A Vancouver Studio Rebuilds a Cult Classic Video Game

Nightdive builds a one-to-one remake of 1994's System Shock.

By Marty Patail September 21, 2017 Published in the Design Annual: Fall 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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According to Nightdive Studios founder Stephen Kick, System Shock "wasn’t all just about running and gunning and killing everything that you see."

The dream of the ’90s is alive in Portland. Or, actually, in Vancouver, Washington. Nightdive Studios, known for purchasing rights to classic video games and porting them to modern platforms, is working on its first ground-up game design: a one-to-one remake of the 1994 classic System Shock, recognized as an influence on the similarly techno-dystopic Bioshock and Deus Ex franchises. Nightdive raised more than $1 million on Kickstarter to fund the project. We asked founder and lead designer Stephen Kick what’s worth all that money.

Why bring back this game?

System Shock was exceptionally important for the industry. But in 1994, people didn’t really give it the attention it deserved. It was one of the first true first-person shooters in 3-D that had a narrative that you would uncover through exploring the game world. It wasn’t all just about running and gunning and killing everything that you see.

Are your Kickstarter backers fans of the game? Or people who’ve never played it?

Definitely both. A lot of people played the original game and want to experience it again. And then we have another group that finds the original a little too archaic to really get into. We have a chance to bring the franchise back to its former glory.

How do you remake a game?

We used a tool to extract the original game geometry. That left us with, basically, a layout of the entire game. But it’s empty. It’s just like a shell of the design. What that’s allowed us to do is remake the game world one-to-one. We’ve also got the original concept artist from System Shock, Robb Waters, going back to all of his old designs and reenvisioning them and reimagining them to not only today’s standards but also in terms of his own artistic growth. It’s really exciting. Like, a drawing he did in 1992—now this is what it looks like in 2016, with everything that he’s learned.

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