Last February the System Shock remake / reboot project shut down. If you don’t remember, the Nightdive team did a kickstarter campaign to do a remake of the 1994 classic System Shock. They had a slick demo made in Unity that was a faithful re-creation of the original using modern rendering techniques and design sensibilities. In terms of technology and presentation, they were using 3D assets with the relative complexity of (say) STRAFE with rendering complexity in the ballpark of Doom 3.
That’s a pretty good balance in terms of getting the most bang for your buck. Models are detailed enough that you can tell what things are and they can evoke the original assets, but they’re also coarse enough that small team can feasibly develop the game. The rendering was hitting the sweet spot on the tech curve where you get cool shadow and lighting effects without needing to chase photorealism. I loved it.
Then a few months into development the team threw away the demo and started the entire project over, aiming for a total re-imagining of the property as a AAA shooter. It looked less like System Shock by way of Doom 3, and more like one of the modern Deus Ex games. It looked very expensive, but it didn’t look anything like System Shock. Then the project shut down because (surprise) they ran out of money.
At the time I predicted that the project was dead. I am very happy to have been proven wrong. I stand by my criticism that they shouldn’t have thrown away their first design to chase AAA glory, but I’m happy I was wrong about the project being over. The team has returned to their original designAlthough they’re sticking with the Unreal Engine and not going back to the Unity build. Is that smart? I have no idea. and are once again trying to recapture the flavor of the 1994 original.
They seem to be doing pretty well. Check out this door:
Yeah, an industrial door. Big deal, right? You’ve seen a million of these in videogames, I’m sure. The thing is, this is an extremely faithful re-creation of the large doors in the original System Shock. When I watch this animation I can’t help but hear the sound effect of the original.
I don’t want to trivialize the work the team is doing. Despite this being on the “sweet spot” on the tech curve, this is still a lot more work than it took to make the original 25 years ago. Back in 1994, this door was a flat 2D image. Think of it like an animated .gif of an opening door, slapped onto a polygon. Here in 2018 someone needs to make a fully 3D model of the door with all those moving parts. And then they need to texture it. And create bump maps and specular maps so the surface has all those fine grooves and the whole thing looks like smooth metal. And then they need to create the animation for all those moving parts. This may be an order of magnitude easier than making a modern AAA asset, but it’s still a lot of work.
On one hand, I’d really hate to get my hopes up for this project only to have them dashed a second time. On the other hand, things are looking pretty good so far.
 Although they’re sticking with the Unreal Engine and not going back to the Unity build. Is that smart? I have no idea.
The Best of 2017
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2017.
The Game That Ruined Me
Be careful what you learn with your muscle-memory, because it will be very hard to un-learn it.
Quakecon 2012 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.
A Lack of Vision and Leadership
People fault EA for being greedy, but their real sin is just how terrible they are at it.
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.