Nightdive talks System Shock remake's change in direction, expects release 'probably Q1 of 2020'

System Shock is still coming. In February, we reported that Nightdive Studios' remake of System Shock was on hiatus as the developers reassessed the project, deciding it had diverged too far from the original vision: a direct modernization of the 1994 game. At GDC on Thursday, I met with Nightdive CEO Stephen Kick and business development director Larry Kuperman, who spoke candidly about where the project went wrong and where it stands now.

"We understood based on the backer feedback, especially, that we weren't going in the right direction with the game, what we promised to them," Kick said. "That's what really caused the shift in what we're doing now, which is going back to what we'd established and represented with the Unity demo."

Shortly after the Kickstarter, System Shock moved from Unity to Unreal Engine, which is what Nightdive plans to continue with going forward. Kick showed me the Unreal version of the starting room, similar to the one depicted in the Unity demo two years ago. It looked great: all moody blue lights and wisps of smoke and flashing display panels embedded in the walls. But it's also just a small part of a game that has much work left to do.

"As we geared up and started moving forward with it, we began to run into feature creep," Kuperman said. "All of those things like 'you know what would really be cool, how we might reinterpret this.' Various people wanted to put their imprint on it. As this process evolved over a period of time, it grew in complexity, and it veered away from this original representation. That doesn't mean that interpretation would've been bad, but it wouldn't have been true to the System Shock vision."

As we reported in February, some of the team working on the project has changed with the return to a more straightforward remake. Nightdive didn't talk in specifics about those staff changes. 

"Our intention is to ship exactly the game that was promised, with as much of the features that were promised as we can, in a timeframe that will get it out as fast as we can. Our expectation is probably Q1 of 2020."

Kuperman gave that date with the kind of expression and shrug that conveyed: no, that date isn't what anyone wants to hear. But it's practical. He was unequivocal when I asked if another two years of development would put Nightdive in a financial bind.

"No it doesn't. We've also had renewed interest from some publishing partners, for whom the more complex and costly game was something of a challenge for them, that this is what they were hoping we would provide and renewed their interest."

Kickstarter backers will get a look at the Unreal Engine version of the room Nightdive showed me in the next update in early April, Kick told me. We'll continue to follow the development of System Shock as it progresses.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).