shot had to count.

    As long as these Night dive folks fixed the Dark engine’s limitation that made it crash on multi-core systems, this game’s one of the most playable classics out there.

    The original System Shock was also great, but the ending is nearly impossibe to get through on a modern PC it runs so fast. (at least with SSPortable)

    • strangeloup says:

      I think if they can unfuck the crazy legal tangle for SS2, they might just be able to do it for Blood Omen. I wonder if the situation on that’s changed with Silicon Knights going bust.

  4. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Just when I thought there was only shite out on the market right now, along comes this. I totally want this game in a way that I would want a major exciting release.

    Whooo <– excitement right here

  5. PopeJamal says:

    I haven’t even read the story yet, but I’ve already found a typo: When you mentioned the names “Stephen Kick” and “Guillaume Rambourg”, you forgot to preface them with the word “HERO”. Please remedy this glaring omission.

    I.Am.Geeked!

  6. Clean3d says:

    So, is it important to play SS1 before SS2 if you’ve never played them before?

  7. fish99 says:

    Best game ever. Fact.

  8. Salmanazar says:

    Bioshock was definitely more approachable for console gamers, and I think if they had made the game as challenging as System Shock it would have alienated that market.

    Consoles are why we can’t have nice games anymore – every new game is designed with the console market in mind, ie dumbed down, with the budget largely onscreen in the form of sexy graphics rather than in gameplay or writing. Skyrim is a prime example, if you compare it with Morrowind – or even with Oblivion.

    • luukdeman111 says:

      Bioshock wasn’t as complicated as System Shock but IMO it was better… so: “We can’t have nice games anymore!” is a very stupid statement…

      Mainly because more complex does not equal better

      • kud13 says:

        Bioshock was fun, and it COULD have much better than SS2, that is true.

        however, because it was so linear, and because it refused to make the player make tough choices (such as making plasmidspermanent, instead of swappable), and because it focused on making its combat frenetic and action-y, rather than suspensful and terrifying (Bioshock had no horror elements. SS2 dripped suspence/horror, as you try to figure out what happened to the crew of the Von Braun), Bioshock never went beyond being a System Shock derivative. The only truly novel idea in BS1 was the Little Sisters/Big Daddies dynamic, and that was not played up to its full potential. When you look at early Levine interviews, the AI behind those systems was supposed to be far more advanced, to be comparable with S.T.A.L.K.E.R”s AI-LIFE systems. instead of liveing, breathing NPC-world, we got a bonus objective–a tactically challengin one, yes, but it could’ve been so much more….

        It was well-executed, with BS2 actually taking some steps towards doing its own thing with the storyteling aspects, and i’m truly curios for Infinite, because I want the series to evolve beyond being a System Shock 2 derivative. But to say that BS1 is better than SS2 is laughable.

      • fish99 says:

        Simpler doesn’t equal better either though, so that’s a weak argument. I’ve played both several times, and SS2 is clearly the superior game and here’s why – replayability.

        You can actually play SS2 3 times through and have a genuinely different experience. One playthrough you focus on weapons, one you focus on technical skills like hacking etc, and one you focus on psi skills. There’s also loads of hybrid builds like going for heavy weapons or energy weapons.

        The reason this works is they don’t give you enough cyber modules to just ‘get everything’. Bioshock on the other hand, gives you enough adam to buy everything before you leave each level.

        The other reasons SS2 is better -

        - better story (did you notice the Bioshock ‘twist’ is the exact same twist from SS2?)
        - poor last third of Bioshock (after you know who is dead the game fizzles out, the last few levels are mediocre with a poor escort level, terrible end boss and poor end movie)
        - SS2 has co-op
        - SS2 is an RPG, which gives it a lot more depth and allows the above mentioned replayability
        - it’s a PC game, it has a proper PC interface and no mouse acceleration
        - SS2 is a lot less linear than Bioshock

      • Nick says:

        Bioshock was nowhere near as atmospheric, fun or interesting as either SS game.

  9. gritz says:

    Is it just me or was SS2 too easy? People talk about struggling for resources, but I remember having huge stockpiles of ammo by the middle of the game, having taken the time to explore everything and killing as much as I could with the wrench. Dodging the enemies’ attacks and braining them with the wrench was not very hard.

    It’s been a long time, but I think I remember the monkeys as being the most dangerous enemies, since they were so much harder to smack.

    • kud13 says:

      SS2 was very build-dependent. You could end up with a very difficult game if you didn’t spend your precious nano-units properly. some Hacking got ridiculous too, later on, b/c it was so chance-based, and if you put no points into it, you may find yourself unable to progress the plot b/c you couldn’t unlock a crate or door, and there were no auto-hack tools around.

      If you went too far the other way, you’d find yourself constantly running out of bullets due to low weapon skills–each bullet would do less damage, you’d need to use more bullets, and thus, more money.

      It’s one thing they tried to fix in Bioshock by making Plasmids swappable, but IMO, they went too far the other way.

      • ZB says:

        There is only ONE mandatory hack in the entire game, and the game explictly hands you a bundle of upgrade modules to buy the necessary skill if you don’t already have it.

    • fish99 says:

      IMO you should be playing it on a minimum of Hard, but if you want that struggling for resources feeling then go for Impossible, which IMO is the only setting that is actually ‘hard’ and it what most experienced FPS players should be playing it on.

      • gritz says:

        Yeah, it’s been so long that I can’t remember what difficulty I played it on, but I usually try to play on the hardest settings.

    • Nick says:

      If you don’t use the OP wrench build its a lot more fun/ammo hungry.

  10. Skabooga says:

    Fantastic! Well, looks like I’ll be breaking my promise to not buy any games until I’ve done something about my backlog. I don’t know who these Night Dive people are, but they’re okay in my book.

  11. cytokindness says:

    Is this worth playing if you already know The Twist?

    • Nick says:

      Yes! The twist is not the be all and end all of the game or its story.

  12. Twist says:

    As I guessed earlier in this discussion, all they did was take the New Dark ptch and add some bits and fixes from another community mod (SHTUP). Saying their “techninjas” did the work and criticizing the community’s work really rings hollow now.

  13. Enkinan says:

    I am freaked out. I was smoking with some co-workers and Dead Space 3 came up. I professed having not played any of them and said that SS2 was the scariest space game I had played. Then said simply: “SHODAN”. I then walked in and saw this article 10 minutes later.

    It is fate.

  14. easter says:

    Feels like something of a breakthrough. If Sys Shock 2 can be on GOG, nothing seems impossible!
    /hurries to the GOG community wishlist and sighs fondly.

  15. Polito says:

    What are your thoughts on the statements over on TTLG.com that Night Dive’s GOG release other than the new content (the interview with Ken Levine, the documents etc) uses the files that were contained in the recent “New Dark” release several months ago, contain no new bug fixes of any kind that weren’t already present in the New Dark release, and that he’s claiming credit and financial benefit off of the work of others?