Night Dive Studios is asking for $US900,000 ($1,222,574) on Kickstarter to fund its proposed remaster of the first-person sci-fi classic, System Shock. Better yet, they have released a playable demo that nicely demonstrates how they might do it.
If there's one lesson that Kickstarter backers are learning the hard way, thanks to projects like Mighty No. 9, it's to be especially wary of games peddling little more than ideas and concept art. Whenever I've talked with developers who are mulling crowdfunding projects, my basic advice always involves the following: show the actual game. Even legendary shooter designer John Romero had to put his dreams on hold, while they worked on something tangible for players.
It's still possible for crowdfunding projects to be successful, but people are more cautious and cynical. Some of that's their own fault -- crowdfunding should be viewed as backing an idea, not a store -- but the best way to combat that feeling is with a playable demo. Though short, System Shock pulls this off.
This isn't a demo unlocked by backing the game; it's on Steam right now.
Confession time: I've never played System Shock. Though the sequel is regarded as one of gaming's best horror sci-fi tales, I've only played the first hour or so. Though I'll eventually play System Shock 2, it seemed difficult to wrap my head around the original game. Though the recent Enhanced Edition is well-made, without nostalgia, my gut told me it'd be difficult to properly appreciate. That's why I've been doubly excited by the prospect of Night Dive, a company that's shown great respect for old properties, trying to give it a proper makeover.
The roughly 10-minute demo is a re-creation of the first 10 minutes from the original game. You're thrust into a tattered space station where things have predictably gone very, very wrong. Someone over the radio implores you to find a weapon, and it doesn't take you very long to find out why; the machinery has been corrupted and zombiefied corpses are eager to rip you limb from limb.
Here's a comparison of the original game and Night Dive's new take:
There's not much to do in the demo, but it succeeds where it needs to: it's bringing System Shock into 2016 while remaining faithful to the original game, combat feels solid, and this is a scary arse space station. There are some basic puzzles to solve, but everything's tutorial-level stuff. It's nothing flashy.
The demo's real point, however, is underscoring how Night Dive's request for nearly a million dollars isn't nostalgic smoke and mirrors. It's a real game! It's remarkable (and a little sad) to have that be worth so much in 2016, but here we are. A good demo is no guarantee of a good game, but these days, it's a start.