Video Games

A 1994 Video Game Classic, Reborn in Portland

Night Dive Studios has raised more than $1 million to remake the cult classic System Shock from the ground up.

By Marty Patail July 19, 2016

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The dream of the '90s is alive in Portland.

Portland's Night Dive Studio, until now best known for purchasing the property rights to classic video games and porting to modern platforms, is making its first game from the ground up. System Shock is a one-to-one remake of the original 1994 game, largely known as the influence for the popular Bioshock and Deus Ex franchises.

The game has raised more than a $1 million on Kickstarter, with a week left to go. (The goal was $900,000.) 

As Night Dive wraps up its crowdfunding campaign, we asked its founder and lead designer Stephen Kick what the big deal is.  

Why do you want to bring System Shock back to life?

System Shock was exceptionally important for the industry. But when it first came out in 1994, it was unfortunately kind of grouped together with a string of releases like Doom 2 and other first-person shooters that would ungraciously be dubbed as Doom clones. It fell into that strange timeframe where people didn’t really give it the time or the attention it deserved for how complex the gameplay was.

It was one of the first true first-person shooters in 3-D that had a narrative that you would uncover through audio logs and exploring the game world. It wasn’t all just about running and gunning and basically killing everything that you see. It was more of an adventure that had shooting elements in it. It had a lot of other systems that had never been done before, too. Like, there were upgrades you could assign to your hero that would allow you to interact with the game world in various ways. 

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So it wasn't as popular as it deserved to be...

Up until a couple years ago, it had been known as kind of cult classic. Commercially, it didn’t really do that well. And that was due to a couple of reasons. One, like I mentioned earlier it was up against Doom 2 a lot of those other Doom clone games where people wanted this instant action. They wanted the visceral experience from those types of games. Two, when it first came out it was only available on floppy. There wasn’t enough capacity on there to include audio from the game. So the voices weren’t present. It wasn’t able to show its cards all at once. It wasn’t until the CD-ROM version came out like a year and or two later that people started noticing it, and realizing how much fun it would actually be.

You've raised quite a bit of money to remake this game. Are the backers fans of the game? Or people who've never played it?

It’s definitely coming from both camps. We have a lot of people who played the original game and want to experience it again. And then we have another group of people that never got a chance to play the first game and find the original release a little too antiquated or archaic to really get into. We have a chance to bring the franchise back to its former glory.

One of the exciting things about this is we’re bringing back something that not a lot of people are familiar with, the gameplay mechanics and difficulty and that style of game that was prevalent in the early '90s. Games used to be a lot harder. They didn’t hold your hand. You didn’t get your health regenerated by taking cover. It was difficult and demanded a lot of patience and gradual increase in experience from the player. It was a lot more rewarding back then, too. 

In terms of the design, how do you remake a game from the ground up?

We used a tool to extract the original game geometry from the original. What that’s left us with is basically a layout of the entire game. But it’s empty. It’s just like a shell of the level design. But what that’s allowed us to do is remake the game world one-to-one. While we’re doing that, we’re re-evaluating certain areas of the game. Back then, they maybe didn’t have the ability to smooth out some corridors or areas that were sharp 90-degree angles or jagged entryways. We’re kind of modernizing that. Not just to make it aesthetically appealing but to help the flow of the game.

In terms of the mechanics and the game design, we’ve had to thoroughly revisit those. The original game didn’t even have mouse [input]. The amount of time it would take a player to traverse a certain area would take a lot longer back then. So we’ve had to come up with some design choices to translate the feeling or the experience back then into a modern game. 

We’ve also got the original concept artist from System Shock, Rob Waters, basically going back to all of his old designs and re-envisioning them and re-imagining them to not only today’s standards but also his own artistic growth. It’s really exciting. Like this is a drawing he did in 1992, and now this is what it looks like in 2016, with everything that he’s learned and how he’s grown and evolved as an artist. It’s really great. It creates this familiarity within the franchise. Not only does our remake play like a classic Shock game, it has those design elements and has that look. I’m really grateful for that.

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