It's a great time to be a fan of immersive sims: between Gloomwood's continuing early access percolation, Fortune's Run coming in September, and the knockout launches of Amnesia: The Bunker and Nightdive's System Shock remake, we're eatin' good. That last game is getting a particularly fun let's play treatment as well, with former Looking Glass programmer Marc Leblanc streaming his first playthrough of Nightdive's take on Citadel Station.
While now an engineer at Riot Games, LeBlanc was a programmer on both System Shock and Thief's original runs, and his recollections of Looking Glass Technologies (eventually Looking Glass Studios) are a definite highlight of watching him work through the new version of the game he helped create.
"If you told me that in 30 years I was going to be playing a remake of this game and broadcasting it to the internet," LeBlanc declared before starting the game, "I would have said you were crazy. But here we are."
In his first stream of the game, LeBlanc seemed impressed at Nightdive's visual overhaul and tactile detail, admiring the 3D modeling and animation work that was out of the realm of possibility for Looking Glass back in the day. "We see our feet, never coulda done that in 1994," LeBlanc quipped at seeing the Hacker swing their spatially simulated body into a healing pod on the Medical level.
The developer did, however, seem to miss the original game's voiceover work, which often included non-professionals from in and around Looking Glass' offices. Right away, LeBlanc shouted out mission control character Rebecca Lansing's original voice actress, Helen Dunsmoir: "She lived down the hall from us at MIT," LeBlanc recalled. "She was part of the original D&D game from which Looking Glass was born." LeBlanc was, however, pleased to discover that musician and fan-favorite voice actress Terri Brosius was brought back to re-record her lines as SHODAN.
LeBlanc also provided his own recollection of the classic 0451 code's inception—the number originally appeared in System Shock, and became a calling card for Looking Glass and eventually the immersive sim genre more broadly. System Shock producer Warren Spector maintains that the code was not an intentional reference to Ray Bradbury's novel, Farenheit 451, and that it originated as an actual door code used at Looking Glass' offices.
"For the record, it is a Ray Bradbury Reference," LeBlanc insisted when he encountered the canonical code's first use in System Shock. "I know Warren said it wasn't, but it was.
"The timeline is: we did that [setting 451 as the in-game door code] when the office was in Lexington, we did that as the code. It's been in the game for a long long time." LeBlanc went on to argue that 451's usage as Looking Glass' real life door code at its second office was itself a reference back to the game, and also, perhaps, a bit of a security risk.
"Patty the office manager, I think she asked me what the code was in System Shock," LeBlanc explained, "And she made it the door code for their actual office, which was crazy naive. That would be a security breach of the first order to publish your door code in a video game."
Whatever the shadowy nature of 451 or the more popular 0451's inception, LeBlanc's still working on his System Shock playthrough. His latest broadcast had him exploring the Executive level of Citadel and the Delta Grove, so he has plenty of System Shock left to go. You can also catch up with the developer's VODs on YouTube or Twitch. The remake is well-worth checking out on its own as well—our own Joshua Wolens called it "the definitive way to play System Shock in 2023 and beyond" in his review.