By Joseph Leray
Earlier this morning, Good Old Games and Night Dive Studios confirmed, speaking to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, that they are bringing “System Shock 2” to the digital distribution service. While there are no pricing details available, the seminal space-horror action game will hit the deck on February 14 — for those keeping up at home, that’s tomorrow.
Night Dive Studios boss Stephen Kick, who procured the distribution license for “System Shock 2,” is calling this version a “virtual collector’s edition”: the GOG download comes with the soundtrack, an interview with lead designer Ken Levine, concept art, the first pitch document, and a map of the Von Braun, the experimental spaceship (housing a megalomaniacal AI) on which “System Shock 2” takes place.
“System Shock 2” is a fine game, and having a stable version playable on modern PCs is great, but the real news here is how complicated the entire process was: this is the first legally distributed version of the game on a digital platform, and it took almost five years to make it happen.
The first “System Shock” game out in 1994 and was developed by the now-defunct Looking Glass Studios. The game was published by a company called Origin Systems, which was owned by Electronic Arts. Warren Spector — who would go on to make the “Thief” and “Deus Ex” games at Ion Storm — negotiated a deal with EA that gave the publisher the trademark to the “Shock” series while allowing Looking Glass to hold on to the license.
“I feel so guilty I actually negotiated the deal,” he told Mercury News in a 2010 interview. “My thinking was it would force us to be married so it never would be that either party should be able to say, ‘We own that, we’re making the next game, screw you.’”
When Looking Glass went out of business in 2000, the rights to future “Shock” games went to Meadowbrook Insurance Group. With the rights to update, port, or re-release “System Shock 2” held by two different companies, no one’s been able to touch the game since it was released in 1999.
Snagging “System Shock 2” is a big win for Good Old Games: not only because it left a legacy of great designers and games — the upcoming “BioShock Infinite” for example — but also because it almost didn’t happen.