Dark Engine Source Code Found In A Bag

As of this weekend, Christmas has come early for the Through the Looking Glass community. A CD’s been discovered containing the source code for the Dark Engine, aka the engine used by Thief, Thief II and System Shock 2 (not to mention Irrational and Looking Glass’ cancelled cold war spy game Deep Cover).

What does this mean? Well, if the fans can get the code into a workable state, initially it’ll mean versions of those Dark Engine classics optimised for modern systems. In the long term, you can probably look at the FreeSpace 2 Source Code Project for a glimpse at what lies ahead.

The story as to how the code was discovered is sweet. Four years ago, a Dreamcast modder by the name of game_player_s received a Dreamcast devkit he ordered online, although he quickly realised he’d need a rare adapter to actually connect it to his PC. As you can read in this thread, recently he managed to find one. Factory-sealed, too. Perfect. Except it wasn’t perfect because it was, in fact, defective. Infuriated, game_player_s took the the devkit’s hard drive to work to see if there was anything on the damn thing. There was. Lots of Looking Glass’ assets from 1996-2000, including unfinished Dreamcast ports of Thief II and System Shock 2.

This was months ago. Last week, game_player_s accidentally checked the bag that the devkit arrived in. Inside it was a CD containing the engine source code for all of those games. For four years, one of the Looking Glass community’s dream discoveries was gathering dust in the corner of a Dreamcast fan’s house.

Following a petition on the TTLG forums in 2009, the question of whether to release the Dark Engine’s source code officially has been with Eidos’ lawyers since the beginning of this year, but the community hasn’t heard back since then. There’s every chance that any minute now Eidos’ legal team will mobilise and try and shut down this dissemination of the source code, which would be several different kinds of ugly.

At the minute, there’s little else to report on other than a lot of excitable chatter. If you’re interested in reading that, the TTLG thread on the subject of the source code is here, and their technical discussion of what’s present and how to get it working is here. Unfortunately, it looks like some of the code redirects to files on networked drives that modders obviously have no access to, though it’s unknown exactly how big of a problem this is. We’ll be posting more on this as and when we hear it.


  1. faelnor says:

    A long and exciting path opens. We need to find a good name for the project.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      What I don’t get though, is in what reality those lawyers usually live:

      There’s every chance that any minute now Eidos’ legal team will mobilise and try and shut down this dissemination of the source code, which would be several different kinds of ugly.

      How exactly do they thing they would manage that? In the world I live in, the source will spread trough the Internet faster than a zombie virus trough a crowded city. And the ones wanting to do something with it don’t care about money, so they can without trouble stay anonymous and share their work via P2P networks. Or just write new code from the ground up that is compatible and doing the same as the old one, but bears no legal problems. For that they don’t even have to have that source. There are legal ways around reverse engineering.
      But I guess those lawyers will never learn and just go under the hard way.

    • Mistabashi says:

      They will manage it easily by simply sending a cease & desist order to any site found hosting the code. Without SourceForge (or similar) to keep track of the code, and without any viable method of distributing the final product to a wider audience beyond a few people on p2p networks you’re never going to see full-on development of the code like we’ve seen in Freespace.

      The bottom line is that the source code is useless without the license to distribute it.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @Mistabishi: What do you mean with “site hosting”? You have heard of this newfangled concept torrent files, magnet links, e-mail and instant messaging for passing things on, haven’t you? And you have heard of there being other countries than yours, where your letters get laughed at? Have you also heard that you don’t need a source tracking service, since you can simply use GIT which is completely decentralized and by the Linux kernel being tracked with it has proven that it can keep huge projects running? In fact they really just use e-mail for passing on patches there.

      The bottom line is, that you seem oblivious to the mechanics of the Internet and how it forms social webs. Have you even heard of VPNs, IRC, darknets (like Freenet, TOR, etc) or Piratebay?

      There is no physical way of stopping people from forming a community and finding each other on the Internet. Even China-like policies change nothing. If we have, we’ll tunnel network packets trough Twitter. Even shutting down the whole Internet would not stop it nowadays. People would just ask their local expert to switch their WLAN routers to relay mode, and form their own Internet. With blackjack. and hookers! :P

    • Mistabashi says:

      I’m well aware of the many different forms of distributing data. What I’m saying is, a project like FS2Open wouldn’t exist without being able to use ‘mainstream’ means like a website. I can’t see a lot of people willing to put in the huge amount of work involved in updating the source code if they can only distribute it to ‘those in the know’.

      A project of the scale and popularity of FS2Open is only going to happen if the code gets open-sourced.

      EDIT: Of course I’m assuming that Sqeenix owns the IP rights to the engine code, which may not be the case. They obviously own the IP rights to the game content & the Theif franchise, but the engine code itself might not.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      unless this somehow spurs the development of some kind of distributed/anonymous/lawyer unfriendly CVS…

    • Sharkey says:

      What do drugstores have to do with anything?

  2. Urael says:

    Interesting! Would be great to see these old classics brought into the modern era. I’d also love someone to fix the long-standing bug that robs my health bar of every second indicator, a bug that doesn’t happen in the tutorial level but is present right throughout the main game (Thief 1 AND 2). :)

    You know what else would be a great Xmas pressie, RPS? Word of Thief 4…

    • Josh Brandt says:

      Is that a bug? I thought that was just because you had less health playing on harder difficulty levels, so it spaced out the indicators more…

    • Muzman says:

      It is. Expert, and I think Hard difficulty, has less health.

    • Ergates says:

      In Thief – if you’re taking damage, you’ve already failed.

    • Urael says:

      …it’s a FEATURE? No way. It looks awful. I’ve always hated it.

      Ah well. Guess that’s proof I’ve been playing on Expert all these years. :)

  3. Tei says:

    Well… super sweet story.
    First thing first… MAKE BACKUP COPY’S!.
    Dreamcast modders are cool people :-D

    Is sad, but probably all the source code of all commercial games is lost. The output of a game studio is a lot of youtube videos poorly compressed, and a binary that will only work thought emulators in 15 years.
    Hence… youtube videos are important, man.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      Make backup copy’s what? Make backup copy’s bitch? :D

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      As someone who usually rabidly jumps on someone when they misuse an apostrophe, shut up, troll.

      English is not Tei’s first language, and you’re not funny.

    • Wooly says:

      Seconded. Shut up, Barefoot.

    • Twisted says:

      My sympathies, barefoot. I thought it was amusing.

      Come on, people! If nobody knows about the problem, then it’ll never get fixed!

  4. nonsence says:


  5. Jonathan says:

    Oh my — I love Thief 1 and 2 dearly but they’ve aged pretty badly in the graphics department. If someone could give that a bit of polish I’d be a very happy bunny.

    • Midnight says:

      Getting support for modern systems will be first priority of course, but it’s not inconceivable that graphical updates might ensue at a later stage. In the meantime, please tell me you’re familiar with link to thedarkmod.com?

    • BAReFOOt says:

      By the way: With Wine on Windows, SS2 will run even on Windows 7. If you really have to. As there’s already a perfectly good Linux implementation. :) I recommend just installing Ubuntu on a small partition at the end of your Windows-infected hard disk, merging Wine, and installing your favorite old game as normal: link to appdb.winehq.org

    • Pemptus says:

      Fan missions. Play some of the recommended ones. Some are really pretty, even without taking into account the engine limitations. Not to mention very playable, surpassing the original campaigns in many ways.
      Eg. link to youtube.com

    • DrGonzo says:

      SS2 is System shock 2 I’m guessing? Because I just installed that the other day on this PC that runs Vista. Didn’t have to do anything at all to get it to run. Except maybe ticking compatibility for Windows 95, but I don’t remember doing that.

    • vorwatsmactis says:

      Honestly the easiest way to get SHOCK2 up and running on modern systems with very little work and widescreen resolutions would be to follow this guide:

      link to systemshock.org

      The only additional step that I needed to do was register the video codecs on my windows 7 machine. The whole process only took about 10 minutes and has been the most stable way to run shock2 that I have found. Plus, if you install the mod manager software it’s simple to add or remove any of the many different graphics & sound mods that exist.

      EDIT: The only feature I’m not sure if this route includes is the 32bit rendering mode provided by the previously mentioned DDFIX. Although I haven’t had a chance to look into it yet.

  6. lurkalisk says:

    Dogs of the Eidos… Time they made a move.

  7. Gritz says:

    This is the best news I’ve heard all week!

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Agreed. This was a true OMG moment for me, and I have yet to peruse the inevitably excitable chatter of the TTLG forums. The only thing that could possibly eclipse this would be open-sourcing the Ultima Underworld 2 engine. (God, am I so bloody desperate for more quality dungeon crawling, and no JRPG attempts such as those on the DS do NOT count.)

      Please people, if you have the will: Do something with System Shock 2. Revive one of the most revered AND under-modded games in PC history. There are a great deal of superb missions for Thief, but not SS2 and this is a situation which is in dire need of correcting!

  8. battles_atlas says:

    What a charming tale of geekanthropology

  9. Dominic White says:

    Awesome news! I’m currently writing an article (For DIYgamer.com) on fan-revival projects based on access to the original source code, and this is a fascinating little note to add to the end.

  10. Inigo says:

    There’s every chance that any minute now Eidos’ legal team will mobilise and try and shut down this dissemination of the source code, which would be several different kinds of ugly.

    Well, it could be worse – it’s not as if Eidos is owned by a company infamous for its zero tolerance policy towards fan projects derived from their IPs or anything.
    Oh wait.

    • Dominic White says:

      Oh, fuck.. Yes. Square-Enix, notable for being COMPLETELY FUCKING INSANE. They went after a fan-made Carmageddon project. Why? Because they could. They went after Chrono-Trigger fangame that wasn’t even a full game, but rather 3D recreations of a handfull of classic scenes from the original. They went after Chrono Trigger hack that ran on top of the original ROM, for fucks sake.

      Their copyright-enforcement policies help nobody. No other company in the industry acts that way, and they seem to do perfectly fine.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Yup, we’re probably screwed.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I would say it IS in their best interest to protect it actually. They are regarded as classics, and now it’s quite the thing to bring them back and stick HD on the end of the name. Capitalism is to blame, not Sqeenix.

    • bill says:

      Japanese companies tend to be much more controlling than western ones. Hence the fact the’ve just discovered ebooks, there are almost no online tv/movie websites (even on the tv company’s own sites) and their cellphones are laggin behind because they didn’t want to open them up to standard systems like android. Oh, and amazon finally launched MP3 downloads in japan last week, but almost no songs are on there because the labels won’t let them.

      Weirdly, the don’t seem to care if fans take their manga, make dodgy versions of it, and then actually sell it. But nothing else goes.

  11. stahlwerk says:

    Thief with hi-res-textures and per-pixel-lighting? Yes please!

    • Serpentine says:

      You mean… like The Dark Mod already has? :)

      We’re getting ready to kick out our 1.03 release in the next few weeks, hopefully before xmas but no promises. The future looks bright as id’s tech4 engine will hopefully be open-sourced.

      As for the actual source leak, I dont think franken-Thief attempts will be too nice, rather enjoy the nostalgia in its intended form with a few tasteful additions and fixes, of course. Personally I’d like to see it being used to extend OPDE into a nice portable and efficient alternative.

  12. edwardoka says:

    Fantastic news. I’m personally more interested in the possibility for porting Thief to other OS/devices than I am about a spit-and-polish upgrade a la FSO, to be honest.

    The OPDE project doesn’t look like it’ll ever manage to replicate every quirk of the Dark Engine, unfortunately, so this might be our best hope.

  13. WJonathan says:

    This will probably be a long, frustrating road to a cottage with no roof and doors that don’t swing. The missing parts of the source code will likely be critical.

    • Jonathan says:

      I agree — I should have read the whole story before I posted my more enthusiastic reply above. I don’t think much is going to come out of this.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Plus, having access to the source code doesn’t mean a lot if you aren’t legally allowed to distrribute it. The Freespace situation is completely different as the publishers actually open-sourced it themselves.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Actually, I don’t believe game was never *officially* open sourced (Interplay had dissolved by then and Volition had moved on to THQ). Volition just snuck some lines into the EULA that allowed copying,distribution & modification of the engine source without license.

      It was forked into FSOpen, which was then itself open sourced.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Volition wouldn’t have ever owned the IP rights to the ‘game’ – that would have belonged to the publisher. What they open-sourced was the engine code. It wasn’t “sneaked out”, it was released under a non-commercial licence. FS2Open doesn’t include any data files from Freespace 2, it’s just an engine.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Talking of the mighty Freespace 2 (I’m making good on my promise, honest, having just bought a joystick to finally play this bloody thing after nearly 12 yearsEurogamer published an excellent retrospective on it.

    • sebmojo says:

      It seems to be accepted wisdom that you need a joystick to play FS2 – not in my experience. With a quick tweak of the mouse sensitivity it’s completely playable. I’ve played through it twice.

      Might be more fun with a joystick, of course.

  14. Navagon says:

    If nothing else, this might help make the games run better on modern machines.

  15. Crane says:

    Quickly! Warm up the torrents! Spread the code!

  16. starclaws says:

    Post it on wikileaks!!! Oh and torrents ya!

    But an updated engine that works with xp/vista/7/multicores would be nice and the first thing to look into messing with. Anything else I wouldn’t care for… Unless their remodels and high-res is done properly.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      I have no problem playing SS2 on XP. All you need, is a tiny patch. As usually, gamecopyworld.com offers better patches than the developers themselves. It was the same thing as with GTA:SA. The only ones who could play it without problems, were those who went straight to that site. R* didn’t give a shit, even though there were 4 (four!) points before the start of the game, where it could crash, and even though the polygon coordinates were totally messed up on nVidia cards. Cured a friend of mine from paying companies who did shit like that ever again. :)

    • Jason Moyer says:

      If you want to play Thief/Thief2/SS2 with most of the rendering bugs fixed on a modern OS the best solution I’ve found is DDfix, which is floating around TTLG, if not elsewhere.

  17. pierec says:

    My God, AWESOME.

    The Holy Grail, finally.

  18. airtekh says:

    Initially, I’m really excited about this kind of find; but it’s just inevitable that Eidos’ corporate banhammer will come down to break up the party. :(

  19. Harlander says:

    This is pretty awesome. Can’t wait to see what comes out of it.

    I also loved the almost picaresque feel of the story of how the guy got hold of the source code.

    Did anyone else, though, see the headline and think “Oh, Thievery for the Source engine?”

    • Urthman says:

      Yes, that was exactly my first thought.

    • Urael says:

      That comment took a lot longer to appear in this thread than I expected – surprising. I almost pre-empted it but eventually decided I didn’t want to sink to that level.

  20. poop says:

    pumping my fist pretty hard right now

  21. Tei says:

    Is interesting how that webpage exist, but the one of darkplaces got removed
    link to en.wikipedia.org

    I am tempted to write a script (using greasemonkey) that tag random articles (using random IP’s with TOR) for speed deletion, and see what happends and how the wikieditors handle it. I am to bet a lot of the articles tagged by the script will get deleted.

    Wikipedia is soo dead.

    • Ringwraith says:

      That’s just like adding insult to injury though. They’re already in enough trouble as it is (at least I presume that’s the reason why you can get stared at unnervingly)

  22. adonf says:

    Where do I sign if I want to help finish the Dreamcast ports ?

  23. adonf says:

    Oh, and the rare adapter for the DC dev kit is an external SCSI port. Rare, really ?

  24. adonf says:

    But wait ! Who said the source code belongs to Eidos / Squeenix ? The IPs belong to them but the source code was Looking Glass’s property and since they’ve shut down the rights were probably bought from the liquidator by a company that doesn’t know what it is and doesn’t care.

    • Mistabashi says:

      Good point, AFAIK that was an in-house engine so I doubt the publishers would have had any ownership claims over the engine code itself. I’m not entirely sure how it works, but I suspect if the liquidators didn’t list the engine as an asset when selling it off then no-one would actually own it, which bodes well…

  25. trooperdx3117 says:

    Awesome news, if some coders are able ot whip up some patches that’ll make thief run on my computer without a lot of ini file editing then I will be a happy man

  26. Vivian says:

    The source code for all the dark engine games fits on one CD. Those were the days! Anyways, fist pump.

    • Stijn says:

      Usually it’s the game assets that take up the bulk of disk space, not the game’s executables.

  27. The Sombrero Kid says:

    i’m downloading the files now i’ll let you’s know if this is any use to anyone.

  28. Sander Bos says:

    Color me surprised, 48 comments and only about 5 talking about this being illegal.
    RPS, warez r us since 1873.
    Just because some guy finds a CD with stuff on it does not mean we all automatically get to share it…

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      Given the way Eidos shut Looking Glass & Ion Storm down (by forcing bankruptcy through withholding royalties until they could gobble up the company for a fraction of the value of the royalties) i’ve got absolutely 0 sympathy for them, the source is worthless to them anyway.

    • Sander Bos says:

      If you disagree with the way a company does business, you get to violate their copyrights, got it.

      With respect to “the source is worthless to them anyway”, this ‘abandonware’ argument has gone out the window in recent years imho. If namco can keep releasing pacman variants for 5 bucks for various platforms all the time, who are you to say that eidos may not try to monetize its system shock 2 intellectual property in the future?

      (by the way, I am far from holy with respect to copyright violations, just surprised that the RPS community has no restraint in celebrating it. For me my behavior is a source of shame)

    • Shadowcat says:

      Sombrero Kid: I want this to be legally usable as much as anyone, but what you just said is crazily inaccurate. The best account of Looking Glass’ closure can be found at TTLG.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      @ShadowCat I’ve read that account before, it’s not incompatible what I said.

    • edwardoka says:

      Namco aren’t releasing Pac-man clones using the same source as that which was used on the original arcade cabinet., though.

      No-one will make any money from this source code ever again. The company who made it no longer exist and the Thief franchise has moved elsewhere. The only real restriction should be that of third party software vendors.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      I choose to violate their copywrite because i have little to no tolerance for copywrite law with regards to source code, or anything really, as i see it as an unworkable patch for the economic model of the government i live under, and in this case there is no negative repercussions for anyone involved, i get to violate their copywrite because someone released the source code on the internet.

    • JP says:

      I’m sad to see that people don’t understand that source code != the games. Eidos-blessed or not, the source code does not make it any easier to illegally acquire the games. Check the TTLG threads where people are looking at the source; it’s going to take a fair amount of work just to get it to compile, and once that happens, you still need the game’s data files, which you can obtain legally by buying the games.

      Two simple facts:

      A) id Software releases the source to their old games once the tech is clearly no longer a competitive advantage
      B) id Software continues to make lots of money selling those old games to adoring fans

      DOOM2.EXE != DOOM2.WAD

      game source != game content

      Give away the former, continue selling the latter.

      Someone please clue the Squenix/Eidos bigwigs in to this.

  29. The Sombrero Kid says:

    I’ve had a look through the source and all the really important stuff seems to be there, you could in the very worst case scenario write a new engine with this, although it seems that the only stuff missing will be relatively trivial to rewrite, in which case you could get it compiling again fairly quickly & people could get to work updating it.

    • Jimmy says:

      That’s a legal can of worms. If you’ve seen the source code, you may have difficulty saying that your new code is not based on the old code.

      For example, the Mono Project, an open source version of .NET, requires its developers to not look at Microsoft’s .NET code (which Microsoft provides, but retains all copyrights on)

  30. Shadowcat says:

    Quintin: Just to be clear, regardless of what happens with this (fantastic) discovery, this is not “everything the Looking Glass community dreamed of”. It’s not really even close to that.

    It always makes me want to pull my hair out when I think that when LGS closed their doors, virtually all of their data was probably lost. Sure, there will be things like this floating around (and if anything can actually be done with this code, that will be amazing), but think of all of the other resources that will probably never resurface… that may only exist on hard drives and backups that were acquired by people with no interest in their contents… that may have since been wiped clean by people with absolutely no idea of that data’s value…

    Going by the reports, LGS closed its doors so quickly and suddenly that I find it hard to believe that very much would have been saved, or is in the hands of anyone with any desire (regardless of ability) to release it publicly.

    So we dream of Ultima Underworld 1 & 2 source code; System Shock code; Terra Nova code; Flight Unlimited 1,2,3 code; even BOCG code; Original graphics and audio files; Concept art; and everything else that Looking Glass generated during all those years. Working Dark Engine source code would be absolutely huge news, but trust me… if we’re talking about Looking Glass, we can dream much bigger than that.

  31. Inglourious Badger says:

    SHODAN’s Source Code is free at last? I’m frightened

  32. Saleck says:

    This code belongs to EA too technically. That’s why its probably been in limbo for so long at Eidos. Though the Ex-LGS staff member who handed his copy over said he would remove the SS2 code if need be.
    Looks like all the problems have been ‘solved’ for them. Now to see if EA/Eidos do anything about it.

  33. Demiath says:

    This is an endearing Christmas tale truly worth telling, and I really look forward to whatever might come out of this that isn’t legalese. I’m not quite getting the “compatibility for modern systems” aspect, though, since I re-install Thief 2 every now and then (will probably never actually finish that game), and haven’t had any major issues getting it to work on newish computers.

    • VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Compatibility would mostly involve internalizing the changes for multicore compatibility, ddfix, etc within the main game executable, instead of (as now) requiring one or more external patches/launchers.

  34. DrDoc says:

    But the code is illegal, just because the code has leaked does not make it open source. No serious modding team is going to touch that. For example, the Quake engine is open source and has multiple standalone and modding projects based on it, but the Source engine is leaked. How much of that code have you seen being used?

    • poop says:

      a quick google/youtube search will reveal a lotta russian dudes toiling away at the leaked HL2 source

      if squeenix and eidos aren’t happy with the source leak they will try to get rid of modding but they probably wont get rid of all of it

  35. JohnnyMaverik says:

    It’s exciting, but I’m not guna hold by breathe waiting for Eidos/Square to do the right thing.

  36. Yanko says:

    This is awesome and historical. It’s oficially the first time i hear about Computer Game Archaeology!

  37. Willy359 says:

    I’m I the only one who reads this and feels only pain? Looking Glass was working on a ’60s stealth espionage game that we will NEVER GET TO PLAY! What do we get instead? Generic shooter crap like Alpha Protocol. I weep for that which is lost.

    • Jack says:

      Remember the days when everyone made games like [EXAMPLE OF AN OLD GOOD GAME]? A golden age, that was. Now all we get is crap like [EXAMPLE OF A RECENT BAD GAME]. It’s enough to make me give my keyboard a viking funeral.

  38. Wulf says:

    Well… welly well well then, this could get interesting, and here’s hoping that Squeenix are going to be all nice and civil about it.

  39. Angryinternetman says:

    Christmas for everyone! Happy news!

  40. dethtoll says:

    Thiefgen must be shitting themselves everywhere right now.

  41. Flatfingers says:

    Interesting news. It would be great if the EA/Squeedos lawyers could bless the open use of the Dark Engine code, given that it’s not possibly a competitive threat to anyone any longer. But I don’t look for rationality when beancounters and ambulance-chasers work for the same boss.

    For that matter, it would be nice to see the source for Terra Nova: SFC surface, if only to purge it of the UniVBE driver evil that has prevented me from being able to install and run my old copy of that game.

    Mostly, though, I’m still wishing for the game based on Star Trek: Voyager that Looking Glass was going to develop and then didn’t. The Raven-made game was OK, but the fusion of the Voyager tech and storyline with the “multiple ways to solve problems” design ethos of LG… sigh. That really would have been something.

  42. oceanclub says:

    Honestly, this is the most exciting PC gaming news I’ve heard all week, perhaps all month. I love the idea of updated engines for these games (nothing too fancy, something like the DX10 renderer for Deus Ex 1 even).


  43. Sander van Rossen says:

    Awesome news! That said, how does one check a bag “accidentally”?

  44. MadMinstrel says:

    While I’m pretty excited to play an updated System Shock 2, I don’t think this is otherwise of consequence. For general modding, there are already plenty of engines out there that a team can use, such as UDK, Cryengine 2, or Unity. Those engines also tend to have a more modern design. There is no actual need to use something as old as dark engine anymore unless you just want to tweak one of the games based on it.