System Shock 2 – Day 4

A bit of examination of my notes leads me back to the radioactive area of the ship where I need to try to get access to a storage area using a keycode I found in a log. My friend from level 4 gives me a keycode to another storage room also.

I find her storage room first and among other things this nets me a radiation suit which I could have done with earlier. This doesn’t stop all radiation poisoning but it helps a lot. I’m struggling with inventory management by this stage. I’ve been increasing my strength + I have a brawnboost implant so I’ve nearly got the maximum number of slots but space is very limited. This becomes more of a problem throughout today’s session forcing me to make choices on just what I need to carry.

I find the other storage room without difficulty nearby. This one is full of shelves.

These contain circuit boards. What I need to do here is grab the one described in the log I picked up and take it to the bridge .

Once I get to the bridge, I shove it into the panel I noticed before and this resets the fluidics controls.

I head for fluidics and use these controls which should vent off all the radiation from this level allowing me access to a new area.

Sure enough the previously locked door is now open.

I’m told by email that I need to activate both the ships nacelles. This is a simple job of pushing a couple of buttons.

I find an interesting log in here. Along with others, during today’s session I finally start to get a better idea of whats going on. There is more than one force at work on this ship it seems. This log speaks of being contacted by an A.I. that offered to help the situation. The crew are being infected by an alien parasite picked up from a planet they explored. This parasite mutated and then controlled them. One of the crew members elicited the aid of some sort of A.I. that mysteriously offered to help – this no doubt will be linked to Shodan. It appears that the two are on opposite sides and I’m caught in the middle. I’m half expecting my ally on Level 4 to turn out to be Shodan herself or a minion. Of course I may have all this wrong but thats the fun of not knowing. Even if I’m right there must be more to it than I know at this stage.

I get the nacelles on line and this finally restores power allowing me access to the lift so I hop in and head for level 4.

Of course nothing is that simple and the lift tube is blocked by an organic growth so I can only get up to level 3 – hydroponics.

I quickly stumble across a room containing a chemical which I can use to kill off the growth. I’m told over email that I should research this and given the needed mods to buy the upgrade do it. I don’t fancy running straight back to one of the old levels to upgrade having just got here so I continue exploring for now.

Every level has at least one new enemy so far and this one has giant eggs which could be straight out of alien. These explode and either poison me or release a parasitic worm when I get too close.

Along with the eggs I find an environment regulator. I’ve been told there are four of these and I need to use the chemical in each one to kill off the growth. I discover now that I can’t actually use the chemical until I’ve researched it though so I’m going to have to buy that research skill.

I continue looking around for somewhere to buy the research skill. On the way I discover another of those permanent upgrade panels. I choose a skill this time that means I heal more from a hypo. I also buy the research skill in here but I need chemicals to carry out the research. I try the room on Level 2 first but this doesn’t have one of the chemicals I need.

I head back to level 3 and get to see more ghosts, this time showing someone being deliberately infected against their will by one of the parasites.

I find this levels chemical room and the chemicals I need are in a closet at the back guarded by another new enemy – a half robotic midwife. My wrench has been serving me well on this level and I’m also starting to collect a reasonable supply of ammo now. This has been one of those games that is extremely difficult at the start but gets easier as you improve your stats and equipment.

Now that I’ve researched the chemical, I can use it in another environmental regulator which I find. I’ll need to get another 3 vials of it to clear the level.

I also use the research to examine some unidentified items that enemies have been dropping. This yields a better than expected reward as learning more about their anatomy means I get a 25% damage bonus against specific enemies as I now know where to hit them.

There is a collapsible floor down here that allows me access to a new area. There have been quite a few areas like this where I can smash a window and jump through to get into a locked area and the like. It somehow never feels like a forced puzzle though – it’s more just a case of being able to explore in your own way.

Using modules I received for clearing some of the growth I buy myself enough energy weapon skill to be able to use a lightsword I’ve been carrying around for a while. This isn’t a bad weapon but I’m pretty disappointed in truth as it doesn’t appear to do hardly any more damage than the wrench.

I run into more giant yellow robots which I thought I take a screenshot of since I lost yesterdays. They die in 3 or 4 strokes from the sword but the best policy is to get enough hits in to get them low on health then back off, swap to a gun and take them down from a distance to avoid the explosion damage.

I’m a lot better equipped now than I was. I’m sticking to melee weapons most of the time so I have ammo when I need it. I’ve also picked up a laser which gives me free ammo provided I can find a recharge station.

I pick up an assault rifle down here which I haven’t actually used yet but I’m assuming it will come in handy later. I’m really struggling for inventory space by this point.

I get to clear more growth down here. I’ve found all four lots of the chemical vials by now so its just a case of using them all in the right places.

Clearing out all the growth turns out to be fairly routine. There are a lot more enemies to cope with and plenty of the exploding eggs but I’m far more able to cope with them now and I find and use the final regulator quite quickly.

This clears the lift and I head up to level 4 where I should find out a bit more if I can meet up with woman who has been emailing me.

I feel that I really got somewhere in SS2 today for the first time. I’ve got a much better idea of whats going on, I’m not struggling to stay alive nearly as much and I’m progressing much more quickly. SS2 has got me hooked entirely now and if I had the time, I’d sit down all day and play it to the end. Despite what I said yesterday about it not being so obviously split into levels, its resumed the old formula now I’ve fixed the lift. SS2 still presents a pretty convincing ship to explore though and there has been plenty of variation in the levels so far in the manner of SS1. So far SS2 is everything I would have hoped for in a sequel. The variety of ways to play the game is unprecedented. I don’t think there is anyone out there who has ever made this sort of game except Warren Spector.

Speaking of WS, Natreg pointed me at a series of lectures given by him in the comments for Day 1 which I downloaded and watched most of the first one last night. From what I’ve seen so far, I’d strongly recommend anyone with an interest in the industry to have a look at these. I’d have had a whole string of questions had I been there – I wish I’d had classes from people like this back when I was a student. It got me thinking and I figured I’d put down a few of those thoughts here. I’m liable to ramble on a bit so if you just want to know about SS2 I’d skip the rest of this post…..

It’s fascinating to hear WS talk about his design philosophy. It’s very similar to the sort of thing you might hear from RG. He talks quite a bit about wanting to create player-authored games as opposed to roller coaster style games. This was certainly one of the central themes with nearly everything Origin made. I agree with him entirely most of the time but I wouldn’t single out the likes of Tim Schaefer for criticism for designing roller-coaster style games. Psychonauts was a far better game than most of those on his list of player-authored games and I’d class it as one of the best games released in recent years. I can see where he is coming from in terms of games reaching their potential as an art-form separate from that of movies but I reckon the most significant thing is whether a designer is making decisions on their game based on his/her principles of what makes a good game, ahead of what will make the game profitable, whatever those principles are.

He mentions wanting to give the players moral choices which I’ve seen creeping into a few mainstream games such as GTA4 and Mass Effect. I’m all for this but not necessarily with the clear cut choices/consequences he describes – they have some value but looking at the end of Deus Ex for instance, it felt more like a slightly frivolous way of adding on three alternative endings. I just saved before I made the choice and tried all three and while the choice itself was interesting it was too simplistically carried out. This sort of choice needs to be woven into the overall game influencing the gameplay throughout and not just the ending. Ideally you shouldn’t even be aware that you are making that choice until you see the consequences. This is what Ultima 4 was all about and its this sort of mechanic that really gets you to consider your actions constantly rather than a blatant one off choice. The Pandora Directive would be a good example of a game that managed to pull this off to some extent, with a whole string of choices throughout the game influencing the character of the protagonist, his relationships with other people and the ultimate ending of the game. Not only does this give you the feeling of truly having an influence on the story but it adds replay value.

In terms of fulfilling his design ambitions, I’m not sure that his earlier games don’t at least match the later ones which is interesting given that at one point he reels off the costs of some of the games he’s made. Martian Dreams cost $275,000 to make, Deus Ex – Invisible War cost $12,000,000. His next game is costing $25,000,000 – its these costs that are killing off creativity. He may have the desire and influence to still be able to make large games his way but hes one of a very select few. I have to ask if the improvement is worth the money – Martian Dreams is not 45 times worse than Invisible War. I’ve said it before but the ever increasing technology is what is dragging down gaming more than anything else. Even as it is I wonder if there would there be a limited market these days if someone were to turn out a series of old-school style RPG’s for say $5 each? Given the costs mentioned even at that price the % profit margin on each unit would be many times that of a AAA-title so you wouldn’t have to sell that many copies to make money. This is more or less Telltale’s business model (adventure games instead of RPG’s) and it looks to be working out well in their case.

WS also talks about bringing gaming into the mainstream. I’m not sure this isn’t already happening to some extent – sure its not as big as TV or movies but its hardly the province of just geeks any more. I’m not sure this isn’t part of the problem with the industry. It’s a bit of an elitist view but the average person who was using a PC back in the late 80’s/early 90’s was likely to have a certain level of intelligence and games had to appeal to this target audience. As gaming got more mainstream and consoles started to take over the target audience got dumber and the games went the same way. He talks about the idea of his games being literary novels compared to beach novels. Reading requires a degree of effort in the first place. A better comparison might be a Hollywood blockbuster and an art-house movie. The problem with trying to make an art-house movie is that only a select few will ever pay to see it no matter how much the critics like it whereas something like Terminator 4 appeals to a broader audience potentially including the art-house crowd.

He also talks about having to recreate the camera in effect for every game he makes. This got me thinking if at some point in the future the technology will ever level out and this wouldn’t be necessary. We could end up with one universal engine that was used for every genre. In this situation, after a while libraries of textures, models and scripts would be built to an extent that the technological aspects of a game would be nearly irrelevant and the design would be everything. It might not even be that far away, we are already at a stage where games are so expensive to make that 80% of them don’t get their money back. PC technology will presumably continue to advance as quickly as ever but I don’t know if I can see games in 15 years time costing 45 times more than they do now which is the implication comparing Martian Dreams and Invisible War.

I’m optimistic that the gaming industry is improving but it is still in its infancy and it could go in any direction. It has to be said that having played a load of the better recent titles in the last 2 months, they still pale compared to something like SS2. The industry desperately needs people like Warren Spector as despite the growth in gaming there were probably more worthwhile titles being released 15 years ago than there are today and a lot of the people who made them have been forced out of their jobs. I agree entirely with WS that gaming will have to change in the future and there needs to be a much wider range of ideas being used than there are currently but there is no way this change is going to be driven by the publishing giants that are running the show at the moment. To stick with the earlier analogy, Hollywood doesn’t make art-house movies – at least unless the directors name is big enough to sell the product on its own.

I’ve not looked at them yet but for future lectures in the series, WS invites guest speakers from the industry to speak. Of particular interest to me are Hal Barwood and Richard Garriot. If they are all the same length as this first video, its going to be weeks before I watch them all but I expect to learn a bit along the way.

In other news, I noticed on my lunch break that I got a mention on wcnews.com back on May 20th – fame and glory at last! Actually it probably ranks alongside my other claims to fame of being on ITV’s Scrumdown in the 90’s, getting in the news as a “British mountaineer” who got gassed with Carbon Monoxide at an Austrian lodge, or appearing in Custom PC magazines reader’s drives. I’m not into fame and glory anyway (although money is always good) but I am curious to see what, if any, reaction it got on the forums there. Unfortunately they are blocked from work so I’ll have to find out later. My motivation for writing this blog has always been the simple one of wanting to play the games and making a record as I do it (basically a gaming diary) but I’ll admit to being curious as to how many people ever read my ramblings on here. I expect there aren’t many of you out there but thanks to using a blog server where I don’t have write access other than to post I’ll never know.

I’ve managed to wander seriously off topic in this post. I’ll get back on track with the next one and am looking forward to getting some hours put into SS2 this weekend although I do have a wedding to attend which is going to limit my time.

2 thoughts on “System Shock 2 – Day 4

  1. Well, first about System Shock 2, I recomend you find some place to store your things. I used that first room with all four upgrade units because it had the elevator near, and if I wanted to heal it had that lift to the other level with a medical bed, and also some energy near. Also the enemies here are just the normal mutants so nothing dangerous.

    I’m glad you liked the mater class given by WS. I have just watched 3 of them, and I really liked the first and third ones (second one was not that good in my opinion). Also now that I have some time I want to see all others. Specially Richard Garriott’s wich I think would have a lot of conflict in it because Garriott is really pro online games and Spector does not like them much.

    I also had a lot of questions I would have liked to ask Warren when I was watching this, and it was weird that I always knew the games he was talking about and knew. I feel old lol.

    The thing he said about recreating the camera was something that I always knew it was there but never saw it in that way. For me it was some kind of revelation. And even though I agree that in the future we could have some assets that everyone would use and desing would be the most importan thing, I’m not that sure if that would be really a good thing.

    If every game looked the same regardless of it’s different desing I think it would loose a bit of creativity in the end. What always stuck with me in the games is how varied they can become. For instance lately I played a game called The Path, which does not have much of a story in it, or much gameplay or anything, but it was so weird and different to what I usually play that it did appeal to me just because of it.

    Another point WS gives is that if you only want to do a good history, then do a movie or a book. I don’t agree in that point. Of course an history is not everything there should be in the game, but a good history really adds to a game. I agree there should be player choices. And of course the best ones are the ones you don’t know how will affect you in the future, but you can have both the choices and the story. Lazarus for instance has both. Lots and lots of choices, and a very good storyline.

    oh well I don’t know what else to talk about, so I’m gonna end this comment with a “looking forward for your next day on SS2 :)”

    • You may feel old but I was probably your age when those games came out in the first place…. I’ve moved onto the second lecture now but only got as far as the break. It’s less interesting as you say – I’m not sure I’d want a job in gaming which is what its all been about so far. It might have been good in the early days when you could work on smaller titles and really take single handed control of a game but these days it just looks like hard work.

      I have toyed with the idea of having a go at an Ultima or a spectrum game remake. Too many of these projects never get finished though so I’d prefer to stick to something fairly simple and achievable. Something I’d like to see are portable SDL versions of the early Ultima games that could possibly be enhanced afterwards. XU4 would probably be a good place to start. Do you know if anyone has ever ported it to DS/PSP or tried to enhance the graphics beyond those in the VGA patch?

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