Starting work on System Shock 3, creator Warren Spector reflects on what made the original such an influential game.
Warren Spector was killed by his own creation, and he was enough. Warren and his team at Otherside Entertainment recently announced their intention to make System Shock 3, the long-awaited sequel from Looking Glass Technology (later known as Looking Glass Studios) destroying the boundaries of FPS / RPG genres. Spector decided it was time to return to the game with which it all started in 1994 - System Shock.
“And so I started to play, and I just die again and again. I'm just mad, ”recalls Spector. “So I’m sending an email to creative director Dag Church asking why we made the game so complicated? How did we decide that this interface was a good idea? Why did we feel the need to use each button on the keyboard? ”And each time, sending a new question, I received the same answer from him -“ 1994 ”“ 1994 ”“ 1994 ”, and he was right. We made the game as good as we could. Do it as far as possible "
For the first time, visiting the extraterrestrial "Citadel Station" today, one can be amazed at how much basic game ideas there are in it, woven into modern gaming products. System Shock belongs to the elite gaming pantheon - Half-Life, Metal Gear Solid, Ocarina of Time - whose names are imprinted in the game-world legends of the whole world, and which are rightfully considered fundamental. Popular video games of the past 23 years have not just imitated almost every aspect of System Shock, from its soft gray and blue surroundings to its intense inclination to audiovisuals, from a series of twitching mutants to cyberspace inspired by the work of William Gibson - they borrowed these elements so carefully that for a beginner, all this now seems to be a set of obscene clichés, rather than the work of innovators. It goes without saying until you remember that System Shock itself and canonized all these trails, thus becoming the next tool of the industry, which took all the originality from them.
System Shock (1994) introduces AI SHODAN, which terrorizes you in the way of your escape from a space station
Despite the long influence, there are two key differences between System Shock and those pretentious types who could call themselves "Mr. Olympus" from the world of video games. The first is the financial side of the question, which hardly justified the sequel released 6 years later, and which was infinitely far from the millions that Valve made by releasing Half-Life. The game has actually become a household name. The second difference was cultural — instead of the straightforward explosive adventures of Gordon Freeman or the marines of Doom, System Shock’s aspirations were more systemic than experience-based. Looking Glass did not just want to move the arrow pointing the way, but rather to break the scale itself. People had previously played shooters, but they never relied on the complex elements of a role-playing game, such as inventory management and dynamic skill distribution. For Spector and his team, this meant an unforeseen depth in every aspect of the game - especially when compared to the two Ultima games that Spector describes as the immediate predecessors of System Shock.
“I remember talking to Doug at the time about how I was sick of developing fantasy games,” Spector says. “I had the feeling that if I had to work on another game in which the hero was wearing mail or swinging a big sword, I would commit suicide. At the time, I tried to use Strike Commander (1993) technology to try and create a Sci-Fi version of Ultima Underworld. I even have sketches preserved! And then I discovered that Doug Church and the founder of Looking Glass, Paul Newrat, are already developing something similar. So we decided that we would make the game as part of Looking Glass, instead of trying to assemble a team. ”
Throughout the haze of memories, it is easy to forget that Spector himself was not even an employee of Looking Glass during the entire System Shock production; instead, he worked at Origin Systems, their publisher, best known for the birth of the Ultima series. But this did not prevent him from contributing to the creation of the game despite his vague position of "producer." He could fly to the Looking Glass office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from his hometown of Austin, Texas, at any time. By his own calculations, he talked to the core of the development team almost every day, including Newrat and Church.
A remake of the original System Shock by Nightdive Studios, due in 2018.
System Shock for the team itself could seem a daring new series, different from everything they did before. But the main goal of the team was the constantly evolving mission of the company. Listening to the instructions of Spector and Newrat, the trajectory of the development of Looking Glass, as a studio, was determined by its commitment to the new at the time concept of immersion player. Two Underworld games were agonizing crawling through towering dungeons in the style of Dungeons and Dragons, which are patrolled by jumping lizards and other similar scum - almost finished tracing paper for System Shock, but the latter is presented in the setting, which is more obliged to Ridley Scott than Gary Gyigex.
“It was assumed that you are in an unfamiliar place, and the scope of your ideas was simply eliminated,” Spector says. “Because of technology and our design methods, System Shock was the first game to take this concept to the extreme.” Newrat confirms this: “In the 80s, we always abstract. Everything was in 2D or in fake 3D. In your mind it was necessary to overcome the brink, to take an extra step to pretend that you really are in this world. When the 3D era came, it allowed us to move to the next level. ”
This next level, of course, did not include living people. Spector often said that he, Church, and Newrat’s collective dislike of the “dialogue tree” of those days caused them not to leave a single survivor at the Citadel Station with whom the player could interact. Although it seemed to be a minor moment at the time, this decision inspired countless imitators, from Dark Souls to Bioshock - and even, perhaps, anticipating the popular genre of the walking simulator. For Spector, it was just a solution.
“To be honest, we couldn't think of anything better. We had no idea how to make a better dialogue system. And in the end someone said, "And let's finish them all." It was a practical solution, which in the end worked in a creative way. But now, working on System Shock 3, I'm struggling with this. I'm not sure whether we should add more living NPCs or not. ”- (cardinal solution of the problem. - approx. Translator )
According to Spector and Newrat, these early attempts to halt the implausibility as much as possible today seem rather primitive, but they have irrevocably changed the player’s perception of what was possible in these new artificial worlds. Chris Avellone - the famous writer behind such titles as Fallout: New Vegas, and speaking as an assistant to the developer of Arkane Studios in the recent Prey - while for an outsider, the amount of System Shock achievements was incomprehensible, even slightly churned confusing.
“They truly did a lot of amazing things,” he says. “Even the“ help ”function inside the game was something absolutely unheard of. The game reported everything she did and what it all meant. Not to mention SHODAN. The antagonists were not so aggressive then — well, or so immediate. ”
Prey from Arkane Studios, as well as other similar games - owes it to System Shock, which was the pioneer of the genre of "immersive sim"
For many of us, SHODAN - a fraudulent AI that instigates and torments the player throughout both games - actually marks the full extent of System Shock, almost like a Portal, which primarily conjures stinging observations of GLaDOS, rather than the portals themselves. But this strongest association is neither a simple marketing ploy nor an inappropriate nostalgia; SHODAN lends a face and the name of a radical "reactivity" that made System Shock such a milestone. She watches you through the security system, listens to your calls; having broken enough security cameras with its lead pipe, SHODAN will no longer be able to see what you are doing and she will start screaming out of frustration. Hack the wrong computer, and its greenish look looks at you, mocking your little human efforts. The game physics engine - hitting the mutant with a lead pipe, from which it scattered into pieces - contributed even more to the loyalty of the experience gained.
“In Dungeons & Dragons, when you swing a sword, you roll a die,” says Newrat. “It only works because it is a board game, so you expect such abstractions. In the “immersive simulator” we want to model everything that is possible. Therefore, we replaced the rolls of bones with real physics. It was primitive, but it worked. It was a crazy change of established technology. With this project we went as far and as fast as we could with each subsequent week. It was insane. ”
However, this unprecedented depth had its price. Since Spectrum itself, returning two decades later to the original, noted that between the cumbersome controls and the bloated interface, the Looking Glass creation was not available to those of us who did not play on the Pentium in 1994.
“It's hard to go back now,” says Avellone. “A lot of interesting things come from the design of the dungeon combined with the reactivity of SHODAN. This gave rise to an amazing amount of things, but people remember their feelings, and not so much because of the game itself. ”
At the end of 2015, the developer of Night Dive Studios - best known for restoring and reissuing "abandoned" games, such as the Wizardry series and 7th Guest, - announced its intention to rethink the original System Shock, trying to erase the layer of dust that the game has accumulated these years. And, as was to be expected, the Avellone lighting industry was one of their first employees.
“Honestly, I’m excited to be a part of it,” he says. "I love science fiction, but I rarely get the chance to work on it." Do not call it “remaster,” though - Avelon says that this is more a restart than anything else. “We are taking the original storyline and expanding it to reflect new ways of passing the game - combat path, hacking, stealth. Part of the thrill of the first System Shock is that at first SHODAN does not know that you are there. We aim to surprise the player, taking into account what will be a little further. "
Although Spector and Newrath are not participating explicitly, they both are enthusiastic about this project. “It's nice to see that now, after 23 years, even with Prey, people are still inspired by what we did then,” says Newrat. Spector takes a bolder turn: “My heart tells me that if you take the original System Shock and upgrade it, it will be as good as any other“ dive simulator ”released since then. At least now we'll find out, right? ”. He laughed. The duet is more focused on their own efforts, and there is a good reason for this - a game called System Shock 3 was just beginning to take shape, at least conceptually. The spectator laughed again when we asked for details. “We will talk in a year,” he said.