I'm a fan of System Shock (opens in new tab) and so I have to acknowledge that there's definitely some bias involved, but Nightdive Studios revealed a brand new trailer for the upcoming remake today at the PC Gaming Show and I am here to tell you that it is a serious banger.
The trailer has a little bit of everything: Action, horror, smoky shadows, neon lights, and of course SHODAN, the perfect, immortal machine, whose narration literally gives me goosebumps. She may be murderously insane, but it's good to hear that voice again.
What I especially like, though, is the way the trailer looks like how I remember System Shock from way back when. Obviously it's come a long way over the past 30 years, but this is how I see that world through the cloudy lens of memory. That, more than a note-for-note do-over, is what I really want from the System Shock remake: Capture that essence of the original in a modern take, and I am there.
We still don't have a release date for the System Shock remake, but I feel like it has to be getting close. Today's trailer is leaps and bounds beyond what Nightdive has shown previously, and director of business development Larry Kuperman said that development "is largely complete."
"You can play through it from beginning to end, all weapons and enemies are in place and working," Kuperman said. "What remains to be done is what is termed 'polish.' Our goal is that the release version is as close to perfection as possible."
There's still a little bit of a wait ahead, though. "Since we are supporting consoles as well as PC, it is an iterative process," Kuperman said. "Testing and tweaking over and over again."
After the reveal of the new trailer, original System Shock mastermind Warren Spector took a few minutes to talk about his experiences with the game, the influence it's had on the industry, and the challenges of bringing it to a modern audience, for whom the themes of corporatism, corruption, and technology run amok may not be as impactful or far-fetched as they were when System Shock was new.
"SHODAN seems far too close to reality to me right now," said Spector, who has been advising Nightdive and providing feedback on the System Shock remake since the beginning of the project. "I've worked on several games now where they have a predictive quality that I never could have predicted, and System Shock is one of them. SHODAN is right around the corner, near as I can tell. Let's just hope that she doesn't show up in as nasty a form as she did back in 1994."
Interestingly, while the "predictive quality" may be there, Spector said that the game itself has largely faded from the popular consciousness. "Core gamers" and some oldsters (like me) know it, but he's not sure that gamers in general "see the influence" that System Shock has had on so many other games over the years. He remains very proud of the impact it had, though, even if it's not obvious to a large audience.
"The ways in which it's influential I think are the genre mashup idea in the first place," Spector said. "It wasn't a pure shooter, it wasn't a pure role-playing game, it wasn't a pure horror game, a horror-survival game. It took elements of all of them and mashed them together to come up with something that felt, and in fact was, really new.
"And then, just from a sort of tech standpoint, the fact that System Shock was the first game I know of that was really physics driven. There was so much physics going on. It was used to affect not just barrels rolling, but how the character actually reacted to stimuli in the environment. And that was something new that I think has had influence, and frankly could have more, and I'd be a very happy guy."
Spector also touched on one major aspect of System Shock that has not stood the test of time, and which he clearly believes is best left to history: The interface. Updating the original System Shock control scheme to current standards is a "big challenge" for developers, he said, because the original, to put it politely, was not exactly streamlined.
"If you look at when the game opens, the original, there was a help screen that came up, and it filled the entire screen with text. It's just insane," Spector said.
"I'll tell you a funny story, I went to Gen Con, a big gaming convention, with System Shock, a game I loved dearly, and another game which I won't name, because I loved it a lot less. It was in many ways similar to System Shock, but more straightforward, and you could control it with a joystick. And I'm watching adult gamers get themselves, within seconds, get themselves crouched, leaning, in a corner, unable to move, and unable to figure out how to move. And I turned around, and I saw a kid, couldn't have been more than 10, reaching up with his hand on a controller, it was above his head, and just enjoying the heck out of the experience that was a simpler but similar game. And that was kind of a revelation for me. The user interface, I just don't know how the guys that made that did it. It's amazing to make the game playable these days."
And as he has done previously (opens in new tab) (and somewhat famously (opens in new tab)), Spector once again distanced himself from the idea that he is the creator of System Shock, saying that he's "not real comfortable" with the label.
" I think of myself, as much as anything, as a relentless advocate for a particular kind of game, the genre we call immersive simulation," he said. "Games that are designed to let the player feel—basically force the player to feel—like it's them in the world, with as few distractions and 'game-y' things as possible. System Shock was really, at the time, the most advanced version of that, and I can't tell you how much the team is responsible for that."
Nightdive's System Shock doesn't yet have a release date, but a brief demo is available on Steam (opens in new tab).