Warren Spector Working On System Shock 3

In the kind of Getting The Band Back Together news that makes me hyperventilate ever so slightly, the news just broke that Warren Spector has joined Otherside Games, the studio working on System Shock 3 and Ultima Underworld spiritual successor Underworld Ascendant.

Spector has been working with students at the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy within the University of Texas, but will now be acting as Otherside’s Studio Director. By my reckoning, this marks the first time he’s been involved with PC development since Thief: Deadly Shadows in 2004, the port of Epic Mickey 2 notwithstanding.

Back in 2013, Spector told us he’d like to return to the PC when the time was right. When I heard that, I hoped that would mean a return to Thief, System Shock or Underworld, but I never really expected that to happen. I certainly didn’t expect him to be working on two of those franchises (one officially; the other spiritually) at the same time.

At Otherside, he’ll be reunited with Paul Neurath, who worked on the first two Thief and Ultima Underworld games at Looking Glass.

Of his return to studio work from the cloisters of academia, Spector had this to say, as reported by gamesindustry.biz:

“…when the opportunity to have a bigger role in bringing Underworld Ascendant to life, as well as playing in the System Shock universe once again, helping to bring these games to a 21st century audience, I just couldn’t say no. Working on System Shock was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my career and it’s hard to describe how much I’m looking forward to sharing with players what SHODAN has been up to since the last game was released.”

I’ve been waiting for the System Shock 3 hype to hit me between the eyes. I think it just did.

78 Comments

  1. C0llic says:

    I so want it to be good, but I can’t allow myself to believe that yet. I must stay strong. The hype train is still waiting at the station.

    • Andrew says:

      I’m with you. Also, it’s not like big names can’t screw anything, you know. *cough-cough*

    • Dominare says:

      The hype train may well be at the station, but believe me when I say I’ve already got my ticket.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Best thing we could get is a solid but modernized game like Deus EX HR. Or a rather mediocre Thief 4.
      Will have endless unskippable cutscenes, slow animations like Doom 4 executions, HR’s takedown or Thief 4 looting.
      At least the atmosphere might be great with space cyber horror and that was Shock’s main point.

      • Chaoslord AJ says:

        And if we’re very unlucky a cover mechnanic and an idiot arrow on the mini-map.

      • Sarfrin says:

        There are a lot of ex Looking Glass staff working at Otherside. The best thing we could get is a damn good game.

      • grve says:

        Alien: Isolation with more shooty cybergore and less vent alien

      • Distec says:

        If EA or Activision was pumping out a remake, sequel, or spiritual successor of any of TTLG’s games, I’d be right there with you.

        But since this is a smaller outfit, I’m retaining my optimism. I think they’re more at liberty to make what they want, without the constraints imposed by “being AAA”.

        • C0llic says:

          Oh I’m optimistic. I’m just reservedly so. It’s far too early for me to think this could be as amazing as I hope it could be. Regardless of the people involved.

        • malkav11 says:

          Conversely, they’re also not going to have the budget of AAA. And it’s not Looking Glass, it’s a team of some ex-Looking Glass folks together again 20 years later who may or may not have it anymore, plus some other miscellaneous folks. I’m hopeful, and I backed Underworld Ascendant, but expectations need to be managed appropriately.

          • Distec says:

            Absolutely true.

            AAA and non-AAA have different sets of potential problems. The risk of going AAA is being railroaded into streamlined whizzbang homogeneity. Non-AAA risks not having the resources of manpower to do what you want, or just making a mess. And that’s just setting aside the problem of whether any one person or group of devs can replicate magic.

            That said, I think this is the better situation to be in for this particular series.

  2. preshrunk_cyberpunk says:

    *regains consciousness and crawls back to the keyboard*

    I’m really glad they aren’t working on new Thief as well; if they were that may have killed me.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I’m looking forward to when they announce “Burgled,” the steampunk stealth game where the sarcastic thief Merritt robs the wealthy Hammerists and gives to himself.

      • Blackcompany says:

        They need that old voice actor, though. The one from those earlier sneaky games.

        • Anguy says:

          Steven Russell is his name, a god among voice actors!

          • rgbarton says:

            I never played the original thief games but I loved him as Nick Valentine in fallout 4

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      Lars Westergren says:

      There is always Dishonored 2 to look forward to.

    • Pohjanmaalainen says:

      And that comment gave me a sudden heart condition.

  3. ResonanceCascade says:

    Slight correction, Underworld is the official sequel to UU1 & 2. They aren’t using the Ultima moniker, but it is a legit sequel.

    • Andrew says:

      Slight correction to your correction: no it’s not. They don’t own the rights to UU name, simple as that.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        That’s exactly what I said. It’s a direct sequel that does not use the Ultima name. It isn’t hard to understand, brosephus.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          From their website: “Underworld Ascendant is a next-generation sequel to the legendary fantasy RPG’s Ultima Underworld & Ultima Underworld 2.”

        • Andrew says:

          No you didn’t. It can be “official sequel” without rights to the name. Ergo, “spiritual successor”. Capish?

          • Andrew says:

            “it can’t be”

            I want edit button :(

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            A spiritual successor is something like Bioshock, which carries forward some ideas of SS but none of the IP. Underworld Ascendant is a sequel to the events of the first game, but they can’t use the trademark “Ultima” in the name. That was their licensing deal with EA. They can use all the other stuff, and they are. It is an official sequel.

          • Andrew says:

            *sigh* You can repeat that all you want, it’s not going to become official. I and RPS agree on that.

          • ResonanceCascade says:

            You’re objectively, demonstrably wrong, but OK duder! At least the information is here for anyone interested in what this game actually is.

          • Werthead says:

            After looking into this, it turns out that you play as the Avatar (the character from UU1&2 and the main Ultima series), the game is set in the Stygian Abyss beneath Britannia (the setting for the Ultima games) and the storyline follows up on the events of Ultima Underworld 1 & 2. So, yes, it is a direct sequel.

            It appears that Otherside reached a deal with EA to allow them to use the IP. The only thing they couldn’t do was use “Ultima” in the title. Beyond that everything else was fine.

            It is a bit of a weird situation but it’s definitely more closely linked than a “spiritual successor” usually is.

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            Aerothorn says:

            What Werthead said. It is a direct sequel (therefor, not a spiritual successors, whose succession is intangible and thematic rather than “Game Y happens after game X). And it is an OFFICIAL sequel, because paperwork got signed with the rightsholders (that’s what official means!).

          • dethtoll says:

            That pretty much guarantees my not playing it, then, but thanks for the confirmation.

          • Distec says:

            You won’t play it because it’s a confirmed sequel to a classic series?

            I don’t… get it?

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            lurkalisk says:

            It seems like you meant “capisce”.
            “Capish”, were it a word, sounds like it denotes cap-like characteristics. I doubt that’s what you meant.

  4. Pazguato says:

    Be careful what you wish for. That’s something I learned with Broken Age. A lot of time has passed since 2004.

    • Xocrates says:

      This reminded me of something.

      A couple years ago or so, I went to a talk by Mr. Spector himself. During the presentation he started showing the various games he worked on, at which point a slide with Deus Ex: Invisible War come up at which he comments “Look, I’m not good at sequels, ok?”.

      So now I’m doubly curious to see how this turns out.

      As a side note, another comment he made that made me really curious but I haven’t been able to verify is that every mechanic from Deus Ex was in Epic Mickey, but made more accessible.

    • Blackcompany says:

      Good point. The folks working on Elite have proven that devs from bygone era can get stuck in those eras. Gaming has changed…

      • Det. Bullock says:

        I think that most of the problem was having to work with consoles in mind, Errant Signal made a video about IW in which he traces many of the issues with the game to the memory and interface limitations of the first Xbox.

        • dethtoll says:

          I also trace it to the fact that PC gamers and primarily-PC developers at the time viewed console gamers to be morons (and indeed way too many people in PC gaming circles STILL think even owning a console reduces your IQ by a full 20-30 points.) It’s a deeply unfair thing to think, even though the Xbox1 was rightly viewed as the platform for frat boys, generic douchebags, and those shitty middle-school white kids with buzz cuts and a disciplinary record.

  5. TheAngriestHobo says:

    This is exciting news. I just wish he was bringing the rights to the Ultima brand with him. I understand why the system works the way it does, of course, but it’s frustrating that the license isn’t held by the only people who know how to make Ultima games.

    On a related note, are we excited for or apprehensive about Shroud of the Avatar? I really haven’t been following that project, but I hear unhappy rumblings every once in a while.

    • fireundubh says:

      “It’s a direct sequel. One right that we didn’t get from Electronic Arts was the use of the Ultima brand, so we can’t use that, but otherwise, all the characters, fictional elements, monsters, and settings we can use. We’re not using all of them, but a lot of them we are carrying forward with Underworld Ascendant.” —Paul Neurath

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      Andy_Panthro says:

      I’ve backed Shroud and Underworld Ascendant, and I’m hoping they’ll live up to the Ultima name (despite not being able to specifically use it).

      I’ve deliberately tried to avoid reading the kickstarter updates, I figure it’s not worth it until the games are closer to release. I’m always a little apprehensive of course, I’m quite a big Ultima fan and I don’t want to get my hopes up too high because these games are being made with smaller teams on smaller budgets (relatively speaking), whereas Origin in the 90s was one of the biggest developers around.

  6. Anthile says:

    Every band gets back together, except for ABBA.

  7. Shazbut says:

    This is either wonderful or will be a tragic lesson on just how much the industry has changed from the days of Looking Glass.

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      G-Lord says:

      I’m very much hoping for the former, this announcement is a dream coming true. In either case, it will be interesting to watch ;).

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’m worried that even if they can hit the same gameplay high notes again, be that perfectly preserved or perfectly updated, Kieron’s much-pointed-to article on why you can’t keep dragging SHODAN back as a recurring villain will prove correct.

      (L-l-look at you, SHODAN. A pathetic creature of data and silicon. Pleading and stuttering as I run through your corridors. Again.)

      • kalzekdor says:

        Sure, that’s a concern if the plot is just a hamfisted rehash, but there are plenty of ways to have SHODAN without making her a caricature.

        Besides, SHODAN is arguably the only real victor of the Von Braun expedition. She started SS2 adrift in a badly damaged data core, ended it in a fancy meatsuit. She may not have gotten everything she wanted with the reality warping FTL drive, but look at those who went against her:

        The Many – Destroyed by SOLDIER G65434-2
        Delacroix – Killed by SHODAN for disobeying.
        Bronson – Killed by the Many.
        SOLDIER G65434-2 – Stranded on the Von Braun, which no longer has any FTL capability.

    • MajorMalphunktion says:

      The industry ‘changing’ doesn’t matter as much as do players want/understand what LGS games are at their heart. I think that the open world sandbox revolution will only help our quest of player agency as a driving force in games. Nevermind completely play your way games like Minecraft.
      The LGS formula is really simple if you break it down. We control the systems, the player controls the plot. We build the world and the rules, and it is up to you the player on how that plays out. We strive to not have one solution to any problem but–and this may seem crazy–we don’t plan for ‘three different ways’ or something like that. We build a problem. Then really it’s up to you the player with the tools given to solve it.
      A good contained example of this is Baffords Manor from Thief I. Your options branch as you go on, front door, back door, quiet, loud, a bit of both, some misdirection, secret passages exc. There is no one way in and one way out. No forced encounter with the miniboss or some crap like that.

  8. BisonHero says:

    I’m excited to see which lessons from developing the Epic Mickey games he incorporates into System Shock 3. /sarcasm
    In all honesty, I put Warren Spector in the same camp as Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert. Time passes, and I don’t expect any of those guys to still have it like they did back in the 90s.

    • ChairmanYang says:

      I’m not sure Warren Spector even had it back in the 90s, or if he was just surrounded by more talented people. His work and commentary since Deus Ex kind of make me think he doesn’t really know what he’s doing.

      • ResonanceCascade says:

        Seems like people who worked him say he was pretty great. I used to think he was more of a manager than a designer, but the more I hear about Looking Glass and Origin, the more it sounds like he was a great designer in his own right.

        As for how he’s doing now, I have no idea though. I didn’t play Epic Mickey, but I hear mixed things.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Oakreef says:

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    *biggest smiley face*

  10. Vorrin says:

    hype hype hype hype!

  11. caff says:

    Oh my god yes. Let it be good.

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    Lars Westergren says:

    Underworld Ascendant has one of these “slacker backer” things running if anyone is interesting, they are $3800 away from the next stretch goal, the new enemy type “the Wailing Haunt”.

  13. baozi says:

    Damn, for some reason I misread System Shock 3 as Deus Ex 3

  14. MakeSkyrimGreen says:

    I want to post this to Facebook, but I reckon nobody I know will have the slightest idea what this is or why I am excited about it.

    And yes, getting on the hype train often ends up in as destination Letdownsville, it would be nice to play a game with a few more choices of tools than say SOMA (run/hide) or Alien: Isolation (craft distraction devices and throw them) which are the nearest recent games to System Shock.

    It will be nice to read interviews with Warren Spector again, please, does anybody have a link to the one where he talked about a game with a pistol in a draw that ends when you fire it, and the game is about the build up to it?
    :)

  15. poisonborz says:

    He was in charge for Deus Ex 2. ’nuff said.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I thought Harvey Smith actually had a slightly greater lead on that one. Then he went and took some kind of head-ish role on Dishonored, which shows that either you can learn from your mistakes, or figureheads are less the be-all–and–end-all of what makes a great game than simplistic reactions may like to think.

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Don’t forget publisher overlord whip crack design compromise because a talking suit pointed at a graph with dollar signs.

      • Muzman says:

        Smith was Project Lead. Spector was Studio Head, if I recall. So, yeah, you can’t lay DX2 entirely at his feet.

        I think project lead is a bit like the way it is with film directors and CEOs. You can be in charge of a disaster, but if you did most of the stuff you’re supposed to (like finish the film, ship the game, deal with the share holder association effectively etc) you’re still one of the relatively few people who have held that position and still in pretty good standing to hold that job again somewhere else, over someone new and untested anyway.

      • Rao Dao Zao says:

        Also, pssst, Invisible war isn’t *that* bad.

        • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

          It’s really a shame how it turned out. If the levels hadn’t been so split up I don’t think it would have been so badly received. I don’t care for the writing, art direction, or gunplay, but to be fair DX1 didn’t exactly have the strongest art design or gunplay either.

          DX2 was a mess, but having levels that stretched more than 100m in any direction might have been enough to make it decent instead of disappointing. DX1 did that very well, and Dishonored took a great cue from it- every loading zone restricts gameplay and immersion. You can’t have a firefight through a load zone, you can’t sneak from one side of it to the other, and each one forces the player into a linear path so they can transition from the level they’re on to the next one.

          At least DX2 has the Omar ending. That salvages the game for me…

  16. Muzman says:

    So where is Doug Church these days?

    Wasn’t he designing artificially intelligent female companions in the basement of Valve or something? And the trying them out on unsuspecting milquetoast dweebs to see if they pass the naked, disco dancing Turing Test?

    I might be mixing up a couple of things there.

    • Press X to Gary Busey says:

      No idea where his rolling Valve desk was last sighted but he’s credited with “Personnel” design in Portal 2 and at some point he rolled past the CS:GO team desk island.
      Perhaps he’s currently designing glove skins with some programmers, sound engineers and some random interns who rolled in with the main desk from the office entrance.

      • kalzekdor says:

        Flatland is such a horrible org structure for a company… It’s no wonder Valve never gets things done, everyone’s too busy jumping onto the latest shiny project.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        This is an image I will never be able to get out of my head, nor do I want to.

  17. tonicer says:

    Meh it’s gonna be a console game i’m sure … so don’t even waste a single thought on how awesome it could be.

  18. Collieuk says:

    Great he is back for SS3 but so much has changed since the last game. System Shock was one of the first 3D games with mouse look etc that was SciFi based. It had atmosphere in spades and introduced the audio log gameplay mechanic where the story is carried forward in the logs of crew members who obviously died before you. Their struggle made you wary and sometimes scared of what lied beneath. SS2 ramped it up with full 3D but added RPG elements to the mix allowing you to replay the game different ways. It added ghosts to help push the story as well as crew logs. Thing is since then dozens of games use the crew log mechanism and RPG elements in a FPS is common place. They’ll need to do something special to stand out from the crowd again as opposed to just using the name to be another first person sci fi adventure amongst many. In some ways I think Alien Isolation’s hide and seek mechanic with an unkillable AI was the logical next step but its been done obviously as has Outlast’s ‘you can’t kill anything just run like hell instead’ method. I hope SS3 is something really special when the first 2 games were groundbreaking classics. I’d be disappointed if it’s anything but amazing.

    • snugglez says:

      I’m almost positive SS1 did not have mouselook. At least in the beginning. My recollection is that it had a very similar control scheme to Ultima Underworld.

      • dr.denton says:

        You remember correctly. Though technically, you could call klicking on the little man-symbol and then dragging the cursor up and down “mouse look” ^^
        Seriously though: the interface in SS is ridiculous by today’s standards – back in ’94 is was seen as perfectly adequate for an RPG.

        • Yglorba says:

          Yeah. It’s worth remembering, to put its graphics in context: System Shock came out the year after Doom.

          (And Ultima Underworld actually came out a year before Doom. Yes, really.)

  19. suibhne says:

    Sweet Jeebus! Now we just need Molyneux to-

    … Uh, sorry. Couldn’t resist.

  20. Yglorba says:

    You see an upset specter named Warren.