System Shock Remake development being ‘refocused’

System Shock

When we last reported on the Kickstarter-funded System Shock remake from Night Dive Studios, all sounded relatively well, and the team were gearing up to expand the scope of their plans, from making a straight remake into something more akin to a modern-day reboot for the series.

Unfortunately, greater scope means a greater budget and investments in both time and manpower. After additional publisher support to back up this new vision didn’t come through, Night Dive are ‘taking a step back’ to reassess the project and get it back more in line with their original Kickstarter promises, as detailed in this (public) backer update from Stephen Kick, Night Dive CEO.

While the update makes it clear that production on System Shock isn’t ending or being abandoned, it sounds like some tough calls had to be made and we’re likely going to hear more on the project in the coming weeks. More than anything, it sounds like feature creep bogged down production, and while the studio are happy with their decision to switch from Unity to Unreal, development was going down a path that not too many Kickstarter backers were ready to get behind.

Understandably, many of those who put money down on the game are feeling less than enthusiastic after this announcement, with no shortage of comments on the backer update declaring the project dead and buried. While I feel that’s jumping the gun a bit, Night Dive’s story of creeping ambition and stretching beyond their original stated goal (A ‘faithful reboot of the genre-defining classic’, according to the Kickstarter page) isn’t too unusual, and feels like a story told by many a studio since the first videogames waddled their blocky, pixellated little fish-legs out of the primordial code-soup.

Let this be a reminder that as safe a bet as any Kickstarter may seem (the System Shock Remake had a playable demo and copious footage to show for it), the games industry is an unpredictable place, and any big project like this is fraught with risks. As good as the odds may be, backing a Kickstarter should always be considered a gamble, not an investment or a discounted pre-order.

61 Comments

  1. DeepSleeper says:

    Good. The last few developer videos looked nothing whatsoever like a System Shock game.

    • Halk says:

      So how does a System Shock game look like? Because so far we had only 2 games which looked and felt drastically different.

      • BlacKHeaDSg1 says:

        So how does a System Shock game look like? Well, did you played their demo ? Just like first System Shock but with updated graphics. Now, that they ported to different engine … looks totally different, nothing like SS1 and that we can’t called a Remake.

      • MajorLag says:

        The stated goal was specifically remaking (not re-imagining) System Shock. Therefore, one would expect it to look kinda like System Shock. Their first demo did a great job, their subsequent demos not so much.

    • zaphod42 says:

      Looked pretty similar to System Shock 2 to me.

      I don’t really want to replay System Shock 1. There’s a reason for that.

  2. gabrielonuris says:

    I think the new Prey is the System Shock “remake” we need…

    • FrenchTart says:

      Agreed. I’d be quite happy if they secured funding to make a Prey remake with a nice SS veneer.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      I’d rather have a great high-production-value spiritual successor like Prey than getting some low-budget kickstarted money-in-advance low-fi remake.
      Prey was state of the art while SS remake will be… well improving on a game from the last millenium in any case.
      Like the mixed bag Beamdog produces; more modern than the original Baldur’s Gate yeah but I barely notice the difference.

      • hfm says:

        The fantastic thing about Beamdog’s EE’s, for me anyway, is that they work flawlessly on 4K panels, which is fantastic. Love those crisp fonts. Also I don’t have to worry about patches and mods to get it running on Win10. They’we worth it IMO.

        I’ve probably bought so many copies of Infinity Engine games over the years both physical and digital it wasn’t even a question to buy them again.

    • hfm says:

      I backed the SS remake, to the tune of $105.

      The whole time I was reading that update I was like.. I just played and finished Prey recently.. good enough…

      But really.. not good enough. We just wanted a high fidelity copy of the original. Just do that..

      Release an expansion down the road if you want to explore the lore. (Like Beamdog did with Dragonspear)

    • fray_bentos says:

      gabrielonuris is correct.

  3. nottorp says:

    I’m beginning to have a theory that projects that get too much money on kickstarter will go insane…

    Edit: does this mean that Underworld Ascendant is hosed as well? The two teams are on very friendly terms… and having some people in common.

    • Aphex242 says:

      Fuck I hope not. I’m so into the idea of UA.

      • nottorp says:

        I gave $50 to UA on kickstarter, and $30 to System Shock. I don’t really expect anything for that money, but it would be nice to be surprised, in spite of the Zynga smell of the UA kickstarter.

        • Crafter says:

          zynga smell ?

          • nottorp says:

            Paul Neurath was “creative director” at Zynga Boston in between doing real games.

            And the kickstarter ‘rewards’ reek of “gamification”: for example they include brilliant crap like ‘dire berries’ or ‘silver pieces’, more of which was awarded the more you spammed social networking.

            I backed them in spite of that. Hopefully I wasn’t wrong.

          • Crafter says:

            oh ok thanks for the explanation.

            About the ks, sadly many campaigns have this kind of gamification shit.

      • Erroll the Elder says:

        Less to worry about there, UA has a publisher…

    • NuclearSword says:

      RPS just previewed that a few days ago. Sounds like it’s on the right track to being a good game.

    • Caiman says:

      Ascendant Studios are a group of highly experienced industry veterans that have run their own companies. UA is in good shape and on track.

      Nightdive have ported a number of older games but System Shock Remake is their first full project. SSR appears to be suffering from a lack of focus and vision, it smacks of inexperience.

      I’m still annoyed that they took a completely different direction to the one their Kickstarter implied. Felt like a bait and switch. That said, I hope they can get this back on track, back to their original vision.

    • icemann says:

      The games are being done by completely different companies. So don’t worry, those are fine.

      Ultima Underworld and System Shock 3 are being done by Otherside Entertainment.

      • nottorp says:

        Hold on, how many new System Shocks are there?

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          ooshp says:

          Depends what you mean by “new”.

          • nottorp says:

            Well, actually I had no idea until today that the System Shock remake and System Shock 3 weren’t done by basically the same people. Doesn’t make a lot of sense but ah well.

  4. Lord Byte says:

    This is how every kickstarter that fails starts the downward spiral. (We’ll refocus, we’re taking a hiatus,…)
    They had no idea what they were doing, and are now out of money… Nothing will come of this, he’s hoping to get a corporate backer that puts trust in something that already wasted 1.3 million for nothing…

    • Artist says:

      Agree. I bet we see the crash of this rather sooner than later. There was already a few red lights of the project lead failing. This is probably the proof.

    • WJonathan says:

      Yes, stepping back after stepping forward just means wasted energy, time, and money to be in the same place.

    • MajorLag says:

      The second demo made it kinda obvious what was happening. They started out with the goal of remaking System Shock. That’s a pretty straightforward goal, well scoped, relatively few unexpected expenses. Then the second video demo came out and it had completely different art, they were talking about new gameplay stuff, there still was no cyberspace, etc.

      They were funded to remake a game and they got it into their heads that they should make a completely new game.

  5. wwarnick says:

    A shift in focus like that, while not ideal by any means, isn’t all that uncommon in the video game industry. The difference here is that the public is watching and people have already put money down on it with expectations for it to look like it did when they paid for it. Traditionally, a game either went through this before people knew about it or they failed and no one ever knew.

    Funding a project this way comes with a lot of risks, and expectations are one of them. Likewise, backing a game on kickstarter comes with the same risk. As the article says, it “isn’t too unusual, and feels like a story told by many a studio since the first videogames waddled their blocky, pixellated little fish-legs out of the primordial code-soup.”

  6. BlacKHeaDSg1 says:

    SS Remake should be developed in Unity engine and new System Shock in Unreal. That transition to Unreal was bad decision IMO. By now we could already have a Remake but now we have nothing, only short demo. Overall situation looks bad.

  7. khamul says:

    Plus, Otherside – the UA guys, and with a number of ex-Looking Glass people involved – are currently working on System Shock 3 (link to otherside-e.com).

    Which has to make the space for a ‘completely new game’ called System Shock a little tricky: I mean, legally it must give lawyers ulcers, even if everyone’s playing nice, let alone whether it makes commercial sense.

    Which leaves one in the awkward position of asking how many people would actually pay for a prettied-up System Shock 1, if System Shock 3 was available? Not a fun position to be in.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Were they trying to cannibalise the engine/development between the two games then? As if they both “reimagined” they could share engine and assets. But if one was a remake and one a new game, then that’s two teams with two totally new development cycles.

      Strange they may now fail at both options. :/

  8. faircall says:

    It’s a shame they didn’t just push ahead with that cool proof of concept Unity version, with the glorious unfiltered textures.

    • Whelp says:

      Indeed. That’s actually why I backed it.

      • Daemoroth says:

        Cancelled my pledge the second they announced a PS4 version with no additional funding/stretch goals.

        Just demonstrated a severe lack of integrity or capacity to handle finances and scope-creep.

    • zylonbane says:

      The use of unfiltered textures in the original demo was a ridiculous, misguided decision. System Shock isn’t a lolretro game like Minecraft; at the time it came out it was pushing the graphical state of the art, looking as good as LGS could possibly make it using the technology of the time. The pixelated textures in the remake demo gave the impression that they were treating the source material like a dated joke.

      • Caiman says:

        Can’t agree with that. The intention of the remake, originally at least, was to bring SS up to date while keeping the spirit intact. That’s a hard one to get right, but while the original Unity demo had rough edges it was far closer in spirit to the original game than the newer, Unreal demo which looked like any old generic sci-fi setting. It was prettier, sure, but it sure as hell wasn’t System Shock or Citadel Station. Besides, the project was funded on the strength of their art direction and overall look of the original demo. Had they shown the Unreal demo as their KS video, I sure as hell wouldn’t have backed it.

        • zylonbane says:

          …and the spirit of SS was never pixelated retro. The pixels they used were as high-res as were available at the time.

          The art direction of the Unity demo was fine, it was just the pixelation on some textures that was a silly affectation. The later Unreal demo shots are irrelevant.

  9. fearandloathing says:

    It may be a bit late to rant, but I missed that whole “expanding the scope of remake since we collected more money than expected” article, and I think this is very, very troubling. First, how the hell they were able to make the decision to change the original aim of the project AFTER getting funded? Did they put that into a vote and acquired the consent of all backers, or offered refunds for the unwilling? And now that they are re-evaluating that decision and s***, which reads as “sry for delays”. This is beyond irresponsible, its bordering criminal. I know it’s Kickstarter, and the same thing happened again and again, but I figured they (KS, and also legal authorities) would be stricter by now. It is not about taking risks either, backers took the risk for a remake, not a contemporary re-design. KS really is delegitimizing itself by letting the same s*** happen again and again.

    • Someoldguy says:

      I tend to agree. If you’ve promised to make something, make sure that objective is secure before you go off on a whim and a fancy to make something else. If they needed publisher backing to make something cooler in Unreal, get the commitment first, not get halfway in and then start trying to secure extra funding. This does not sound good.

      I had a good run of 100% completion of kickstarter projects I backed for a while. Lately a couple have struggled and a couple have folded. It’s pretty easy to see the common threads between those that worked and those that didn’t. I won’t be backing the latter in future.

  10. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    I really enjoyed the demo but I was more lukewarm on the recent changes in scope and style. The change in. music really made me unhappy. I wanted to play a modern remake of System Shock and I’d have accepted a version very similar to the demo, but the recent updates have all seemed super bland.

  11. malkav11 says:

    I don’t know why people keep reading “we want this game but with modern graphics and UI” and taking away “we want a game loosely inspired by this game”. I would probably have played their “re-envisioning” because it’s still the sort of game I’m into, but I really just wanted System Shock but with modern graphics and UI. Just like with the FFVII remake, I just wanted to get away from characters with five whole polygons to their model to something recognizable as (anime) humans, with a better translation and a modern UI. Not a completely different combat system and whatever other nonsense they’re inflicting on it. Even XCOM – sure, the Firaxis game is very good, but it sure isn’t an updated version of the original UFO: Enemy Unknown.

    • zylonbane says:

      Who are these “people” you’re talking about?

    • TechnicalBen says:

      XCOM was never a “remake” though, so that’s ok. It was a modernisation of the whole thing (ground up).

      But I agree with everything else. Either be honest and say “we want an entire re-imagining” or be honest and say “we want to bring the original to modern hardware/resolution/fidelity”.

      This is why GOG is so good, and even fan made “updates” tend to just improve existing systems (texture, controls etc), or again, be honest and do entire engine/remake/mod ports.

      Strange how the fans/customers tend to be more honest… or am I just burnt by Maxis/Peter Molyneux/Hello Games? ;)

      • malkav11 says:

        My point is that what the fans are generally asking for is just a technological/UI update and what we’re typically given is something much more ambitious and thus divorced from the experience asked for. And that may end up being really good (as XCOM is), though in the case of the FFVII remake I am very skeptical, but I’d like it in addition to the update of the original, not replacing it.

  12. armalyte says:

    they reexamine their priorities and draw new conclusions

  13. jrodman says:

    The dumb part of this is that they had an achievable target with market tested positive results. Then they changed their mind.

    WHY? Because it was so unsatisfying to make a game that already was? I can understand that, but you signed that off when you ran the kickstarter and got funded.

    If you get an easy game target well-funded by kickstarter, just do it, finish it, and ship it. If you’re interested in reworking the vision afterwards, make another game, or an expansion, or whatever.

    Why fuck up your own company and the promises to your backers by undertaking a risky venture where it’s not needed and won’t make anyone happy?

  14. cakeisalie says:

    Lol, so glad I didn’t back this now!

  15. Zaxwerks says:

    I’m backed this project on Kickstarter and I’m glad they’ve finally realised that they were going quite seriously “off mission” and are reassessing how to get it back on track, because I was becoming very disallusioned with the way they were taking it. They were transforming it into just another visually generic shooter, and it had lost all its “system shock character” in the process.

  16. fish99 says:

    The actual quote from Stephen Kick makes things sound a lot worse than the RPS summary. If they’re out of funds and laying off staff, and no one wants to invest, how does the game get finished? RIP I guess :(

  17. pookie101 says:

    And this is why you always employ the competent and unpopular project manager who says no to “great” ideas. The end project might not be the masterpiece you wanted to make but it will make it out the door.

    By not having a Project manager who knows what they are doing you end up in the Mass effect Andromeda state.. 3 years and millions wasted for nothing

    • RubberbandAU says:

      Totally agree.

      Scope creep under an inexperienced PM = failed project.

      You lock down the project down with a scope and requirements, you can allow for minor variations, but as soon as you stop delivering what was agreed to at the beginning, get approval from the boss (i.e. The backers) then get what you need to complete it.

  18. reddog says:

    I get it why people got upset over the “reimagining”, because they backed something different, but personally, I would be a lot more interested in playing a smart modern remake of System Shock with significant changes to maps — even to the plot. Surprise me with your new crazy ideas. Show me what you made, not what they made.

    I remember the original game quite well, and fondly, having played through it a couple of times, and it’s still there if you want to replay it. But I wouldn’t be all that excited about a “new” System Shock game if it were just the original levels and plot twists prettied up. It’s not an undertaking that makes a lot of sense to me. Just doesn’t seem very thrilling to play something where I remember everything by heart already.

    Also, keep in mind that the original game is 14 years old. Game design has changed a lot since then, for a number of good reasons. In a sense, you quite simply *can’t* recreate a piece of PC gaming history. You can’t bring back 1994. No need to go gravedigging just to appease those who demand very specific nostalgia kicks.

    • reddog says:

      Whoops — the original game is, in fact, 24 years old. Uh, wow. Time flies.

  19. Marclev says:

    Huh, I kind of forgot about this after Prey basically came along and gave us System Shock 3 with a different title.

    Starting to sound worryingly like Duke Nukem Forever though.

  20. Megatron says:

    I’ve been stewing over this for a few days. It’s made me really bloody cross. I’ve waited DECADES for something like this to come along and when we finally get some traction, something tangible that might lead to more….the devs succumb to delusions of grandeur and go totally off the script they sold, ignoring the thing they were bloody well paid to deliver.

    You shodan mess with people’s beloved games, you total frauds.