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See what the System Shock reboot looks like in Unreal Engine

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A new engine for a classic game

After raising over $1.3 million on Kickstarter last summer, the team at Nightdive Studios has been working to make good on updating the first-person classic System Shock for today’s audience (and the game’s backers).

Part of that process involved reevaluating Nightdive’s approach to the game’s technology after discovering that “Unity is not a great engine to use if you want to make an FPS on console,” game director Jason Fader told Polygon at the 2017 Game Developers Conference this week. “So we spent a few weeks researching other engines, really diving deep with Unreal and Lumberyard, and we made the decision to pull the trigger and move forward with Unreal.”

When asked why the shift was necessary, Fader explained that because of a combination of fidelity, cross-platform support, content-creation pipelines and performance reasons, “Unreal was the smarter direction to go.” So with that decision made, the team set about staffing up and working on a new vertical slice — a sort of proof of concept prototype.

Nightdive is releasing a video of the game running in the new engine to backers, which you can see at the top of this post. And here are some images, if that’s more your speed:

System Shock remake - bloody hallway with corpse Nightdive Studios
System Shock remake - using lead pipe to attack enemy Nightdive Studios
System Shock remake - holding lead pipe in hallway Nightdive Studios

With this new investment in Unreal Engine and with audience expectations set by the Kickstarter, I asked how the team now thought of the game — is it still a remaster, like it was called when it was a Unity project early last year, or a remake? Fader instead calls it a reboot.

"We’re making a ‘faithful reboot,’ meaning the spirit of the game is the same, but how we present it may be different,” Fader told Polygon in a follow-up email. “We’re not touching the overall story (other than fixing plot holes). All of the characters you know and love will be back, but with more refined dialogue thanks to our lead narrative designer, Chris Avellone. Most of the classic creatures, weapons, items, and areas are being kept, but we will be applying modern game design principles and visuals to better introduce System Shock to current gamers that might not have had the chance to appreciate the original game.”

The team has been looking at the original game and assessing when to bring back components and when to “modernize or revamp from a level design standpoint,” as well as from an art standpoint, said Fader. But this doesn’t mean filing the edges off of what made System Shock so unique.

“We’re actually going to throw you even more in the deep end than System Shock, slightly,” Fader said. “System Shock 1 did have a lot of openly explorable environments, but some of them were gated or limited. We’re going to be opening up more of the station. We see this as more of a Metroidvania-style game.

“At one point I wanted to call it open world, but it’s not a world. But it is openly explorable. Once you get out of that starting area, the station is your oyster.”

With a targeted launch date of “mid to late 2018,” you still have plenty of time to back the game before release. You can find all the details on the game’s BackerKit page.