D-don't you l-like my new look?
August 10, 2009 10:01 PM   Subscribe

"That was one of the most memorable scenes for me. Namely because his expression made it look like he wasn’t terrified of the fact he was hanging, but what was watching him hang." System Shock 2, the highly influential sci-fi horror game, was released 10 years ago today.

It's been 10 years, and the game's effects can still be seen. System Shock 2 was one of the few games that created a (good) hybrid of both first person shooter and role playing game, with heavy emphasis on each. It is also one of the very few games to use audio logs. The effect of the logs is chilling.

The biggest legacy of the game is largely in its story. A science fiction slash horror story, you awake onboard the Von Braun to find the space ship overtaken by a hideous infestation, and the memories start there. Most personal stories go to the effect of "scariest game ever"; even Penny Arcade had its own comments. Most credit the game's terrifying sound effects... but don't forget SHODAN!

SHODAN came to be known as one of the most frightening robotic villains in games; her damaged, robotic voice recalls a very, very bitter GLADoS. She's probably one of the game's most recognizable icons, and a large part of the scares.

The game also has another small legacy- the door code found in the beginning of the game, "45100", has shown up in later games involving System Shock 2 dev members, including Bioshock.

Rock Paper Shotgun has an excellent article on the development of the game. One of the developers also did a three page write up on the successes and failures of the dev team back in December 1999.

Bioshock is known as being a "spiritual successor" to System Shock 2. System Shock's rights eventually went over to EA, and rumors of a sequel quickly surfaced, but no news of any progress has appeared in recent months.

A dedicated fan community quickly sprung up around the game. Due to a strange programming error, the graphics were low quality even for the time of release. Fan projects such as SHTUP and Rebirth improved the game's graphics, and a patch was created by Irrational Studios, the developer, to balance the game and add a multiplayer mode. A patch was also released to allow support for more modern operating systems. Of course, due to the game's age, the community is less active then in recent years, with a year between recent postings on one of the game's more active fan sites.

Sadly, the game did poorly. While receiving critical acclaim from reviewers around the globe, it failed to sell well (in comparison to the recently released Half Life)

Any interesting tales to share from the halls of the Von Braun, fellow Marines/Navy Cadets/OSA Recruits? Quick personal anecdote: the Sgt. Bronson death log probably freaked me out the most in the game, no question. Also, the Tommy Saurez and Siddons love plot was also really compelling, especially its overall large effect on the story.

(Bonus: You can listen to all the audio logs (for all the nostalgia it will surely bring) on this webpage, but warning: SPOILERS, and music plays when you enter (can be turned off near the top))
posted by Askiba (84 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Say I want to play this game, now, on a patched WinXP box, with a *minimum* of tweaking DOSBox etc... like as close to 'put in the CD and play' as possible. Is this possible? MacBook would be great too but I'd settle for being able to play it (*easily*) on an XP box.
posted by jcruelty at 10:05 PM on August 10, 2009

Also, death log link doesn't work for me: Forbidden You don't have permission to access /shocklog/071_LOG0412.mp3 on this server.
posted by jcruelty at 10:07 PM on August 10, 2009

Oh gosh.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:12 PM on August 10, 2009

Also, this ask.mefi thread may be interest if you're into space horror... Alien, Project Firestart, 7 Days a Skeptic, even "Event Horizon" had its moments... good stuff. I'm gonna play SS2 someday!
posted by jcruelty at 10:13 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Jcruelty: Seems fine to me, but try Ctrl+F "guts"on the logs hyperlink at the bottom. See if it works playing it from the page.

Also, didn't feel it was appropriate in the post, so let me say it now. In my experience, trying to get SS2 running on XP is very difficult. I've only managed to get it to work one machine out of three. Try looking for some kind of installing guide, as you may have better luck then me. But I've found the necessary cocktail of patches and upgrades to be infuriating and unreliable.
posted by Askiba at 10:14 PM on August 10, 2009

posted by grobstein at 10:14 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Bronson log forbids linking from outside sites (probably trying to avoid people leeching the URL). Copy and paste this into your address bar to listen to it:


...I just happened upon Looking Glass Studios' wiki page the other day, and was sad to discover they'd gone out of business. I have major ADD when it comes to video games, and System Shock 2 was one of the first ones I managed to play all the way through. Of course, looking at the list of games developed by Looking Glass alumni I see a number of other games with that same honor. The only other studio with such a track record is Square.

Maybe I should pick Bioshock up again as soon as I finish GTA: San Andreas...
posted by Riki tiki at 10:24 PM on August 10, 2009

Metafilter: Pathetic creatures of meat and bone.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:34 PM on August 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm not a huge fan of SS2, but I think that's probably because I didn't play it until after I'd played Deus Ex- which added some rpg bits beyond customizable stats- and Vampire: the Masquerade - Bloodlines, which balanced FPS/RPG to the point that it's practically an RPG with an FPS interface. I guess I'd have been more impressed if I'd played it in '99, but as it is, it just feels like a particularly atmospheric FPS with a somewhat better story and customizable stats.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:35 PM on August 10, 2009

I've been a Mac user since 1990 when I got my firstest computer of my very own. Few things over the years have ever made me wish I had a PC, but System Shock 2 was one--I would go to my local game shop and just look at the box longingly.

Are you happy now, you PC using brutes? I said it. God how I loathe you, and your awesome looking games of my youth. You go to Hell!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:35 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

The big reveal in System Shock 2 is easily one of my favourite gaming moments. For a few seconds I thought the game was hanging when suddenly... FFFFFFFFFFFFF.

What is it that you fear? The end of your trivial exissstence?
posted by Memo at 10:36 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Good post.

I wanted to love this game, but my problem was that it was one of the many FPS of the day that gave me terrible motion sickness. Playing it for more than an hour would knock me out for almost the whole rest of the day. In the end, although the story was captivating me like no other game prior, I just had to stop playing.

I don't know what developers of first person shooters have done since those days but modern FPS'ers are totally playable for me without giving me even a hint of motion sickness. Bioshock, the spiritual successor, was awesome, and Killzone 2 was awesome.

Hopefully they do make a System Shock 3. Or hell, even a modern day remake of System Shock 2 that won't give me motion sickness. I'd really love to see what I missed.
posted by Effigy2000 at 10:39 PM on August 10, 2009

The last time I tried to get SS2 working on XP a couple years ago I had no success. I guess I should try it now that I have a new computer.

One thing you forgot to mention: CO-OP MULTIPLAYER! The only thing better than being alone on a scary space ship is being alone on a scary space ship WITH A FRIEND!
posted by palidor at 10:50 PM on August 10, 2009

This is not a good post, this is an awesome post.

System Shock is one of my favorite games ever, right next to Thief: The Dark Project and Deus Ex. I've got it set up right now with the texture and model patches, in terms of gameplay it still beats most modern games out of the water. I'd love to see it remade, just as long as they didn't dumb it down like they did with Bioshock.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:54 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Splendid post, magnificent (for the time) game. This thread and others in the same forum will help you get it up and running on modern operating systems, if you're so inclined.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:55 PM on August 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'd love to see it remade, just as long as they didn't dumb it down like they did with Bioshock.

The reason Bioshock was made (as a 'spiritual successor' to System Shock) was, as I recall, intellectual property problems that made it impossible to legally do a new one. So unless that changes, we're stuck with the original two. Perhaps that's for the best.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:58 PM on August 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Memo: The big reveal in System Shock 2 is easily one of my favourite gaming moments.

That was an incredible reveal. SS2 scares the hell out of me. I've never finished the game (at least, not yet), but I got far enough to witness that moment and it still blows me away.

The only gaming moment that has even come close in recent years was the brief conversation between Commander Shepherd and Sovereign in Mass Effect. (Sovereign even pays some homage to SHODAN. Heh.)
posted by Kikkoman at 11:24 PM on August 10, 2009

Wow, Memo, nice link. It really says something about the skill of the game designers - that's the first thing I've seen of the game, and it freaked me the hell out even despite its outdated graphics and despite the fact that I wasn't even playing the game, just watching. Yiiikes.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:28 PM on August 10, 2009

I tried recently, and there is no surefire way to get this game working on a modern system. It works for some (mostly single core, older systems), but not for others. The best I can recommend is just grab Bioshock instead. It's not Looking Glass, but it is definitely a spiritual successor, and a fantastic game in its own right.
posted by sophist at 11:30 PM on August 10, 2009

If you bought the game and feel that it is only fair you should be able to play it on a modern system, you can download it from a torrent site and it is already packaged up and ready for play on a modern (XP, at least) system.
posted by ijoyner at 11:39 PM on August 10, 2009

System Shock 2 is my favourite game of all time. Not because of one specific thing that it does well but because all the elements serve the complete and utter immersion of the player into a highly realized world (in concept if not always in execution). The Von Braun feels like a real place. Valuable stuff is hidden away, health and ammo is in dispensers or crates and all the areas feel like they would on a luxury cruise liner, just in space. There's only a handful of games that have drawn me so deeply into their world. Thief being one of them (have I mentioned recently how much I miss Looking Glass Studios?)

Shodan is also a creation of beauty. Very few games had the antagonist be as aggressively evil as System Shock. She was openly mocking you and ensured that by the end of the game you want to wipe that smug AI smile off her virtual face.

Though not perfectly realised, I really enjoyed playing the game through as a hacker, avoiding confrontation whenever possible.

Thanks for this post.
posted by slimepuppy at 11:46 PM on August 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

I was able to run SS2 without any problems on my XP laptop a few years ago by setting it to Windows 98 compatibility mode. For dual core systems there is a small program called FlipTIB that might help.

I have to admit, though, I never managed to finish SS2. I loved the story and atmosphere but hated the gameplay. I just couldn't stand the continually respawning enemies and unsatisfying combat.
posted by fearthehat at 12:25 AM on August 11, 2009

Are you happy now, you PC using brutes? I said it. God how I loathe you, and your awesome looking games of my youth. You go to Hell!

I'm the same way, then about 9 months ago I set up boot camp, winxp and all of the other fiddling required to finally realise what I'd been waiting 9 years for. And you know what? I was kinda disappointed.

Most of all it was the respawning that got me. I love to play stealth and large part of the satisfaction is lurking around, getting a feel for things, then using that knowledge to clean the place out. Waltzing merrily through a corridor I thought I'd cleared 5 minutes earlier only to bump into an identical enemy is terribly frustrating. It makes you not want to bother walking through that corridor again which is limiting, because there are a lot of corridors in SS2.
posted by teem at 1:22 AM on August 11, 2009

I remember playing the SS2 demo with a friend. Hiding in an office while one of the creatures plodded past down the corridor was by far the scariest thing we'd ever encountered in a game.

(My girlfriend once rented Silent Hill for her PlayStation. I asked if it was any good and she said something like "Well it was sort of snowing and the town was horrible. I got to a door and decided I really didn't want to see what was behind it, so I switched the game off.")
posted by malevolent at 1:49 AM on August 11, 2009 [10 favorites]

In 1999 I saw the Matrix in the theater with a bunch of friends, and after it was over my friends were just so excited about the mishmash of low-hanging scifi tropes they'd just been served up. My feeling then was, "You guys actually liked that garbage?" I couldn't quite understand why they liked it and it was alienating.

I have the same sort of feeling towards this game. 1999 was just so late for an HR Giger-faced AI chick. I don't understand the reverence it gets. But there's got to be something right? What am I missing? Maybe I should go watch the Let's Play.
posted by fleacircus at 3:24 AM on August 11, 2009

Teem: you can control enemy respawn rates on a patched version of SS2.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:04 AM on August 11, 2009

In fact, Teem, instructions can be found here.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:05 AM on August 11, 2009

I got it to run fine on my new dual-core laptop using the instructions from here. Basically, you need to tell windows to run the game on a single processor using the command line: "start /affinity 01 shock2.exe" in the cmd.exe shell.
posted by octothorpe at 4:26 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ha! Having an old computer paid off. The demo copy from download.com works fine on this XP box and I am not even going to mess with the patches.
kthx off to gib
posted by vapidave at 4:53 AM on August 11, 2009

RPS' Kieron Gillen on SS2, again: The Girl Who Wanted to be God
posted by permafrost at 4:57 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

fleacircus: It doesn't have to be revolutionary to be very well done. There wasn't much new in the Matrix, but it was a neat mishmash of old themes with a few interesting directorial novelties thrown in. I remember thinking Giger was pretty sweet in high school around '97. I didn't get cool enough to think he was passe by '99. Or at all.
posted by chmmr at 5:04 AM on August 11, 2009

flibbertigibbet: Thanks for that.
posted by teem at 5:16 AM on August 11, 2009

Oh wow, great post!

In my experience, trying to get SS2 running on XP is very difficult.

This, in my experience, has been very true. I can't wait to try out some of the ideas in Stavros' link, since I revisit this game every couple years in a vain attempt to get it to run again. I even got it to start up a while back, but the graphics are all borked into a pastiche of off-green and purple.

I loved SS2 when it came out, and somehow Bioshock didn't quite hit the same way for me. It might have been essentially just a maturation thing. When SS2 came out, there wasn't much widely available that had a similar feel, atmosphere or gameplay. Bioshock had 8 more years of gaming history to compete with, and the bar is inevitably going to be raised higher.
posted by This Guy at 5:18 AM on August 11, 2009

Babies must rest... babies must sleep...

I got SS2 just after I'd moved from an apartment with several housemates to one big place that I had all to myself. I quickly realized it was the first game since DOOM that I should not play

1. in the dark, and
2. with headphones on.

But I kept playing like that because I loved the experience. Course, it didn't hurt to have a bottle of gin on hand Just In Case, and there were many drink breaks throughout the course of the story.
posted by Spatch at 5:18 AM on August 11, 2009

Man, my single creepiest-ever moment was probably in System Shock 2. I was sneaking around somewhere in the late midgame, and found the first of the 'midwives', which were nursemaids for the annelid's eggs. I was stuck in some corner waiting for something deadly or other to walk past, and the nursemaid on the floor below started singing, crooning that "little ones need lots of meat".

And suddenly, all at once, I understood on an instinctive level that that had once been a woman, and she'd had her brain rewired and her maternal instincts hijacked to care for worms. It was a moment of such perfect dread and horror that it burned itself into my consciousness in a way that most real experiences never do. And for the remainder of the game, and on subsequent replays, I hated, hated killing nursemaids, but felt entirely compelled to do so.

Effigy2000: I wanted to love this game, but my problem was that it was one of the many FPS of the day that gave me terrible motion sickness. Playing it for more than an hour would knock me out for almost the whole rest of the day. In the end, although the story was captivating me like no other game prior, I just had to stop playing.

It might be better if you replay it now. I finally found a game that made me motion sick; I've never really suffered from that. Oddly, of all things, it was Second Life. If I stand on, say, a rotating circle, or if I "skate" around a "rink", I will inevitably get nauseated. After thinking about it for some time, I believe it's because of the jerky, unstable framerate in that game.

I don't know this for sure, but it wouldn't shock me if you were playing SS2 on hardware that couldn't maintain 60fps, and that's what triggered your motion sickness. If you replay it on a modern graphic card, you may not have the problem anymore.

Of course, getting it working on a modern system isn't easy.
posted by Malor at 5:47 AM on August 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Excellent post. I have very vivid memories of playing this in a cramped bedroom, scrounging containers for ingredients, beating the twisted crewmen with a wrench to conserve the reliability of my assault rifle, skulking through the decks.

I stopped playing towards the late game when the action moved off the Von Braun because everything after that felt very cobbled together, which I found out years later was due to rushing to meet the release date. I will need to see if it'll run on my latest rig.

I suppose in one sense, I never really left the Von Braun... Glory to the Many.
posted by Molesome at 6:25 AM on August 11, 2009

Besides the horror theme, SS2 was also graced by a sophisticated role playing system, with a choice of techie, run-and-gun, and psi skill sets. The RPG elements made the game for me.

Bioshock dumbed down--actually, removed--the RPG base, so it's a stretch to call it a spiritual SS2 successor, in my mind. Also, the Art Deco design removed the spooky core, IMO.

I'd propose "Dead Space" as closer to being a spiritual successor, at least in terms of the eerie outer space environment. No RPG elements, alas. And the boss and asteroid battles are ruining the game for me.
posted by Gordion Knott at 6:38 AM on August 11, 2009

huh. i'll have to check this out. which means i can't follow the links because i don't want to get too spoiled for the game.

i never used to have problems with motion sickness in pc games, but more modern games do *something* to my brain. it first started with HL2 - the swing around as i got in and out of the dune buggy always made me dizzy (this was on a PC). and now with HL2:epN and bioshock, i can only play for an hour or so at a time before it starts to bug me (on PC or Xbox).
posted by rmd1023 at 6:39 AM on August 11, 2009

Got it to work on xp about 5 years ago, which is when I first played it. But then, I'm not on a good enough machine to run Bioshock, so maybe yer fancy dual cores, etc, are mucking it up (you can disable one of your processors, mind -- I've had to do that for some games on my laptop).

Great game. And cute Silent Hill anecdote, malevolent.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:46 AM on August 11, 2009

I think this means I have a post to make on December 12.
posted by waraw at 6:47 AM on August 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

I never played the game. It sounds like it is up my alley too. I wish there was a clear cut way of running this game on a newer system or if someone could just update it and run the old game. Hell I would throw in at least 10$ to dl the patch so I could play it. I got the first part of the game to run but after you select your "race/type" it freezes and won't let me play it anymore. :(
posted by Mastercheddaar at 6:50 AM on August 11, 2009

Great post, thanks!

I am a gamer, but first and foremost I am a giant wuss. I tried several times to play through the game, but never made it very far before the atmosphere psyched me out or the zombies got me. I did end up running through it via cheats, which allowed me to experience the game without the fear -- which, I suppose, removed much of what the game was about.

I wish there were similar graphical update projects for the original System Shock. Those graphics are awful, and completely stymied my attempts at playing the game.
posted by graventy at 7:05 AM on August 11, 2009

I think this means I have a post to make on December 12.

I LOVED THAT GAME! And I have yet to meet anybody else who had even heard of it. So happy to know that other people played it. Although it's almost nothing like SS2, it definitely had similarly rich atmosphere and storyline.
posted by This Guy at 7:46 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

the white chamber is a great free sci fi horror game.

System Shock 2 was certainly a peak of my gaming experience, along with Deus Ex (although SS2 was the one that really got inside my head).
posted by spacediver at 7:53 AM on August 11, 2009

As I've mentioned a few (probably too many) times around here, I work with the guys behind System Shock 2, many of which are still here, and did the voiceover production for Bioshock. It's funny, but nobody here has even mentioned that this is the tenth anniversary of SS2's release.

Gordian Knot lists Dead Space as a spiritual successor, and I can confirm that a lot of people here really enjoyed that game despite some of its flaws. Truthfully it's not so much a direct successor of SS2 as an extremely well-executed fusion of SS2 and Doom 3.

Also, to clear up a common misconception: SS2 was not developed by Looking Glass, it just used their technology and many of the people were former LGS employees.
posted by Ryvar at 8:19 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, if I remember correctly, the key to getting the Dark Engine to work on a modern machine is to launch the game and as soon as the UI comes up, CTRL-ALT-DEL to the task manager, and under the processes list find the process for the game and set its processor affinity to a single processor.

There may be some other steps, but that was the big hurdle I encountered.
posted by Ryvar at 8:24 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. I feel weird now knowing I have a still-factory-sealed version of Planescape: Torment in storage.

(A friend of mine and I entered a fan-site design contest, and split the third-place prize. She got the art software and I got the game, and then never played it. I wonder how much I could get for it on eBay in that condition.)
posted by mephron at 8:44 AM on August 11, 2009

That was exactly what I had to do, Ryvar, to get SS2 to play on my dual-core laptop.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2009

I'd propose "Dead Space" as closer to being a spiritual successor, at least in terms of the eerie outer space environment.

I've heard vague rumours that Dead Space started life as SS3... Make of that what you will.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:00 AM on August 11, 2009

I first got System Shock 2 when it came out, to play alone in my room with headphones. It scared the shit out of me in a very stressful time in my life and I couldn't play it. A few years later I was chatting with one of its developers and told him that and he thanked me for the high compliment. Then I went back a few years later and played it again and it still scared the shit out of me, but I managed to finish.

What a fantastic story-driven game. I'm glad Bioshock was such a success because it's given more gamers exposure to this kind of game on current platforms. But System Shock 2 was first, and in some ways I think a stronger game. The only other FPS games with such good storytelling are the Half Life games, but the gameplay of those is so constrained.. I really like the openness of the SS2 design. (OK, arguably Deus Ex was even better than SS2 in being open and having a strong story.)

I also loved the UI of System Shock 2, the inventory management and the minimalist HUD and all. One of my favourite easter eggs in gaming are the mini-games in it, particularly Overworld Zero, the Ultima spoof. It was a fun little mini-game in its own respect. I see someone has made a open source remake, heh.
posted by Nelson at 9:35 AM on August 11, 2009

I remember that somehow SS2 had completely escaped my attention when it had first come out. It wasn't until years later that I finally played it, say, somewhere between Half-Life 1 and Half-Life 2. And I recall putting it in, and not stopping until I'd beaten it, and when it was over I looked at the shelf full of more recently released games and thought "What the fuck am I going to do with you?" I'm still an avid gamer, but I think I can trace my newfound discriminatory taste to that moment. I play far fewer games these days, and I demand that they be of much higher quality.

and yes, I agree that Dead Space was an SS2 type game at heart. The plot also had some seriously engaging and surprising points in it.
posted by shmegegge at 10:01 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. I feel weird now knowing I have a still-factory-sealed version of Planescape: Torment in storage.

One pair ACME rocket skates, never used.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:05 AM on August 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

open it. play it now.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:06 AM on August 11, 2009

oh man, Planescape. If there's anything I hate most about the recent suckification of Gametap (I even canceled my membership) it's that their new format means I can't play planescape anymore.
posted by shmegegge at 10:08 AM on August 11, 2009

System Shock 2 and Planescape hold first and second place on GoG's most-wanted list. Hopefully they'll work out the licensing voodoo.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:14 AM on August 11, 2009

Back in the day, a friend who was a fan of the series had just found the SHTUP/Rebirth mods and sat down to replay SS2. Every night after work, he'd come home and play the game on his dual monitor system for a few hours. Having never played the game ourselves, us housemates would all gather around the second monitor to watch The System Shock Two Show. He was an old hand at the game so in between telling us trivia, answering questions, and pointing out interesting scenarios, he'd prep scary moments for maximum spookiness. It was a crash course into what made SS2 so very special by someone who clearly loved the game. I wish there was a television/web/puppet show that came even close to replicating that experience. It's one of my fondest memories of a video game that I deeply enjoyed but didn't actually play.
posted by cheap paper at 10:14 AM on August 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

Hmm. Exposure to Planescape in name only. Would it hold up?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:15 AM on August 11, 2009

Oh oh! I just remembered something (else) awesome about SS2!

They had the following competition set up for the game:

Worthless Insects! Get Killed By SHODAN! One "lucky" person will have the chance to join the unfortunate crew of the UNN Von Braun as one of the victims of SHODAN. YOUR NAME and YOUR FACE will appear in the actual System Shock 2 game, forever intertwining your fate with that of the doomed crew. Sound grim? You bet it is! But how many chances do you have to get rubbed out by a rogue, megalomanical artificial intelligence (hint: one)? To enter, simply enter your name and email address below. A name will be drawn at random, and that lucky(?) person will have their name and image included in System Shock 2.

I badly wanted to be a severed head in System Shock 2.
posted by slimepuppy at 10:24 AM on August 11, 2009

Oh! Cool! Who actually won that contest? I remember seeing a very distinctive severed head in a few parts of the game, but I never connected it to a name.
posted by Askiba at 10:35 AM on August 11, 2009

I remember System Shock 2. I remember loving the texture, cleverness and craft that went into making it. But mostly I remember those fucking evil little psionic monkeys! Damn it, I still have nightmares about the terrible noises they made right before they ruined your day.

posted by quin at 12:20 PM on August 11, 2009

That unopened Torment box is probably really worth something. Don't play it! Find a used copy to play, and eBay that one.
posted by Malor at 2:38 PM on August 11, 2009

Hmm. Exposure to Planescape in name only. Would it hold up?

Incredibly. It plays a bit like the Baldur's Gate games, but using a modified version of the old AD&D rules instead of D&D 3.x. The story is flat out phenomenal, the characters incredibly memorable and a delight - a lot of the character advancement isn't through beating on baddies (altho there is a lot of that) but by getting to KNOW them through conversation and quests. The slow reveal of your own character is incredibly impressive as well, especially the backstory between you and your floating skull friend, Morte. Play it immediately!
posted by FatherDagon at 3:01 PM on August 11, 2009

yes, play it immediately, but check gamefaqs for what your stats should be when you create your character. possibly one of the most frustrating moments in video game history is realizing that you'd see and understand more of the game if only you'd picked one very particular stat arrangement at the very beginning out of the thousands of permutations possible.
posted by shmegegge at 3:09 PM on August 11, 2009

Thanks for the warning. Will do.

Looking at the wiki, Planescape has *all kinds* of material I'm interested in, so I'm both saddened that I missed this before and excited as all hell.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:42 PM on August 11, 2009

And I finally understand the scorn for Spelljammer, which didn't look bad, but as an intended replacement for Manual of the Planes? I don't think so.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:43 PM on August 11, 2009

i never used to have problems with motion sickness in pc games, but more modern games do *something* to my brain. it first started with HL2 - the swing around as i got in and out of the dune buggy always made me dizzy (this was on a PC). and now with HL2:epN and bioshock, i can only play for an hour or so at a time before it starts to bug me (on PC or Xbox).

First Person games are really the only genre I truly love, and I've found in recent years that I occasionally do get feeling nauseous after a long session and have with certainty tracked it down to field-of-view. If the FOV is less than 70 or 80 degrees, I get wobbly after a while. Most games these days, with some notable and annoying exceptions (Far Cry 2 I'm looking at you), will allow you either in the options or in editing cfg files to widen the field of view. If you're finding that an FPS is making you dizzy or ill, try and find a way to up the FOV some, and that may well help you.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:51 PM on August 11, 2009

No modern replay of Planescape: Torment would be worthwhile without the high resolution patch. STUPID x RIDICULOUS? Sure. Note that the text shrinks as you increase the res, so that element suffers. I don't know if anyone's figured out a fix for that.

But, oh man, you never knew just how gorgeous a game Planescape (and Baldur's Gate(s)) was until you play it at a higher resolution and can see most of Sigil on your screen at once.
posted by Decimask at 5:16 PM on August 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

That hi-res patch - so, so wonderful. SO wonderful. I need to go home and install and play through for the Nth time RIGHT NOW.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:17 AM on August 12, 2009

I started playing SS2 for the first time last year and loved it but never finished. Because of this thread, I fired it up last night and loaded my last save and then remembered that I quit playing because I'm stuck on the engineering deck without enough ammo to make it any farther. I may have to backtrack and find a save and then try to conserve ammo more. What a cruel game to give you clips full of only 3 bullets and then send half a dozen mutants after you.
posted by octothorpe at 8:33 AM on August 12, 2009

Not to forget where it all began.
posted by Mil at 3:24 PM on August 12, 2009

Wow, decimask. To make money on those games all over again, all they'd have to do is incorporate that patch and increase the font size. I'd buy them again.
posted by Malor at 4:56 PM on August 12, 2009

Mil: "Not to forget where it all began ."

Very cool. I tried to play the first SS but it was so crashy that I never got too far. The bad old DOS days of memory extensions and IRQ settings and incompatible sound cards and such. Windows 95 was a pretty sucky OS but it did run games a hell of a lot better than DOS did.
posted by octothorpe at 5:34 PM on August 12, 2009

SS1 was a revelation. The amount of (pixelated, blocky) complexity in the HUD, the richness of the environment and story -- in the DOOM era (and not to ever say a bad thing about DOOM), I still remember the first 10 or 15 minutes of that game, and going to myself 'Oh my god, I've seen the future...'
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:36 PM on August 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

RPS linked back to this thread.
posted by empath at 11:16 PM on August 12, 2009

I would never have played SS2 had I not played the first one... I remember when System Shock came out. It got a ridiculous 98% score from a (at the time respectable) Finnish gaming magazine. Incredulous, I got the game and had to admit I had stumbled on to something special.

I blame PC Gamer and its ilk for the lack of success for the first game: They dedicated something like 6 pages to a review of Doom II and gave it a huge score yet in the same magazine they reviewed System Shock in a single page and dismissed it with a 'good' score of 80 or thereabouts.
posted by slimepuppy at 6:18 AM on August 13, 2009

This thread is probably stale...

But both System Shock and System Shock 2 are some of my absolute favorite games ever. Just pure perfection.

It was the first time I'd ever been exposed to the idea that a hacker might lead a life of adventure. That, sometime in the future, computer nerds might be given assault rifles and told to take care of the situation. As a young geek, this was a heady possibility.

I haven't even finished SS2, because it was too scary. Not in a startle, jump sort of way--I breezed right through Doom 3, which is nothing but startle. No, it was just too creepy. When I played it, I honestly felt like I was all alone on a ship run by an insane intelligence, surrounded by inhuman monsters who didn't even hate me, wouldn't torture me out of spite, but who would mercilessly carve my still-living body up into biological building blocks and gibblets for their larvae. Add to that the computer, pretending to be the captain--oh, I saw through her tricks immediately. But my only hope to survive was to follow her directions like a schmuck, hoping she'd lead me close enough to the computer core to silence her.

There were many nights where I didn't stop playing until the sun came up, because at least if I was playing the game, I could defend myself. If I turned off my computer... I didn't even have a gun, let alone telekinesis. And they'd come for me. As I slept. They'd come for me.

(Well, the last time, I either hit a bug or a giant backtracking quest, so I quit.)

Of course... now that I am a hacker, I don't seem to get many Requests for Adventure.

Also, while I thought BioShock was okay, an FPS a cut above the rest, it really didn't feel like any kind of successor to System Shock. The problem was basically that they dumbed it down so far that nothing was left but the FPS. There's no option to sneak. There's no option to hack (as a way of winning, not just as a way of decreasing prices). The psi powers are all just funny-shaped guns. There's no feeling that Rapture was a once-thriving place: it looks and feels like a movie set the whole way through. Like mutants took over Universal Studios. The levels are painfully linear, corralling you through each pre-planned encounter. There's nothing to explore on your own dime. That which is not prohibited is mandatory.

And it succumbs to the worst vice of horror gaming: startle. Instead of relying on tenseness and atmosphere to evoke fear, it simply pops up enemies out of nowhere. Areas you've cleared? Full of badguys when you go back through. Weird nook off a hallway? Monster closet.

I probably won't buy BioShock 2... no matter how much I'm jonesin' for a new game.
posted by Netzapper at 1:31 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Netzapper, man, to you I have to recommend Vampire: Bloodlines. It creates a perfectly immersive sense of place, has a surprisingly high replayability that comes in part from the wide variety of options available to pursue for your character, and the Ocean House Hotel is widely held to one of if not the scariest things in gaming.

By the by, inspired by this thread, I gave SS2 another go to see if it might work out better for me this time. But no luck! It crashes while trying to load the level where you choose your skills.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:38 AM on August 17, 2009

I'm playing through Bloodlines now, and while it's very good I'm not sure that I'd call it tense or frightening so much as narrowly devastating and sad; like Silent Hill 2, it has some of the trappings of survival horror (incessant scavenging), but survival tends to mark you as guilty rather than resourceful. You succeed and survive through parasitism, in the abstract and in the very literal, and you're not scavenging from the dead but the living and the living dead, the blood banks and back alleys. Even the Ocean House quest is overshadowed by its reasons and resolution - if I remember correctly, it's not about putting the undead to rest so much as liberating their real estate, adding another trinket to some Malkavian's collection.

If you do pick up Bloodlines, or any of Troika's games (Arcanum, Temple of Elemental Evil), it goes without saying you'll need to hit up the community patches:

Wesp's unofficial Bloodlines 6.4 patch
Drog's Arcanum patches
Circle of Eight's TOEE 5.5 patch

Troika's games were legendarily buggy and frequently unplayable as delivered, and so I cannot stress enough the importance of the unofficial patches in restoring them.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:56 AM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Arcanum! I really wanted to play that back in the day. Looked interesting. And I came to love Vampire Masquerade: Redemption (terrible A.I. and all) and Bloodlines which followed was pretty damn good. Though I agree, odd mention in a thread about scary stuff because they really weren't, and weren't, I think, trying to be.

Will have to try to get ahold of Arcanum while I'm at it.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:42 AM on August 17, 2009

Zowza. That's more than just a patch, k.i.:

The best known comprehensive fix package is Drog Black Tooth's "Unofficial Arcanum patch" series at RPG Codex, which fixes many of Arcanum's remaining issues without altering the game's balance. The mod also restores a substantial amount of lost content, including endings, audio, artwork and animations, as well as adding higher quality versions of location maps, and higher bit rate music files (created from the official soundtrack CD). One of the mod's most notable features is the removal of sprite mirroring, restoring more than 200 megabytes of previously unused animations to the game.

Looking forward to it!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:46 AM on August 17, 2009

Well, the Ocean House is fun to play with the lights off and headphones on, Thief 2 style. But it's a bit hard to take other supernatural threats seriously when you look like bondage Klaus Kinsky and do kegstands of rat blood. Yeah, yeah, you're pulling off that Ringu look, that's swell; did you perchance catch me in Aguirre: Der Zorn Gottes? Yeah. Move along.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:25 PM on August 17, 2009

True that, the Ocean House was scary. And it was rather interesting to be this dangerous creature wandering around a completely spooky environment. Well done, that.

I recall now that I never finished Bloodlines because of a bug I hit. Naturally, you can't kill important NPCs, but I accidentally pulled out the fangs in the presence of one (without, for some odd reason, a decent save point before it) and whenever I encountered that character again, he huddled and ran for cover instead of doing his Important NPC Stuff.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:28 PM on August 17, 2009

W-w-wha-t are you d-d-ooing i-i-in-sect?
Apparently, if you're going to be a rampant AI, you gotta remove the gonads. Even Marathon's Durandal was only cruel because he wanted stuff done.

Seriously though, the multi-layered voice effect with the 'computer chatter' in the background, eerie. I was recently reminded of this effect from a Robot Chicken episode, where they had a Tilla Tequilla (sp?) robot who displayed 'appropriate emotion over 50% of the time'. And then broke down into giggling/crying jags.

Rapid transition is unsettling. Also, the enemies apologizing while striking you, quite (ah ha) disarming.
posted by LD Feral at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2009

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