Warren talks about SS3 and Immersive Sims: Thoughts?


Hey wow, a SS3 post!

This morning, Warren’s interview with gameindustry.biz went live, which you can read here.

He talks about a lot of interesting things, including how he feels about the immersive sim genre today, his thoughts on Shock3, and even some talk about about Deus Ex development.

Here’s the part most relveant to Shock3 curious:

"We’re not even competing with System Shock and System Shock 2; we’re competing with people’s memories of them. And their memories are not of terrible-looking 2D animation, blocky graphics, simple levels.

He continued: "But it’s interesting and strange to have the opportunity to go back and give Shodan some sensible motivation. In the earlier games it was like, ‘Why did I do it? Because I’m mad of course.’ It’s a great character; people love Shodan and she’s a terrific villain, but that’s not the most sophisticated motivation you can come up with. So the opportunity to explain who she is, let her become something is kinda cool.

We’re also going to bring back Citadel Station in some form – was it entirely destroyed? If you go back to the original game, you can find the answer. There were some survivors of those early games, so being able to tell people what happened to those characters is fun.

“But the thing we always have to remember is that it’s a balancing act. We have to make sure we reach beyond the core fans. The original System Shock and System Shock 2 were re-released in their original form with no changes about three years ago and sold over a million copies – so we know there’s an audience out there, but we need to reach beyond that. We’re finding the balance between pleasing the existing fans and giving new fans something to grab onto without knowing all the lore.”


Glad to see he really gets the whole competing-with-nostalgia thing, whcih we’ve chewed over in threads here.

I see he’s careful to strike the balance between new and old even in that interview: “here’s a thing we’ll be improving. Here’s one we’ll be keeping and building on.”

The change could be good. Giving Shodan more subtle motivations might work well, because we as an audience have grown up and expect more depth in our entertainment now.

Shodan’s already a strong, even iconic character. Giving an AI more depth risks giving it more humanity. Done wrong, it could come across as just another instance of the California-ization of modern media, replacing visceral passion and excitement with touchy-feely soap-opera drama themes. Or, it could go the other way and come across as out of touch, even sexist. Feels like there’s a huge scope between those two extremes to get it feeling right, though.

Me, I’d have no idea where to start. That’s why I’m a coder, not a game designer!


An interview with Warren is always fun. When he lets himself get frisky, he says interesting things. :smile:

In this case, there were three things that jumped out at me:

  1. Immersive sims are thinking games.

“The reality is we ask people to work,” he told GamesIndustry.biz . “It’s an interesting thing. The immersive simulation is not the kind of game where if you keep moving forward, like a shark, you’ll eventually win. It’s not the kind of genre where you just solve a puzzle the designer created for you, or kill everything that moves and you win. It’s a genre where you have to decide what to do, you have to choose how to interact with the world. That is work, it requires brain power. So I suspect that’s part of it.”

This is exactly the distinction I’ve made in my own writing between “persistence” and “perception.”

A persistence-focused game (which most are) can be won by applying some effort over time. There’s nothing wrong with that! It’s absolutely a real kind of fun – it just happens to be the kind of fun some people like specifically because it doesn’t make any mental or emotional demands on them.

But that is a very different kind of game from one that’s designed to be perception-focused (or power-focused, or people-focused). A perception-focused game requires and rewards broad (not tactical) insight, awareness of patterns at different scales, and (at its best) creative planning. In short, perception-focused games are thinking games.

I think people are naturally wired to prefer different kinds of fun. So it seems to me that quite a few of the problems in game design and marketing come from not recognizing this – from making a game that, for example, asks players to think, and then expects that game to be popular with gamers whose preferred kind of fun is explicitly about avoiding thinking (and feeling).

  1. It sounds like Citadel Station in SS3 will not be visited by the player only through dreams or memories or reality-warping, but in the actual physical reality of the SS3 world:

We’re also going to bring back Citadel Station in some form – was it entirely destroyed? If you go back to the original game, you can find the answer. There were some survivors of those early games, so being able to tell people what happened to those characters is fun.

  1. Immersive sims go multiplayer?

“Also, it’s probably time for us to go multiplayer,” [Spector] concluded. “I think we have to see that. We’ve been talking about it for years, nobody’s done it right.” The history of the immersive sim is one of single-player campaigns, so how on Earth would a multiplayer version work? “If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” Spector said.

So is this what Warren has been hinting at when he’s talked about System Shock 3 doing something that hasn’t been done before, as in his PCGamesN interview:

“There’s at least one thing that’s pretty crazy, pretty insane,” he explains. “I have no idea if it’s going to work – but no-one’s ever seen or done it before, I’ll say that.”

If this is the case – if System Shock 3 is being designed primarily as a multiplayer or co-op immersive sim, rather than as a single-player experience – then I have a couple of thoughts.

One is that I look forward to seeing what such a game looks like. I won’t play it, but I expect it would be a fascinating game design experiment.

And two is that I wonder if multiplayer, as a persistence-rewarding kind of design structure rather than one that allows for concentrated thinking, may be a feature that the perception-enjoying fans of immersive sims so far just aren’t wired to tolerate.

I do think if anyone could figure out how to blend immersive sim and “other people” successfully, it’s probably Warren Spector. And if it could be done, it might open up the market for this new form of immersive sim.

But if that’s where this is going, I would not be quick to dismiss the objections of gamers who enjoy single-player immersive sim experiences. There may be a tighter connection between “people naturally inclined to prefer immersive sims because they’re thinking games” and single-player experiences than some would like to believe.


Thinking, like reading, takes time, and causes delays in play. As a player, I like to stop and think. To play and retry a problem many ways. To experiment.

Multiplayer takes realtime teamwork and synchronicity. You CAN experiment together. Some games have made it work, but mostly by streamlining out any moments of quiet contemplation. Borderlands 2 is wonderful in multiplayer… but a nasty grind in single player because of that.

It’ll be interesting to see how they make this work.

Fortunately, he’s not talking about SS3 being multiplayer - this is him looking towards the future. So he’s got time to figure it all out :D


Yep – as @sluangkhot pointed out over in the Discord channel, my theory that SS3 might be some form of multiplayer is not correct.

Although that just sets me back to wondering what this “never been done before” is!


Maybe while coding the AI behaviour of Shodan for the game, she became self-aware and will take over the internet soon?


So far, each of the expected, clichéd, marketing, checkboxes are getting checked, so I gotta ignore all of those, and see what’s more related to SShock ethos and idiom.

And keeping to my personal theme, if the multiplayer for SS3 can actually be completed and can be applied to other Otherside IP – like the work for SS2 applied to Thief II, but taken all the way – then that’ll be a good thing. Bells and whistles and branch-offs that take away from a polished, primary, end-product, is often more bad than not, so as long as that particular unfortunate situation doesn’t occur, I’ll be content that the MP exists.


As I understand it, there’ll be no multiplayer for SS3: it remains a single-player-only game. Multiplayer was mentioned in the interview only as a challenge that must eventually be faced in future games.


I actually heard a lof the same things - and said in the same way - as back at the beginning of UA, strangely enough.I.e. bright, shiney intangibles that allow you to fill in the blanks.

It’s ‘brighter future’ syndrome, but attached to an existing game-world. Cut those apron-strings at your own risk.

Jtr7 is right…it’s also about core competencies, and making sure no-one rests on their laurels. Warren can be great, but is also given to romantic grand-standing, and shining hill. Gritty details are lot harder, and the chops that go with them are tough, and current. Nice to have him there, but let’s wait before they build the statue.

As for ‘never been done before’…in Otherside’s case that means …get your hard hats ready…a competent sequel to the games that made you famous after a decades-long break. It’s dfficult.

(‘Are you still banging on about UA-and-its-lessons,Flug?’…why, yes, why not :grinning: )

btw, Otherwise need a get a decent single-player game under their belt before they go single-handedly re-writing the multiplayer/co-op genre. One of the downsides about flying the cutting-edge banner, is that is distracts from the need to get the basics right while you’re at it. PR, I gues,in its purest form. But people will look at Warren for a bit more than that, I would think.

the Elder Statesman stuff is great, but let’s have some meat, not more fizz.

As you can probably tell, I remain very guarded about SS3 and its chances of success/being a good game. If it were me,I’d be concentrating on occasional updates indicating small, meaningful steps.


Yeah. I do expect them to build their current systems as if MP was going to be a thing in the future, so it’s mostly ready for adaptation, and won’t need major overhauls, in case it happens sooner. If that even makes sense for me to say, haha!


Co-Op is System Shock would be cool, but it would almost have to be built around it (for instance, opening a door requires punching two buttons in different locations, both players have to push at the same time. Just a lousy example.) I am really eager to see what “revolutionary” feature Warren includes. That is certain.


Told the Austin team about the buzz about SS3 having multiplayer and they were both amused and horrified :stuck_out_tongue: There’s nothing in the works for SS3 multiplayer, as Flatfingers confirmed with me on Discord, Warren was just throwing it out there as unexplored territory.

Still fun for us to gauge what you all think of the idea, however. I know I myself couldn’t imagine an immersive sim without thinking of a single player experience…


I think some of the exploration could be improved by playing with someone who really gets you and shares a playing-pace. Preferably while in the same room.

Almost nobody has such a partner, so requiring it for the game, or making it the default, likely wouldn’t work… but for those of us who are so ridiculously lucky, it’d be a nice feature to let us explore together.

I discovered playing ESO and Borderlands 1&2 that seeing my wife’s reactions to things makes me feel them more strongly, somehow :) We both consider the shared gaming experiences we’ve had together on those two games as some of the best and most memorable times of our marriage.

But even we can’t always game together, and don’t always want to. So I’d say co-op’s best as a low-priority option, rather than the default playstyle.


Two ideas I found cool:

  1. Give SHODAN her own AI, rather than predefined scripted dialogue and moments.
  2. Have her break the fourth wall much like in Eternal Darkness.

What does everyone think?


This might be worth a whole new topic lol

  1. Give SHODAN her own AI, rather than predefined scripted dialogue and moments.

I think this would be really cool, but the team would have to be incredibly careful about how this is implemented. It may feel un-immersive if SHODAN comes to some bizarre conclusions, but on the other hand… it would be truly authentic, wouldn’t it?

My concern is that it may not feel satisfying, and I would say some of the most memorable moments in games are scripted, or at least intended by a designer, narratively. I could see her evolving as an AI within the game to interact with the player being an interesting avenue to explore this in aside from just narrative; maybe she can pre-emptively block your progress based on your playstyle? Limit the way you’ve been playing previously? etc

  1. Have her break the fourth wall much like in Eternal Darkness.

I’ve never played Eternal Darkness, but these YouTube videos are nuts! My first thought admittedly was the Psycho Mantis fight.


It would be neat, too, if SHODAN could hack the character, removing some or all of his/her abilities temporarily, or negating impants (if the game decides to go this route. The more mechanical you are, the more susceptible you are to SHODAN’s attacks.)


Good idea. She could hack the computer you are playing on and out of the blue address you with your real name and location… :smiley:


I can’t imagine a player buying the game and only playing MP (though it, of course, would happen).

I can, however, imagine playing it for the deepest 1st-person immersion experience, getting to know the levels over several replays, and then using that knowledge to dive in with other players for a shared experience. Co-op is tantalizing, and I have no qualifying opinion on competitive MP, other than, it’s anti-pleasure for me, hahaha!

Immersion is really important, as is the ability to decide how to handle each gamespace; systems that let me be my awkward self, but never condescended to.

Ever since discovering that Theftmatch was something intended for Thief, I’ve not been able to wrap my head around how the missions even allowed for that, and wondered if something might have been chopped out to allow for it.

All I’m left with, with these notions, is hope that level design, etc., is only for 1st-person deep immersion, and anything else has to conform to it (roughly speaking).


The Thievery mod for Unreal Tournament was a good thiefly multiplayer experience. I have yet to try the Dark Mod.


There was a devoted group who enjoyed Thief II: The Metal Age Multiplayer, once they got it working okay, and that was before NewDark. I don’t know if T2MP was developed further under NewDark, or not. They’re so niche, their viewpoint should be mined for ore, methinks.

Certain TMA missions were favorites, and they were looking into Fan Missions, but most of their dialogue was in online chats, not published on forums.