Nightdive Studios on reigniting the popular sci-fi franchise
The success of remakes like Resident Evil 2 gives a clear indication that gamers do enjoy revisiting a game from the past that has been lovingly rejuvenated for a new generation.
Reboots, remakes or remasters... whichever category a game falls under, it will often require a certain group of fans in order to succeed - those who've enjoyed the game and long to see it given the 'HD upgrade' - and a younger audience who may have been too young to truly experience the game the first time around, but would love to play it in 'modern form'.
AAA or Indie, big or little budget - bringing a popular title from yesteryear to life with enhanced graphics and gameplay improvements, and sometimes completely new features, is a challenging yet rewarding project. One game that has recently undergone the reboot transformation is cyberpunk FPS System Shock. Originally launched in 1994, players were introduced to a nameless hacker protagonist who must attempt to steal files from a space station crawling with killer cyborgs, and Master Computer known as SHODAN threatening to release a deadly virus across Earth.
The game was well received, with PC Gamer declaring it the '6th-best computer game ever released'. Over 20 years later, the game returned with an Enhanced Edition - featuring a higher resolution and remappable keys, which received 'Very Positive' reviews on Steam. With the success of the original game, its sequel (System Shock 2) and System Shock: Enhanced Edition, it's no surprise that Nightdive Studios saw yet more potential for the franchise - this time in the shape of a complete reboot for the first installment.
Speaking exclusively to Fanatical, Nightdive Studios CEO Stephen Kick talked about the System Shock franchise, their loyal fan base and rebooting the original game for a new audience.
“System Shock was the first game to attempt many new and innovative systems that would later become beloved and often essential tropes in gaming," says Stephen. "I may be wrong but I believe System Shock was the first game that gave the player the freedom to wander around an environment at their own pace, identify obstacles, and then collect tools and information on other levels which they would then use to return to previous destinations to clear the aforementioned obstacles.
“It’s a design that would be popularized by Metroid and the Castlevania series and eventually be designated as its own genre, the Metroidvania. Shock was the first game to do this, albeit in the first person perspective.
“It was also the first game to use found emails, audio logs and messages to shape and reveal the narrative, a design tool that’s been used countless times since.”
Fast-forward two decades and fans are hyped to get their hands on the highly-anticipated System Shock reboot that’s currently in the works. We asked Stephen whether he ever imagined working on a reboot of this scale.
“I didn’t,” he says. “It wasn’t until I revisited the first game for a re-release that I realized its potential. Not many people had played the original and are generally more familiar with the sequel which made this the perfect candidate for a reboot.
“System Shock has deep roots in gaming lineage and I knew that if we were faithful to the original and made changes that made it more accessible it could breathe new life into the franchise and allow a whole new generation to appreciate it’s legacy.”
Like many new game projects and opportunities to revive an existing game for a new generation, Stephen chose to run a Kickstarter campaign - which was a huge success.
“When we started the Kickstarter our initial goals were lofty,” Stephen says. “At $900k we were asking for a tremendous sum from a fan base we knew still existed but hadn’t been particularly active due to the lack of games, so we didn’t know what to expect.
“The final amount we ended on, $1.35 million, was an overwhelming sign that we were doing something right, that the demo we released resonated with those fans and that we could deliver what they wanted in a faithful remaster. We could not have done this, and the development would not have been possible without them.”
Getting the backing for the System Shock reboot proved to be an easy task, but what challenges and triumphs has Stephen experienced during the developing process?
“It’s no secret that we’ve faced some very tough challenges during development and all we can do is thank our backers and those who support the project for sticking by our side during those times,” says Stephen. “We re-evaluated our priorities and made the hard decisions necessary to ensure that the game they backed, the game they wanted would be made the way we promised.
“I can’t share the details of these challenges just yet, but I can say our greatest triumph was pivoting from those setbacks and getting the development back on track in record time. We can’t wait to share the finished game with our fans.”
Fans of the franchise and those awaiting the release of the System Shock reboot will be pleased to hear that the development team boasts some of the veterans who have worked on modern-day masterpieces such as BioShock and Fallout: New Vegas. We asked Stephen how important their influence and creativity has been on this project.
“One of the greatest assets we have is the visionary art of Robb Waters – Robb is System Shock. He was there at its inception and brought the original game to life with his art.
“To have him contribute his unique vision on the project is absolutely paramount to its success. The final game will be unlike anything that’s been seen before and that’s a testament to his experience, skill, and passion for creating worlds of unimaginable beauty and horror.”
System Shock is hailed as one of the greatest PC games of all time, but we wanted to know which games Stephen would pick as his all-time favorites.
“Beyond Good & Evil – The characters, story, gameplay, music, every element comes together in perfect harmony to create a truly unforgettable experience. It’s one of the only games I revisit and play all the way through at least once a year.
“S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – The oppressive atmosphere instantly transports you to, ‘The Zone’, a highly irradiated environment surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and the deserted city of Pripyat many years after the explosion that made the area uninhabitable. You must traverse this wasteland and re-discover your identity and the secrets within all while facing off against the various factions vying for control and horrific mutants roaming the swamps, forests and abandoned cities.
“System Shock 2: It’s a perfect example of what happens when you blend the elements of RPG, FPS and a Metroidvania with a compelling narrative, and superb gameplay and audio design. You get a timeless experience that even 20 years later withstands the test of time.”
We had to ask the question ‘are there any exclusives that you can tell us about the game?’ to which Stephen simply smiled… but what we do know is that the team is anticipating a Q1 2020 launch, and Stephen says “It’ll be worth the wait.”