Experienced Points: Why is System Shock a Big Deal?

By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 5, 2015

Filed under: Column 66 comments

My column this week is about why System Shock is an amazing game that you probably won’t enjoy unless you played it two decades ago.

True story:

I got stuck on the very first level of System Shock 1. I spent hours wandering around, trying to figure out how to reach level 2. I’d been everywhere and totally filled in the map, so I could see I wasn’t missing any rooms. But for the life of me I had no idea how to proceed. Did I miss a puzzle? A boss I needed to fight somewhere? A hidden door?

Eventually I bought the hint guide. I think it’s the only one I ever bought. The hint guide is the only part of the game I have left. (The floppies died ages ago.) The guide was kind of expensive, but I was really into this game and it was driving mad that I couldn’t proceed. And then it turned out that the guide didn’t help. It didn’t even acknowledge the difficulty of reaching level 2. It was just like, “Make sure you have enough bullets before you proceed to level 2!”

It turned out it wasn’t a secret. The game was built on a grid. In a particular room there was a button on the wall. If you stand directly in front of the button and press it, then the square you were standing on would go down. It was an elevator, and it would take you down to the exit to level 2.

However, I was standing too far back from the button. When I pushed it, I could hear the “elevator moving” sound. But because of the way the interface worked, the bottom half of your field of view was usually covered with menus and crap, so I didn’t see the floor tile move. I looked left and right, expecting the button to have opened a door or wall nearby. Elevators were a new thing to me in games, and this floor tile didn’t exactly jump out at you.

“Ah! Maybe it’s opening a secret door elsewhere!”

So I’d push the button and run into the next room, looking for the change. I’m sure I toggled the elevator up and down several times without ever seeing it. I eventually gave up and moved on, and then forgot all about the “button puzzle”. I’m pretty sure I’d never seen an real moving floor before System Shock 1, so I had no reason to look down. (And looking down was a laborious process, since it could only be done with the keyboard.)

Days later I happened to have another go at the button, only this time I stood in the right place. And that was it. I went down into a little room that granted access to level 2. It wasn’t a puzzle or a mystery at all. It was a new game mechanic mixed with terrible controls and a shitty interface.

And that’s the story about the time I bought a hint guide to get to level 2.


From The Archives:

66 thoughts on “Experienced Points: Why is System Shock a Big Deal?

  1. Mattias42 says:

    Heh, now that’s an adorable little story.

    Still, the official guide for SS isn’t something to sneeze at as far as investments go. I’m fairly certain that’s quite rare and decently pricey nowadays. Not even a single listing on Ebay, at least.

  2. Decius says:

    “There are options to make these elements see-through, but it still feels like walking around with a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet superimposed on your vision.”

    That’s part of the look-feel of being a cyborg. While I like the concept of augmented-reality datapads better, the first-generation augmented sight is going to be information that uses visual space. Exploring what that might feel like is an important part of cyberculture.

    1. Bropocalypse says:

      If limited FOV is a part of cyberculture then non-augments will have an advantage in the robot war.

      1. The Rocketeer says:

        If being a cyborg means you perceive/handle like John Siztemshà¶ch (which I assume is the name of the player character), then the robot war will not significantly misresemble any average day in which cyborgs fall on their asses and can’t right themselves while regular people go on about their business.

    2. guy says:

      This is why AR elements should be translucent.

      And ideally movable.

  3. Bropocalypse says:

    I really don’t want to sound like a nitpicking hipster, but Bioshock isn’t steampunk(though a case could be made for Bioshock Infinite), its art deco stylings betray something far closer to dieselpunk, or even biopunk. Critically, nothing(as far as I remember) is steam-powered in that game.

    1. Limeaide says:

      Depends on your definition of steampunk. Something can be steampunk if there’s no steam power, because the more important part in that sense is archaic technology performing advanced tasks. Even if they’re saying it’s electric gel rather that steam powering all the mechanisms, if it looks like steampunk and it quacks like steampunk then it’s steampunk as far as I’m concerned.

      The more important argument in this case is the visual style rather than the mechanics behind the technology.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        Steampunk refers to both the general concept of mixing the futurist and the outdated, and a specific aesthetic within that concept. It’s probably a synecdoche or something.

      2. Bropocalypse says:

        If it’s the visual style, then it’s STILL not steampunk, because steampunk specifies a victorian-era aesthetic.

        1. SKD says:

          I would have to agree with this, the defined visual style of Steampunk is specifically Victorian. The city of Rapture with its’ Art Deco visual theme and 1940’s style sci-fi is more reminiscent of the Pulp Fiction era in my mind

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Punkpunk FTW!

    3. Must link this now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFCuE5rHbPA :D

      (FWIW, I agree – Bioshock is not steampunk to me. But that’s ok – I love a good bit of Art Deco…)

  4. MrRoivas says:

    I’m here to back up what this article is claiming: The interface can easily destroy the game. It did for me.

    I tried. I really did. I love System Shock 2. Have played through it many times. And so I wanted to see if I could have more fun with its predecessor. I couldn’t. The abject ugliness of early 3d and total lack of player directing didn’t help, but I probably could have powered on through those problems if the game had an interface like System Shock 2. In comparison to every other shooter I’ve played it feels like being a half blind paraplegic.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      I’m going to buy the enhanced edition this weekend on GoG. Last year I tried the fan-made super-duper edition that had all of the mods, which among other things, enabled mouse-look, and had WSAD movement instead of the wacky defaults…and it was still pretty damn hard to play. The text-based inventory, and completely non-integrated goals and map, made me uninstall the game on level one. :S

      I really enjoyed (re)playing SS2; I want to see if I can get a similar amount of enjoyment from SS1. :)

      1. Andy_Panthro says:

        I think the enhanced version on GOG was made with the help of those that made the fan mod “System Shock Portable” which is possibly what you played last year. If so, the differences may be very slight.

        Still a lot better than the original though, which was definitely of the era where we were still figuring out how to do a first-person UI.

  5. The Rocketeer says:

    Tragically, I’ve found that I just can’t stomach playing Thief or Deus Ex. The games simply feel so awful to play. I’ve never been bothered by the step down in graphics, but going back in time to the game feel of ’90’s PC gaming is like trying to learn how to write with my left hand.

    Deus Ex was contemporary with the paradigm established by System Shock 2, and I’ve heard SS2 described as a large leap ahead from System Shock. Given my bad experience failing to get into Deus Ex, I shudder at what that means for System Shock.

    1. silver Harloe says:

      Fortunately, Deus Ex, Thief, and SS2 all have remappable keys, so you can set them to have a (mostly) more modern control scheme. Thief especially, since its inventory is the scroll-through-items kind, rather than the inventory-tetris kind. Though I’m not sure if that’s what you’re getting at.

  6. Hermocrates says:

    Thanks for the review/overview! I, like I’m sure many here, picked up System Shock when it came out on GOG, because I like to at least try my hand at the historical artefacts of our hobby (similarly, although I grew up on Quake, I’ve barely played Doom, so I want to play that as well).

    With that in mind, I’m curious what your thoughts are about the Enhanced Edition. Does it bring the game up to a level most interested gamers could stand? Would you recommend at least trying the original version, to get a sense of the game as it was, before getting frustrated and finishing it up in the Enhanced mode? Is it a betrayal of your fondest memories and the worst sort of historical revisionism? Etc.

  7. Abnaxis says:

    …am I the only one who actually liked the sound of it the way the game was described? I like having a lot of information in front of me while playing…

    The mouse-look issues do sound bad though.

    1. AileTheAlien says:

      I think you mean keyboard-look, mouse-aim. :P

    2. djw says:

      I like information too, but… remember, this was in 800×600 (or maybe worse, Iduno)… so that HUD was eating into a very limited screen space, by today’s standards.

    3. guy says:

      I recall that I played System Shock for about three minutes and decided that mouselook is non-negotiable.

  8. Brandon says:

    To touch on something you mentioned in the article (and here, because your comments threads are much busier and much more polite), I’d like to address the Marathon in the room. System Shock came out 2 months earlier. Therefore it was technically the first. I think that largely ends any potential argument, but perhaps this does deserve a little more attention.

    I love Marathon. I am not fond of System Shock. But System Shock has a lot more going on mechanically. Marathon was very much like other emerging FPS games except for a few key differences: look up and down (mouselook), alt fire on some weapons, and their weird level technology that allowed two different rooms to inhabit the same space (but no ledges, god no.) By having simpler gameplay Marathon holds up better to time but System Shock tried to be more revolutionary and give you more things to think about when considering combat encounters.

    On the story level, they both share quite a bit. The big bad in System Shock is Shodan, an AI. In Marathon, it’s the alien Pfhor and their enslaved hacker race the S’pht. And you’re guided by an AI, and ultimately have to partner with a rampant AI, rampant meaning the AI has developed self-determination. Marathon and it’s sequels actually go in similar directions to System Shock 2 as well, in that the aliens end up serving the will of one rampant AI they captured from your colony ship while you oppose them with a different rampant AI. Oh, and BTW, you’re probably a cyborg… System Shock has all those audio logs, and Marathon and sequels have lots of text in terminals to read. Both are story-heavy, where System Shock focuses more on the story from the standpoint of the characters and Marathon is a little more bouncing around, with characters here, AI logs there, and random tidbits thrown in here and there.

    So while System Shock is more of a thoughtful shooter, both games were equally focused on story and atmosphere, share similar story elements, and were in development largely at the same time.

    Oh, and that thing Marathon does where two rooms can inhabit the same space? They did some weird stuff with enemies placed in phantom rooms to mess with your radar and provide ambient enemy sounds. They also used it to cool effect on a particular multiplayer map where there’s two identical arenas inhabiting the same spot, with a high wall around the outside with portals that peer down into a lower battle area, but the portals peer down into the OTHER room. So if you’re up on the wall in one room, you’re looking down into the other, and vice versa. Some weird stuff. Very trippy.

    1. McNutcase says:

      I’d say that if System Shock was the thinking man’s shooter, Marathon was the conspiracy nut’s shooter. Just take a look at the Marathon’s Story page. I mean, I LOVE Marathon, but it’s demented when it comes to lore.

    2. Jabrwock says:

      Using the level editor I did one of those “4D” levels where the rooms overlap. It made for great multiplayer because the 2D map was impossible to decipher. Is the enemy invisible and just about to kill me? Or are they in the other “phase” of this room?

      I can’t remember if M1 did it, but M2 had fantastic ambient stereo sound support. Dodging a missile and hearing it roar past you.

      Durandal was a nutter. Uploads himself into a *scout ship* and lays waste to an entire battlefleet? No wonder Tycho was jealous.

    3. Andy_Panthro says:

      If we’re getting all nostalgic, perhaps it’s worth pointing out that Ultima Underworld came out in 1992, and was incredibly advanced for it’s time (apart from the UI, which was functional but is very archaic now). It’s definitely a game which doesn’t get enough credit.

  9. Shamus, I don’t have twitter, but re. your comment about wanting a trimmed-down 2001: A Space Odyssey, YES! That movie has so much going for it; grand ideas, groundbreaking effects, an interesting character, but it’s just too darn long. It’s not that I need constant explosions or I’ll fall asleep (I love Stalker 1979, a very slow-moving film) 2001 makes so little effort to tell me what’s going on that I have no reason to sit through 20 minute scenes of nothing happening.


    1. Matt Downie says:

      Try searching youtube for
      2001 space odyssey abridged
      or similar, and you’ll find a 5 or 15 minute version, guaranteed to infuriate fans of the original.

      1. Kylroy says:

        I’ve always felt the confrontation with HAL was some of the best cinema of the 20th century.

        Unfortunately, it’s surrounded by a bunch of cinematography wank that would have sunk the movie if it hadn’t been released near the peak of LSD’s popularity.

  10. Jonathan says:

    “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?”

    I still have an audio CD with a System Shock remix by Bart Klepka. That CD is almost old enough to get a driver’s license.

    Descent, Red Alert, and Fallout can all vote. Baldur’s Gate II is a teenager. Freespace 2 is close to being done with driver’s ed.

    Most of my key gaming/cultural reference points are almost as old as my 16 year old brother in law…

    1. djw says:

      I still have a Masters of Magic CD laying around somewhere, although I bought it on GoG too so that I wouldn’t have to figure out exactly where I put it last time I moved. I still have the gigantic rulebook on my book shelf. Its probably older than any of my students this year.

      1. TMC_Sherpa says:

        GoG is a lifesaver.
        Whats that? I don’t have to find the floppies or a 5.25″ drive that works? Or a no CD patch? Or any of the other technical limitations (like code wheels, remember those?) of trying to get crusty code to run? Sold!
        I did a quick look and other than some drivers (for hardware I don’t own anymore from companies long defunct) I may have gotten rid of my floppy based media. I could have sworn I kept Bards Tale 1 & 2 along with Legacy of the Ancients for the Apple ][ around somewhere.

        1. djw says:

          I don’t have my floppy’s or my cassette tapes any more, which is okay, I guess, since I don’t have any devices that can read them any more either.

      2. Tektotherriggen says:

        I played System Shock this year (the free “Portable” version, modded for mouselook and to map the use/look toggle to a spare mouse button – I bought GOG’s version immediately out of a sense of honour). I thought it worked very well as a survival horror game, with limited resources and sparse (but respawning) enemies.

        I would constantly be terrified by the sounds of monsters just out of sight, but it became a lot less frightening when I realised that the primitive engine would play the noise based only on distance. Most of the time, walls and locked doors kept them safely away from me. There’s also a radar upgrade that reveals all enemy locations, which did rather lower the tension. Still a great game.

  11. MaxEd says:

    I never managed to get into System Shock, because I found it too scary and controls too complex. Then again, I also thought the first Doom to be too scary, and never played it much without cheat-codes.

    I guess I just dislike first-person games, because they are too immersive, and I prefer to stay apart from my character, so that I can continue to feel safe and unthreatened, even when he is surrounded by ugly monsters.

  12. boz says:

    After playing both Dead Space and Bioshock series. I think Dead Space is a better successor to System Shock 2 than Bioshock. Bioshock for some reason always felt a little bit off when it comes to atmosphere.

    Though I am pretty sure some people felt the opposite way about those two games.

  13. Jaedar says:

    I first tried to play SS quite a few years ago, and found it was impossible with the original control scheme.

    However, with the enhanced edition enabling mouse look and the more typical WASD movement, it’s great. It doesn’t just hold up, it’s a great shooter with very satisfying gunplay.

    I think I might even prefer it to the sequel.

  14. Daemian Lucifer says:

    People often overlook interface advancement,because thats not something thats easy to notice,but in the past 3 decades we had quite a few groundbreaking changes in practically every genre when it comes to interface.It really is a shock to come back to one of the old interfaces,even if you grew up with them and know how they worked.

    1. Knul says:

      A shock to your system, as it were? :P

  15. SteveDJ says:

    Looks like I’m done with Escapist … :-( … I go there to read your article, and suddenly some stupid video ad starts playing, with sound! …in the middle of the night (I was awake, so why not?)

    If Escapist is going to allow such video ads to auto-play, I’m not going back. :-(

  16. arron says:

    I recently finished off my studies and have been looking to get back into games programming as a hobby. One of the ideas that I’ve had is to do some small scale remake of System Shock. One of the biggest issues with the original was the user interface and I did think for a while which would be the best way to re-engineer it for a modern FPS audience without dumbing down the mechanics too much.

    One of the major changes would be how the inventory was handled. Deus Ex and System Shock II have a “space based inventory” limited by inventory slots whereas System Shock I and Fallout 3/New Vegas have a “list based inventory” limited by item weight.

    Bioshock I and II have a hidden inventory where you collect items and powers but don’t manage them directly in crafting items and solving puzzles. You need a machine to swap them out or do crafting.

    Bioshock Infinite takes it down a level in simplicity by turning into something you buy from a vending machine or collecting a single item. You don’t manage anything other than collecting or dropping your current weapon basically. The inventory management is effectively missing.

    I wrote a bit of splurge on it here : http://epicfailent.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/inventory-issues.html which is a blog that I occasionally comment on.

    I think if I had to retrofit System Shock for a modern gaming experience, I’d probably stick with a list based interface that can be accessed via a secondary inventory/crafting/powers management screen similar to Fallout/Skyrim. This means you could could run the experience off a controller and still have the ability to manage your augmented reality without breaking out from the primary FPS experience too much.

    I’ll give it a go and see how it turns out as I get back into development again.

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      I miss good (and detailed) inventories. I feel quite disappointed when games decide to reduce or remove them rather than improve them.

      1. djw says:

        While I mostly agree with you, I do tend to obsess over gear and gear upgrades in a detail oriented RPG, so it can be a nice palate cleanser to play a game that does not engage my gear OCD.

  17. BenD says:

    I’m reminded of playing Milon’s Secret Castle back in the (very long ago) day. I could never find a dedicated hint guide so I had to settle for blurbs in Nintendo Power, read (and memorized) while standing at the magazine rack (sorry, store, for being a kid with no money). Except MSC was designed to be terrible and it sounds like System Shock was just terribly designed – not on purpose. Anyway, those were the days, no internet and no walkthroughs… Good times. I don’t miss it.

  18. Volvagia says:

    I know classic film fans always try to boil it down to “what’s our Citizen Kane”, but I’d not go that simplistic. Instead, I’d ask five questions:

    What’s our Birth of a Nation? (For video games, setting aside the controversial aspects (that racism!), that’s obviously Super Mario Bros.)
    What’s our Metropolis? (System Shock or System Shock 2 are both very good answers.)
    What’s our Citizen Kane? (There’s a few games from 2007-now that are in this argument (among them BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum/City and The Last of Us), but I’m not entirely sure we have our answer yet.)
    What’s our Singin’ in the Rain? (Right now, I’d probably single out Bayonetta or Bayonetta 2 as the closest equivalent.)
    What’s our Vertigo? (For this one, I’d honestly single out Sonic Adventure 2 as the closest equivalent, just because it actually matches quite well what happened to Vertigo. Y’know, the disliked at the time, but slowly reveals itself as a sneakily sticky powerhouse narrative?)

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      It would be really hard to pin down a Citizen Kane. The medium has evolved so rapidly already, gone through so many fundamental revolutions.

      What was the first action rpg? Whatever RPG shifted us from menu driven isometric style play to 3D action oriented could be it, except there are a lot of RPGs from the 00’s that inhabit transitional states. Neverwinter Nights and KOTOR which have the character moving in a 3D environment but are still somewhat transparently driven by their tabletop rulesets. Morrowind with a few alterations could almost be a pure action RPG but still insists on percentage chance to hit.

      And even as I look at more recent installments, we’re converging towards some kind of open world rpg with third person or first person shooting/attack system and mini games. But its not one game driving all of that, its the best parts of a bunch of games, things that were tried, in some cases even discarded and then picked up again by someone who knew what to do with them.

      I feel like we either don’t have a Citizen Kane or we have a bunch of them. Either way, I think the medium has passed that point in its maturity unless you want to lump in VR with the rest.

      1. Volvagia says:

        What I’d most want to know is if you think my last two answers stack up or if anyone else has alternate answers to those.

        1. Wide And Nerdy says:

          I’m sorry. I don’t understand enough about the role those two films played in the development of the medium to judge.

          Super Mario Bros was a pretty big leap forward in terms of fluid gameplay and influenced several franchises that came after. As I understand it, Birth of Nations was kind of similar to Citizen Kane in terms of its contributions to the medium. Birth of Nations moved editing forward, Citizen Kane did the same with camera angles. Mario might be a good fit for that.

          As the damsel trope has come under fire, there may even come a day when our ancestors find Mario as cringeworthy as we find Birth of Nations. So who knows?

      2. Volvagia says:

        Okay, getting to the meat of your question? If I were to say that the first successful non isometric 3-D action RPG where there’s no segmentation between battle and non-battle segments, doesn’t feel like a point and click-fest and has a conventionally presented story were the Citizen Kane of gaming, I’d be giving that trophy to Kingdom Hearts. You kind of see why most don’t define Citizen Kane of gaming by a specific genre.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Birth of a nation of video games was hatred(or any of the gtas or mortal kombats if you dont go by the most recent one).
      Citizen kane of video games was doom.

    3. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      If you’re looking to have a conversation about your movies vs games list, it would help if you actually defined what each category means to you. Like… what is special about Singing in the Rain? I’m not going to google film history to answer you.

  19. guy says:

    While I’m often fond of old games, one thing that’s really been improved by the march of time is interfaces. I can handle low-quality graphics, but shooters without mouselook and RTSes without bandboxing are just unplayable for me. Old-school rpg inventory management where you have to manually play inventory Tetris and have to associate items with specific character inventories are also annoying; I get the appeal of managing space, but am not fond of the scenario where you totally have enough space but need to swap items around and in and out of the inventory to get the right arrangement of contiguous space.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      If anything, that kind of inventory management was kind of a step up in terms of realism and difficulty to implement. We’ve decided it was a step too far and we’ve stepped back (well, except for Deus Ex Human Revolution). Before that, you simply had a list. And after that we’ve gone back to lists.

      1. guy says:

        It’s not the boxes as such that I mind, it’s the situation where you actually do have enough boxes avaliable and need to juggle where you’ve placed your various funny-shaped objects in order to add another funny-shaped object.

        At some point, someone thought to add a button to click to rearrange your inventory to give you contiguous free space, and it was good.

  20. Bubble181 says:

    Despite its elitish sounding name, I still prefer “thinking man’s shooter” over “action-RPG” and the host of other terms we’ve tried for these games. It’s honest. it’s a shooter, and occasionally it’ll ask something of your brain. It’s not an RPG, despite haivng levels and upgrades and an inventory.

    1. Shoeboxjeddy says:

      “Action RPG” is a much better label than “thinking man’s shooter” (which is 100% elitism, 0% content). Like… what are you thinking ABOUT? I would say in pro level FPS competition, the players are doing a lot of ‘thinking’, but that’s not what the label is talking about.

      Action RPG tells you this isn’t a turn based or grid based planning type game, but it also has more complex systems than “just shoot the things with the fixed character/weapon setups”. It can be a bit broad, but you can bring in additional descriptors as needed. For example, both Fallout 3 and Mass Effect are “Western Sci-fi Action RPGs” while Tales of Symphonia is a “Japanese fantasy Action RPG”.

  21. Chaotic says:

    “There are three major franchises that can be counted as descendants of System Shock.”

    Actually Dead Space was originally called System Shock 3. That would technically make four major franchises that spawned off of the System Shocks. I think the name was changed due to Bioshock coming out, and because Dead Space was shaping out to be its own thing and didn’t need SHODAN making a sudden cameo.

    1. Mark says:

      Absolutely not being a jerk about this — can you link to anything that backs this up?

      I’ve heard this rumor more than once in the past, and I can definitely see the parallels between the two games. But I’ve never found anything to corroborate the rumor.

      1. Chaotic says:

        I don’t think it was ever officially announced or termed such, but EA renewed the System Shock license when it lapsed in 2006, and Redwood was rumored to be working on System Shock 3. Wikipedia has this story:


        The timing of the renewal and start of the project kinda implies that that might have been the plan, but ultimately they never announced anything outside of “leaks and sources”. They also made a series of “room escape” flash games teasing the new game, which was heavily rumored to be for System Shock 3, but by the time any official announcement started coming, it was already changed to Dead Space.

  22. Couscous says:

    The elevator story reminds me of how I had a hard time finding the exit to the intro dungeon in Daggerfall because the exit simply looked like a small alcove with a skull in it to me. It did not at all look like an exit of any sort. For one, it was way to small relative to where the camera was positioned and the size of human enemies.


    My first thought upon learning that this was the dungeon exit was to wonder if the dungeon was made for midgets.

  23. MadTinkerer says:

    One quick axe I need to grind:

    “I think audio logs have something of a bad reputation as a lazy storytelling device here in 2015, but in 1994 they were a smart and effective way to put a story into a game when we lacked the basic tools needed for dialog and personal interaction.”

    See, it’s sentences like that which made me resentful of System Shock 1 and 2 for years. System Shock 1 was made by essentially the same guys who made Ultima Underworld I and II. Then, eventually, Warren Spector decided to make another first-person adventure game with a dialog system, but do the Underworld games get any credit for being Fantasy Deus Ex*?

    Oh hey guys, check out Undertale, the highest rated PC game on Metacritic! What’s it about? It’s an RPG set entirely underground where you can choose to talk to or fight the monsters! No one’s ever done that before!

    1. Andy_Panthro says:

      You could argue that the entire Ultima series is sadly overlooked whenever people talk about gaming history and trends. Your point about Ultima Underworld is spot on, it was a first person RPG in 1992 which allowed you to freely roam about a 3D dungeon and both talk to and fight with men and monsters. Truly ground breaking!

      I’m a massive Ultima fan though, so perhaps I’m biased, but I do wish it was remembered more. It was such a long and colourful series and it makes me sad that it’s been consigned to history.

      Given the recent success of the Elder Scrolls, I’m surprised that nobody at EA thought it would be worth doing a first-person Ultima either in the style of the Underworld games or something closer to the main series.

      Still, at least I’ve got Underworld Ascendant to look forward to.

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        Possibly in part because the best and most fondly remembered Ultima game accuses EA of being Literally The Devil?

        But I think that’s giving the people making decisions at that company too much credit. The real reason is because large game publisher executives don’t play games in general, and if they do, they’re not going to play old games, they’re going to try to play what they think is popular on the devices they think are popular.

        And that is why so many of them think we want Freemium Mobile crap, despite nobody ever telling anyone that they prefer Freemium Mobile to console or PC.

        Incidentally, they did release two Freemium games with the Ultima name. That’s them trying their best to please us.

  24. System Shock 2 is one of my most fondly remembered games but I never did play System Shock – it fell into the gap between me playing Doom and Wolf3D on dad’s computer and actually owning my own system and having access to games of my own. I had a bit of a go with System Shock Portable (I think?) a year or so ago and liked what I saw (uh… well… I liked the initial premise and being able to MANTLE again, maybe less the rather arcane inventory/UI…), but didn’t have the time to really get stuck in and it didn’t seem to be the most stable of beasts. Really definitely going to check out the GOG version though, hopefully they’ve smoothed out a few more of the wrinkles and I can give it a good go. :)

  25. Gordon says:

    Hey, Shamus, This seems like the best place to mention: I was just reading a book that seems like it would be right up your alley. “You,” by Austin Grossman. It’s about a game developer in a failing studio in 1997, written by a designer who worked on Thief: Deadly Shadows, Deus Ex, and yes, the original System Shock. I believe he actually wrote the design doc.

    I love the author (His first book is still my favorite novel ever) and he’s got some interesting things to share about the industry and the nature of storytelling in the medium.

  26. Most people who write columns “repeat” themselves fairly often (they’ll even post links to their old stuff). The way you keep it fresh is to focus on a slightly different ASPECT of the issue each time you write. If you can’t think of even one new thing to say or a slightly different spin to put on it, don’t write the article, just link to the old article.

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