A Kick for Kickstarters: System Shock

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I feel like a broken record when I start an “A Kick for Kickstarters” post by acknowledging my concern regarding the future of high-profile campaigns. This started in 2014, when they collectively didn’t make anywhere near as much as they did in 2013 in its first half. But 2015 was a comeback year, thanks to efforts like Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (which has a great demo), Yooka-Laylee (which is coming along well), and Shenmue III (which is coming along fine…I think). But lately, everyone’s been talking about how much of a bust Mighty No. 9 was, especially since it was the first campaign many contributed to. As a result, some people never want to trust crowdfunding again.

That’s a shame, because they’re saying this despite evidence that crowdfunded games can turn out well, and there are more cases of people being impressed by games they’ve backed than not. Heck, some released earlier this year, like Hyper Light Drifter, Darkest Dungeon, and That Dragon, Cancer, though none of those admittedly raked in a gigantic amount of funding. But another campaign has arrived just in time to address the question of whether a place still exists for high-profile efforts: System Shock.

This campaign is for a remake of the classic first-person action/RPG, known as one of the first games to use such a perspective for storytelling purposes and methodical exploration instead of relying on shooting — though it has some of that too. For years, 2K’s Bioshock series has been referred to as a spiritual successor to both titles, which was developed by some of the same team members. While that still applies to the first game, it started drifting away from its concepts with the sequel, and especially Bioshock Infinite. But some developers realized demand exists for a reimagined System Shock-like experience, especially one bearing its name, hence the existence of this crowdfunding effort.

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System Shock is about a hacker protagonist who has to explore the environment, solve puzzles, and survive battles inside a sizable space station. Its plot will advance as the player collects more info and digs through their surroundings further, with progression being nonlinear. For the remake, developer Night Dive Studios is promising to take the original experience and give it a more modern sheen, including reimagined characters, enemies, and locations. Additionally, the antagonist SHODAN AI will be given newly-recorded voice work from the original voice actress. This is a good way of showing how the development team is aware of what made the original tick, and is aiming to maintain those elements with the remake.

To assist with this, Night Dive has tapped some veteran industry talent to assist with its development. That includes former Obsidian Entertainment designer and writer Chris Avellone, who will be working closely with other creative staff members. It also has the endorsement of original producer Warren Spector.

While those details are encouraging, best way to instill confidence in potential backers is to let them see the game, something every developer needs to do for a chance at success on crowdfunding nowadays. Thankfully, they went beyond posting the usual series of screenshots, gameplay footage, and animated GIFs, and provided a pre-alpha demo for PC players to try. Though quite a few enjoyed it, I’ve also seen reports saying it’s poorly-optimized and buggy. Thankfully, they’re in the midst of preparing a second demo that should fix most of those issues.

While the demo is proof this remake is already well under development, Night Dive will need another $900,000 to finish the base game. But it’s clear the developers, and some fans by extension, want it to hit the $1.7 million stretch goal, which will increase the project’s scope tremendously by including elements like a wider variety of weapons, enemy dismemberment, and an extended RPG-style building system.

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That’s “some fans” because I’ve seen others who would rather have the game without those features, especially the building system, which could shift its gameplay style to one too close to the Bioshock games. The campaign has been going for about six days now, and is already close to its initial goal as of this writing, so there’s a good chance it will hit that stretch goal by the end. Hopefully those features are implemented in a way which doesn’t hamper the experience.

The platform choices were another point of contention for some, though this wasn’t entirely reasonable. It’s currently announced as coming to Xbox One and PC, meaning PS4-only owners are being left out in the cold. Some accused Night Dive of fanboyism, or said they were taking cash from Microsoft to help fund the project. But this choice was actually due to the team receiving an XB1 development kit on time, while they haven’t received one from Sony. Sometimes it’s always better to simply ask about these things before jumping to conclusions. If you want the game on PS4, feel free to let Sony know through email or social media, assuming they aren’t sending a kit to Night Dive as you read this.

By the time it concludes, System Shock should prove that high-profile Kickstarters still have a viable life ahead, as long as the developers show everything necessary to guarantee backers that it will be a quality title. Night Dive is hoping to deliver the game by December 2017, but considering this is a crowdfunded project, don’t be surprised (or upset) if it slips into 2018.

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