UPDATE (5/17/2016): Per Gameinformer, Night Dive Studios’ System Shock Remastered will be coming to crowd-funding website Kickstarter on June 29.
My buddy Adam over at Fragments of Silicon gave me a heads up that Stephen Kick of Night Dive Studios was returning to their show and once again it was a good one with many interesting items and tidbits, not the least of which is System Shock Remastered and Turok 2.
It’s been several months since Night Dive’s last update to the FOS crew about what they are up to but the last post I did about it was very popular so I thought gamers frantic for retro game news goodness might like another one.
Note: You can listen to the audio here – Fragments of Silicon Season 5, Episode 14B
Enjoy the notes / recap!
Night Dive Studios has been very busy and they are now branching into territory of remastering games (going with source code, porting to new engines, creating new experiences, etc.) instead of just rereleasing classic games and applying emulators, etc.
Why System Shock Remastered?
With System Shock Remastered it could almost be considered developing an original game from the ground up.
System Shock Remastered came out of discussions with Paul Neurath (Otherside Entertainment, previously of Looking Glass Studios which developed the original System Shock games) and also Otherside’s announcement of their System Shock 3 game in addition to Underworld Ascendant. It felt like the right time to remake one of the previous System Shock games and they landed on the original System Shock game.
For their previously released System Shock Enhanced Edition, Night Dive had worked with one of their contractors and prolific modders, Alex (last name?) from Brazil, who took the original System Shock game and ported it into a Windows build that allowed features like mouse look, higher resolutions, wide screen support, etc.
That had a good reception but System Shock deserved a full modern treatment due to its status as one of the greatest games of all time. A team was assembled of industry veterans to make this happen.
After a couple of months of hard work, on the first day of GDC Night Dive released a demo video of pre-alpha System Shock Remastered footage and it was very popular with over 500K views in a matter of days.
This reinforced the decision to remake the entire game all the way with all new assets.
Night Dive is launching a Kickstarter campaign in near future for System Shock Remastered that will have a lot of cool stuff for fans.
The Kickstarter campaign will be in 2016 but no other specifics are being offered right now. They are studying a lot of failed and successful campaigns (and also campaigns that funded but then are not delivering or are very delayed) to ensure the best crowdfunding campaign possible.
Stephen feels there is some consumer doubt in crowdfunding at the moment and he wants to make sure to quell that with the System Shock Remastered Kickstarter campaign, he wants supporters to be able to trust Night Dive 100%.
Stephen also feels that since he began researching Kickstarters their reputation has become more tarnished. He loves the idea of crowdfunding and wants to do it right.
System Shock Remastered’s Team & Tech
The pre-alpha demo looks so good because of the team talent, which consists of people that have worked on Planetside 2, Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout 4, Star Trek Online, and the newer Tomb Raider games. They also have Rob Waters, the original concept artist for System Shock and who also did the Freedom Force games and Bioshock games.
System Shock remastered is being developed using the Unity engine. This has surprised some people who didn’t think Unity had the chops to do what Night Dive is doing with it. Stephen is very happy and impressed with Unity.
Team size is very small and fluctuates between 6-10 people. Everyone involved is talented and agile and are fans of the franchise.
They have been able to use a tool to extract a lot of the level geometry and all of the sprites and assets from the original game directly into Unity. The blueprint of the game is already in the engine and they just need to rebuild the game as they see fit. This allows for a smaller team and also is saving time and money.
Is This A New System Shock Story?
When asked if System Shock Remastered will be a 1:1 experience compared to the original game, Stephen said they are striving to make the original System Shock experience as authentic as possible.
Part of Rob Waters’s involvement is to make sure that areas that are enhanced meet the feel and experience of the original game. These are areas that in the original game were inconsequential and you wouldn’t spend much time in or pay much attention to.
For example, one room in the original game has a section with overgrown trees that has a cyborg that shoots at you and maybe has a med patch. They thought what would this area look like if it was a biodome and plants and vegetables, etc had been left unattended for six months. Some additional corpses in this area (dubbed the “Arboretum”) will also add to the narrative of the story.
The goal is to expand certain sections for new players but remain true to the overall atmosphere and story of the original game for the fans.
It’s Under Control
Tackling the famously kludgy controls from a specific time of the original System Shock was the first thing the team tackled because they knew it was the biggest issue to overcome.
Currently they have a hybrid system that is sort of a mix of traditional first person controls (you can just experience the world) and a robust inventory system (like “Bioshock 2 without the inventory Tetris“). You don’t have to manage where things go in your inventory. Inventory is all text based like the original System Shock.
The audience response to the pre-alpha demo and a trailer has been almost unanimously positive, which surprises Stephen because it is unusual for something released on the Internet.
The few negative responses have been along the lines of people wondering why the game is being developed in Unity, and also those who disagree with the original music soundtrack not being used.
The music issue has been the main contention. Stephen feels the original music doesn’t represent the tone of the game accurately. They want to make a horror / sci-fi / cyberpunk experience and the original music doesn’t capture that.
Stephen says that no changes are being made lightly.
There have been discussions within the team of possibly making a remastered version of the original soundtrack available as a Kickstarter stretch goal so player can switch soundtracks. The feeling is that the different soundtracks lead to almost two different games.
Planks In The Platform
Night Dive is approaching System Shock Remastered from a multi-platform perspective.
Their first priority and love is to make a perfect PC version of the game.
There are also plans to release a version for Xbox One.
The PC version will not be developed from a “dumbed down” console version. However you play on the PC, whether you use a controller or not, it will be the same experience. Mouse and keyboard will be natively developed for.
System Shock 3
System Shock 3 is Otherside Entertainment’s baby. They have a lot of the original team and have the right talent to deliver what the fans expect.
Night Dive met with Paul Neurath and Warren Spector and others at GDC about System Shock 3 and Stephen is convinced it will be amazing.
Warren Spector was actually retired from video games and was doing academic work but has come back into the video game business just for System Shock 3.
Turok & Turok 2
How is Turok doing? Very well, response is overwhelmingly good. There is a passionate fan base that is thrilled to see Turok back.
Night Dive is currently underway on Turok 2 and that has its own challenges, such as multiplayer. Response for Turok has allowed Turok 2.
There was a wishlist of things that the devs wanted to do on Turok that they couldn’t do that they hope to include in Turok 2, including:
- Updating 3D models
- Providing new content
There might possibly be new content or expansions for Turok 1. This idea is up in the air but is being discussed internally.
New content for old games is big right now (ala Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear) and Stephen discusses how they have level editors for the Turok games and they are in a position to create new content.
He mentions System Shock Remastered and says what’s to keep us from adding a new level to Citadel Station? What if after System Shock Remastered they released an expansion?
Night Dive has brought on some very specific personnel to update Turok 2 to the modern age. While not exactly a challenge, one of the things they are focused on is multiplayer mode. They may add different types of multiplayer, but the original Turok 2 multiplayer modes will be there.
Turok 2 is a lot bigger than Turok 1 so they are not ready to discuss a release date. They are working on it, it will come out when it’s ready but don’t look for anything in the near future. Stephen says they knew it was bigger, but now they really know it now that they are in development.
One thing that helps is that they were fortunate to receive the original source code for both Turok games.
Turok on Xbox One
There is discussion on Twitter that the Turok games are coming out on Xbox One. Stephen declined to comment beyond what is already on Twitter.
Turok Rage Wars, Turok 3, Turok 2008?
Night Dive has had discussions about Turok Rage Wars and Turok 3 but they are not scheduled to work on any of these at the moment. However the current response they are getting with Turok games suggests it would be in their best interest to do so.
They have been approached about Turok 2008 and it’s possible but there is nothing to discuss or announce.
No new news on Powerslave since Stephen’s last appearance on the show.
Titanic: Adventure Out Of Time
The status on Titanic: Adventure of out Time is pretty the same as last time Stephen was on Fragments of Silicon. It’s a difficult project and there are some issues, however it is being tinkered with and Night Dive does want to release it. With everything else going on right now Titanic is on the back burner.
Night Dive previously shared they were looking at 3 Acclaim games called Forsaken, D and Machines Wired for War.
Stephen said those games are still “in their wheelhouse” but there are no new updates he can mention at this time.
They do plan on doing something with them at some point.
When asked if they have been trying to pursue any other Acclaim titles, Stephen asked if Fragments of Silicon had games they wanted to see.
Adam mentioned Extreme-G and that a lot of Acclaim titles are with a company called Throwback Entertainment.
Stephen says they have talked with Throwback before. They were talking about Re-Volt but it was sold to a Korean company.
Night Dive is currently not doing anything with Retroism. Stephen is sure there will be something in the future but currently no active projects.
When asked about the Capstone Games first person shooters that had been mentioned previously, Stephen said they had talked to the rights holders but there was a question of whether their IP ownership was absolute.
Stephen loves those games and would love to see them come back but the cost involved in having lawyers verify IP ownership precludes it for now. It may still happen in the future if they end up with “money to burn”.
Along these lines, Stephen half jokingly said if someone like Notch or Bill Gates wants to kick in a buck for game preservation he would be welcome to that.
Game preservation is very important to Stephen and it drives him beyond just running a successful business. He wishes they had unlimited funds so Night Dive could do everything people ask them to do and then some.
Stephen said that recently Night Dive was characterized as the Criterion Collection of video games and that made him feel good.
This November will be Night Dive’s 4th year in business and there were people who said you can’t do what you’re doing but he is very happy with how things have gone.
Any Other Acquisitions?
Stephen has some stuff he has been pursuing for a very long time.
Games on his wish list, decide on your own what this means:
- Blade Runner
- Discworld games
- Doom 64
So many games. They receive 3-5 emails a week requesting games and it goes in an Excel file for the never ending quest.
Adam of FOS says that Atari is the most corporate interview they have ever had on the show.
Stephen says that “Atari is a strange beast” and that even though Night Dive had nothing to do with it, you can thank them that Atari released Shadow of the Comet and Prisoner of Ice.
He said that when a major corporate entity has an IP in their closet but it’s not released, they say it’s worth X amount of dollars. But once it comes out, it is worth what the retail price is. So sometimes for the larger companies it’s a smarter business move to keep them tucked away so they can assign whatever business value to the property they want.
Atari has exploited their catalog to the point where they are in an interesting position because they don’t have a lot of IP of value in their back catalog now.
The ways that Atari is supporting (or not) their games is going to lead to a negative perception of certain old games. Blood 1, for example, has shoddy DOSBox emulation and no one is providing upkeep for Blood 1 and Blood 2 when newer versions or Windows come out so they become unplayable. So these games are not receiving the support they deserve in relation to what they contributed to gaming.
LucasArts / Disney
Stephen also discussed the need for games like LucasArts to receive a lot of love. It’s more than just getting an older game out there just once in a somewhat playable version for modern audiences.
Stephen crashed a Disney party at E3 to talk to them about LucasArts games and showed his deep understanding and love of the games and industry and even presented things he would do for free to help get the games out there in a quality manner.
He is disappointed with how they finally came out and laments Disney’s decisions and how some corporations are treating their properties.
Adam and Stephen discuss how certain games like LucasArts have a pedigree to the point where they deserve to have quality, modern playable versions.
Stephen obviously has a passion for these games beyond just the business aspect, you can hear it in his voice.
Stephen gets a lot of feedback asking for connections between game franchises, for example System Shock and Bioshock.
He loves the idea but doesn’t know how possible it would be (note from Shane: I assume he is referring to the legal issues involved, not technical challenges).
Stephen relates a story where one of his guys went through the files of Bioshock Infinite and found what appeared to be a 3D model that looks a lot like Citadel space station in System Shock. Stephen says that’s anecdotal and don’t quote him on the accuracy of that.
There’s some other discussion such as scouring the Internet for old games in original boxes and etc., and discussion and lamenting among everyone that despite best efforts some games are just going to die. It’s put forward by Adam that sometimes piracy is the only way to save games, and Adam will choose piracy over oblivion. Adam hopes we get better preservation so piracy isn’t necessary.
But don’t be sad. There’s a lot of good stuff happening as well, thanks in no small part to folks like Night Dive Studios and the Fragments of Silicon crew.
Happy gaming, me droogies.