Shock to the System

Would you believe it if I told you that a second System Shock 2 retrospective has made its way to the Internet today?  You should, because that's exactly what I'd call this article on NowGamer, which officially joins the earlier one over at Thunderbolt. This second one is quite a bit longer, though, and includes quotes that have been made by the original developers over the years since its release:
Co-developing SS2 was Irrational's progenitor Looking Glass Studios, who provided its new Dark Engine technology to drive the game. Looking Glass must have had some faith in Irrational to make SS2 a success, as this was the same game engine behind its new Thief IP, and it was an ambitious technology at that albeit unfinished. (To make up for the short development cycle and correspondingly small budget, the project was supposed to reuse technology,) Jonathan Chey told Gamasutra in his SS2 postmortem. (Not technology in the sense of a standalone engine from another game, but individual components that were spun off from yet another game, Thief: The Dark Project. The Thief technology was still under development and months away from completion when our team started working with it. The Dark Engine was never delivered to the System Shock team as a finished piece of code.) The unrefined engine and unusual development situation wasn't without its tribulations, of course, but sharing the code had its pros as well as cons. (We had direct access to the ongoing bug-fixes and engine enhancements flowing from the Thief team. It exposed us to bugs that the Thief team introduced, but it also gave us the ability to fix bugs and add new features to the engine. Because we had this power, we were sometimes expected to fix engine problems ourselves rather than turning them over to Looking Glass programmers. But being able to tamper with the engine allowed us to change it to support System Shock-specific features in ways that a general engine never could.)


2 also implemented sound in a more intelligent manner with the Dark Engine giving enemy AI three distinct states. The first was a vague awareness of the presence of the player either by a fleeting glimpse or a noise you had made. The second would be some kind of affirmation: a definite sighting or a noise that would prompt a full alert and cause the enemy to seek you out, moving in your general direction. Finally, a point-blank sighting would result in a direct attack. What this translated into in SS2 was fixed mechanical AI-like turrets and security cameras hitting an alert status when you came within close proximity and opening fire. In the case of the cameras, you'd have a few seconds to hide before a security alarm was sounded and baddies spawned in attack mode at regular intervals until the alarm timed out. Humanoids in both SS2 and Thief (guards and monsters in the case of Thief, cyborgs and hybrids for SS2) featured the full spectrum of AI alerts and had as much dialogue written for their intermediate alert statuses as for their attack mode. SS2 cyborgs could be heard to say (Where are you sir?) while Thief guards would mutter to themselves, (He must be here somewhere), and would even downgrade back through the alert strata if you ran away and lost them for long enough. (Sound plays a more central role in Thief than in any other game I can name,) said Tom. (It was the primary medium through which the AIs communicated both their location and their internal state to the player. In Thief, the AIs rarely '˜cheat' when it comes to knowledge of their environment. Considerable work went into constructing sensory components sufficient to permit the AIs to make decisions purely based on the world as they perceive it. This allowed us to use player sounds as an integral part of gameplay, both as a way that players can reveal themselves inadvertently to the AIs and as a tool for players to distract or divert an AI.)