System Shock’s remake back on track, delayed til’ 2020

System Shock

Not too long ago, we reported that things were sounding a bit wobbly over on the System Shock remake’s Kickstarter page. Plans to divert from a pure remake to redesign the game from the ground up had spiraled out of control, and money was running low.

While some less optimistic folks took this as a death knell for the project and declared it done and dusted at the time, the reality of the situation doesn’t seem to be nearly so dramatic. The game is officially back on track using their previous design, but it has come at a cost of time.

Thanks to PC Gamer managing to pin down the Night Dive head folks at GDC, we now know that the System Shock remake is alive once more. After a brief hiatus, the studio have re-refocused their efforts back to their previous path, and the game is on course yet again, albeit delayed until sometime in 2020.

Apparently returning to the original, smaller focus of the game has made it somewhat more palatable to publishers and investors once more, so unless disaster strikes again, then the money will continue to flow until such time as the project can be completed. Do remember that as nice as a seven-digit Kickstarter budget sounds, £1.35m is minuscule budget for any kind of lengthy, modern single-player game. They would have almost certainly needed to find a publisher one way or another – this has just forced them over that particular barrel a little earlier.

Rather than go entirely back to their earlier prototype build of the game, they are continuing development using the Unreal engine, a side-step away from Unity. With both engines still in a rapid state of flux, whether this will even mean anything worth mentioning in two years is unlikely, so that’s probably not as much as an issue as it sounds.

Either way, it’s good to know that the project isn’t dead, just delayed. Unfortunate that this turned into such a time-costly snag, but that merely puts it alongside the other 90% of Kickstarter projects that underestimated just how much work had to be done between Here and There.

67 Comments

Top comments

  1. Catterbatter says:

    Cyborg conversion cancelled. Standard station restoration proceduuures online.
  1. zulnam says:

    “Do remember that as nice as a seven-digit Kickstarter budget sounds, £1.35 [million] is minuscule budget for any kind of lengthy, modern single-player game.”

    Justify this argument.

    • DeepSleeper says:

      Okay, it’s justified because it’s correct.

      • waltC says:

        Yes, it is correct. Kickstarter projects often fly in the face of logic, and people contribute for emotional reasons as opposed to rational thinking–they’d love to see a remake of Game X, but as they have no clue as to how Game X was made, or how much Game X originally cost to make (always a healthy multiple of what the KS is asking for the remake, of course) they are wide open and vulnerable to the snake-oil pitch.

        How can anyone believe someone who claims that it was their [unexpected] financial bonanza from a successful KS project that rendered them unable to actually do any work on the project (too busy spending all of that loot)? Such people are not credible. And now he’s conned another two years out of the public’s good will for this remake. 2020–sure. I’d guess that the original game likely cost *at least* 10x what this Kickstarter project raised–at least that much. Who knows, in 2019 he could throw another KS claiming to be “this close” to finishing but they need a *little more* to “put them over the top” so that they could finish…;)

        If people are going to go Kickstarter for games, imo, and if they don’t care to throw their good money after bad, then they should only “invest” in people or groups with proven track records in producing games, people who also have *other* sources of financing they can call on should they need it. inXile’s BT IV KS project, which I went with in 2015, announced from the start that they were matching the KS with their own funds and that they had more financing lined up still. My tier was for three games–BT IV, Wasteland 2, and Tides of Numenera–I’ve already received two of the games and BT IV is slated for a release later this year. I would have been shocked to hear Brian Fargo say, “Aw, gee, we got so excited by the KS money rolling in that we couldn’t work–sorry!”…;)

    • Jokerme says:

      Are you even serious?

    • fray_bentos says:

      £1.35M = salary and pension of 9 people x 3 years @ £50k per annum, and that doesn’t include utilities, rent, equipment etc.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      Well, assuming you’re paying a bargain-bin £35k per developer, and you have a team of 15, and have absolutely ZERO overheads, taxes to pay, offices to keep lit and warm, etc, that’ll come to a cool mllion and change after just 24 months, which is a pretty tight time-frame to develop a game in.

      Now, let’s just assume this is the real world and there’s Kickstarter fees, taxes, the cost of any physical backer bonuses,engine licensing costs, tools that need to be bought and so on, and that £1.35m disappears like it’s nothing.

      • Sutenvulf says:

        35k bargain bin? I should have learnt coding 20 years ago :<

        • malkav11 says:

          Yeah, basically. Remember that in the games industry you’ve no job security and plenty of “crunch time” a lot of places, though.

          • aldo_14 says:

            Average wage apparently dropped to 32.5k in the games industry… but 35k is not a particularly high wage compared to other programming development jobs in fintech etc (which IMO – based on working in that sector – will not be as difficult or demanding as for the average games developer).

          • Crafter says:

            @aldo no kidding, I don’t work in fintech (mobile apps) but have been offered 70k to go work in london.

            One of the many reasons why I won’t work in gaming (especially for a studio).. long hours and shitty pay ? yeah, no thanks.

      • Baines says:

        It particularly disappears like nothing when you throw away your original possibly-reasonable-for-the-budget idea and concepts that you raised money with, and replace it with an unreasonable-for-the-budget large scale reimagining.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        I must admit I really enjoy it when someone gets annihilated when they make a stupid comment online, then mysteriously have nothing to reinforce their strong and uninformed opinions. Thanks for the chuckle Dominic

    • malkav11 says:

      Personnel alone you’re looking at a burn rate of something like $500k/10 staff/year at the low end, probably more, and most studios are not that small. And while I’ve never done accounting for a game studio and couldn’t tell you specifically what else they spend money on, I guarantee you there’s plenty of other critical stuff. Rent, utilities, software, hardware, etc.

      Edit: I see I’m in good company.

      • aldo_14 says:

        non games industry, but I remember when I was at Cisco we got a peek of the staff overhead costs (i.e. the non salary stuff, from machines to power to heat to coffee machines), and they were actually way higher than salary. Shockingly so, really, although we were at a site that was way understaffed (they moved us to a massive new office site, then started making half the staff redundant)

        • ColonelFlanders says:

          I am decidedly unshocked to hear that. It’s my understanding that almost all companies try to make as much money from people as possible, while paying them as little they can without getting in hot water. It’s unsurprising to see that their other expenses would be higher.

        • Herring says:

          A good rule of thumb is that a permanent employee costs the company about 2 X what their salary is PA. That’s why contractors on (comparatively) stratospheric rates can be a good deal.

          Of course, this is for the UK where there’s still a skeletal vestige of employment law protecting people. Almost certainly does not apply in the US where you can be legally shot and rendered for fat if you look at the boss funny.

          • mitrovarr says:

            I’ve heard that figure (true cost = 2x salary) in the US, too. The fact that employers are expected to pay some of the health insurance (which is crazy expensive) of benefitted employees helps pump up the cost.

          • Premium User Badge

            daktaklakpak says:

            I think you are estimating pretty low. The industry I work in (defense contractor company, software development division) typically bids contracts at an 80% overhead rate per employee. That means that for every hour of labor the customer pays, 20% of the money is salary for the employee.

            Granted, internal projects (like games development) don’t have a customer they bill to. My partner worked at a (non-games) company that built software they sold to customers. That companies overall money coming in Vs. salary paid ran at about 7X – that was for all employees though, including sales staff, tech support, etc. Upper level management and “superstar” developers could earn close to the company average earn rate per employee (this says a lot about income disparity, but that’s a different topic).

    • poliovaccine says:

      I’ve ranted before about the disparity between some gamers’ demands and expectations and the slow, meticulous creep of progress in a medium wherein all of existence must be simulated and consciously manipulated by human beings spending actual man hours… and it’s because people keep saying stuff like this. No, a hunger and thirst mechanic is not as simple as “a timer,” no, including an alternate female protagonist is not as simple as “throwing a new skin on there,” and no, it’s not cheap to employ all the many people for all the many months and years it takes to produce this media at the highest end of technological (and now often narrative) complexity. I really think growing up with an older generation of games, which showed their limits more, which had more visible seams, helped lend a sort of innate idea of what went into making a game, whereas now folks don’t understand that a simple reskin in 1998 is now a far more complicated matter of diffusion effects/normal maps/etc, that higher poly models mean each model takes significantly longer to create up to the current standard, ditto all things graphics, all things physics, etc, etc. Also modding definitely helps with that whole appreciation.

      Sometimes the stuff people toss off on this topic just makes me boggle at what they must think the process altogether takes. The better games get, the more complex they are, and the less the illusions break, the more people seem to think it’s like filming a movie – which isn’t exactly easy in itself, but which at least doesn’t require you to sculpt every actor into corporeal existence from the ground up like some sort of judeo-christian god – not to mention every blade of grass, ray of light, and law of physics which dictates the those things’ interaction.

      Like… these are pretty remarkable feats of technology and craft alike. If that’s ever easy to forget, it’s because they’ve gotten that good.

      I just genuinely have no idea what people envision when they come from this perspective. I’m guessing they picture settlement building in Fallout 4 and figure that’s roughly the same as game development or something.

      • KenTWOu says:

        Also modding definitely helps with that whole appreciation.

        Unfortunately, only when you’re making them. When you’re only consuming them without thinking, free mods, especially overhaul mods devalue developers efforts. Like, you know, a sequel of a popular game is sometimes called ‘basically a mod’ or ‘just a reskin of a previous game’.

        • poliovaccine says:

          Too true, that’s a good point. Incidentally, those remarks you cite have also set me on this particular rant before..!

      • Someoldguy says:

        And yet, that’s precisely what the developers did when they threw out their carefully planned faithful remake which was (they say) fully costed and 25% complete before they asked for funding in order to go do something bigger, more complex and not what they promised to deliver.

        Most people aren’t pissed off the devs made ambitious promises and failed to deliver. They’re pissed off the developers made seemingly deliverable promises. Then, having got the money in their back pocket, decided to do the commercial equivalent of jetting off to Vegas to put it all on the roulette wheel instead of paying off the mortgage on the house.

    • KraiZor says:

      Every time I hear news about this project I’m glad the art direction turned me off kickstarting the remake.

    • Axyl says:

      I’m curious as to why you think it *needs* justifying. What seems so unreasonable about that figure to you?

      I notice that since your original comment, you’ve not weighed back into this discussion, so I’m particularly curious to find out what your point was and why.

    • Arioch_RN says:

      Yes, at the time of the KS the intention was for a faithful remake, with an existing demo and the claim that they were already 25% finished with development. The original game is there to copy level designs and gameplay from. NDS thought they could do it for $900k as they weren’t having to do a new, full game from scratch.

      Then they decided to do a new, full game from scratch.

      I’m having about £20’s worth of harrumph with all this, the kind that’s got me raising a quizzical eyebrow to those (sort of) excusing NDS’s bugg’rup.

    • MajorLag says:

      The argument is correct, the kind of game they’re talking about takes a whole lot of money to make.

      The problem is, what they told kickstarter they were creating wasn’t that kind of game, it was just a remake of an existing game in a more modern engine. No surprise then that they’re having money trouble.

      • Dominic Tarason says:

        Did you even see the prototype demo? That was a pretty ambitious game. While a lot of the general look was inspired by the original, it was still a modern reinterpretation of a Wolfenstein 3D-era game.

        Some areas where going to have to be updated more than others, too. The Groves in particular spring to mind – can’t get away with just a few square rooms and a tree sprite or two anymore.

      • poliovaccine says:

        Again – “just a remake of an existing game in a more modern engine,” tossed off as if that’s somehow obviously any less effort than making the original game was initially, or as if it should somehow be any easier than making a modern immersive sim about an *original* IP.

        I mean, it isn’t like it’s a mod team reskinning the old game in 4K textures, it is *remaking* the whole game from scratch, but with all the modern quality of life improvements – the only advantage to it being a remake is that the original should have lent them a clear blueprint of what they hoped to accomplish from the start – which any game will have before it hits development anyway, unless catastrophe strikes the development cycle (which it sometimes does – clearly).

        But even if Night Dive had never dilly-dallied into flirtations with feature creep, I’m genuinely not seeing why the original existing should make this modern remake any simpler to actually make. Like, the story and art direction are not exactly the most costly and time-consuming part (even though they’re still time-consuming and costly).

        Also, I don’t think anyone was making the point that they were being blamed for their ambition. The point is, even “just” the straight remake in a modern engine is, flat out, a modern immersive sim, and producing it will take all the energy and resources any other such game will take – and so the figure they cite in the article is utterly typical, or if anything, on the low side. The fact of the story and themes existing beforehand is a seriously minor convenience. It’s not like they can just reuse all the old assets anyway.

        It’s still building a modern 0451 immersive sim from the ground up. It will take at least as much time and work to create as Dishonored 2 or Prey. Again, when someone says “it’s just remaking an existing game in a new engine,” I have no idea what they’re actually envisioning as conceptual correlates to those words.

        It’s gonna take time and a fair chunk of money, not (necessarily) because people are greedy, but because this stuff just *takes time and money* to do. Considering the size of their gaffe, and the damage it has done to their development schedule, their projected budget is frankly modest. For a counterexample, look at Star Citizen – which, I must say, does manage to look impressive – at the expense of *all the world’s money and most of its love.*

        To me, “it’s just a remake of an existing game in a new engine” is like saying, “yyyyeah, so your newly-invented teleportation machine is nice and all, but it’s basically just a remake of an existing person in a new location.” Like yeah… it is – and that shit is *complex*…! Haha, if that makes sense.

        Anyway, if anyone faulted them for their ambition, it wasn’t me, nor was that my general impression of others. I think others were also saying what I was here, which is that, actually, that amount of money sounds totally reasonable for the project at hand. That’s certainly all I’ve been trying to get across anyway.

  2. peterako1989 says:

    Ambition can be a disastrous thing. So suck it up and just build the remake of the original

  3. Michael Fogg says:

    The way I see it, the initial scope of the project grew so much from a simple asset swap to a full-on modern day 0451 inspired by SS1. And then Nightdive have seen what it actually takes to do a modern 0451.

    • reddog says:

      Almost everybody on the interwebs seems to want the “simple asset swap” version. But, if you really think about it, “SS1 made shiny but not modern” would be a terrible, awful game. No honest person will want to actually play through that in 2020. The original will simply be better because it’s a really good 1994 game, with lots of wonky charm and nostalgia power.

      I really hope it’s not going to turn out that simple. People don’t seem to get this: you can’t remake a game from 1994 without changes. A “remake” without significant thought and significant changes is not a product of actual game design.

      • malkav11 says:

        Well yeah, I also want it to support modern resolutions and have sensible controls. But other than that, the 1994 version is fine as it is and there’s never been anything else quite like it.

      • DatonKallandor says:

        ” But, if you really think about it, “SS1 made shiny but not modern” would be a terrible, awful game. No honest person will want to actually play through that in 2020.”

        Except, you know, the people that actually gave them the money to do just that. Taking that money and then going, you know what, I don’t think what you want, people who gave us the money, matters we are going to just cater to the “market” instead is fucking stupid and criminal.

        That they’re still not willing to back down from their Unreal conversion shows that they still don’t get that people want what was kickstarted not what Nightdive thinks they know better.

        • Janichsan says:

          Except that Nightdive was very clear that their remake will be more than just a graphical update.

          Direct quote from the Kickstarter campaign:

          → A modern take on System Shock, a faithful reboot; it’s not Citadel Station as it was, but as you remember it. Many improvements, overhauls and changes are being implemented to capture the spirit of what the original game was trying to convey, and bring it to contemporary gamers.
          → Re-imagined enemies, weapons, and locations by original concept artist Robb Waters.

          → The user interface, game mechanics, enemies, and puzzles will be updated to reflect modern aesthetics and sensibilities, while maintaining the feel of the original.

          If anyone expected something different, their reading comprehension leaves a lot to be desired.

          • malkav11 says:

            There’s a difference between that promise and the complete modern remake they decided to switch to and have now pivoted away from again, though. They admit as much.

          • Janichsan says:

            Sure, absolutely. They got overwhelmed badly by the feature creep and pretty much lost track of what they intended to do.

            However, it’s clear that this game was always meant to be more than a simple 1:1 remake of System Shock with nothing but better graphics.

          • DatonKallandor says:

            That except from their Kickstarter just reads like “we are going to make it prettier and have a better UI and balance”, not “we are going to make an entirely new game called System Shock 1”. Especially when you consider their Kickstarter goal. They might well have written it ambigious so they could feature creep later, but their Kickstarter goal tells a very simple story and that’s “we’ll just remake SS1 and clean it up a bit”, because that’s what that amount of money is enough for.

            If the plan was to pitch an entirely new game based on System Shock 1, they should have pitched it with the amount of money they actually needed instead of swindling people with a lower amount. I’m giving them the benfit of the doubt and say their funding goal was adequate to the original production goal.

      • Caiman says:

        I played through SS a couple of years ago using the mouselook-enhanced port. It totally holds up with mouselook. Well ok, you have to look past the graphics, but they have a very specific atmosphere and are still quite effective. The whole point of the KS was, to me, to bring this game to a new audience (and also keep its existing audience happy) with modern graphics showing how the original designers might have made it look today.

        So yes, when they veered off onto their own little world, not only was I not happy, but I thought it was a really big mistake, taking everything that defined the character of the game and steering it towards what I could only describe as “generic sci-fi FPS game”.

    • woodsey says:

      I know “Immersive Sim” is kinda vague and clunky (RPGs say hello) but just calling them “0451s” is way worse.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        What is it even supposed to mean?

        • Troika says:

          @Raoul Duke, Assuming you refer to 0451, it’s an umbrella term sometimes used for describing a certain kind of games. There are people who can explain it better than I do:
          link to youtube.com

        • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

          A tired in-joke.

        • woodsey says:

          It’s a reference to an easter egg. Typically it’s the first code you’ll put into a keypad in an Immersive Sim.

          Your reaction pretty much sums up why it’s stupid.

          I kind of understand the logic, because “Immersive Sim” doesn’t really describe a genre (or even subgenre) but a very specific lineage of games made by a pretty specific lineage of people, but when you have to explain the reference and then which games have the reference, and which games have the reference but aren’t actually the type of game you mean (Bioshock Infinite, for example), it’s just not worth the effort.

          And it sounds super clunky.

  4. eatsomeshit says:

    FUCKING LOOOOOL

    I can understand reforming the project but delaying for two fucking years? No one’s gonna want play this fucking game in 2 years. Useless morrons.

    • malkav11 says:

      It’s a 24 year old game. I don’t know why you think another 2 years is suddenly going to make anyone that wants to play a spiffed up version of it today change their minds.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Jesus Christ I feel old.

      P.S. The username… I couldn’t have picked it better myself haha

      P.P.S. I know nobody knows or cares how to spell things anymore, but I’ll always dig the irony when someone misspells a word like “moron.”

      • FrenchTart says:

        What a maroon.

      • Hoot says:

        Some of us still care. And some of us also appreciate the irony of barely literate people insulting the intelligence of others.

        Was it ever gonna end up differently though? I feel like the first time a kid uses the internet they should have the welcome page say “Welcome to the Internet! Also, go take a shit on your own face!” just to get them used to how it all works.

      • KingFunk says:

        Can we get rid of this person on the grounds that they’re definitely being less than excellent?

    • dethtoll says:

      I think what our friend here is trying to say is that SSR has been delayed repeatedly enough as it is, and now that they’ve suddenly collapsed and then popped up saying “nevermind, we’re fine now, see you in two years” in fairly short order is not exactly inspiring faith in ND’s abilities to complete this project in a timely fashion, certainly not when they’ve had nothing to show for the two years they’ve already gone.

      • malkav11 says:

        Oh, this news inspires precisely no new confidence or faith from me (although I wasn’t willing to completely write them off when they said “we’re pausing for a rethink”, either). But hey, they have my money already. So I’m skeptical but I’m certainly going to claim my Steam key if it ever materializes.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      System Shock came out 24 years ago. While you seem like you’re too young to appreciate that fact, you’re definitely not too stupid to realize that another two years is fuck all to wait. You silly maroon.

  5. Catterbatter says:

    Cyborg conversion cancelled. Standard station restoration proceduuures online.

    • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

      Haha, nice.

      Yeah, I had lost all hope for this game after the Unreal change. I’ll just wait to see if it’s ever released.

    • J.C. says:

      Nice

  6. dethtoll says:

    Yeah right. Call me in 2021 when they cancel the game again.

  7. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I was worried as to what this would mean for System Shock 3, but I looked, and that seems to be made independently from this team. I’m looking forward to that, and the new Ultima Underworld knockoff thingy more than the SS remake anyway.

    • dethtoll says:

      I think the whole debacle shows that Night Dive has no business trying to develop a game for themselves when their clear strength is in fixing and updating old-school games, which is arguably something anyone dedicated enough can do, the only difference is Night Dive actually manages to sort out the IP rights as well so they can be sold again.

      • ColonelFlanders says:

        Something something I know everything, something something can’t be that hard.

    • Janichsan says:

      That “Ultima Underworld knockoff thingy” is actually made by that game’s original creators and is a true successor to that series in everything but the franchise title.

      And as it happens, System Shock 3 will be made by the same developers as Underworld Ascendant, so it’s still as few years away, given that UA probably won’t be released before very late this year or even 2019.

      • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

        Truly it takes patience to be an immersive sim fan.

  8. KingFunk says:

    I never played the original games, but I got the impression from media and commenters that Prey already scratched much of the itch that people had for this. I enjoyed Prey a lot and might pick up the expansion if it looks interesting.

    • Carcer says:

      Prey is definitely very much in the lineage of the System Shock games, and it’s much closer to what I wanted as a System Shock successor than other games alleging such influence (I was honestly pretty disappointed by Bioshock).

    • malkav11 says:

      Prey is a pretty good substitute for a System Shock 3. It’s not really a substitute for a spiffed up System Shock 1, because it’s not System Shock 1.

  9. noxohimoy says:

    In 2020 we will have real AI in games, and this will be delayed again to include a decent enemy AI.

  10. montfalcon says:

    Forgive me for being pedantic, but aren’t ‘back on track’ and ‘delayed’ mutually exclusive? I get what the author was going for, but it just seems like a clunky use of language.