“Look at you, hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone. Panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect immortal machine?”
Developer: Irrational Games / Looking Glass Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Director: Jonathan Chey
Designer and Writer: Ken Levine
Platforms: PC, OS X, Linux
System Shock 2 (1999) is a first-person survival-horror RPG set in deep space. Originally intended as a standalone title, it was packaged as part of the System Shock series, which began life in 1994. The game was developed by a then-nascent Irrational Games, who would eventually go on to develop a little spiritual successor called Bioshock - you may have heard of it. System Shock 2 was a co-venture between them and Looking Glass Studios, whose members would eventually go on to leave the company in order to to join creative director Ken Levine.
The game was released on August 11 1999. It received acclaim from critics and gamers alike but failed to meet its commercial sales targets. Development first began in 1997, and arly ideas involved a sci-fi allegory of Joseph Conrad’s classic novella Heart of Darkness. It took further inspiration from Looking Glass’s Ultima series, as well as traditional paper and pencil role-playing games. It has since become a ‘cult classic’ and is regularly featured on many Best Ever Games of All Time lists. The game was re-released on Steam for modern audiences in 2013.
It’s 2114 and the world is a very different place. The dreams of Elon Musk have been met as space has been conquered with artificial intelligence having advanced to the point where it can impose its malevolent will. No surprises for guessing what happens next... following events in the original game where the Citadel Space Station was taken over by the AI supercomputer SHODAN, it rears its ugly electronic head 42 years later. This time to take control of the experimental faster-than-light starship, the Von Braun. Coincidentally owned by a small company called Tri-Optimum, who have more money than most nation states.
The game follows an amnesiac soldier who awakens to find the Von Braun deserted and in disarray. Disorientated, he makes his way around the ship's many level, defeating and/or sneaking past an assortment of hungry-for-human-flesh enemies (called The Many). All the while he’s tracked by omnipresent supercomputer SHODAN, who provides lots of ominous dialogue. There’s also a whole bunch of files and audio logs which tell the story of what the fuck happened. In the end, he makes his way throughout the entire fucking ship to take down SHODAN, who has this terrible fear of people hacking into the control system.
Usually I describe what happens but I already kinda did so here’s a video instead:
The music was composed by three people: Josh Randall, Ramin Djawadi and Eric Brosius.
It’s very cyberpunk and IMO adds a lot to the nightmarish sensation of being alone in deep space.
System Shock 2: Postmortem by Jonathan Chey (Gamasutra)
Another feature of our development philosophy is that everyone participates in game design. Why? Because all three of the Irrational founders wanted to set the design direction of our products, programmers were able to resolve design issues without having to stick to a design spec, and we strongly emphasized game design skills when hiring all of our employees and contractors. In all our interviews, one of our most pressing questions to ourselves was "Does this person get games?" Failure to "get" them was a definite strike against any prospective employee. Ultimately, the team's passion for and understanding of games was a major contributor to the design of the final product.
The Making of System Shock 2 (Rock Paper Shotgun)
Finishing a motion-capture session two hours early , Levine was bullied by Jon Chey into just doing something to justify the time they’d paid for . “So I said [to the motion capture actor]… do monkey motions,” Levine says, “We had no monkeys in the game but we did it anyway”. These assets had to find a home, and Levine hit on the idea of lab-experimented apes, gaining sentience and being justifiably annoyed about their treatment at their hand of man.
The Timeless Horror of “System Shock 2” (Vice)
You could play System Shock 2 for hours and never exactly see it. Or at least, you wouldn’t see it right there on your monitor, but would instead watch it happening projected within a theater of the mind where the game’s simple models and art would give way to the things they symbolized. The game never looked realistic, but still feels immediate and convincing in a way I rarely see matched.
System Shock 2’s Best Level - Med/Sci (Eurogamer)
How does a designer juggle all of these different elements when building a level? Vogel boiled it down to a simple objective. "My goal was to get an 88 in PC Gamer. And that was my only goal."
- The original title for the game, according to its pitch document, was Junction Point
- A remake is currently in development by Night Dive Studios. Here’s some pre-alpha footage. Release date estimate Q4 2030.
- Initially, the brief was to prepare a sci-fi prototype based on the still-in-development Thief engine.
- The whole game was created in a single room about 900 square feet big. Roughly the size of this house.
- One scene features a robot doing the Macarena. I guess because, why not?
You! I Want Your Thoughts.
Hopefully you know the drill by now. Tell me what you think/thought of the game
P.s. Spoilers obviously but here’s the game’s final cutscene - as hilarious as it is awful (Levine says it was outsourced).