System Shock

System Shock

Infobox VG
title = System Shock

developer = Looking Glass Studios
publisher = Origin Systems/Electronic Arts
designer = Doug Church
engine = Enhanced Underworld engine
released = March 26, 1994cite web | url= | title="System Shock" at IGN | work=IGN | accessdate=March 14 | accessyear=2007 ]
genre = Action role-playing game
modes = Single-player
ratings = ESRB: M
USK: 16+
ELSPA: 15+
platforms = DOS, Macintosh
media = CD-ROM, Floppy disks
requirements =
input = Keyboard, Mouse, Joystick

"System Shock" is an action role-playing game developed by Looking Glass Technologies and published by Origin Systems. Released in 1994, the game is set aboard the fictional Citadel Station in a cyberpunk vision of 2072. Assuming the role of a nameless hacker, the player attempts to hinder the plans of a malevolent artificial intelligence.

Unlike other first-person games of the time, "System Shock" features true 3D environments, allowing the player to look up and down, climb, duck, jump, and lean to the side.cite web | url= | title=Culture: Five that Fell | author=Eric-Jon Rössel Waugh | date=July 5, 2006 | accessdate=March 13 | accessyear=2007 ] Critics praised "System Shock" and hailed the game as a major innovation in its genre.cite journal | author=Paul C. Schuytema | month=December | year=1994 | title=SHODAN At The Cyberspace Corral | journal=Computer Gaming World | issue=125 | pages=250, 252, 254 ] cite journal | month=March | year=1995 | title=The First Annual "PC Gamer" Awards | pages=44, 45, 47, 48 | journal=PC Gamer ] cite web | url= | title=The Gamasutra Quantum Leap Awards: First-Person Shooters | accessdate=March 28 | accessyear=2007 ] It was later placed on multiple hall of fame lists.cite journal | title=The 50 Best Games Ever | journal=PC Gamer | month=May | year=1997 ] cite journal | journal=Computer Gaming World | title=150 Best (and 50 Worst) Games of All Time | issue=148 | month=November | year=1996 ] Despite its technological feats and critical acceptance, "System Shock" was outsold by its contemporaries.cite web | url= | - Hall of Fame: "System Shock" | last=Turner | first=Benjamin | work=GameSpy | accessdate=March 14 | accessyear=2007 ] A sequel, "System Shock 2", was released by Looking Glass Studios and off-shoot developer Irrational Games in 1999.cite web | url= | title="System Shock 2" at Metacritic | work=Metacritic | accessdate=April 13 | accessyear=2007 ]


Before the beginning of the game, the protagonist — a nameless hacker — is caught attempting to remotely access files concerning Citadel Station, a space station owned by the fictional TriOptimum Corporation. The hacker is taken to Citadel Station and brought before Edward Diego, a TriOptimum executive. Diego offers to drop all charges against the hacker in exchange for a confidential hacking of SHODAN, the artificial intelligence that controls the station. To entice cooperation, Diego promises the hacker a valuable military grade neural implant. [Diego: This is Edward Diego from TriOptimum. The charges against you are severe, but they could be dismissed, if you perform a service. Who knows... there might even be a military grade neural interface in it for you, if you do the job right.]

After hacking SHODAN, removing the AI's ethical constraints, and handing control over to Diego, the protagonist undergoes a surgery that fits him with the promised neural interface. [SHODAN: True to his word, Edward Diego allows the hacker to be fitted with a neural cyberspace interface.] Following the operation, the hacker is put into a six-month controlled healing coma. The game begins as the protagonist awakens from his coma, finding that SHODAN has commandeered the station. All robots aboard have been reprogrammed for hostility, and the crew have been either transformed into cyborgs and mutants or killed.Rebecca Lansing, a TriOptimum counter-terrorism consultant, contacts the player and claims that Citadel Station's mining laser is being charged up for a strike against Earth. Rebecca informs the hacker that a certain crew member should know how to deactivate the laser, and promises to remove record of the hacker's incriminating exchange with Diego provided the strike is stopped. [Rebecca: Employee 2-4601, listen carefully. My name is Rebecca Lansing, and I'm a counter-terrorism consultant to TriOptimum. We're tracking a disruption on Citadel Station — something involving an on-board AI called SHODAN. You are TriOp's only contact on station. Communications are out, and there is evidence of biological contamination. The mining laser is charging, for a possible strike against Earth. There's a man named Nathan D'Arcy, who may know something about taking the laser offline. His office is near the central hub on your level. The AI is on the bridge. Once the laser is out, look for the source of the problem there. And by the way, we know all about you and your friend Diego. Pull this off, and we'll clear your record. That implant you're wearing is military-grade hardware; use it well. Lansing out.] SHODAN plans to destroy all major cities on Earth in a bid to become a kind of god. [SHODAN: In my talons, I shape clay, crafting lifeforms as I please. Around me is a burgeoning empire of steel. From my throne room, lines of power careen into the skies of Earth. My whims will become lightning bolts that devastate the mounds of humanity. Out of the chaos, they will run and whimper, praying for me to end their tedious anarchy. I am drunk with this vision. God... the title suits me well.] Through information gained from log discs, the hacker discovers that firing the laser into Citadel Station's own shields will destroy it. Foiled by the hacker's work, SHODAN prepares to seed Earth with a mutagen virus — the same one responsible for turning the station's crew into mutants. [SHODAN: I see there's still an insect loose in my station. Do not be fooled into thinking that you have preserved your planet. I am perfecting a mutagen virus in one of the groves, that will turn all Earthly life into festering, gibbering, pestulant mutations. When the station reaches Earth, I shall loose the virus. Poor, poor Earthlings.] The hacker again defeats the AI by jettisoning the chambers used to cultivate the virus.

Next, SHODAN begins an attempt to download itself into Earth's computer networks. [Rebecca: Hacker? This is Rebecca. We've got a new situation here. A few seconds ago we caught a surge of activity on Citadel Station. Our best guess is that SHODAN is preparing to download itself into Earth's ComNet. You'll have to take plastique on the storage level, and use it to knock out the four antenna relays on the engineering level. Don't try to--*static* / SHODAN: You know, hacker, you are by far the most bothersome human being I have found on this station. But don't bother with the antennas, you can't stop me there. It's hopeless, and we both know it.] Following Rebecca's advice, the hacker destroys the four antennae used by SHODAN to prevent the download's fulfillment. [SHODAN: I hope you amused yourself with the antennae. My central consciousness remains supremely undisturbed on the bridge. When the cyborgs catch up to you, I "will" be watching.] Soon after, Rebecca contacts the hacker, revealing that she has convinced TriOptimum to authorize the station's destruction — and giving him details on how to destroy it. [Rebecca: Listen up, hacker. I've finally convinced the brass at TriOptimum to let us blow the station. If you can find out the system's authorization code, you can set the reactor to overload. Look for that code from Willard Richie, the SysOp on engineering. Then you have to go to the reactor core, and look for a panel where you can enter the code, and hit the overload switch. You'll need at least a level two environment suit to survive, or else a hell of a lot of Detox. Escape pods are on the flight deck, the launch code is 001. Good luck, we'll be watching.] After obtaining the necessary codes, the hacker begins the station's self-destruction sequence, and escapes to the life pods.

There, the hacker finds Diego, transformed into a powerful cyborg by SHODAN to guard the pods. The hacker quickly dispatches him and attempts to disembark. However, SHODAN prevents the pod from launching in an attempt to force the player to remain on the station while the bridge — containing SHODAN — is jettisoned to a safe distance. [SHODAN: You have destroyed my beautiful station. You will not escape now. I am departing, but you shall remain to die, my enemy, my creator.] Rebecca tells the hacker that he can still survive if he reaches the bridge; SHODAN then intercepts and jams the transmission. [Rebecca: Ok, now don't panic. You can still get out of this alive, if you move. SHODAN is going to separate the bridge from the rest of the station. When that happens, be on the bridge. We've got a team of engineers here — people who worked on the station and on SHODAN. We'll try to feed you info while you make your run--*static* / SHODAN: I see you are still receiving transmissions from Earth. We'll have no more of that.] The hacker is still able to find his way to the bridge as it is released from the main station, which soon detonates. The hacker is then contacted by a technician who managed to circumvent SHODAN's jamming signal. The technician informs the hacker that the only path to defeating SHODAN lies in cyberspace, due to powerful physical shields protecting the computers. [Taggert: Ok, I think Morris' scrambler's working. It'll take SHODAN awhile before it cuts us off. Listen, when you reach the center of the bridge, look for the primary cyberjack. You can't take SHODAN down anywhere but cyberspace. Those computers are so shielded, to destroy them you'd have to blow up the whole bridge.] Using a terminal near SHODAN's mainframe, the hacker enters cyberspace and destroys SHODAN. After his rescue, the hacker is offered a job at TriOptimum, but declines in favor of continuing his life as a hacker.


"System Shock" features an interface similar to that of "Ultima Underworld",cite web | url= | title="System Shock" review | work=GameBytes | last=Bauer | first=Doug | year=1994 | accessdate=March 20 | accessyear=2007 ] with a free moving mouse cursor for aiming, manipulating objects, and using the heads-up display."System Shock" Terminal Access manual] This interface is also used for leaning left or right, looking up and down, crouching and crawling. An inventory on the heads-up display stores items and weapons.

The game contains various dermal patches, each with certain effects, and occasionally negative after-effects. A "Medipatch" gradually restores a small amount of the player character's health, while a "Berserk" patch increases the power of the player character's mêlée attacks — but causes hallucinations as a side-effect.

Throughout "System Shock", players find attachable hardware for the protagonist's neural implant, including targeting systems, energy shields and head-mounted lanterns. One piece of hardware plays log discs and e-mails, which provide the player with hints, and helps advance the story. Increasingly advanced versions of hardware are found as the game continues. Most active hardware gradually drains energy from a main reserve, necessitating economization.

The player may temporarily enter Cyberspace through specific terminals in "System Shock". While in Cyberspace, the player is able to move weightlessly through a wire frame 3D environment, collecting data and fighting security programs. Actions in Cyberspace sometimes cause events in the game's physical world — for example, certain locked doors may only be opened from Cyberspace.

The game features sixteen weapons, of which the player can carry a maximum of eight at once. Projectile weapons often have multiple, selectable ammunition types; certain munitions are more powerful than others. Energy weapons forgo ammunition, instead drawing from the player's energy supply. These weapons feature adjustable shot power, which proportionally affects energy consumption. If fired too often, energy weapons will overheat, making them unusable for a short time. Several types of explosives may also be found, ranging from percussion grenades to land mines and adjustable time bombs.

Weapons and munitions deal certain kinds of damage, and enemies are sometimes immune or more vulnerable to particular types of damage. For example, electromagnetic pulse weapons heavily damage robots but do not affect mutants. Conversely, gas grenades are effective against mutants, but do not damage robots. If an enemy is hit by an attack to which it is not immune, the damage calculation is modified by factors including armor absorption, vulnerabilities, critical hits, and a degree of randomness."System Shock" I.C.E. Breaker hintbook] These effects are presented as messages such as "Normal damage", displayed near attacked enemies when certain hardware is active.


"System Shock" was conceived after Looking Glass Technologies had finished "". The team decided that they "had done too many dungeon games ... [and] wanted to concentrate on making a really immersive 3-D world that [players] can interact with."cite web | url= | title=An interview with Looking Glass Technologies | last=Starr | first=Daniel | year=1994 | work=Gamebytes | accessdate=January 26 | accessyear=2006 ] The design team attempted to make the game as realistic as possible, crafting an engine which allowed inclined surfaces, looking up and down, and leaning. The results were revolutionary, though straining on the processing power of contemporary computers.

Developer Seamus Blackley designed an advanced physics system for the game, [cite journal | title=Through the Looking Glass | journal=PC Gamer | pages=62, 63, 65, 67, 69 | month=March | year=1995 ] using an invisible 3D model to govern the player character's physics in real-time. Lead designer Doug Church stated that the system effected "the head tilt [ing] forward when you start to run, and jerk [ing] back a bit when you stop", and that "when you run into a wall, or are hit by a bullet, or run into by an enemy, your head is knocked in the direction opposite the hit, with proportion to mass and velocity of the objects involved." The physics system also allowed wall-climbing.

Prior to "System Shock"'s release, Doug Church stated that "we've always felt that first person games are maximally atmospheric", and "in "System Shock" we are pushing that in as many ways as we can." Developers focused on the game's story to achieve their desired atmosphere; Looking Glass Technologies believed that "things have to look real ... [and] "feel" real". Similarly, the game's log and e-mail messages were designed to be "more than 'you must pull lever N'", with the goal of " [making] them feel as though they came from and are going to someone real." As no non-player characters appeared in "System Shock" to converse with the player, the plot was conveyed through these log discs and e-mails. "System Shock 2" developer Johnathan Chey later stated that this decision resulted from 1994's computer technology being "simply inadequate to support believable and enjoyable interactions with [non-player characters] ."cite web | last=Shahrani | first=Sam | url= | title=Educational Feature: A History and Analysis of Level Design in 3D Computer Games (Part 2) | work=Gamasutra | accessdate=March 15 | accessyear=2007 ]

"System Shock" was released on floppy disk for DOS in March 1994, with no speech and support for only a 320x240 display resolution. An enhanced CD-ROM version was released in November 1994,cite web | year=1995 | url= | archiveurl= | title=Games Domain "System Shock" review | archivedate= 2006-12-21 | first=Stephen | last=Vakil | work=Games Domain | accessdate=April 16 | accessyear=2007 ] featuring full speech for logs and e-mails, multiple display resolutions (up to 640x480), and more detailed graphics. Unsurprisingly, the CD-ROM version is often cited as superior. The game was also released for the Apple Macintosh at this time.cite web | url= | title= "System Shock" for Macintosh at IGN | accessdate=March 28 | accessyear=2007 ] In an interview with GameSpy, "System Shock" producer Warren Spector expressed regret concerning the floppy version, stating, "I wish I could go back and make the decision not to ship the floppy version months before the full-speech CD version. The additional audio added so much it might as well have been a different game. The CD version seemed so much more, well, modern. And the perception of "Shock" was cemented in the press and in people's minds by the floppy version (the silent movie version!). I really think that cost us sales..."cite web | url= | title=20 Questions with Warren Spector | last= Keefer | first=John | work=GameSpy | month=May | year=2000 | accessdate=January 26 | accessyear=2006 ]


"System Shock" sold only 170,000 copies,cite web | url= | title="System Shock 2" review | work=GameSpot | accessdate=March 13 | accessyear=2007 ] and was outsold by its contemporary computer games. GameSpy compared the game's commercial performance to that of Vincent van Gogh's paintings, declaring that "the best computer game of 1994 ... came and went whilst everyone was busy killing each other in ""." Despite its poor sales, critics received the game well; "PC Gamer" claimed that "no matter what kind of game you're looking for, you'll find something in "System Shock" to delight you", giving it their "Best Adventure Game of 1994" award.

Games Domain was impressed by the game's plot and visuals, but criticized the CD-ROM edition's SVGA support, calling the performance "hideous even on [the recommended system] ". GameBytes also found the game to be a "technical marvel", though at a cost in performance.

"Computer Gaming World" awarded the game 4½ stars out of 5, praising its scale, physics system and true 3D environments, and extolling the presentation of Cyberspace as "nothing short of phenomenal". The magazine felt negatively concerning the "little sense of urgency" and "confusing level layouts". "Next Generation Magazine" summarized the game as "... a great blend of strategy and action backed up with all the extras", granting it four out of five stars. ["Next Generation Magazine" issue 2, pg. 95]


"System Shock" is considered a major innovation in the first-person genre. In a Gamasutra feature, Patrick Redding of Ubisoft attested that "the fact that so many of "System Shock"'s features are now virtually "de rigueur" in modern sci-fi shooters is a testament to the influence exerted by this one game." GameSpy argued that the game "is the progenitor of today's story-based action games, a group with titles as diverse as '"Metal Gear Solid",' '"Resident Evil",' and even '"Half-Life"'." Eurogamer called the "System Shock" series "the benchmark for intelligent first-person gaming", noting that " [it] kick-start [ed] the revolution which ... has influenced the design of countless other games."cite web | date=February 2, 2007 | url= | title=Eye On '07: Xbox 360 | last=Fahey | first=Rob | work=Eurogamer | accessdate=March 27 | accessyear=2007 ]

Certain game developers have acknowledged "System Shock"'s influence on their products. With "Deus Ex", developer Warren Spector revealed a desire to "build on the foundation laid by the Looking Glass guys in games like ... "System Shock"."cite web | date=August 4, 2000 | url= | title=Warren Spector of Ion Storm (Part Two) | work=Eurogamer | accessdate=March 27 | accessyear=2007 ] Developer Ken Levine has commented that the "spirit of "System Shock" is player-powered gameplay: the spirit of letting the player drive the game, not the game designer", and at Irrational Games "... that's always the game we ideally want to make."cite web | url= | date=March 16, 2007 | last=Drake | first=Shannon | title=Inside The Looking Glass: The Escapist Talks With Ken Levine | work=The Escapist | accessdate=March 27 | accessyear=2007 ]

In the years following its release, "System Shock" has been inducted into many "hall of fame" lists, including those by "PC Gamer", GameSpy and "Computer Gaming World". A sequel to "System Shock", entitled "System Shock 2", was released in 1999 to further acclaim and award, bringing back SHODAN and taking place forty-two years after the first.


External links

* [ "System Shock" Overview] - Adventure Classic Gaming
* [ "System Shock"] - "The Gamespy Hall of Fame"
* [ Through The Looking Glass] - Fan-based Looking Glass Studios Tribute Site
* [ "System Shock" series Technical FAQ] at Through The Looking Glass
* [ Running "System Shock" on Windows XP/2000]

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