This Dumb Industry: The Death of System Shock

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Feb 27, 2018

Filed under: Column 219 comments

It finally happened. I backed a Kickstarter project that spent the money and didn’t manage to create a product. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it really is a shame it happened to this project in particular.

As I’ve said before, the 1994 classic System Shock was a really important game, both for the industry and on a personal level. It was the first of the immersive simThis genre name is wonky and confusing now, but back in 1994 “sim” wasn’t so strongly associated with Will Wright-style simulations. games, making it the progenitor of Thief, Deus Ex, BioShock, Prey, and (to a lesser extent) the Dishonored series. It’s a game I loved so much I novelized it. The sequel, System Shock 2, is often considered one of the greatest games of all timeParticularly for PC gamers above a certain age..

So when I saw that Nightdive Studios was crowdfunding a remake of System Shock, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Of course I was going to support it. But what really made me glad to put my money in was this blurb from the Kickstarter:

A modern take on System Shock, a faithful reboot; it’s not Citadel Station as it was, but as you remember it. Many improvements, overhauls and changes are being implemented to capture the spirit of what the original game was trying to convey, and bring it to contemporary gamers.

(Emphasis mine.) This was exactly what I was looking for: The game as I remember it.

The tricky thing about nostalgia titles is just how much we forget their faults. I remember the game as looking cool. I remember the sounds being spooky. I remember the gameplay feeling frantic. But then I launch the game twenty years later and discover the visuals are so blocky I can’t tell what things are, the font is illegible, the gameplay is awkward, and the interface is an abomination. I didn’t notice those problems at the time because all of the technology was new and nobody knew how to do better. What the Nightdive team seemed to be offering was a way to revisit the game with all those problems fixed. And maybe this would give us a way to share this classic with the younger generation without having to explain “You can’t use the mouse to look around. You have to use the keyboard. I’m so sorry. We didn’t know any better.”

This looks like a parody of mid-90s PC interface design, but this is actually from the game. In fact, this is the first thing you see when the game launches. Hope you can memorize it, because some of these things will be really important later!
This looks like a parody of mid-90s PC interface design, but this is actually from the game. In fact, this is the first thing you see when the game launches. Hope you can memorize it, because some of these things will be really important later!

As a backer I read and watched their development updates. As time went on, the news made me more and more uneasy and their creative decisions became increasingly inexplicable. Every update announced a disastrous idea with optimism and enthusiasm. I wish I’d written about it at the time so I could seem prescient now, but I was actually second guessing myself. “Oh, I’m just worrying because the project means so much to me. If I speak up now I’ll come off like an entitled, overprotective fan. They probably know what they’re doing.”

But no. The project has now failed, and it failed in exactly the way I feared. They ran out of money and quit. My gut instinct was right.

So let’s go back in time and look at how the project evolved.

June 2016

A screenshot from the Kickstarter pitch. This is so perfect.
A screenshot from the Kickstarter pitch. This is so perfect.

The initial Kickstarter asks for 900k. That’s not a lot of money. Keep in mind that this isn’t a 2D sidescroller. This is an RPG shooter with very large environments. That means complex visuals, complex mechanics, and complex animations. This was one of the earliest examples of audiologs, which means you also need a bunch of voice acting. There are dozens of named characters. Sure, everyone is dead by the time the game starts so you don’t need mo-capped in-game cutscenes, but you still need character designs and portraits to go with the audiologs. The game also has a hacking minigame, upgrades to your abilities, inventory management, and a fly-through cyberspace minigame. There are sixteen different weapons of all different types: Melee, tranquilizer, energy weapons, and traditional firearms. On top of the sixteen weapons are an additional eight different types of explosives. Also, there are multiple types of ammo for some weapons. There are different movement modes that including flying, crouching, lying prone, leaning left and right, moving in low gravity, and cyber-skates that let you glide off the walls. The environments need to be dynamic and feature elevators, lighting changes, destructible objects, moving walls, forcefields, and several different types of doors. The game is non-linear and has a little Metroidvania in its DNA, so the player needs to be able to backtrack across the levels and have their changes to the environment maintained. And on top of all that, there are opening and ending cutscenes that have aged far better than many other games of the same time period, and doing them justice will be difficult without spending a lot of money.

There’s a reason this game is considered a classic. This is a big game with a lot of content. I have no idea how they planned to get all that done for just 900k. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was less than the budget of the original game in 1994.

The amazing thing about these shots is that they're instantly recognizable as locations from the original game, matching not just the layout, but also the mood of the area.
The amazing thing about these shots is that they're instantly recognizable as locations from the original game, matching not just the layout, but also the mood of the area.

According to the business types and executives I’ve worked with, it costs almost double someone’s salary to employ them. If you pay someone $50k a year, then it probably costs you close to $100k once you’re done paying for health insurance, taxes, equipment, unemployment insurance, and whatever else it costs you to keep them around. So 900k is enough to employ 10 people for just one year at 45k each. 45k sounds low for industry veterans, ten people sounds like a very small team for a project this complex, and a year sounds like a really tight schedule. And that’s assuming you spend everything on salaries and don’t have any operating expenses and you’re not planning on doing any marketing.

It’s June now, and they’re promising a delivery date of December of 2017. At best that gives them a year and a half to get this done. It’s probably less than that, since if you want to release in December you need to go gold a few weeks earlier.

But fine. Maybe the right people could get this done for 900k. Maybe these people are willing to take small salaries and manage their budget very, very carefully. They have a playable demo, after all.

The end of July rolls around. The Kickstarter ends, and the team gets 1.3 million. That gives them some breathing room. Maybe I’m just worrying.

March 2017

I’ve been ignoring the game since the Kickstarter campaign ended. But when the team makes a big announcement I take notice.

“We have officially switched our engine for System Shock to Unreal Engine 4.”

Just… what?

When the campaign was going you had a working demo made in Unity. It had scenery, models, animations. You’re throwing that all away? Why? You already had a tight budget and tight schedule.

Worse, the new stuff looks terrible. The original Unity demo looked like remastered System Shock. For context, here is what the original game looked like:

Believe it or not, in 1994 this blew my mind.
Believe it or not, in 1994 this blew my mind.

And here is what that same hallway looked like in the demo featured in the Kickstarter pitch video:

This kinda blew my mind, too.
This kinda blew my mind, too.

That’s so perfect. It captures the feel of the original while using modern rendering techniques. This is exactly what you want if you’re trying to make the game look, “The way you remember it”.

And now here is a screenshot from the game after the switch to the new engine:

This failed to blow my mind.
This failed to blow my mind.

This looks like a generic corridor shooter. It looks flat and sterile and boring. The earlier screenshot is unmistakably System Shock, and this one could be from anything.

The team defends the change by saying that it’s not fair to compare the two. See, that original demo represented six months of work, and this new footage is just their first rough draft.

Yeah. I get that. That’s why we’re upset. I know games can look good in Unreal Engine. It’s a good piece of technology. The point is that you’re not there yet. We’re now nine months into this project. Fully half of the time budget is gone, and you’ve actually made negative progress. You haven’t even worked your way back to where the game was during the Kickstarter campaign.

To explain this seemingly insane move, Game Director Jason Fader said:

After listening to everyone during the Kickstarter campaign, it became clear that console support was very important to a lot of you. We took a hard look at what Unity could do on consoles, and what we wanted to achieve for both visual quality and performance.

This is really annoying because it’s highly unlikely but impossible to disprove. This is a remake of a 24 year old game in a niche genre that was exclusive to the PC. Are these aging, PC-focused, immersive-sim fans really clamoring for console support in significant numbers? Are there really that many people demanding to take this first-person game with a complicated interface and play it with thumbsticks? Or did you change engines for other reasons and are now trying to justify it by claiming it’s the “will of the backers”, since that’s impossible to disprove?

This doesn't look like "System Shock as I remember it". This looks like Doom 3 as I remember it.
This doesn't look like "System Shock as I remember it". This looks like Doom 3 as I remember it.

Regardless of what the community wanted, what this looks like is they took that 1.3 million from old-time PC fans and used it to pivot to the console market.

Moreover, even if you really thought that “visual quality” was lacking, was jumping engines really your only option? What is it that Unreal Engine could do that Unity couldn’t? Are you seriously suggesting you couldn’t get that demo running smoothly on the Xbox OneThe initial campaign promised Windows and Xbone versions.? I get that UE is the bigger, more impressive engine and is favored by AAA developers, but you’ve got a budget of 1.3M. You’re not making a AAA game. The backers were evidently fine with the visuals. So who are you trying to please?

Moreover, this jump took the project away from the grid-based design structure of the original. See, System Shock used this odd engine that was reminiscent of Wolfenstein 3D or Rise of the Triad. The environment layouts could be depicted on graph paper. Shock had the small improvement that you could optionally have floors and ceilings slope at exactly 45 degrees, which helped break up the boxy look and make the levels look more interesting.

This isn't terrible or anything. It's just not special, and certainly not worth the apparent cost of starting over.
This isn't terrible or anything. It's just not special, and certainly not worth the apparent cost of starting over.

Yes, things like this constrain the artists, but they also simplify design. If you’ve ever opened up a modern level editor you know there’s a lot of fussing around required, even if you just want to make a simple box building. That same building might only take a few seconds to throw together in something simplistic like Minecraft.

What I’m getting at is that this change didn’t just create a massive setback, it also made the game harder to develop. It takes more time to construct a freeform environment than to build one based on a simple grid. Not only was the original budget and schedule very tight, but now they’ve thrown everything away and started over with an even more ambitious design. Madness!

I must be missing something. Nobody is this crazy. Certainly not these industry veterans. I’m just being an obsessive fan and second-guessing them because my emotional investment is too high. I should probably just ignore the updates. The game will either be a success or it won’t. Speculating won’t change that. Neither will arguing with a press release.

November 2017

Link (YouTube)

The Nightdive team releases a video showing their progress. Unable to contain my curiosity, I watch it.

The good news is that the art style has recovered. The game has shed the “everything is made of dull plastic” look and is starting to develop a style of its own. It still doesn’t look anything like the original game or “System Shock as I remember it”, but it no longer looks boring. I guess it looks contemporary in terms of art design. I think looking like a modern game seems like a terrible mistake from a cost perspective, but maybe they’ve found a way to streamline it somehow? Maybe they’re going to use prefab rooms, like the Snap Map system they had in Doom 2016. Because if they’re trying to make the entire game at this level of detail, then I have no idea how they’re going to pay for it all.

This looks fine. Unsustainably expensive to produce, but fine.
This looks fine. Unsustainably expensive to produce, but fine.

The video is narrated by art director Kevin Manning, who says:

“I started on the project about a year ago as the lead artist, and just as the switch to Unreal [Engine] was happening. It was an interesting time for sure, as our small team learned the new toolset[…]”

You… you guys didn’t already know the Unreal toolset!? This is beyond absurd. I sort of assumed you chose UE because it was familiar. But not only did you throw away six months of work and and commit to a more ambitious design, but you decided you were going to do this with unfamiliar tools?

A bit later in the video:

“The team, the public, and our Kickstarter backers were all split between the retro look of the demo and reimagining it similar to what Doom and Wolfenstein had done.”

I’m sure you can find a handful of people who were asking for modern visuals, but are the backers really “split” over this? I certainly never heard any of these alleged demands for more advanced visuals. More importantly, this isn’t a democracy. Even if there is a paradoxical “vocal yet silent majority” pushing you in the direction of Doom 2016 and Wolfenstein: The New Order, that simply isn’t an option. Those are AAA games with multi-year development cycles and tens of millions of dollars to spend. You’ve got 18 months and $1.3 million.

The art director keeps assuring us the visuals will get more polished later, but that's not very comforting because they were already more polished a year ago.
The art director keeps assuring us the visuals will get more polished later, but that's not very comforting because they were already more polished a year ago.

The rest of his talk follows the same lines. It discusses spending months learning tools, doing tests, and working on concept art. Those are all things you do at the start of a project. It’s clear they’re not going to hit their release date, since that’s next month. But I feel like progress should be further along than these static environments and motionless placeholder foes.

Later in the video Game Director Jason Fader shows off “shatter tech”. He blasts a cryogenic barrel to freeze a zombie. Then he blasts it to show that the body shatters. You can even cut off specific limbs. Cut off a leg and it’ll topple over, then shatter.

I guess that’s impressive. But how is this moving you closer to your goal of shipping the game you promised? This gun is not a weapon from System Shock. Cryo barrels were not a part of System Shock. Shattering wasn’t part of the game either. With so much to do, you’re working on complicated technology-heavy features that weren’t even part of the game you’re trying to remake?

On top of all the other work you have to do, you’re now going to add balancing new weapons, creating new layouts, integrating new mechanics. You’re not “remaking” System Shock. You’re just making a new AAA shooter and slapping the System Shock name on it.

January 2018

Link (YouTube)

They release another video. This time they’re focusing on concept art. Considering how the game was supposed to release last month, it seems like we’re really late in the project to still be mucking around with concept art. This should have been done ages ago. You should be in full-tilt content creation by this point, and you’re still trying to figure out what the game should look like?

Concept art is important. But it’s not that important. You can make a game without concept art. But you can’t make a game without content. You can’t make a game without code. If you’re behind schedule and budgets are tight, then concept art is one place you can cut some corners. On a small team you don’t hire laser-focused specialist workers, you hire generalists and have them work on may different parts of the game.

I want to stress that this concept art isn’t just rough sketches to establish architectural cues and color palette. This is very elaborate work. It’s the kind of stuff I’d expect to see from a huge studio when they’re trying to keep their two dozen environmental artists organized.

Oh, the game is finally starting to look pretty good. Oh wait. This is just more concept art. You guys know you can't SHIP concept art, right?
Oh, the game is finally starting to look pretty good. Oh wait. This is just more concept art. You guys know you can't SHIP concept art, right?

In the video, Environmental Concept Artist Robert Simon talks about making 3D models so he can turn them into Photoshop images to be used as concept art. This seems like a decadent expenditure of resources, and that’s before you get to the part of the video where it’s revealed that he’s not the only concept artist on the team.

It’s like they think they’re a AAA studio. Maybe their project lead has only managed large-budget games and he doesn’t know how to scale down to something this size? Maybe they have other money besides the Kickstarter funds? I don’t know.

I can’t make sense of this. This behavior is so divorced from reality that I feel I must be missing something. The only theory I can come up with is that maybe their real goal is to have a major publisher take them under their wing and give it proper AAA funding. Maybe they’re trying to imitate Doom and Wolfenstein because they’re hoping to follow in their footsteps. I don’t have a shred of proof, but I think this theory makes more sense than “The project lead doesn’t understand the concept of money”.

February 2018

Everyone is doing great. Nobody is dead. These folks will be back soon, healthier than ever. We look forward to new opportunities in the future. Everything is fine.
Everyone is doing great. Nobody is dead. These folks will be back soon, healthier than ever. We look forward to new opportunities in the future. Everything is fine.

That game is now on “hiatus”. They’re calling it a hiatus, but I would wager the odds of them resuming work on this project are extraordinarily low. I guess “hiatus” sounds better than “we laid off the team because we ran out of money”. The closure was announced in a post hilariously titled Sometimes You Need To Take a Step Back In Order To Take Two Steps Forward.

Yes, you can put a good spin on bad news. But there’s only so far you can get with corporate-speak. Even if we’re willing to call shutting down the whole team “one step back” instead of “falling over dead”, there’s nothing in the announcement to hint at what those “two steps forward” could possibly be. This announcement is like the doctor calling you a week after the funeral to tell you he thinks grandma is gonna pull through.

From the announcement:

“Maybe we were too successful. Maybe we lost our focus. The vision began to change. We moved from a Remaster to a completely new game. We shifted engines from Unity to Unreal, a choice that we don’t regret and one that has worked out for us. With the switch we began envisioning doing more, but straying from the core concepts of the original title.”

Your project was “too successful”? You blew through all your money and you never even escaped pre-production! Maybe you personally had fun working on it, but from the standpoint of everyone else on the planet this result is identical to taking the Kickstarter money, putting it in a big pile, and setting it on fire. From our point of view it’s the same: Money went in, and nothing came out.

You don’t regret changing engines? You say it “worked out” for you? How so? The state of the game at the end of the project is not as robust as what we saw during the pitch video, when you had combat and more than one working weapon. After all that work, you never even made it back to your original position at the starting line.

Yes, double-click to open the door. If there's any game that's in desperate need of a remake, it's this one. Also, note that keypad. That's the first appearance of the code 451 in a videogame.
Yes, double-click to open the door. If there's any game that's in desperate need of a remake, it's this one. Also, note that keypad. That's the first appearance of the code 451 in a videogame.

More from the final announcement from Nightdive:

As our concept grew and as our team changed, so did the scope of what we were doing and with that the budget for the game. As the budget grew, we began a long series of conversations with potential publishing partners. The more that we worked on the game, the more that we wanted to do, and the further we got from the original concepts that made System Shock so great.

(Emphasis mine.) So that seems to confirm my suspicion that the real goal was to get adopted by a big publisher. Now the development decisions make more sense.

  • Moving to Unreal Engine was a ludicrous waste of resources if they were trying to ship the game they promised us, but it makes sense if you’re trying to court publishers who prefer projects with cutting-edge technology. Same goes for that shatter physics stuff.
  • The move towards a more grounded, conventional, and expensive art style made no sense if you’re trying to please the backers who fell in love with that original demo, but it makes sense if your real goal is to impress publishers who don’t know or care what System Shock is or was.
  • It’s wasteful to make such high-quality concept art for a small team, but it makes sense if you’re trying to show a publisher your vision.
  • Making consoles a priority is somewhat questionable if you’re looking to fund a game exclusively through the support of older PC-focused backers, but it makes complete sense if your goal is to spin the project up to AAA scale.
  • Prioritizing visuals over gameplay and financial viability seems crazy unless you’re betting everything on the hope that you’ll get a huge infusion of cash, far larger than the initial Kickstarter fund.

I wouldn’t mind if they were shopping the project around while also working to deliver the game they promised. But several of these moves made it so that the game could only reach the market with the help of a publisher. I can forgive a project that fumbles due to gradual scope creep, changing marketplace needs, or unforeseen technology problems. But these were deliberate, willfull decisions that ran against the promises made to the Kickstarter backers. I can’t prove they intended to use the KS money to tart themselves up and look for a publisher to be their sugar daddy, but throwing the original demo away was inexcusable in the face of their original promises, regardless of their motivation.

I realize I’m accusing a group of total strangers of being dishonest with the backers. I don’t know these people and I don’t know any facts beyond what they’ve publicly shared. I want to believe this is just the result of ambition, naivety, and recklessness. But if we assume they used the Kickstarter to build a tech demo so they could sell themselves to a publisher then everything they did makes sense. If we assume they just wanted to ship the game they promised, then nothing they did was rational.

Wrapping Up

We need to talk about your code formatting. Specifically, does your spacebar work and do you know how to operate it?
We need to talk about your code formatting. Specifically, does your spacebar work and do you know how to operate it?

The tragically ironic thing is, this is exactly the problem that led people to turn to crowdfunding in the first place. We couldn’t get the big publishers to fund these mid-budget projects because they’re so obsessed with photorealism and high production values. All they care about is big-budget blockbusters. And then Nightdive comes in, gets funded, and decides to make a big-budget game.

I’ve said before that I think it would be good if project leads would release the source code and art assets if their crowdfunded project failsI realize that the license itself can’t come with it. If a crowdfunded Batman game were to fail, the released art and code would still be bound by their ties to the trademarked character. It would need to be stripped of the Batman stuff before it could be released.. The code could have educational value for aspiring developers. Maybe the public will finish the project for you and something good can come of it. But most importantly, it would be a sign of good faith and a demonstration that you were really working on a game and not playing ping-pong for the last N months. (I’m not suggesting this was the case at Nightdive, since it’s pretty clear they were working hard. I’m just saying it would be a good thing to make standard practice.)

Of course, I’m not expecting the Nightdive team to release the source for the their half-finished gameMore like one-tenth finished, but who’s counting?. The final announcement makes it pretty clear they’re still dreaming of finding a publisher willing to bankroll their ever-expanding ambitions.

Where can the franchise go now? Even if the license somehow made it into the hands of a new team, they couldn’t very well crowdfund it again after the failure of this crowdfunding effort. Private investment? Good luck trying to raise a proper AAA budget in a pitch that begins with “This is a remake of a game that invented a genre that’s really expensive to produce and that has never sold particularly well.” Publisher support? I think it’s pretty clear they’re not interested. If they weren’t interested in adopting the project when production was underway, then I think they’re going to be even less eager to acquire it now that it’s been closed down and parts of the team have moved on.

As much as I love this series, I don’t think it’s viable as a AAA product. The audience simply isn’t there. The modest $1.3 million Kickstarter proves this is a niche game. (For contrast, Pillars of Eternity – a text-driven top-down party RPG like the kind the AAA industry stopped making a decade and a half ago – got four million bucks. The System Shock Kickstarter had the best possible proof-of-concept demo and they only got a third of that.) If you spend fifty million dollars making System Shock then you’ll never get a return on your investment. This game is only viable as a low / mid budget title, and Nightdive has made it clear they’re not interested in making that sort of game, even if they somehow got another infusion of cash.

Nightdive CEO Stephen Kick is still insisting that he “doesn’t regret” changing engines and he’s not talking about going back to the original plan. This means there’s no route forward for the game. System Shock is now deader than it was three years ago.

What a sad, needless waste. They should have just made the game they promised us.



[1] This genre name is wonky and confusing now, but back in 1994 “sim” wasn’t so strongly associated with Will Wright-style simulations.

[2] Particularly for PC gamers above a certain age.

[3] The initial campaign promised Windows and Xbone versions.

[4] I realize that the license itself can’t come with it. If a crowdfunded Batman game were to fail, the released art and code would still be bound by their ties to the trademarked character. It would need to be stripped of the Batman stuff before it could be released.

[5] More like one-tenth finished, but who’s counting?

From The Archives:

219 thoughts on “This Dumb Industry: The Death of System Shock

  1. Arstan says:

    Damn, this is a sad story, i was very excited when i saw the demo. And your analysis seems to be true, too. The only good thing that could be salvaged from the mess is maybe that some better way of funding those projects could be devised… But it’s heartbreaking (((

  2. Ashen says:

    It’s sad how this turned out. I remember being really impressed with the kickstarter demo, but then as soon as they started talking about adding new “quests” and hiring people like Chris Avellone to flesh out the narrative, alarm bells started going on in my head and I didn’t back it.

    Here’s hoping Otherside can deliver with Underworld and Shock3. After Prey tanked so hard financially we are unlikely to be getting any other games of this kind anytime soon.

    1. Nick-B says:

      That’s a shame. I held back on Prey because I thought it couldn’t possibly be exactly the game I wanted because I’ve been burned too many times before. I ended up waiting a long time and buying it at discount, which ruined their numbers in two places (money made, and early-game hype).

      That game was a lot like Crysis (the first one) in that respect: A surprisingly amazing first person shooter with fantastically unique mechanics hiding behind the mask of a generic action shooter.

      Because it fails to stand out from the CODs and GOW and HALOs, it fails to sell as well as them, and as a result no more get made…

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        I blame the name.While the original prey was a solid shooter,it does not have a huge fan following,and is a radically different game from this one.They shouldve named it brain shock,or whatever was their initial plan.

        1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

          Have to agree, I thought it was just a remake of the first Prey.

    2. CloverMan says:

      Did Prey actually tank? I’ve read somewhere that sales picked up later thanks to excellent word of mouth, but it might have been just someone’s wishful thinking

  3. Infinitron says:

    Here’s a question: Does Jason Fader still have a job? If so, why? He was the experienced industry professional (ex-Obsidian) that was supposed to lead this project. The CEO Stephen Kick is a nobody, he’s just some artist that took initiative and bought up some old IPs. He got taken for a ride.

    1. hermanjnr says:

      I think Fader’s experience is actually what ruined the project.

      If he was a dev without industry connections, he would have just got on with making the remastered SS1 everyone wanted. He would have been happy with $1.3 M.

      Instead, knowing the workings of the suits at the top of the ladder, he realised that he could tart the game up for the shark-smiling publishers and convert it into some generic sci-fi shooter that would bring in the big bucks and catapult his studio. He started thinking “How can I manipulate the industry (and the backers) to get my studio to AAA standard?”

      That failed and the whole project collapsed. If he’d been more naive about the industry and more focused on the game it would have been fine. A classic tale of greed, really.

  4. Ranneko says:

    Did they actually confirm that the funds raised on Kickstarter was the total budget? I always find it disappointing to see people conflate funds raised via crowdfunding with the final budget.

    Firstly, the team doesn’t actually get the entire amount raised there are payment processing fees and Kickstarter fees that eat up 8-10%.

    But secondly and more importantly, Crowdfunding is not the only source of funding for a project, companies are likely to have existing sources of funding from previous projects, as well as loans. There are any number of indie stories that mention taking a mortgage on a home to help fund the project.

    Unless Nightdive have actually published a budget we don’t know how much money they actually had nor how much they have left. That said, I doubt it is very much at this point.

    1. Tizzy says:

      I wouldn’t recommend using home equity or similar to fund something with such uncertain returns as a game. Also, how much more could you possibly raise this way?

      1. Ranneko says:

        Depends where you live and how valuable your house is. I grew up in a city where the median house price is now at more than $940,000 US, so mortgaging a house in that market could get you an appreciable fraction of the initial crowdfunding goal.
        I agree it isn’t necessarily a great move, but then people don’t always make the most sensible choices.

        Also Nightdive Studios in particular have apparently published more than 100 games across multiple platforms (mostly rereleases of old games), so they also have those games acting as an income stream.

      2. Matt Downie says:

        Cuphead’s developers re-mortgaged to raise funds. A high-risk gamble (I’m guessing around 90% of games don’t make their money back) but one that paid off in that case.

        1. Decius says:

          If you can afford the new mortgage without the game, it’s less of a gamble and more “borrowing from your future self”.

    2. Echo Tango says:

      Nightdive didn’t release the total budget, but that’s beside the point. Even if they all mortgaged their houses[1], and got some other small investors, they’d probably still only have a budget of ten million instead of one million. The closest contemporary game to a System Shock would be Bioshock, Dead Space, or Prey 2017. The only one I can find a budget for is Bioshock at 25 million, but that’s still more than double this imaginary budget that includes angel investors or the entire team mortgaging their houses!

      [1] How many people and how expensive of houses are we hypothesising here? Also note that this assumes that everyone is now poorer by exactly one family home, because they burned the money developing this failed game!

      1. Ranneko says:

        Mortgaging a house was intended as an example of another source of funds. The key point is that 1.3M is almost certainly not the budget they were working with. And in general you shouldn’t conflate the amount raised in a crowdfunding campaign with the budget of the game.

        The budget for FTL: Faster than Light was not $200,000 US, the budget for Kingdom Come was not £1,100,000, the budget for Sunless Sea was not £100,000 and the budget for SuperHot was not $250,000.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          You’ve stated that the raised funds on Kickstarter weren’t there total budget for those games, but you haven’t said what percentage, and I can’t easily check right now. Your implication however, seems to be that this one million was a small portion of the total funds. First, that is against the spirit of Kickstarter, which is to fund projects that don’t have money lying around idle. More importantly this implies that the System Shock rebooters didn’t really need the money from the crowd, in which case wasting their donated funds seems outright malicious.

          1. Matt Downie says:

            I suspect the answer is, “We don’t know.”

            Occasionally someone will raise a ton of money and not need to spend it all because their game design wasn’t very ambitious in the first place.

            Sometimes someone will have access to $5 million already but they’re not sure if it’s worth spending it all on developing a game that maybe nobody will want. So they set a Kickstarter target to see how many people would be willing to put $30 into it. This seems like a sensible approach, even if it’s not what Kickstarter was originally intended for.

            FTL is an interesting example. It was nearly finished, but they were running out of money. They ran a kickstarter, asking for $10,000 so they wouldn’t starve to death when they ran out of ramen. They got $200,000. They decided to finish the project on time, even though they could now afford a much longer development cycle (and hired a writer to create more events), and later released a free update.

            The $10,000 does not take into account the money that was spent before they Kickstarter began (which was a couple of guys for one year, call it $100,000), and the $200,000 they got had very little impact on what they ended up spending.

            1. Ranneko says:

              A more full answer is pending moderation (I assume due to links)

              I never intended to imply anything about the portion of the game budget that came from crowdfunding, nor whether or not these developers needed crowdfunding. Just because it isn’t the only source of funding doesn’t mean it is not a critical source of funding. I just wanted to remind people that the amount raised in crowdfunding campaigns is not the actual budget.

              The point I am trying to make, and only this point, is the amount raised in crowdfunding is not the budget the developers are working with and please do not conflate the two. Gamers in general are very bad at knowing what games and features cost because budget information is generally private, but making this mistake only exacerbates the problem.

              1. Shamus says:

                To be fair, I acknowledged this in the article:

                “Maybe they have other money besides the Kickstarter funds? I don’t know.”

                There’s no way to know how much (if any) money there was, and speculating on that wasn’t really the point of the article. (And it doesn’t change the conclusion anyway.)

                1. Ranneko says:

                  Yeah, you do mention toward at the end, but you also mention:

                  This is a big game with a lot of content. I have no idea how they planned to get all that done for just 900k.


                  I get that UE is the bigger, more impressive engine and is favored by AAA developers, but you’ve got a budget of 1.3M.

                  Throughout the article you conflate the amount asked for in crowdfunding with the budget remaining in the entire project. It is a flawed assumption running through the length of the post where your acknowledgement that maybe they have other funding sits in the middle of a section about concept art.

                  I must admit that mostly it is a point that bugs me in general when people talk about crowdfunded games. Where they take either the initial goal or the raw final total and use that when talking about game budgets. Especially when they try to use those to compare them, like comparing say Unrest ( ) to Dyscourse ( ) two games which raised similar amounts on kickstarter but I suspect had different actual budgets.

                  1. Naota says:

                    In Unrest’s case, I can pretty much confirm that our budget basically matched our Kickstarter turnover, give or take what the studio had left over from previous projects I wasn’t involved in. I can’t say much on that front, but it was very likely just a small fraction of the amount we raised on KS.

                    I know this because, well, Arvind and I are working full-time jobs now in order to have the money to prop up such products in the future out of our own pockets. It’s not quite a house mortgage, but it’s not too shabby (if you’re crazy like us and are doing big game dev to fund indie game dev).

                  2. Nope says:

                    Even in that case though, the Kickstarter money would have the be a minority of the total funding to have a realistic case of building the entire game to the level of fidelity and modelling they displayed. There was some additional funding gained from selling merchandising for instance, but there seems a distinct lack of evidence that there’s a big chunk of money that would be required to finish the project.

                    And considering that the original demo took 6 months to build, and the section they build in Unreal took 1.5 months to build, not only did their projected release time look unlikely, but it doesn’t seem like they’d be able to pay a team to make the whole thing.

                    The way they spent their money just makes no sense if they were trying to make the game with anywhere near that budget, but it does make sense if they were trying to get attention from a publisher.

          2. Ranneko says:

            I never intended to imply anything about the portion of the game budget that came from crowdfunding, nor whether or not these developers needed crowdfunding. Just because it isn’t the only source of funding doesn’t mean it is not a critical source of funding. I just wanted to remind people that the amount raised in crowdfunding campaigns is not the actual budget.

            This is complicated by it being fairly rare for actual game budgets to be released.

            But for example:
            Superhot got at least another 250k in funding from another source
            FTL was largely funded and built pre-kickstarter and them getting 10x the goal didn’t result in significant changes to the design.
            Kingdom Come: Deliverance also received funding from an investor, partially based on how well they did on Kickstarter
            A not insignificant portion of Sunless Sea funding came from early access sales

            The point I am trying to make, and only this point, is the amount raised in crowdfunding is not the budget the developers are working with and please do not conflate the two. Gamers in general are very bad at knowing what games and features cost because budget information is generally private, but making this mistake only exacerbates the problem.

            1. Echo Tango says:

              Given that so much here has been kept private, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect people to hypothesise scenarios that work in the studios’ favor. From the outside, it looked like this studio had a small prototype and no additional funding, and then wasted the money they did obtain, from the game of the original game. If they want us on their side, they can give us more information, including what their total budget was. All we have right now is an update that seems completely divorced from what little information we do actually have.

            2. Nope says:

              That’s a good clarification, and you’re absolutely right, and it is an important point, gamers very rarely understand any of the business end of things.

              Even so, the scope of project they ended up with, just in terms of paying for their team, wasn’t going to add up with the budget.

  5. Infinitron says:

    One quibble, though. The Unreal engine doesn’t necessary mean “big budget AAA”. For example, the upcoming ultra-hardcore isometric RPG The New World, from the developers of The Age of Decadence, is using UE4.

    1. Kylroy says:

      It doesn’t *necessarily* mean that, but switching to it A) junked almost all of their previous work, and B) was used to enable snazzy visual effects that had no relation to a System Shock remake but might entice AAA developers. The (comparatively late) switch to Unreal was a sign of them losing focus, not the only indication.

      1. Nameless Voice says:

        That’s a fallacy, though. They didn’t need to junk all of their Unity assets to switch to Unreal. Many of them could have been easily re-imported into the new engine, with some tweaks.

        Switching the engine wasn’t the problem – it was also deciding to make a completely different game at the same time.

        1. Tim Keating says:

          The assets, while the most expensive part of the development process, were not the problem — they DID have to throw away every lick of the CODE they had written.

          That being said, in my experience it’s rarely as simple as “reimport the asset into a different engine.” Different engines have subtle idiosyncrasies, which invariably rise up and bite you in such circumstances.

  6. Tizzy says:

    Screw these guys, seriously. And I never played the original and didn’t back the KS, so this comes from a place of complete neutrality regarding the project itself.

    But no wonder publishers have such antagonistic relationships with game devs. Seriously, how were they expecting to find a publisher to fund their work while showing so little budget discipline?

    Ok, so I don’t work in this industry, but it’s still hard to imagine that going backwards would be the way to impress publishers. Mostly going forward with what they had would show more potential, and maybe spend a little bit of time on exploring the engine change, just enough to show you can pull it off in principle.

    And if this paltry KS amount went to their heads, how were they going to handle the kind of budget they were looking for?

    1. Matt Downie says:

      Assuming they’re trying to find funding for a $50 million AAA game, “We’re using the Unreal Engine to make a modern photorealistic shooter inspired by a classic PC game,” is more appealing to publishers than, “We’re using Unity to make a remake of a game from 1994 with minimal changes.”

      1. Tizzy says:

        You’re missing my point. “I can learn a new engine” is not impressive. Coders are a dime a dozen, to be honest. People who can pull off projects are infinitely more rare.

        I reiterate: this is not my industry. But my guess is that the engine switch is not what that particular team needed to prove to win over a publisher. The ability to ship something under deadlines and not go down rabbit holes must be more valuable to a publisher. And again, why is it so damn rare?

        1. Matt Downie says:

          Unity carries implications in the industry of low-budget amateur productions. (There are exceptions, of course.)

          The games industry is my industry, and while “successfully achieved their modest objectives” is potentially impressive to others, it doesn’t guarantee they’re qualified to deal with a budget in the tens of millions.

          And what if they fail to achieve those modest objectives? That happens a lot.

          If their true goal was to do a big-budget System Shock they had two approaches:

          (1) Try to make the originally promised project. Then, assuming this hasn’t already bankrupted them, throw out the technology and start from scratch, spending whatever they have left on trying to make a flashy demo to impress the big publishers.

          (2) Abandon the project as originally promised, spend the resources they already have on making a flashy demo that will attract big publishers.

          Option 2 probably has a higher chance of working.

          1. Richard says:

            I would strongly disagree.

            Option 2 is can be summarised as:
            “We know we cannot produce the game we promised within the time and money we have available, and were willing to mislead our backers. Please give us ten or twenty times as much more money.”

            A publisher or producer would look at that and run a mile – if they can’t stay focused enough to make even part of the game they promised, if they are willing to mislead the original backers, why should I hire them?

            Why should I believe that they won’t lose focus and spend my money without producing the rather more significant product they promised me?

            If instead they produce a significant segment of the promised game – say half or even a third of the length of the original System Shock – to a reasonably decent quality, then I’m more likely to say “That’s great, I’ll give you more money if you port it to consoles, finish and polish it.”

            1. Matt Downie says:

              But you have to remember – you’re a lot more sensible than the average game publisher.

              1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

                Not in my experience. Publishers (and backers in general) will really look at what you can offer before giving you any money, and they are very strict. What they did there (switching engine so in the end they had less than what they started with) would be a deathblow to any negotiations unless they have one hell of a PR person that can sell the switch as a good thing.

            2. Gethsemani says:

              This is pure speculation, but I believe it likely that at some point a publisher approached Night Dive and said they were interested in publishing the game and forking in more cash. At that point Night Dive would either have to turn down the potential for a bigger budget and a future working relationship with a publisher, something that could secure them for years to come, or trying to comply to the publishers list of requirements for serious consideration. If the publisher then felt that Night Dive didn’t give a good enough sell or Night Dive didn’t reach the requirements set by the publisher, it would explain the sudden hiatus as Night Dive had invested what they had on a chance that didn’t work out.

              That scenario seems much more likely than Night Dive, who have put out games in the same price range before, suddenly becoming greedy and trying to up the ante to try to get any publisher on the hook. It would just be a weird gamble instead of a considered risk.

            3. Nope says:

              Except publishers have done the same with both pre-orders, and trying to use crowdfunding to test the waters for games, and pick up extra funding for pre-production.

              Option 2 looks to the publisher like “This team has brought us a vertical slice/demo of a project with proven interest”, and that’s actually a part of how games get funding, of how movies get funding, by creating smaller alphas or test footage that is used to pitch the idea for further investment.

              Obviously it’s not great from the perspective of backers, but your interpretation is just unrealistic. Publishers and investors are not judging character, they are judging pitches, and there are some ways this was a better pitch (like say, adding new tech and gameplay).

              Obviously, instead of doing something so risky, they should have realistically budgeted the game from the start (Apparently the Unity demo took 6 months to make, and their work in Unreal was faster), and made something affordable that kept the scope limited and achievable. I’m pretty sure most of us can agree on that. But our dislike of their failure to make that decision shouldn’t colour our ability to understand the decisions that they did make.

      2. hermanjnr says:

        @Matt_Downie and this bait-and-switch “We’re making project A” –> “Now we’re making project B and pretending it’s A.” BS is EXACTLY what is wrong with Kickstarter projects, though.

        These devs were NOT given money to make a “modern photorealistic sci-fi shooter” and pitch it to a big publisher. They were given money to remake SS1 with modern aesthetics. That is a completely different goal from making a clone of Prey, getting it published, slapping SHODAN in it and calling it System Shock.

        It’s so frustrating, bordering on confidence scamming and exactly the reason people are starting to completely mistrust developers.

        Imagine I pitch a Kickstarter with a demo saying “We’re going to remaster SimCity, giving it a fresh look while keeping the same old city building gameplay.”

        I get 2 million bucks from backers. 6 months later I announce that we’ve changed the engine to Unreal Ed 4 because the graphics weren’t good enough, causing confusion.

        The next demo I show is for an “open world city crime game, with next-gen graphics.” I pitch it to publishers as “Automobile Theft: Crime City”.

        Technically I’m doing what the backers asked for, right? Of course not. Ridiculous.

        I’m amazed the devs actually have the brass balls to admit in their last message that they were courting major publishers. Because even doing that is contrary to the purpose of the project and spitting in the face of their crowd-funders.

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      I’m a gamedev student, and I see shit like that all the time. Shamus says “Every update announced a disastrous idea with optimism and enthusiasm.”, and that about sums up my experience working on student game projects.

      I don’t know if the average experienced game developer is close to what I’ve seen, but if it is, then yeah. Most gamedev teams have no budget discipline.

  7. I very much agree with your analysis that they were basically using the Kickstarter as pitch money to attract a publisher. Their decisions make sense in that context and not in the context of actually trying to put out a completed game.

    Sucks that you didn’t get anything for your money.

    1. Ashen says:

      It’s a gamble that sometimes works. Recently released Kingdom Come is an example where the game would have never been made on the Kickstarter budget alone, but they were able to secure an investor that financed the thing for the most part (and now the game seems to be selling well enough to make a profit).

      Sucks that System Shock didn’t have that much luck.

      1. Liessa says:

        The difference here (I was a backer) is that KC:D already had an investor, and were open and honest about it right from the start of the Kickstarter campaign. They made the prototype with funds from their investor, then went to Kickstarter to prove that there was a market for it. They didn’t just take the campaign funds and then start shopping around for publishers.

        Anyway, I wasn’t personally invested in this particular game, but I’m still still sorry to see this happen. We’ve all been there, unfortunately. :( However it does seem that in this case the devs likely weren’t entirely honest about their true intentions, which makes it a whole lot worse.

      2. Tizzy says:

        I have nothing against the idea of using KS to find a publisher in principle. I think it has even unique advantages, for more niche games like SS where the KS campaign can help prove the viability of the project.

        But disclosure is key, here. Not only out of fairness to the backers, but also because it helps keep the devs honest: your budgeting of the funds, your immediate goals, all of this has to be different in the self-published vs publisher route. Trying to hedge your bets and commit to neither option is a recipe for failure.

      3. Well, 100% of my kickstarter games have been completed so far, but then again 100% of my kickstarter games were Pillars of Eternity and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire

        I did wind up buying and liking Divinity 2: Original Sin after launch tho.

        I don’t buy a LOT of games (although I can be tempted to try something with a significant sale). I tend to get pre-orders of games from the few franchises that I know I’m going to like, and other than that you’re going to have extreme difficulty convincing me to part with my money.

  8. Anonymous Coward says:

    Nightdive Studios really benefitted from all the free labour the DOSBox and ScummVM folks put into those projects. Nightdive only exist in the first place because they could bundle ScummVM and DOSBox with games they managed to get licenses for.

    Nightdive Studios are heavily indebted to the FLOSS community. Opening up everything of this failed Kickstarter could be a first step in repaying those debts.

  9. Redrock says:

    I’m always wary of accusing people of malicious intent if good old-fashioned incompetence is also a viable theory. In my experience, there are far more idiots than villains out there.

    And I must say that bringing a PC-first nostalgia genre to consoles isn’t all that insane – Wasteland 2, Tides of Numenera, Divinity and eventually Pillars of Eternity all did just that, and, as far as I can tell, with decent results. And these, being isometric, are far less suited for consoles.

    So, maybe the developers just failed. It happens. Then again, maybe not. But, you know, anger leads to the dark side, and all that.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      The majority of Shamus’ article still holds, even if you replace the (implied) scummy intentions (i.e. “malice”) with “incompetence” instead. They were still probably shopping the game around to big publishers hoping to get a bigger budget, but that’s still a very incompetent decision to make when your target audience was and is, niche. :)

    2. Matt Downie says:

      It’s not a particularly malicious scheme. “We’re likely to lose a million dollars if we complete the project we originally envisaged. Let’s pivot and try to attract more investors so we can make a really big-budget System Shock game with a cool ice weapon. Our Kickstarter backers will accept it once they see we’re giving them something better than we originally promised.”

      Dishonest, but hardly a grand conspiracy.

      1. Nope says:

        100% this.

        Going with the theme of not assuming malice, and assuming that any lies were lies of omission-their Unity pipeline was not sustainable and their budget was not going to cover the expenses of a team actually finishing the game.

        At that point, it does make a certain amount of sense to look for outside investment and to use what you’ve made so far and raised so far as material to support your pitch, and hopefully pull off a Kingdom Come Deliverance.

        To some extent, it’s a lie of omission, but it’s not cutting and running with the money, it’s attempting to complete the game, which would satisfy the backers, which really isn’t malicious, their reach clearly exceeded their grasp when it came to actually accomplishing that though.

      2. Galad says:

        OK, so I’m late to the party here, and this comment is mostly addressed to Shamus, who reads every comment on every post on the site somehow :) But anyway, here’s a steam forum post, allegedly written by the CEO himself. While we don’t have 100%certainty that this is so, it does sound likely that their CEO did actually write it
        (see the first reply)

    3. Matt says:

      Echoing what others have said, I think it was more likely the case that the game couldn’t be made on the budget they proposed without the support of an investor of some kind. The goal was always to deliver the best game they could, but the unspoken, not-quite-malicious part was that it was impossible unless they got other support.

      1. Redrock says:

        Intent matters. Either they didn’t realize that they would need an investor, which makes them incompetent. Otherwise, they intentionally lied or obscured their true intentions. Which is malicious. Lying to backers is, well, bad.

        1. Matt Downie says:

          A lot of businesses exist in a kind of ‘optimism zone’ that doesn’t quite cross over into outright criminality. “Assuming nothing goes wrong, we’ll have enough resources to finish the game. We have to sound positive, or we’re doomed, so let’s just say we’re 100% confident. How much do we think we can make on Kickstarter? A million? Round it down to $900K so we don’t miss our funding goal and get nothing.” Later: “Well, things haven’t gone perfectly, because Steve got a better-paid job elsewhere and nobody understands his code, and now our original milestones are looking a little bit impossible. But I’m sure we’ll find some more money somewhere. Let’s focus on attracting new investment for now. Remember, stay positive!”

          1. Matt says:

            Matt says it better than I do. I encounter this kind of unrealistically optimistic attitude every day at work, from senior execs down to team leads. It seems to be partly the personality of the people involved and partly the incentive structure that exists in any kind of enterprise.

            I suppose I don’t see it as “lying” when I’m told some new pie-in-the-sky initiative will change everything and fix all our problems. It hasn’t been true for the last 3 things we tried and, strictly speaking, everyone involved is smart enough to realize this or to be at least a little less confident in their position. That is, however, not what happens. “It’s all in the game.”

            1. Nope says:

              I literally had a manager who did this incessantly-it wasn’t good for business or anyone there, but that was part of how “doing business” “worked”(Not for long in the end).

              He’d always lowball clients, because that meant we got more clients, and had more work, more money. But he did this by lowballing labour and assuming things could be completed quicker than they could, and when that didn’t happen (Which was most of the time), there was no way not to pay for the labour, and then the bill would be higher. Which naturally annoyed some clients, and reduced our chances of more jobs with them.

              In the short term, and the immediate, that was an alright tactic. He’d get the bid, he got lots of work going, but long term it was bad for returns. But every step of the way, there was a justification he could make for it. Nobody uses such grandiose terms as malicious to describe it, nor calls it lying. There’s dozens of reasons that these things don’t eventuate, and at worst, those involved are called “unreliable”. Even when budgeting generously and being as scrupulous as possible, sometimes these things will just happen.

          2. Cubic says:

            Not unknown by any means, but I consider such an attitude to be unethical and irresponsible, at the very least, when you’re taking money from non-professionals/non-accredited investors.

            This particular case seems even worse though, pure bait and switch. The game industry shouldn’t go the Kickstarter scamming route even if this particular scrappy little studio REALLY REALLY wanted to be paid to learn UE4 and write a tech demo.

        2. Nope says:

          Or they assumed that they would be able to find investment, or were in talks with investors that looked more promising but didn’t pan out. And that they knew that asking for a beginning sum to attract more money, or asking for a larger budget, would decrease their chances of success, and hence decrease their chances of actually completing the game. And remember, KS only pays out if you meet the goal, so you’re encouraged to negotiate downwards.

          The former of your options is obviously not true, so it seems you have assumed malicious conduct, by your conditions. Despite “wary of accusing people of malicious intent” you’re reduced things to a false binary that only allows for malicious or incompetent conduct and not degrees of either.

          It could be that they had a benevolent intent-completing a game and satisfying their backers, that they supported with some untruths in the interest of completing that goal, and that incompetence or sheer bad luck prevented them from securing the additional funding they needed. People do bad things for good reasons or good things for bad reasons all the time-it’s called the human condition. You’re not being vary wary, and you’re doing exactly what you were trying to avoid.

      2. Daemian Lucifer says:

        The goal was always to deliver the best game they could

        But was it really?I mean take Shamus’s dabbling with procedural 3d terrain.He did it because he had fun making that stuff.And still,a bunch of people told him “This looks cool.You should make a game out of it.”.So what if he went to kickstarter with a pitch “Im making an open world procedurally created game”?Then,once he got bored with that and moved to a different project,what would have happened to that kickstarter?Precisely what happened to this one.This looks to me like a bunch of coders pitching their fun project to the world and then trying to dig themselves out once they moved on to something else entirely.

        1. Redrock says:

          Again, I think original intent matters. Take No Man’s Sky for example. Now, with that game it’s quite obvious that at some point Sean Murray started quite consciously lying through his teeth. He knew exactly what he had on his hands, but kept promising players the world. The important thing for me is whether Nightdive were being knowingly dishonest at any point when trying to coax people into backing the game. As of now, I’m not convinced.

        2. Matt says:

          I think you’re understating their level of commitment. Certainly they were too ambitious given their resources, and we can debate whether that was malicious or not, but they did put together a team that could have theoretically delivered something like what they showed (as Shamus mentions). Further, they obtained the rights, put together a Kickstarter, and had some kind of playable portion of a product.

          Since most small teams don’t have the money to dither away on frivolous projects, I don’t doubt that they got into it fully intending to make a game.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Sure.But the enthusiasm someone has at the start of a project is not a good indicator of them having the will,endurance and skill to actually finish it.Shamus wrote about that very thing once.

          2. hermanjnr says:

            I wouldn’t say they were over ambitious, I’d say they were completely deluded about what they were trying to do.

            They just had to smash out a few more levels in the excellent style of the demo, get the enemies feeling scarier and the combat a little more weighty and that would have been the game done. Sell it, make considerable profit, get adulation from the fans, finished.

            Instead they seemingly took the selfish option of trying to get MOAR CA$$$H from a big publisher so that they could all retire with Ferraris afterwards. That’s not ambition, it’s greed and deception.

    4. Dreadjaws says:

      Maybe at some point they were being incompetent instead of evil, yes. But you cannot deny that their PR way to try to salvage their reputation with the latest “hiatus” update is just utter dishonest.

      And then they have the gall to ask people to trust them that they’re gonna release the game. And they refuse to give refunds (again, under the promise that the game will be released). Granted, since they have no money, they’re probably not on the position of offering refunds anyway, but still.

      1. Matt says:

        I agree it is dishonest, but people seldom accept true responsibility for their actions, particularly when they think their motives were pure.

        Even when you have people with the strength of character to do it, it’s seldom the smart play. There are potentially legal, financial, and reputation consequences to doing so. When anything you may have done wrong is generally covered by the caveat emptor agreement users make with Kickstarter, there’s not a lot of reason to open yourself up further.

      2. Nope says:

        They acknowledged “turning their backs” on the original supporters and admitted some fault. It really doesn’t read of PR spin. I’m dubious as to their ability to continue after hiatus, they can’t have a lot of cash going, if they can’t find an investor I doubt they can continue as they have been doing, and if they try to do something smaller in scope, it’d be below the original demo’s quality on an even smaller budget, but that opening paragraph is just unsupported, even as speculation.

        Of course they refuse to give refunds, it’s a Kickstarter. Those funds went towards the salaries of the teams involved, they went towards any offices they need. They literally do not have the funds to refund everyone anymore, that’s always the risk. There is nothing scummy about that, that’s what everyone bought in for, it’s Kickstarter’s terms and conditions. There is no “but still” in this case.

        Like Matt said, people don’t accept responsibility, and in general, people rarely apologise. Similarly, I doubt you’ll reflect on what you’ve said and admitted your errors or fault-or the ridiculous demand made, that you knew was such. People don’t like doing that.

        1. Dreadjaws says:

          You know, I never saw this comment back then when this article was released, but if I had, I’d say the same thing I’m about to say now: screw you, you jerk.

          I didn’t make any errors in my judgement. You’re deliberately interpreting my words the way you want to so they can feed in your ridiculous theory that all people are secretly assholes who refuse to apologize for everything. Just because you are that way it doesn’t mean everyone is the same.

          My problem, as it should be evident, wasn’t that they weren’t offering refunds, but that they weren’t offering them under the excuse that they were confident the game was going to be released. Granted, the situation is different today, but back then that confidence was entirely unfounded. Hell, that’s the entire point of the article here.

  10. Grudgeal says:

    This remaster was one of those Kickstarters that came out when I had began souring on the whole idea thanks to some bad investments (Context: I backed Mighty No. 9, Project Phoenix and Unsung Story, as well as some other failed lesser projects like The Mandate, so you can all feel free to viciously mock me for it) and left wondering whether or not I was going to keep trying to back things at all. I ultimately decided I was tired of the whole shebang and decided to stop kickstarting things entirely.

    Looking at this retrospective, it sort of reinforces my decision. I have backed a few things since, but they were all made by people whose stuff I had previously bought or successfully backed.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Eh,just put your money into board games.Those are doing great on kickstarter.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Basically, put it into anything that is “I need to scale up production and distribution of my fully formed product” rather than “I need money to finish developing my product”. In a world with Steam and other digital distribution platforms, the cost of scaling up software is almost zero, so it’s a singularly bad thing to Kickstart.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Some games are still worth it.If anyone asks money to improve art or hire (decent) voice actors,thats a sure thing.

        2. Richard says:

          You have to be very careful with that as well.

          I’ve seen a lot of projects on Kickstarter that are “I have made functional prototype and want to put it into production” where they clearly have absolutely no idea about the regulatory requirements of selling the physical device.

          Several of them were clearly outright dangerous and could never meet the safety standards required, while others could plausibly have been made to comply but not at the proposed price point.

          Unfortunately Kickstarter won’t allow anyone who isn’t already a backer to ask questions, and doesn’t have a way to report projects for being physically dangerous.

          Most of them were a “Why has nobody done this before?” – the answer being that it’s so dangerous that it would actually explode…

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            So what youre saying that Im not going to see this marvelous invention any time soon?

      2. Alex says:

        But even then you have a whole ton of optimistic morons who subcontract the components to dodgy Chinese companies who half-ass the casting and leave you with faceless blobs of plastic.

    2. Christopher says:

      Unsung Story was my version of this, too, except I feel like those guys just straight up stole my money. Someone else picked it up, but I have zero faith.

      My other kickstarter projects, Yooka-Laylee, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero and Mighty No. 9 were unimpressive, but at least they came out.

      Shame about how this whole thing went, Shamus.

  11. Bloodsquirrel says:

    For contrast, Pillars of Eternity – a text-driven top-down party RPG like the kind the AAA industry stopped making a decade and a half ago – got four million bucks. The System Shock Kickstarter had the best possible proof-of-concept demo and they only got a third of that.

    In fairness, Pillars of Eternity is made by Obsidian, so they’ve got a much bigger name and much more street cred to pull in backers.

    1. Redrock says:

      Good point. Divinity:OS only pulled in about a million on Kickstarter, due to Larian being quite a bit less well-known than Obsidian.

      Then again, I think there’s another factor at play. Namely, before this Kickstarter old-school RPG renaissance the genre was basically gone, for a while. 0451 immersive sims, meanwhile, never completely went away. So the System Shock Kickstarter didn’t have that “revive the genre” vibe.

      1. Kylroy says:

        After Prey’s commercial failure, the genre is now probably pretty dead. Meaning they *can* do a “revive the genre” pitch in another 5-10 years…

  12. Mako says:

    I’m too young to remember the first System Shock, but I distinctly remember reading about how good it was in magazines praising the game in various retrospective articles. It was in 2004 or so.

    Damn shame. What a rotten way to die (for the project).

  13. Matt van Riel says:

    Also, note that keypad. That’s the first appearance of the code 451 in a videogame.

    And yet so many people seem to think Deus Ex was the first, heh. Despite it releasing half a decade later than SS.

    1. Redrock says:

      Doubt that people who even care about the whole 0451 thing would think that. People either don’t care about the whole Looking Glass legacy concept, or are at least aware of System Shock. Now, most probably only play System Shock 2, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for that.

  14. Christopher Wolf says:

    They are still selling the System Shock remake on their website. If they don’t intend to make the game…evilish.

    1. Decius says:

      System Shock: Enhanced edition is a real product that has shipped. It’s basically the original game with the tech needed to execute on modern PCs.

  15. The Rocketeer says:

    You’ve shared your thought process as development, uh, progressed. Here’s my thought process when the kickstarter was announced:

    “Wow, System Shock is getting remade? By whom? Oh, a bunch of nobodies. This is a scam.”

    That was not a tough call. This wasn’t not going to happen. I hope you didn’t get rooked for too much.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      On the other hand,wasnt that exactly the same case with baldurs gate extended edition?And that one ended up fine.

      And yes,top down isometric vs first person.In rebuttal to this:Hellblade:senuas sacrifice.Its totally 100% possible to remake the original system shock in unity with (relatively) little money if all you are doing is just coloring inside the borders and just using fancier graphics and better ui.

    2. Hector says:

      I don’t pretend to be an industry expert – but even with a relatively small budget this seemed plausible to me. They had a fully-functional demo ready for the kickstarter which showed all the core gameplay systems already working. Sure, it wasn’t release-level polish, but it was a solid vertical slice. I don’t think it was obviously doomed at all, and with a good, disciplined group should have been feasible.

      That said, my assumption was that the team had some resources and had already put time into the project with the expectation that Kickstarter would provide enough funds to get off the ground, and then the release would be where the actual profit came in. I also assume that anything off kickstarter will arrive at least a year late – which is why I don’t back kickstarter projects.

      What really outragges me in this case – and which Shamus almost completely glossed over – was Nightdive admitting that at some point they just decided to make their own game. That’s… pretty damning.

      1. hermanjnr says:

        Completely agree, it’s blatantly obvious they decided to just abandon the original project purely to make a different game, slap “System Shock” on it and get it released AAA status for loads of money.

        Not acceptable.

  16. BlueHorus says:

    I’ve gotta say:
    Saying ‘Maybe we were too sucessful’ after (probably, allegedly) abandoning your stated goal in favor of a much larger one – and not delivering on either! – is a special flavour of hilarious corporate doublespeak.

    It’s up there with EA’s famous ‘We might have innovated too much’ statement after they infuriated Dungeon Keeper fans by turning it into a shitty fee-to-pay mobile app.

    I should start compiling a list of such statements. Anyone got any more?

    1. Lino says:

      No, but I’m sure you’ll get a great sense of pride and accomplishment after you’re done!

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Jim Sterling probably has an entire folder on ea lying through their teeth,right next to his folder on ubisoft lying through their teeth.

    3. Mousazz says:

      I know this is dangerously politicky to be possibly ban-worthy. It’s also not related to the video game industry. But whatever. I’ll post it anyways. Feel free to take it down alongside the (hopefully not) ensuing comment thread:

      Here’s a magazine’s take on the 2016 US presidential election, using the same type of corporate doublespeak. What does it actually mean? I dunno, make your own conclusions.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Lying is lying,whether its in business or politics.

  17. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    I tend to over-simplify things and, as such, I’ve never funded a video game kickstarter because of horror stories like this that make it seem more like a gamble than it probably actually is. I’m only limited by my exposure and it seems like the only time I hear about something like this is if the kickstarter is extremely successful (which seems rare), or when it flops spectacularly, as it seems to have done here. Plus, I’m just enough on the spectrum that I’m not compelled by nostalgia to support anything. I suppose anyone who throws in on a kickstarter does so knowing that nothing is guaranteed.

    It’s a bit difficult to parse where this one went off the rails, but it seems like it happened at some point between securing their money and scrapping one engine for another. At least I sincerely hope that they didn’t start up the kickstarter with the specific goal of springboarding it into some sort of AAA release. As little as I understand this industry, even I can see how this would be a recipe for absolute failure. Maybe I give these guys too much credit to assume that they’d know these things better than I would. Or maybe they understand some of the working parts that I don’t and they were taking a risk based on a better gamble than the one that I can see sitting here in my armchair (and with the benefit of hindsight.)

    My first instinct when I hear that they want to take on this project with so little money (relatively speaking) was that it was a passion project and they were willing to take on personal financial hits to make this dream come alive. But when I hear their official voice proclaim that they failed from having too much success, not only do I question their ability to deliver on a promise, I question whether or not they know what words mean. I’m sure that all the people who kicked in money are glad that these people had fun in this non-making of a game.

    I don’t know that the theory you’ve posited is the right one, but I know that the story that they seem to be telling is so divorced from reality that it can’t be true in any sense of the word. They seem to be representing their complete shift in focus and scope as some sort of outside force that was beyond their control pushing them in this nonsensical direction. If nothing else, it would’ve been nice had the message been “We screwed up and squandered your money on a fool’s pursuit instead of completing the task that we promised to take on” instead of a non-committal “These things happen, but we’re still feeling pretty good about it, so there’s that.”

    1. hermanjnr says:

      I’d say the engine change was the point of death for the project.

      The Unity project was very closely aligned with all the goals of the project and was doing a great job. A swap to UEd makes zero sense.

      Literally no-one is interested in a console port of SS1. No-one. The only reason they changed to a better engine for this was because they wanted to make a different game and make more money off it.

  18. Matt says:

    Is Kickstarter declining, at least in terms of low-to-mid budget indie games? I recently received my copy of Kingdom Come and I realized that that is the last game that I backed in Kickstarter. After what felt like an initial flurry of interest and new games: Wasteland 2, Darkest Dungeon, Pillars of Eternity, Torment, Kingdom Come…I haven’t backed a game in 3+ years.

    Maybe I’m an anomaly? Perhaps my interest in Kickstarting games has declined with my lack of interest in new games in general?

    1. Redrock says:

      I regret missing the opportunity to support Divinity and Shadowrun Returns back in the day. But these days nothing really inspires enough confidence in me, to be honest. I thought about supporting Consortium 2 for a while, but that thing seems to be too ambitious for its own good.

    2. guy says:

      It seems to still be pretty solid for secondary funding of studios with track records. The Shadowrun guys are apparently on track for getting their Battletech game out soonish.

      1. Kylroy says:

        Basically, it requires consumers to do the work of publishers – can this studio handle a budget well? Who can you trust to release on time? Who knows how to strike a balance between feature creep and valuable additions to the game?

        I think that Kickstarter has ably demonstrated that, for all their evils, publishers do actually do *something* beyond siphon off money in this industry.

        1. Lino says:

          Yes and no. In my opinion, it’s genuinely hard to run a corporation and decide which project is a worthwhile investment and which isn’t. But the problem with Kickstarter is that backers have no control over the company.
          When you sign a deal with a publisher (or any kind of investor), you generally sign very binding contracts, and usually get regular visits and check-ins from said investor, and if you consistently fail to hit your targets and/or start changing the product too much, the investor could cut your funding at any time. I think this is the main reason you don’t get these horror stories with publishers.
          But Kickstarter backers have no such leverage. The best they can do is send emails and hope the devs answer back – there’s nothing legally binding the devs to deliver on what they promised.
          The only advantage to being a backer is that you can give as much money as you want and still (potentially) get something out of it.

          1. GoStu says:

            Why am I reminded of the Duke Nukem Forever debacle? With self-publishing, 3D Realms had nobody riding their ass to get the product out the door, and nobody to tell them: “Enough. Stop changing engines. Stop throwing away work. Ship by November 20XX or I’m turning the lights off to your studio.”

      2. guy says:

        And just now Battletech has been confirmed for an April 2018 launch.

      3. Redrock says:

        Honestly, I’d rather they did another Shadowrun, but that’s just me.

        1. MrPyro says:

          I love the Shadowrun games (mostly for the character-level writing, which is top-notch), but I also really love turn-based tactical games in general and Battletech in specific; in the absence of my friend who moved away with all of his minis, this is going to be my best chance at playing again.

    3. Christopher says:

      I’m not sure. Night in the Woods came out last year and was a success, far as I can tell, but I’m not paying a lot of attention to other campaigns. Indisible will, god willing, be released next year I think? And the not-Castlevania Castlevania game is coming out this year.

    4. John says:

      I think that Kickstarter’s novelty has worn off. “Remake of beloved old game on Kickstarter” is no longer news, people have learned to take “thrilling new game on Kickstarter, possibly in style of beloved old game” with a grain of salt, and the gaming press seems to have largely moved on.

    5. Jimmy says:

      I know for me, after the initial flurry between say Broken Age and Torment, I stopped kickstarting video games and am unlikely to ever bother with such crow funding (board games, as mentioned above, I’ve had a great track record and sometimes still back those). I had two games that went belly up. One because again a change to a new engine and the other just took the money and ran. As for the successful games, I found the ones I kickstarted to only be okay and a few I’m still trying to find time to play.

      TLDR: The risk is just too great and I’ve been burned a number of times now. Plus, if successful, I can just get the game cheaper generally within a year of it coming out.

  19. Rich says:

    You guys know you can’t SHIP concept art, right?

    Haven’t been following Star Citizen, eh? :)

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Took longer than I thought for good ol’ SC to come up in the comments.

      Don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad one.

      1. SharpeRifle says:

        In SCs defense they don’t intend to ship concept art….just sell it….

      2. WarlockOfOz says:

        I backed Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous on the same day. ED has had one expansion and is about to launch another. Star Citizen is as you say shipping concept art :)

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I dont know what you have against that code in the last picture.It looks fine to me.

    1. Decius says:

      It doesn’t use correct variable naming conventions.

  21. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Private investment? Good luck trying to raise a proper AAA budget in a pitch that begins with “This is a remake of a game that invented a genre that’s really expensive to produce and that has never sold particularly well.”

    Arent we entering the times where there do exist billionaires who actually played games back in the 80s and 90s?Vanity movies exist,so why not vanity games?Shouldnt there already be at least one multi million game like that?

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Sadly, I doubt System Shock is 50 Cent’s thing…

        Though I might be wrong. Not like I know.

        1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

          How much swearing is there in System Shock? That might tide things over if they add a swear button like in Blood on the Sand.

    1. Ant says:

      There was Age of Wonder 3, which was financed with a huge help of the Minecraft billionaire

  22. GargamelLeNoir says:

    I see a lot of comments treating their actions as fair game, but if it was my money I’d be furious. They sold a certain product with that demo and the old game as reference, then stopped doing it and tried to do something else entirely, to predictably end up with nothing at all.
    Hell, I didn’t even fund that game and I’m still disappointed at that waste of potential.

    1. PeteTimesSix says:

      I backed it. I’m not angry, just disappointed.

      Then again, I figured it had at best even odds of ever coming out even then. I just figured taking that gamble was better than no chance of any more Shock games at all.

      I guess this is the voting-with-your-wallet equivalent of losing a vote?

      1. Decius says:

        I backed it. I’m disappointed, and also a little bit angry.

        But I knew the risks going in.

  23. Kylroy says:

    I think this illustrates the wonky financial incentives of Kickstarted games. Given that, as Shamus notes, the audience for an actual SS update is pretty small, it seems fair to assume that they got paid by most of their audience in the initial Kickstarter. So they had two options:

    1) Make the specific game they promised, get paid for a year and maybe some pocket change at the end, or

    2)Lay the groundwork for something much more ambitious *kinda* like the game they promised, get paid for a year, and maybe get employed for several years while getting in with a AAA developer.

    Is it hugely surprising they went with option 2?

    1. Richard says:

      Option 2 only works if you ship something roughly like the thing you promised, but incomplete.

      The examples of that kind of approach shipped a game that worked and was fun, but needed expanding and polishing.
      Often a lot of expanding…

    2. Drathnoxis says:

      You don’t know that there wouldn’t have been many more people willing to buy a System Shock remake than to kickstart it. In fact, I’m sure there are. If they could have pulled it off as well as the demo I’m sure they would have made a bunch of money. Even if they had to do an episodic release to get it all finished.

      1. I’m not sure if the SS Kickstarter passed me by completely, or whether I saw it and didn’t have any spare funds, or whether I saw it and decided to take a “wait and see” approach. In any case, I didn’t back it but, had they made a functional SS remake, I would certainly have bought the game when released.

      2. Jimmy says:

        I just don’t back ks video games anymore, so I didn’t back this project. But if it turned out to be good, I probably would have bought it around launch (which I rarely do). It’s the same deal with Bloodstained. If it’s good I’ll buy it but there is no way I’m going to Kickstart it.

  24. guy says:

    That’s a shame; I would have really liked to get a chance to play System Shock with mouselook. I always find the hardest part of playing retro games to be not having 10+ years of additional interface progress.

    Personally, the Kickstarter that’s burned me is That Which Sleeps, which had an appealing pitch of basically being a strategy game where you play as a Great Old One manipulating cultists to awaken and destroy the world while humanity and their gods struggle to keep you asleep and raise great armies and send chosen heroes on quests. It’s still kinda half-alive I guess; we got a backer update with video in November, but it promised weekly video updates and we haven’t heard anything since.

    1. guy says:

      In more positive classic remake news, Six Ages, sequel to King Of Dragon Pass, seems to be tortising its way to release and looks likely to be out within the year. No commitment on a release date, but it has a closed beta going.

    2. Cubic says:

      That is not dead which can eternal lie.

  25. Cybron says:

    This is the only thing that makes sense. All their changes sound exactly like publisher pandering. I think I find this sort of bait and switch more annoying than actual incompetence.

  26. Joshua says:

    That sounds less tragic and more maddening to me. This sounds like fraud to me, but probably not in a way that you could successfully prove or make it worth a prosecutor’s time to deal with.

  27. Adeon says:

    The conclusion I’ve come to over time is that Kickstarter isn’t really a good platform for video games. Most Kickstarter video games seem to end up disappointing. Take Wasteland 2 for example, while I enjoyed it a lot the second half of the game felt really rushed and incomplete. There have been some successful Kickstarters (Pillars of Eternity and Shantae come to mind) but overall the success rate isn’t great. A lot of games come out either incomplete or to poor reception (Wasteland 2 is a good example, while it had generally positive reception the second half felt really unfinished).

    I think it comes down to a few problems. Kickstarter is really, really easy to over-promise with (especially with stretch goals) so even a mildly successful Kickstarter can spiral out of control. The other big issue is time, most Kickstarters are late and for Board Game Kickstarters I consider it on time if it’s only 6-12 months late. The problem for Video Games is that the timeline is naturally going to be longer (normally 2-3 years) so it’s much, much easier for things to change in that time. Finally it’s very easy to get a disconnect between what the devs are planning and what the fans think they are promising (Mighty Number 9 comes to mind here).

    So overall I don’t think Kickstarter is great for Video Games. It’s a pity since it’s a great platform for Board Games but it’s a different industry.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Wasteland 2 would be a great subject for an article. Really, really good in some ways, somewhat bad in others, and loads of middle ground or room for interpretation. Personally I really liked it – up until the end, which annoyed me so much I quit. And
      picking apart exaclty how and why would be interesting, especially while considering its development.

      1. Redrock says:

        Wasteland 2 is pretty much the worst out of this new wave of cRPGs. It’s old-school in all the wrong ways. The 4 blank slate characters default party is stupid. The endless long probability based skill checks are terrible. Probability based skill checks are generally bad in video games – they require a DM to be fun, instead it’s just a recipe for save scumming, which is why hard locks, like in Shadowrun or New Vegas, work so much better. The combat is incredibly bare bones with no actual combat skills or abilities to spice it up,except for occasional hacking. The writing is okay. But there is very much of it, it’s repetitive and has nothing to say, and the dialogue interface makes it look like you are using a Wikipedia article, pretty much like Morrowind. Very few characters feel alive and make you care. Let’s see, what else. Altogether too many skills,a lot of the do the same thing (like lockpicking, safe cracking and toaster). Most of those things are done for the sole reason that that’s how they used to be done, without thinking as to whether they can be improved. I spent perhaps 60 hours on that game. I think at least twenty of those were just waiting for the goddamn skill check to go through. That’s a day of my life I’m never getting back.

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          The 4 blank slate characters default party is stupid.

          It is not.Its actually preferable to 4 annoying characters,or 1 character that has 3/4 of the game locked out for them.BUT,such a party hinges on having something interesting to do with them.So either a really good tactical combat,or a bunch of good minigames for side activities.

          1. Redrock says:

            It is stupid. Why on earth would I want 4 blank slates instead of decently interesting npcs that have actual character, react to the world, and are even voiced at times? I’ll tell you why. Because I need at least 4 blank skill point repositories to make the game playable. But the only reason I need that is because the skill system is batshit crazy.

            EDIT: yeah, a blank slate party can work in XCOM, where it’s all about the builds. In a narrative driven RPG that’s just wasted space.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              You being a blank slate did not hinder the original two fallouts *drink*.It does not hinder avernum or geneforge.It didnt hinder icewind dales.Not to mention that in most western rpgs your main is still a blank slate,even when you are given some token back story,and its the companions that are given interesting stuff for you to play off.Aside from the witcher series*,you only get a full cast of characters in (some) jrpgs.Yet jrpgs arent being praised as being light years ahead of western ones.

              *Though you start the first one with amnesia,so Im not sure that counts.

              1. Redrock says:

                Come on, DL, are you even listening? Nothing wrong with a blank slate protagonist. I take issue with there being four of them. Four out of a party of 7 max. In a game where there are actually interesting party members many of whom you have to leave behind because you’re stuck with your 4 default skill zombies at all times. Also there’s the fact that in Wasteland 2 they are more blank than most with exactly zero background and no real dialogue to flesh out their character as you see fit, like you would in Fallout.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  Nothing wrong with a blank slate protagonist. I take issue with there being four of them.

                  Thats why I listed those six games in the beginning.In ascending order,with up to 6 blanks in icewind dales.And those arent the only ones.Theres temple of elemental evil,theres grimrock,theres might and magic,….

                  1. Redrock says:

                    Well, to be honest I’m not a big fan of Icewind Dale for that exact reason. But Icewind Dale is quite open about it being a combat-oriented RPG. Which, to someone who barely tolerates Infinity Engine-style combat is just *shudder*. Same with Grimrock and Temple of Elemental Evil – those are about dungeon crawling first and foremost. Wasteland 2 isn’t that. It’s not a combat-focused RPG. At least I hope not, because the combat sucks.

                2. BlueHorus says:

                  One review of Wasteland 2 put it so well: your team doesn’t feel like a group of people, it feels like a swiss army knife.
                  You get out the tool for the job (another %-based skill check) and watch the bar go up. then the character gets ignored until the next time you encounter a safe. Or alarm. Or electronic lock. Or – GODDAMIT WHY ARE THERE 4 DIFFERENT SKILLS FOR ‘OPEN LOCK’ THAT’S JUST FORCING ME TO DIVERT POINTS AWAY FROM OTHER MORE INTERESTING ABILITIES
                  …Ahem. As always, modding makes it (somewhat) better: using a save editor, you can generate one character instead of 4, go on a recruiting spree, then tweak your companion character’s stats so they fill in the blanks. Now your team has more character.

                  1. Redrock says:

                    Oh, the fact that there are 4 skills to open something isn’t the worst thing. The worst thing is that opening a single container might take at least three different skills in a row. Remove traps, remove the alarm, open the damn thing. Even at maxed out skill it still takes SO MUCH TIME. And if you are in a vault room with several loot chests, you might just start crying. I swear, it’s one of the few games where stumbling by a room full of loot actually depressed the hell out of me.

                    Gosh, I didn’t realize I hated that game quite that much. I wonder why I played it for 60 sodding hours. I must have liked something about it. Damned if I remember what that was.

                    1. BlueHorus says:

                      The writing? That’s was it was for me, at least.

                      While the main plot can – for the most part – eat a bag of dull, cliched, uninteresting dicks – the game had a great ‘pulp fiction’ factor.
                      When it was the tale of a group of heavily armed Desert Rangers wandering around a wasteland full of crazy people and larger-than-life situations, trying to do good (or not) with varying degrees of success, the game was great. There was also some good tone-setting and someone at InExile knows how to write villains well.

                      But when the main story about some weird radio messages or something got involved, or the endless callbacks to a twenty-year old game I never played kept turning up, it was a lot worse.
                      One of the things about the ending that got me so annoyed was that the Wasteland 1 callbacks eventually took over (quite literally!) from the interesting stuff in one of the worst ways I’ve ever seen.

        2. Adeon says:

          Eh, I like having a party of blank slates. It lets me customize the party to look and play how I want them to. Overall I would say that there good reasons for both approaches (blank slate versus fixed character) so it’s really a question as to what you do with them.

          I completely agree with you regarding skills though. Having a ton of skills doesn’t really make a game more engaging, especially when it’s relatively simple to make a party that has one character with a high level in each skill. The weapons were the worst, there were 7 different gun skills (I think) but the relative balance was so bad that only a few were really worth using.

          1. Redrock says:

            I get you, but in a narrative-driven RPG I’ll take interesting NPCs over customization any time. In a turn-based strategy, sure, customization all the way.

          2. Joshua says:

            I think 10 total weapon skills plus explosives, but as you said, most were sub-optimal. It seemed like they were juggling too many different elements that clashed with each other to make it workable for such variety.

            One element especially problematic was the strong incentive to start a fight on your own terms before initiative has even been rolled (something I’m noticing in D:OS 2 as well), as letting events and narrative play out ends up being a chump move that can get your guys killed. Much better to take up position as far from the enemy as possible and do an opening salvo to drop one of the big guys before the combat has officially even started. Since most of this is done at range, you’ve just put any guys with Brawling, Edged or Blunt Melee weapons, Pistols, Shotguns, and/or Submachine Guns at a disadvantage because now they have to spend several turns running up towards the enemy or waiting for the enemy to come to them.

            Another element is the really bad armor system, which they broke even worse in the Director’s Cut.

            Ammo is scarce at the beginning, which would seemingly encourage having a backup melee weapon or pistol, but those require training to become even remotely effective, and skill points are even rarer than ammo. Laser Weapons are too much of a crapshoot, and Heavy Weapons are near worthless unless you get one of the few ones with 0% jamming.

            So, Assault Rifles and Sniper Rifle it is. Director’s Cut gave some perks to the other weapons to make them more viable, but it also gave perks to these weapons to eliminate some of their few weaknesses as well.

            On a side note, whether you think California feels unfinished or not, it’s the place where the mechanics of the game really started break down for me.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              One element especially problematic was the strong incentive to start a fight on your own terms before initiative has even been rolled (something I’m noticing in D:OS 2 as well), as letting events and narrative play out ends up being a chump move that can get your guys killed.

              This. It’s so sad, but so true. You get the point where you don’t want to role-play in your Role-Playing Game because it’s just infinitely better to shoot first and ask questions never. Second time round, I always make sure I start those conversations from the high ground, or with a sniper’s bullet, or etc.
              You could call it cheating or meta-gaming – and it is – but the cost of not doing so is often really high.

              Another element is the really bad armor system, which they broke even worse in the Director’s Cut.

              See also: The Alarm Disarming Skill, which changed from ‘not necessary unless you want to avoid fights/be a sneaky thief’ in the original, to ‘some doors just can’t be opened without it’ in the DC – why?
              Because fuck you, that’s why!

              Dammit, you took a not-great system, reviewed it, and made it WORSE?

            2. hermanjnr says:

              I didn’t get that far in Wasteland 2 but I felt like every single character was the same.

              Say these are your three dudes:

              Dave’s skills:

              Bob’s skills:

              Jim’s skills:

              The 3 characters are completely indistinguishable and thus boring ASF. The weapons in combat are all very similar and don’t really change the tactics at all much either.

              I hated how the enemies were so hardcapped too, story missions you’d gun down people by the 1000’s and then get to the next town off the beaten track and one guy would kill your whole team because he had 50,000 HP.

  28. Jeff says:

    Nobody seems to have pointed out yet that you’ve just described grounds for legal action. Kickstarter isn’t free money with no strings attached. You’re receiving money for a specific product, and you have to at least attempt to deliver what was promised.

    This means if you appreciably diverge from the promised product (as described here) you can be considered to not be attempting to deliver what you received money for – which is what happened in at least one of the lawsuits launched (and won) by a District Attorney.

    There’s been a few other lawsuits of that nature where the courts have found in favor of the plaintiff – you’re allowed to fail, but you have to be able to show in court that you tried (in good faith) to deliver.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Thats where all the “many fans” things come into.Its a great defense for a case like this.”Hey,our backers asked us to do it,so we had to.”

      1. Jeff says:

        They can make the claim, but they’d have to prove it – much like any contract being amended.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          And anyone suing them would have to prove that there weren’t ‘many fans’ who wanted the new direction in development.
          Or dispute that the claim that – since there wasn’t a massive enough outcry when the new direction was announced – many fans actually tacitly endorsed the new direction but not objecting.

          The arguments could go on for weeks/months – expensive ones, in which the only guaranteed winners would be the lawyers.

          1. Jeff says:

            No, they wouldn’t be required to prove that the defendant’s asserted defense is false. That’s not how it works at all. You don’t get to make an excuse and then have it automatically be treated as the truth, if you make an assertion you have to prove it. This is actual court, not the court of public opinion.

    2. Decius says:

      Suppose you win a judgement in court. How are you going to pay for your lawyers?

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Kickstarter, obviously.
        Crowdsource the money to get back the other money that was crowdsourced. Just hope that the lawyers you get are honest, or you may well need to crowdsource more money to sue the people who failed to sue the people who failed to produce the game they said they would…

        1. hermanjnr says:

          If Nightdive crowdfunded lawyers for a case, 6 months later they’d probably say “We used the money to open up a McDonald’s franchise just like the fans wanted. But it didn’t work out.

          If anything we were too successful.”

      2. BlueHorus says:

        Also related: Where are Nightdive getting the money to pay for their lawyers?
        …’cos they might just have some of that kickstarter money left…
        That would be an extra special irony.

        …also terrible.

        1. Decius says:

          Or you get a default judgement, or they blame the legal costs for their failure to produce the game.

      3. Jeff says:

        Actually, all the successful cases I’d been reading about (immediately prior to reading Shamus’ article, which was what prompted me to comment) had the filings done by state attorneys on behalf of complainants.

        So “you” would be paying “your” lawyers via taxes.

        1. Decius says:

          Yes, you would be paying for them via taxes in that case. You would still not be paying them from the judgement, because the judgement can only take money that exists.

    3. Drathnoxis says:

      Yes, they should be sued! They didn’t even try to make the game they promised. They immediately stopped working on the game they sold and started over completely on a new one!

    4. Redrock says:

      As far as I can tell, you can sue for a refund if your backer tier came with certain rewards that the company failed to deliver. In this case anyone who pledged 30$ or more could probably file a class-action suit because the promised reward – a copy of the game – isn’t coming.

    5. Joshua says:

      Well, I pointed it out in the fraud comment above yours, but said that it’s probably not worth their time. Even if the case was successful, how would the plaintiffs get paid? The developers presumably spent all of their money on salaries. You’d have to get some kind of clawback judgment, which would likely only apply to the top management.

      Best case scenario would be getting back a trifle bit of money to pay your lawyers, and getting a public record on the leadership for having misled their backers. It might be worthwhile if it were one individual who gave the support, but probably not when it’s thousands each contributing a tiny bit.

      1. Jeff says:

        The three successful cases found via Google had the FTC, the Washington AG, and a backer (who is a lawyer) be the plaintiffs.

        The judgment for the FTC was suspended pending ability to pay, the one for the Washington AG appears to be paying out, and the defendant in the last was driven to bankruptcy. All of which are acceptable outcomes, with the former two at the expense of taxpayer dollars (which were justly used to prosecute fraud upon citizens) and the latter at the expense of the plaintiff’s time.

        The point of all these actions is to drive home the point that this isn’t free money, there are contractual obligations, and there are consequences for breaking those terms.

        You’re apparently obsessed with recompense, but the point is justice. If the plaintiff sees no money and the defendant goes bankrupt so be it, that is also a desirable outcome – it serves as precedent and warning for others not to defraud others under the guise of crowdfunding.

        1. Joshua says:

          “obsessed with recompense”

          My, this turned rude quickly.

          1. Nope says:

            Personally, I’d feel like things turned when they said that people going bankrupt was a satisfactory outcome, but your priorities are up to you.

          2. Jeff says:

            Call it “focused on recovering money” then, it’s the same thing. Your comments have entirely been about what the plaintiff can get, whereas the entire point as far as I’m concerned is punishment and deterrence.

            You can call me “vengeful” if you like, it’s the major reason I do AML/CTF stuff – I strongly believe that people should be held to account for their actions, especially when it’s at the expense of others.

            If their offense is so egregious that the consequences drive them into bankruptcy, that’s entirely on them. Much like a criminal who gets 50 years for their crimes, I have no sympathy for them being held to account.

            1. Joshua says:

              I think you are misconstruing my argument and are still being a bit blunt about what you *think* I’m focusing on, but I’ll chalk part of that to me not making myself clear earlier.

              My concern with the small recompensation was whether there would be a lot of interest from the plaintiffs to push a prosecutor into looking into it. I suppose there would be enough anger to at least have some people ring up the state Attorney General’s office to look into the matter. I wasn’t sure how successful that’s been, and I thank you for posting links to some successful criminal proceedings.

              My experience from private companies experiencing actual provable fraud is that a number of them don’t want to do anything more than terminate the employee because it was too much of a hassle to pursue litigation and criminal proceedings. I’ve worked with some that have gone that route, and others that just want to bury it and move on. It is strongly advised for those companies to pursue action as part of internal control if nothing else to ensure that remaining employees understand that there is a consequence to embezzlement and fraud.

              I was just musing out loud because I knew that it’s sometimes like pulling teeth to get an actual business to pursue justice even when they’ve lost thousands of dollars (or more), and that’s with a relatively open and shut case of “this person did a deliberately fraudulent act”. I was just wondering if there would be less motivation from aggrieved parties to pursue justice when they were out $25 or something and the company had a (sort of) defense of stupidity instead of malice.

              1. Jeff says:

                I think businesses are more willing to accept a loss, and less likely to take it personally (both of which makes legal action less likely).

                Certainly only in a small fraction of such incidences result in backers pissed off enough to take action, though apparently Kickstarter made it easier in 2016 with a change to how a few things were worded.

        2. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Justice isnt* about punishing the guilty,but rather in helping the victims.Punishing a studio for being incompetent like this wont prevent others from doing the same.Nor will it help the people who lost their money to get something in return for it.Thats hardly justice.

          *Well,it at least shouldnt be.In an ideal world.Sadly,that is often not the case.

          1. Jeff says:

            Justice is holding someone accountable for their misdeeds.

            Punishing a studio for certain behaviors absolutely would discourage other studios from doing the same, assuming the other studios are rational.

            It also shouldn’t matter if you breach a contract due to incompetence or malfeasance. If the results are identical to the aggrieved parties, the consequences should be the same.

      2. Richard says:

        An example of this is the ZX Spectrum ‘reboot’.

        There has been a court judgement, but the backers still haven’t got their money back.

        Indiegogo has announced that it’s about to call in the debt collectors. Whether there will be any seizeable assets remains to be seen.
        The Register

  29. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I hate that I have to do this*,but:

    It was the first of the immersive sim[1] games, making it the progenitor of Thief, Deus Ex, BioShock, Prey (2017), and (to a lesser extent) the Dishonored series.


    *When will people stop doing that shit?

    1. Mousazz says:

      When will people stop doing that shit?

      When will people stop naming their media with the exact same name as a previous title in the franchise? Good question. I’d love to know as well.

      Of course, technically, since the 2017 game is named Prey, Shamus’ sentence is correct (if potentially ambiguous, except not really, since the original Prey is a corridor shooter and not an immersive sim).

  30. Dev Null says:

    While I understand the desire – nay, compulsion – to back projects that are so close to your heart, this is pretty much the story of why I won’t back kickstarters of computer games.

    There is literally no way this was ever going to work for 900k – or even 1.3 mil – even if they _had_ stuck to the original plan. And if they had more money coming in from outside from the beginning then they frankly should have said so in the Kickstarter pitch. My guess is that they thought from the very start that they could pull a publisher for support once they showed them their slick demo and successful kickstarter. With that publisher backing, they _originally_ intended (I speculate, wildly) to make the game that they kickstartered. Then publishers started to turn them down with hints that “maybe if it had better visuals” or “maybe if it was on a real engine” and suchlike. So they changed it a little bit, hoping to get the money they needed. And then a little bit more. And then a little more. And maybe they also got a little carried away with the fun new toys that those changes brought in. And all of that might well have worked out to at least some degree if they’d eventually found that corporate backing, but they didn’t, and your programmers can’t eat good intentions.

    Which is not to absolve the organizers of all blame. They should have asked for $10 mil in the original kickstarter, or they should have made it clear that the kickstarter was to generate enough of a demo to pitch the rest of the game to a publisher. But that would have made it much less popular – the truth has a tendency to be less sexy – so they might not have hit their goals.

    TLDR; if you see a kickstarter for a FPS that wants a budget that seems too good to be true… there’s a reason for that.

  31. Killbuzz says:

    “And maybe this would give us a way to share this classic with the younger generation without having to explain “You can’t use the mouse to look around. You have to use the keyboard. I’m so sorry. We didn’t know any better.”

    Have you actually played this game, Shamus? Because the enhanced edition does have mouselook. Having never played it before that, I had no major issues with the interface and controls and found the game to be perfectly playable.

    1. Shamus says:

      Ignoring your ludicrous questioning of whether or not I’ve played he game: Obviously I played it in 1994, long before the enhanced edition. I’ve only dabbled with the EE long enough to get the above screenshots.

      And now that I’ve looked, I see it does indeed have mouselook, but not an option to invert the mouse, making it useless to me.

      Even ignoring that, you can’t rebind keys, and the entire interface is ridiculous. I’m glad YOU found it playable, but many people do not.

      1. evilmrhenry says:

        Good news! You can actually invert the mouse, and change the controls. All you need to do is edit the controls.cfg file. (Set mlook_vsens to -30 instead of 30.) This also lets you rebind keys. I know this works, because I just tested it.

        OK, not the best interface, but what you want is possible.

      2. Killbuzz says:

        It’s not just mouselook. The enhanced edition also comes with a higher resolution which makes the graphics look a lot crisper, which is another thing you complained about. I fail to see what’s so ridiculous about the interface considering it’s similar to that of its sequel. It has mouselook now, which solves most of the control/interface issues present in the original.

        When I asked if you had even played the game, I was referring to the enhanced edition, since you claimed you revisited the game twenty years later and was disappointed by how it held up. Clearly you haven’t played it, apart from booting it up to take some screenshots of the first few minutes of the game. Which is quite problematic, considering your write-up is based on the premise that System Shock is so dated that Nightdive’s remake was needed to make the game accessible to newer players.

        1. Redrock says:

          Which is quite problematic, considering your write-up is based on the premise that System Shock is so dated that Nightdive’s remake was needed to make the game accessible to newer players.

          I’d say the premise still holds up. Hell, even System Shock 2 looks rough enough and unfriendly enough to scare off most new players. The EE does barely enough to convince a hardcore fan to jump back in on a modern machine.

        2. Shamus says:

          You are talking nonsense. (And being quite rude about it.) You can find people in this very thread who bounced off the game hard because of the interface. There’s nothing “problematic” about the fact that I haven’t played the EE. (When in fact I clearly HAVE played the EE. Just only an hour or so. Which is quite enough to get a feel for the interface. I mean, does the interface CHANGE when you get to level 2?) Your entire point is built around the idea that “Hey, I played it, so it must be okay for everyone.” That’s not how this works.

          You can’t rebind keys. The default keybindings are strange to modern thinking. (Lean buttons usually map to Q/E these days.) The entire MFD display is obtuse and takes up a ton of screen space. You claim the game is like System Shock 2. Do you remember the interface grid in SS2? Note how you don’t have that in SS1. You’ve got limited inventory, but not a grid to help you visualize it.

          I’m glad you liked it and all, but my point stands.

        3. Grampy_bone says:

          No game that has “look up and down” and stance change actions mapped to buttons you have to click with the mouse can possibly be considered to have a good interface.

  32. Sunshine says:

    “We do not know death – only change.”

    “Why do you murder in Unity? No matter – the line is drawn.”

    “Your time is running out. This place is a womb, where we grow our future. Your promises fail. Your budget runs low. And we have yet to see a beautiful creation.”

    “Do you know what you have wrought? Our tragedy is written by your hand…”

  33. DangerNorm says:

    Worth remembering: tho the company will never see a profit, as such, everyone involved had still been drawing their salary out of that Kickstarter money for the duration of their involvement.

    1. Nope says:

      Generally, employees expect to be paid.

      If you’re making an implication here, it’s a bad one.

  34. MadTinkerer says:

    It was the first of the immersive sim[1] games,

    Grumble grumble, Ultima Underworld, grumble grumble…

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      See, System Shock used this odd engine that was reminiscent of Wolfenstein 3D or Rise of the Triad.

      Or Ultima Underworld.

      Shock had the small improvement that you could optionally have floors and ceilings slope at exactly 45 degrees, which helped break up the boxy look and make the levels look more interesting.

      Inherited from Ultima Underworld. System Shock’s engine is based on Ultima Underworld II. For someone who loves Looking Glass games and named his weblog after his D&D campaign, you sure owe it to yourself and your readers to finally play an Underworld game.

      1. Shamus says:

        Yes, I know about UU. Two things:

        1) I tried it. (Around 2003 or so.) Hated it. Interface got me down.
        2) I was using the games as examples to explain things to readers who were perhaps young and not familiar with the game. “This obscure game is like this other game you may have heard of” is a better analogy than “this obscure game is like this other even more obscure game”. (Although I admit Rise of the Triad isn’t exactly well-known either.)

        1. MadTinkerer says:

          Hated it. Interface got me down.

          Fair enough. One of the big problems with games of the time, especially Origin Systems games, is that, thanks to their gigantic leaps forward in interface design, time’s arrow makes their interfaces worse the earlier in time you go. I have no problem playing the Underworld games because their interfaces were extremely simple and easy compared to flight sims, and First Person Shooters as a genre did not exist when I first played the Underworld games. (This was around the same time as Doom, but still a few years before mouselook was invented.) But trying to play them now, after interface design has taken even more huge steps forward, I can see why it would be intolerable for some people.

          Also, the real problem isn’t your lack of “props” towards a legitimate classic series that has tragically faded into obscurity, it’s that EA is literally a giant red extradimensional demonic being that is so evil that Hawaii now wants to ban their games. That’s not your fault at all, Shamus!

    2. The Rocketeer says:

      What I’m learning from this thread is

      Ultima Underworld:System Shock::The Last Broadcast:The Blair Witch Project

  35. Jabberwok says:

    It’s crazy, because I thought the KS demo was already very impressive, visually.

    These days, the only developers I trust are the ones willing to tell the truth in public and interface with their community without that PR filter. Which is usually restricted to very small, independent teams. Apparently not all of them, though…

  36. Decius says:

    Seriously, if they had taken the process that they used to make the pre-alpha demo and just… done the rest of System Shock in an identical manner, except for adding a hook for sequel/prequel/expanded universe, I’d have bought their next game too.

  37. camycamera says:

    It was the first of the immersive sim games, making it the progenitor of Thief, Deus Ex, BioShock, Prey, and (to a lesser extent) the Dishonored series.

    I’m going to be a pedantic little shit, but shouldn’t the “to a lesser extent” be granted to Bioshock rather than Dishonored? Dishonored is a lot more open and more “immersive sim” than Bioshock IMO, which in comparison is just a straight up shooter (especially Infinite… Egh).

    Also, to be more insufferably pedantic, System Shock wasn’t the first of the immersive sim games, many argue that was Ultima Underworld.

    But anyway, great article, love your stuff. Fingers crossed that Nightdive pulls off a miracle, comes back to the project, and releases it? Wishful thinking, I know, but hey, gotta have hope.

    1. Jabberwok says:

      Yeah, I would consider Dishonored an immersive sim as much as Deus Ex 1. The only real difference is they cut out some of the RPG mechanics. To me, it feels more like a descendant of DX1 than anything else I’ve played, which isn’t surprising given who worked on it.

  38. Dreadjaws says:

    A modern take on System Shock, a faithful reboot; it’s not Citadel Station as it was, but as you remember it. Many improvements, overhauls and changes are being implemented to capture the spirit of what the original game was trying to convey, and bring it to contemporary gamers.

    This is the philosophy used by Ron Gilbert when making Thimbleweed Park. Rather than making an adventure game how they used to be he made one how we remembered them to be, making sure that while playing it we had an experience similar to what we had back then, which wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t bothered to sand away frustrating mechanics and ideas that the years of advancements have made obsolete and annoying.

    Meanwhile, you have games like Yooka-Laylee doing the opposite, making a game that just plays like the games of old, warts and all, and unless you’ve been ignoring several years of gaming it’s gonna be frustrating. Or the Leisure Suit Larry remake, that changes the control scheme (if you compare to the very original and not the other remake) but leaves the puzzles and humor intact, despite the fact that they have not aged well at all.

    On the flip side you have stuff like the Final Fantasy VII remake, which is basically a completely new game. More or less what these developers were trying with System Shock, with the difference that Square-Enix can actually afford it.

    A shame about this game. The interface is precisely the one thing that has kept me from trying the original, since I never got to play it back then.

    1. KarmaTheAlligator says:

      To be fair, I hear a lot of people complaining about how the FF7 remake is going to be a completely new game. Lots of those who wanted the remake wanted the exact same game with updated graphics (at the same time, we all know players* do not know what they want, nor do they make the best decisions when it comes to game design).

      *And I mean those who’ve never done any game making.

  39. Rosseloh says:

    I need to go back and read that email again, because I thought it sounded a lot more positive than you make it seem. Like, I read it as “we’re going back to square one”, not “we’re going on indefinite hiatus”. But you’re the developer and businessman here, for a given value of “businessman”; I’m just a lowly network engineer.

    That said, I’m quite sad about this, but not particularly surprised. I’m one of those people who were kids at the time SS came out, and never got to play it until a couple years ago….you’re absolutely right about it not aging particularly well. Not to mention Free Radical was the second thing I read here after DMotR back in ’08. I really wanted this project to succeed.

    But I’m also a very patient person* and tend not to get myself hyped up over things, so this was a big surprise, considering I hadn’t been following the project too closely.

    *: I’m an avid Star Citizen backer, how much more patient do you want me to be?

    1. Matt Downie says:

      It was certainly positive-sounding.

      “I have put the team on a hiatus while we reassess our path so that we can return to our vision.”
      If the team is ‘on hiatus’ that probably means they’re looking for new jobs. It’s hard for a company to recover from losing its staff.

      “We are taking a break, but NOT ending the project. Please accept my personal assurance that we will be back and stronger than ever.”
      Believing his personal assurance requires a certain amount of trust; has that trust been earned?

      “System Shock is going to be completed and all of our promises fulfilled.”
      If they had the money, staff and desire to complete the project, they wouldn’t be putting the project on hiatus. This suggests they do not have the money at the moment. If they don’t have it now, why should we expect them to have it in the future?

      1. Tom says:

        That trust was indeed earned, when they released the original, jaw-droppingly faithful playable demo. Then it was utterly squandered.

      2. Joshua says:

        Yep. Once the (good) employees leave, you’re pretty much done. That’s why I’ve worked for a number of places where when cash flow was tight, vendors were creatively managed, but priority was established to never disrupt payroll. One payroll run bouncing (especially if employees had auto-drafted payments coming out of their accounts in expectation that the money would be there) could collapse your company. Actually laying all of your employees off for them to find new jobs is 99% chance that the project is dead.

  40. Jabrwock says:

    I’m glad the Battletech guys came in with a plan and stuck to it. They’re pre-releasing on Steam, with actual game to be released next month.

    1. Son of Valhalla says:

      They also went about it really well and secured money ahead of time before crowdfunding from what I read.

      1. MrPyro says:

        They’ve also run a few successful crowdfunds before and so knew what they were doing. Really looking forward to Battletech.

  41. Son of Valhalla says:

    I can actually see this going the opposite way. If they had kept making the System Shock remake they promised AFTER the switch to the other engine, it wouldn’t have been able to get the attention of big publishers.

    My theory is that because the game raised 1.3 million dollars and they used the money to invest in the team and developing this game, they might have more standing to get higher financial backing from a big publisher.

    It’s likely that the Nightdive name would have to go rogue, but by being able to crowdfund over a million dollars on nostalgia and PC Gamers alone, imagine if their demographics were expanded to include console gamers as well.

  42. ElementalAlchemist says:

    The tragically ironic thing is, this is exactly the problem that led people to turn to crowdfunding in the first place. We couldn’t get the big publishers to fund these mid-budget projects because they’re so obsessed with photorealism and high production values. All they care about is big-budget blockbusters. And then Nightdive comes in, gets funded, and decides to make a big-budget game.

    This is true of every single major KS game project. Look at the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera, etc. All of them pissed and moaned about publishers and promised PC-centric games that fans had been crying out for years for, and all of them then turned around and shacked up with a publisher to make console ports.

    There is a lot of talk about poor innocent game devs and how all the bad stuff in the industry is the result of evil schemes on the part of pantomime-level evil publishers. But the truth is most developers – certainly in the AA to AAA level at any rate – are just as bad as the publishers.

    1. Sadbench says:

      Even if they got publishers and released games on consoles, I feel like all three games you mentioned fulfilled their promises. I’m not really sure how getting money to expand their audience while also making the game they said they would make is a bad thing.

  43. MaxEd says:

    Don’t pretty much ALL Kickstarter games go over the budget, or rather knowingly ask for way less money in the original campaign than they need, and scramble to find the secondary financing later? Even super-successful projects usually turn to a publisher in the end, if only to finance marketing (but in reality, I suppose a part of publisher’s money really go into finishing the development). $1.4 million is an impossibly low sum for a 3D shooter, even one made with Unity, so finding a publisher was probably the only thing they could do, from the beginning.

    This is a very big problem, because you just can’t go on KS and ask for $10 or even $5 million (which is much closer to needed budget for a major game): people just won’t fund you. But on the other hand, if you openly state “guys, we need your money to make a demo we can pitch to a publisher who can finance the rest”, you ALSO won’t get funded.

    1. Redrock says:

      The thing is, many Kickstarter projects never outright say that Kickstarter would be the sole source of funding for the game. The more honest ones just go out and say that Kickstarter would be just a part of the budget. If memory serves, for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night Igarashi went out and just said that Kickstarter is a way to prove there is an interested audience out there to investors.

  44. Tom says:

    Nailed it. Unfortunately.

    At least I still have my copy of the demo from before they took it down. I still fire it up now and then, and dream of what might have been.

  45. CloverMan says:

    As a full time employer of a studio doing a 3D console game in Unity, the engine supports consoles HORRIBLY. Especially any kind of post processes and dynamic lighting, which were in abundance in the initial demo. So yeah, the game would be a nightmare to develop for consoles in Unity.

    But nobody asked for console support, they probably just got high on success of their Kickstarter campaign and wanted to maximise future profits.

    A classic tale of hubris.

  46. Grampy_bone says:

    I’ve been saying this for years, the real goal of kickstarter projects is always to attract outside publishers and get real funding. It’s just a marketing and pre-sale platform, not a funding/investment model.

    Ah well, that original unity demo looks super dope. Someone should make a game like that.

    1. Tom says:

      Since they’ve utterly disavowed their original playable demo, I just wish Nightdive would release the source to THAT so that someone, anyone who still cares about the original project and has the necessary skills might, just conceivably, rescue it from oblivion and tinker it into eventual completion, whilst this so-called studio continues to wander around chasing shiny things.

      They’ll never release the current, Unreal-based code as long as they keep lying to themselves that it’ll one day be finished, and there’d be no point releasing it anyway because, as pointed out, only a AAA studio could do anything useful with it – but code to a simpler, alpha-status-looking-awfully-close-to-beta-status engine they literally abandoned years ago and clearly will never, ever, EVER touch again? Many people stand to gain, including all the betrayed backers who gave them our faith and money, and NOBODY LOSES ANYTHING THEY STILL VALUE OR CARE ABOUT if they open-source that. Keeping the Unity demo code locked away is surely therefore the result only of apathy, spite, shame, or just possibly avoiding any implicit concession of failure in front of the big studios they courted, even though Samus’ article by itself would alread surely be ample due diligence for anyone seeking a synopsis of the inner state of Nightdive at this time.

  47. Mattias42 says:

    Where can the franchise go now?

    …You’ve heard about the announcement that another studio is working on System Shock 3, right?

    Link to Rock-Paper-Shotgun.

    I mean, yeah, I’ll admit the latest news is nearly a year old to the day, but given the project being, I quote, “in the early concept stages of development” that type of time-frame seems fair enough.

    Anyway, they’ve apparently got a bunch of ex-Looking Glass folks and Warren Specter on-board, plus a publishing deal with Starbreeze (as mentioned in the article), so I’m cautiously optimistic despite the low amount of news so far.

    …Granted, all that was before this mess with the remake, but hopefully no-news is good news.

  48. Geoff says:

    This is an old post now, but this story came up in my news feed today from PC Gamer, which seemed relevant:

    Seems much less doom and gloom than the common interpretation of their press release. Of course they’re still missing their original ship estimate, and they acknowledge that, but I think a lot of the other assumptions (out of money, production is fully ending, etc.) were made unfairly. Sure, it could have / could still be true that it won’t work out, but that’s also not what their statement said while most people chose to read it as the exact opposite without any real evidence.

  49. lun says:

    I’m late to the party, but I stumbled into this article.

    I agree with most of it, but I left this comment just to point out that there’s a bit of “PC master race” elitism in your views.

    You said old veterans who played on pc won’t care about the console version anyway. I say I’m one of those old veterans who played on pc, but I’ve switched to consoles long ago because playing games with a console is far less expensive and complicated that playing them on a pc. I’m sure a lot of people who played on pc back then have switched to consoles for budget reasons.

    1. Dreadjaws says:

      It’s one of those days. I usually would not be responding to so many old comments, but I’ve ran into so many pretentious, douchy and outright ridiculous comments while taking a look at old articles today that I haven’t been able to hold myself.

      What exactly is “elitist” about claiming that a game that was made with the PC in mind, and that has only attracted the sort of people who’d be interested in the kind of complexity that can only properly exist on PC, feels better on a PC than in a console? That’s not elitism, it’s fact. It’s like if I were to accuse you of being racist for pointing out that only people born in Africa can be called Africans.

      Note that Shamus didn’t say “All games are better on PC” or “People who played on PC would never move on to consoles”. He simply say that this particular game has attracted the sort of fan that knows this sort of experience isn’t possible on console and, as such, they wouldn’t be claiming for such a thing. Are you going to sit there and tell me that you used to play this very game on PC and now want it to be on console? I don’t believe you for a second.

      Fuck’s sake, is reading so hard these days? Or are people deliberately looking for excuses to vilify others?

  50. TSi says:

    SS3’s videos so far stated the game was made in Unity which made me smirk after reading your take. They really messed up.

  51. Anon says:

    it’s been six years now since nightdive first put up their kickstarter, shamus is gone and they STILL haven’t decided on an actual release date yet. my god

  52. djw says:

    Its out now!

    Unfortunately Shamus is still gone. But we can play it and imagine what he would say if he were here.

    1. Lino says:

      What I’m really sad about is that he never got to see ChatGPT or Shadows of Doubt. Him and Paul would have had a field day talking about those.

      But yes, I would also have loved to hear his thoughts of System Shock :/

Thanks for joining the discussion. Be nice, don't post angry, and enjoy yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*

You can enclose spoilers in <strike> tags like so:
<strike>Darth Vader is Luke's father!</strike>

You can make things italics like this:
Can you imagine having Darth Vader as your <i>father</i>?

You can make things bold like this:
I'm <b>very</b> glad Darth Vader isn't my father.

You can make links like this:
I'm reading about <a href="">Darth Vader</a> on Wikipedia!

You can quote someone like this:
Darth Vader said <blockquote>Luke, I am your father.</blockquote>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.