System Shock 2 Community Patch…

For SS2 fans, your winter holiday has arrived early… After the break…

System Shock 2 Community Patch…

It is interesting, upon reflection, what you remember and what you do not remember. I distinctly remember one time being in a computer game store (yes, computer game store, back when stores sold a significant variety and quantity of computer games) with my friends. One of my friends bought the first person shooter “Kingpin” which, at the time, was quite controversial because it introduced obscenities and other less-than-desirable traits into an already morally-questionable game genre (lest we forget, there was a big to-do when Wolfenstein 3D debuted, with animal rights activists having a sh*t parade over the fact that dogs were not only an enemy but that you could kill them). I remember buying “System Shock 2,” mainly for the fact that it was science-fiction, it was a FPS and the sequel to a game that I had thoroughly enjoyed.

Of those two games, I would like to think that history has been kinder to SS2 than to Kingpin. Make no mistake; There is a small but vibrant Kingpin modding scene and I am glad that those individuals keep investing their time in ensuring that the game is still playable on modern systems. In fact, I recently purchased “Kingpin” in jewel-case form and have always wondered what the hype was all about. It could be my “next game”…

…Or not. Because, as I wrote before, history seems to have been kinder to SS2 than to Kingpin. And, as of late, events have been on the “somewhat kind” end of that spectrum.

SS2 and the Thief 1/2 games have always had a sister/sister or brother/brother relationship as they fundamentally share the same game engine. It’s like Fallout 3 (or Fallout: New Vegas) and Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion – Same engine but different games. Yet the Thief games have always had a rather rabid following ever since it’s level editor, DromEd, was released to the public. You could play one new user-made level (called a “mission”) every week and not run out levels to play for years and, in all likelihood, decades. Yes, there are other first-person shooter games that have slavishly devoted followings that eclipse Thief: Quake 1 and Half-Life fans, I’m looking at you! Yet, unlike Quake 1 (whose developers made what has to be one of the single-most important decisions in gaming history by releasing the engine source code for free at a time when the engine was still relevant) and Half-Life (which made modding their games as easy as falling off of a chair, something that the Elder Scrolls series has also taken to an obscenely easy level), Thief fans have had to earn their irrationally rabid status. They have had more obstacles thrown in their way and one of those obstacles was fairly significant: Unlike Quake 1 and the Half-Life series, Thief 1’s source code was locked away… It was “closed source,” in the lexicon of computer programming circles. Yes, you could make new levels and new objects inside of those levels but you couldn’t change the engine itself.

A “closed source” computer game runs the risk of becoming functionally obsolete within a matter of years because computer games are usually written with a certain range of operating systems in mind. A computer game written for Windows 95 could probably work on it’s successor, Windows 98… But there’s no guarantee. A game written for Windows 98 could probably work on Windows 95 or it’s successor, Windows 2000… But that’s not certain either. Add to all of this a myriad of graphics cards, sound cards, memory requirements, screen resolutions (widescreen or standard) and it’s no wonder that a whole lot of developers threw up their hands, looked over at the fairly simple requirements to get a video game console game running and said to themselves, “Yup, we’re switching to console game development.”

For many years, Thief 1 & 2 were rather particular in how they ran on modern-day computer operating systems. The Thief fan base did what they could to keep the game up and running but, at the end of the day, you had to be fairly knowledgeable in computers in order to get the games running smoothly… And that went for System Shock 2 as well, since they shared nearly the exact same game engine.

Recently, though, a breakthrough has occurred in Thief & System Shock 2 gaming. For years, everyone thought that the source code to the game engine for these games, called the “Dark Engine,” had been lost to time. Either it no longer existed or it existed and no one could remember where it was or someone did try to save it and the CDs that it was burnt on became ruined or the hard drive it was written on became damaged… For years, a ragtag band of fans looked for the source code… And then they found it! They found it, they gave it to Electronic Arts who owned the rights to the Thief and System Shock franchises and… Nothing has happened since then. Literally. Electronic Arts has done… Nothing. And, in all honesty, they likely never will because lawyers are very rarely passionate gamers and even if they are, the executives that they advise are even less passionate gamers.

However, that was not the only copy of the source code… Supposedly, another copy of the source code has been floating around on the interwebs and a clandestine group of fanatical Thief & System Shock fans have taken it upon themselves to fix and update the source code.

These unofficial updates, called “NewDark,” have given rise to a new generation of Thief & System Shock players who can now play the game without having to feel as though they need to graduate from college with a Master’s Degree in Computer Science to get these particular games to work as they were intended to.

The “NewDark” updates, though, are merely updates to the engine itself. They don’t alter gameplay; They don’t add or remove enemies, add or remove hallways or treasure or weapons. They don’t make weapons more or less powerful. They don’t adjust textures or make things blink when they should have or stop making things blink when they shouldn’t have.

And that is where “System Shock 2 Community Patch” (otherwise known as SCP) comes in because THAT is EXACTLY what it does: It fixes all of the little problems that the game developer never got around to fixing… And some of those fixes could only occur AFTER the game’s engine had been modified and updated. You can play System Shock 2 with the NewDark updates and without SCP but you can’t play System Shock 2 with SCP but without the NewDark updates.

System Shock 2 has gone on to become the equivalent of the 1982 movie “The Thing”: One of those creations that wasn’t fully appreciated until after it’s initial offering to the public. It has gained a significant cult following and several games have since been it’s “spiritual successor,” such as the Bioshock and Dead Space series. There have been many attempts to recreate the game on an amateur level, such as with the Half-Life 2 & Doom 3 engine, none of which have succeeded beyond a few test levels, a few nice screenshots and some other art assets.

Between the “NewDark” updates and the SCP, though, System Shock 2 is finally ready for it’s modern-day close-up, in a world of high definition monitors, multi-core CPUs and high-end graphics cards. Other SS2 mods have graciously filled in a lot of the other gaps, such as improved textures and models, yet the one-two combination of NewDark and SCP allows those other mods to be used far easier than ever before.

We may never have another official System Shock and, even if we do, it will have to “play nice” with the modern gaming conventions of console gameplay and all of it’s expectations. We may never have an unofficial successor to the System Shock series, such as what “The Dark Mod” was for the Thief 1 & 2 games (although several teams of modders have attempted just that). At least, though, we now have a truly modernized System Shock 2 and all because of the very dedicated work of a lot of fans.

Just imagine what else the SS2 fans would have had those fans received some support from the company that held the rights to the game… It makes me want to break out my own copy of SS2 and fight the Many just one more time…


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