Elements to avoid when making System Shock 3


Here is a list of things that in my opinion should be avoided like fire when making SS3:

– Constant assistance. Displaying “Press [KEY] to climb ledge” every time there is a ledge in vicinity. “Press [KEY] to pick-up item”, “Press [KEY] to hide behind desk” etc… I want to be able to try everything on everything myself and feel rewarded when it works.

– Highlighting key items, areas, buttons, levers, so that the player knows they can be interacted with, from a great distance. It is fine if the player is very near, like in Thief: The Dark Project, but even that is not necessary.

– Displaying the path/direction to progress the current ‘quest’. If the keycard was last seen somewhere in the Medical Bay 02, I want to be able to find the area myself, and the keycard myself, searching every dead body, shelf, drawer, closet.

– Displaying enemies, NPCs, areas of interest etc. through obstructions, walls, floors, aka. X-Ray vision; popular in today’s braindead games.

– Third-person view. In case that is an idea one day - avoid this, as it allows to see around walls, giving unfair advantage.

– Radar displaying key items, enemies, direction of ‘quest’, and perhaps yet uncovered parts of the map.

I think these are a good start. :slight_smile:


I 100% agree with all of these, and guarantee the team will do none of these.


Okay, three things I would avoid from System Shock 2:

  1. Classes - I think this was a bit superfluous, since you were allowed to build any character you choose. If you’re going to have classes, give each it’s unique skilltree, or do something to differentiate them. Really, I wanted to dive right into the game. The tutorial stage was actually the weakest link in SS2, tutorials are what usually keep me from getting into massive games. Half-life used the intro to ramp tension - SS2’s tutorial was just supplicating hand-holding. Playing through tutorials makes me feel that game treats me as if I am dumb, and it’s somewhat insulting to someone with the intelligence to actually play a LGS game - or in this case, an Irrational title.

  2. Weapon degradation - We’ve discussed this, but I think the way weapons degrade and then break was too predictable, and “busy work.” If you’re going to do a weapon degradation system in this game, I would do it somewhat like a critical modifier, where the lower durability an item is at, the more chance is has of misfiring, backfiring, or jamming the gun. Thus, the lower durability you let your gun get to, the more chance you have of getting stuck with your pants down, with only your wrench against one of SHODAN’s minions. In fact, aside from limited ammo, a proper weapon degradation system might make melee more viable - and it is scary to get up and close with these beasts.

  3. Tutorial phase - I think these are stupid. Push the escape key, go into keybind, and look for yourself. That or make them transparent - no pop-ups telling you what button to press, just a general indication of what to do in a gentle, in-game manner. I love games that nudge you, without you feeling like you’re being led by the nose - in some regards, the level design in Infamous did this for me - even though I was being shepherded in one direction during some missions, I always felt like it was by “choice.” Good level design should do that, and I think good tutorials should strive to be the same way: transparent.

P.S: One suggestion: I think we should be able to craft and modify weaponry out of base components - then add modifiers: think scopes (zoom in - should slightly slow time when zoomed, I think), laser sights (non-intrusive red dot on enemies - helps with aiming), and silencers (wouldn’t alert other nearby enemies with noise). 100% custom designs based upon findable schematics would add a whole new “RPG” dimension to the shooting gallery mechanics.


P.P.S: You should also be able to upgrade the guns’ existing modifiers, as well, once you’ve constructed them out of scrap - larger clip sizes, larger rounds, larger chambers (number of rounds before reload), more range, steadier aiming, wider spread, different stock (SMG, Shotgun, Pistol, etc.) etc.


Smarq, would I be wrong in thinking you personally don’t care for UI assistance in gameplay? :smiley: (Welcome to the forum, BTW!)

I actually felt a little worn-out by all the interface assists in Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. They actually went so far as to award an achievement for going through all their tutorials – it was a bit much.

That said, commercial games have to make money to keep a studio alive. That requires making some effort to allow new gamers, including a few who haven’t played this kind of game before, to learn the mechanics.

So: while I hope SS3 won’t explain an epilepsy-inducing array of visual aids in incessant detail, I think there must be some of these mechanical assistance interface aids available… that aren’t required, and that we can switch off if we don’t want them.

Dawn, to the questions of SS2’s tutorial area, I personally liked it. I thought it did a useful job – tell the new player how to do stuff using a “training simulation” metaphor – that also neatly fit into the game’s aesthetic. Furthermore, the look of the gameworld when SHODAN is “restructuring reality” is a satisfying reference to the tutorial area. Finally, the whole tutorial area can be completely skipped for those in a hurry. It’s really well-done IMO.

To the notion of “classes” at the start, I think I saw it mentioned recently that this was a kind of riff on how a game of Traveller starts. If you’ve never played it, Traveller is different from most tabletop RPGs (and pretty much all CRPGs and MMORPGs) in that the first thing you do is go through its terrifically detailed character creation process.

First you roll basic attributes, then based on those you can choose a class. For a given class, you then roll for skills on tables related to that class… but many classes share skills. The classes, and their tables, are just there to bias the particular skills your character gets – nothing in the game’s mechanics ever forces you to play as a Barbarian or a Noble or whatever.

SS2’s “class”-based skill selection worked the same way. The Navy / Marine / OSI class choice was just a way to start out with some basic skills related to the way you like to play. As you say, once the game starts, you’re free to play however you like, and to choose new abilities that support this preference.

As much as I like the Traveller model, I don’t know that SS3 also needs to use it. It wouldn’t bother me, though, since I think it can be helpful for not overwhelming new players with a giant pile of undifferentiated options right away.

As to what I’d like to not see in SS3… I feel pretty good that the mechanics and dynamics will be fine. I expect them to reference some of the progression features and objects from the original games, while smartly iterating on them.

My concern is with the narrative and narrative setting. I’m resigned to the cynical corporation-bashing that will surely play some role in SS3. It’s a key setting element of the first two games, plus Warren is extra-disgruntled following the recent election, so I’m sort of expecting Trioptimum to be the Avatar of All That Is Evil. (Weapons in vending machines will be only the mildest result.)

But my hope is that “all corporations are evil” isn’t allowed to become the story. There’s nothing wrong with using a satirical version of them as a storytelling prop, but good stories are about people; philosophical criticisms turn into BioShock Infinite where gameplay takes a back seat to Message and the world itself is literally just a façade through which the player is marched to get to the next criticism.

What I (just speaking for myself) don’t want from SS3 is a similar haunted house ride through someone’s political gripes, even if I agree with some parts of them. What I do want from the aesthetic design of SS3 is an emotionally and intellectually realistic story about plausible people, most especially including SHODAN, and the clash of incompatible but understandably human goals among those characters. Warren and the team in Austin accomplished this in Deus Ex; I hope and believe that OtherSide Austin can do the same for System Shock 3.

Oh, and no concluding boss battle (with SHODAN). That game design trope needs to die.

I don’t know what you replace it with – a stern talking-to? – but there must be some other way to pay off a character-driven contest of visions.


From an SS1 perspective:

Grenades that blow yourself up.

Useless weapons like the riot gun or the stun gun.

High energy consumption of beam weapons that renders them virtually useless after the Sparq beam.

Visual effects of the berserk serum (at least make them better).

Overabundance of ammo.


I really agree with no boss battle, that was the place SS2 felt the most flat. The entire fight was short, no puzzles to kill her, just fight to the death. The entire fight could have been turned into an event in VR (If SS2 had included virtual reality levels) and made into a more cerebral encounter, using hacking and other skills. I felt SHODAN was too short, and too standard, and the hacker’s final words to SHODAN were cheesy - especially since he was silent the entire game. I’d rather have a solid endgame challenge - like a timed event, such as escaping from a spaceship before it explodes - or any generally more stimulating intellectual challenge. The boss battle was just vanilla. And SHODAN was underpowered, IMO. If you must include a boss, at least make the fight more like a puzzle, where you have to use hacking and other skills to thwart SHODAN. Not a standard “boss fight.” Shooting is 1/2 System Shock, but the other half is RPG. We should have to use some of our RPG talents to defeat SHODAN on her own ground. After all, she is a piece of software, not something you should be able to terminate with guns.


As far as the intro goes, I would love if the game dropped you into the danger, or had an expository intro like Half-Life - more compelling. The tutorial zone fumbled the ball by slowing down the pacing. I want a sense of danger from the beginning - that’s how you hook a player from the intro. You compel them forward with a sense of warning and urgency, not a vanilla tutorial. Either way, not a fan of tutorials. They chunk up the intro with needless exposition and protracted pacing.


Tutorials… Don’t like them. They’re too disracting and give a bad impression of what the game is going to feel like. If they were included, the way System Shock 1 performed it was perfectly fine (excluding the pop-up screen explaining the hud), with low to none handholding and no excessive explaining of every mechanic.

What I would rather like to see is removing tutorials altogether, but adding a “kindergarten” level instead. All features and mechanics were still there, but it was heavily toned down on difficulty. Once again, System Shock 1 nailed this one pretty well with the medical level, but the clumsy minimap and the vast, labyrinth design of this level was a bit too confusing for the first-time player. Sure, it filled the player with shock and awe, but this did end up costoing on the nagivating part.
To elaborate, the four directions: alpha, beta, delta and gamma. I still don’t know what direction they’re aimed at. And the game relied a lot on these four directions to guide the player. It just sounded so confusing for me, it felt like I had to learn everything for a history exam, I hated that stuff.

But besides that, puzzles in this “kindergarten” were simple enough, enemies didn’t punish you nearly as much for making mistakes compared to later in the game, the story was still quite simple, and this did make all the other aspects of the game not too confusing, as you had a lot of time to learn everything in your own pace, and own way. Trying to explain everything at once makes people forget half of it. This self-governed teaching of the game is so important, because it makes the entire experience feel more genuine and natural. You don’t have to get frustrated or confused over little details anymore, as you could take as much time as you want to learn these details.
And the beginning of the game is by far the most important part of the game. The beginning creates the biggest impression, and the mindset of the player. Changing this mindset and impression becomes more and more difficult the further the game progresses.

Let’s take the game SOMA per example. I heard almost nothing but praise from that game, and a friend recommened it to me, so I bought and played it. Me, being careful, decides to look up all the keybinds and all the options in the menu, to get acquianted with the game before jumping in. All for a smoother gameplay experience off course. I also doesn’t want too much handholding, so I turn off the “Tips” option in the menu. The first part of the game includes finding your medication in your house. Me, as the nitpicker that I am, search in every corner and crevice I can see, but I can’t find it. I do find notes and images which are interesting to read and watch. They felt like some kind of easter eggs, and I get the impression that the game has more of those.
20 minutes pass by, And I’m getting more and more frustrated, but I do eventually find the medicine. 30 minutes later, I get thrown into the main portion of the game, and wake up in some thrashed facility and need to escape. My past experience with searching every corner and crevice makes me think This is going to be another search for an item, a keycard of some sorts. I am however unable to escape for another 30 minutes, stuck in the same 30 square meters that the room is. I get frustrated again and enable the “Tips” option, and guess what, almost immediately, keybinds get explained which I have been unable to find in the list of keys in the options menu. At this point, I was mad, infuriated even. The tips option was not “Tips”, it was a straight-up tutorial. And the “tutorial” that I played through was a complete lie. All i had to do was throw an object at a damaged window to break the glass. The idea of searching for important items in corners, closets and everything, you never find that back in the game, no easter eggs to be found. This first experience dictated the remainder of the game’s experience for me. I got stuck in an endless spiral of negativity. I got mad over small details, and because I was so negative, those smaller details became even more apparent, making me more mad. The game became a complete chore to complete, and I couldn’t enjoy the story anymore as I was so blinded by the gameplay.


No it damn well doesn’t. It’s tried and tested, and commonplace for a reason, that reason being it’s often the best possible conclusion to the gameplay, not just the story. Does a game need one? No. Calling for it’s extinction though? Just no.

That said, thumbs up to the rest of your post.


If we have a boss battle, I’d like to see skills involved. Create SHODAN like a puzzle boss, which you have to defeat using your skills - such as hacking.

I wouldn’t mind if, while facing her, there were fourth wall breaks - ala Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid. Defeating her should require all your skills, and thinking outside the box.


Fair criticism. I went too far exaggerating to make a point.

“Die” is too strong. “Temporarily become unwell,” maybe? Just enough to encourage developers to try some other ways to deliver the concluding challenge of a game, as I find it difficult to believe that a boss battle is a Platonically perfect conclusion and no further attempts at innovation are needed.

Platonically perfect conclusion

Other mediums, especially film, also make use of it a lot. The vast majority of action movies there is a final showdown with bad guy. Same as horror and to a lesser extent Sci-fi. One alternative is the protagonist dies, but games already support that alt scenario too.
With games there’s twice the reason (if not more) to do a final showdown due to gameplay.
In most types of games such a conclusion is probably as important as a plot twist is to a horror story, character development is to romance, a steady camera is to action…

Oh god this has just inspired a new game design concept. takes notes


Speaking of whether all action games must use the “boss battles” thing, I just saw this quote from Warren in Gamasutra’s write-up of his GDC 2017 presentation on Deus Ex:

The game was going to have no bosses to kill; it was about deciding how the world should be.

And that worked out pretty well. :wink:


Like I said, not all games need one. And I’m aware Deus Ex didn’t have boss fights in a traditional sense, although they still can be qualified as bossfights though, at least in the case of Navarre who you can’t run from. I’ve been working on the game for 4.5 years and I wouldn’t dare change how Ion Storm approached it in principle. But that’s Deus Ex which is no average game, not something like Super Mario Bros or 90% other types of game where boss fights are fitting and should not die. Yet even for Immersive Sims they can very much fit like a glove.


One test of an emergent simulation is how well it plays without its weapon. If an equal amount of time is devoted to non-combat AI as to combat AI; if alternate routes are available through levels; if there are alternatives to boss battles; if hacking and social skills are available to bypass the combat routes; if there are dozens of possible ways - including stealth - of approaching a problem; in a nutshell, I consider it to be a worthy sim.


On one hand I don’t want the game to be too heavy on enemies and combat. I’d rather fewer enemies, but with combat to be relatively tough. Every enemy should present a credible threat to the player.

At the same time, I don’t want a Souls-clone either (Bloodborne goes beyond the level of “challenge” and into the realm of “extreme frustration and repetitiveness”). Even if the player fails to achieve an objective and dies, and presuming we’re keeping resurrection devices, the player should be rewarded with at least some marginal progress, at least ‘chipping away’ at the overall challenge.

Also, the pacing needs to be varied. The game or the enemies can’t follow obvious patterns; there need to be the “panic! run away” moments, and also the slow and quiet moments with only the hint of potential threats, the frantic fights and the more methodical parts. And the game should madly, randomly move between these to keep the player guessing/paranoid/on their toes.


Something I personally hope to avoid is the Silent Protagonist trope. Frankly, i’m tired of it; it’s rarely used correctly and frequently just feels like the writers are taking a cop-out. Not every time, but often it feels this way, like in Rage (if anyone even remembers that game), for example; John Goodman’s character saves your life, and you now owe him a favor for doing that. Rather than ask a ton of questions and freak out, like 99.99999999999999999% of the population would in a similar situation, you just go on with your little fetch/murder quest and come back to get a few paltry answers.

“Hey, I know you just woke up from endless decades of cryo-sleep, and I know that everyone and everything you knew, everything you once held dear, all of it is destroyed, and I know that have a thousand different questions you need answers for, but before I can answer them for you, I need to go and perform a task that I am perfectly capable of doing on my own, and could probably do better than you, seeing as I am adjusted to the world around me, but simply do not feel like doing at this precise moment. So, yeah. Get going.”

That’s really how that whole game felt. The gameplay itself was pretty solid, but the environments were overly linear, and the story was massively under-developed. The Silent Protagonist writing left us with hundreds of questions (simply because there was no one to ask questions, and no one felt like explaining a single thing that wasn’t utterly vital to what was happening right in front of you) that ended up going unanswered and the game just felt hollow. Granted, the System Shock titles have been some of the best examples of this writing, but too many poor examples have left a sour taste in my mouth.

With a mid-level budget, it may not be possible to have broad, branching dialogue trees that give us options to communicate as we think is best (that’s a lot of writing and voice acting, and it gets expensive), but having a character who’s capable of commenting on the world around him, and expressing shock, anger, disbelief, and disgust at the hellish world that SHODAN will inevitably seek to create would be a nice change of pace.


I generally prefer a silent protagonist in computer games. Writing and voicing dialogue for the character I’m playing means that someone else is dictating (literally) my reactions to things in that world.

A silent protagonist lets me decide how to react. This is one of the things I like about System Shock (except for the “Nah” moment).

That said, I believe System Shock games benefit from a somewhat tightly directed story in order to create and maintain tension. So I might be persuaded that a speaking protagonist could work for SS3, IF there are any moments where we interact with a live human who’s not trying to kill us.


I prefer the silent protagonist, also. It lets me juxtapose my own personality onto the main character, rather than having a role imposed upon me.