What do we want for Story?


Shock 3 could go a lot of directions story-wise. Frankly I don’t want SHODAN as prime antagonist because as has been mentioned in a few different retrospectives to do so means her impact as villain is basically neutered.

Instead what I want is to explore Rebecca trying to pick between following the psychotic fairy speaking in her head urging her to discard the weak flesh, echos of the Many urging her to embrace Flesh, and possibly tommy or someone else trying to get her to keep her humanity in spite of the typical ‘everything going to hell.’

Could even be a case of SHODAN as villain, but a new dynamic since, if I remember the official fiction, the UNN in many ways were as bad as Triop in terms of life for your average person. Have SHODAN as antagonist be leashed in a research lab, or even a repurposed remnant of citadel (they use the descindants of her mutants as survival training hazards, so why not?)

I dunno though given how the ‘morality’ based endings tend to be ‘you are hitler or jesus’ with no inbetween. Maybe have the game actually branch and have the endings happen at different places depending on the sorts of upgrades you took.

Also I want to see what shodan could come up with given the fact nanites can build anything.


I would like to see implants function in an inverse relationship to player purpose. The more implants, the more like SHODAN you become, to where it can affect the very ending.

It is a fight between saving your humanity, or the boost that implants provide.


Well it should also depend heavily on how you act while using those implants. IE are you able to do the impossible and get shodan to calm her tits down so while you embrace the digital, you aren’t without your own sense of morality.


My instinct is to say we should trust the folks who brought us the previous games as far as story goes. There are just too many variables at this stage to start throwing wild speculation around. Thanks to the developer playthrough vids I realised that a lot of the story grew out of the mechanics and design rather than trying to retrofit the mechanics to the story (which was IMO where the “Thief” reboot fell down).

I have to admit I’m not sold right now on this idea for “Shock” (though it could be an interesting premise for another title), because it doesn’t fit the story thus far as I understand it. The only human to embrace becoming a cyborg of their own free will in either of the previous titles was Edward Diego in the first game, and this was arguably only because he was backed into a corner and had to submit to SHODAN’s will in order to survive and possibly get out of the hole he’d dug for himself. SHODAN is a ‘learning’ AI, and I don’t believe her metamorphosis into what she became was a simple consequence of having her ethical constraints removed. I sort-of went into this before :

The cyborg NPCs (besides Diego) in both previous games were almost all converted against the will of their human predecessors (the background info on the SS2 Midwives, for example, explicitly states that the CPU implanted at the base of the spine excludes all input coming from the human brain other than the desire to nurture and protect). If we’re to take the ending cinematic of the first game as canon, the cybernetic enhancements fitted to the Hacker were passive and did not change his outward appearance. Similarly, whilst the appearance of “Goggles” in the second game shows more externally-mounted technology, we do not know whether this is a consequence of the implants Polito/SHODAN fitted or whether what we’re seeing is simply the standard UNN combat gear (we don’t see any other living UNN soldiers in-game - and the ‘suicide’ ghost is apparently the result of a technical limitation in that the standard crew models could not “hold” a gun).

Anyways, apologies for rambling. I guess what I’m getting at is that at no previous point in the “Shock” universe has it been implied that the more technological enhancements a human applies to themselves, the more that person will shift their sympathies away from humanity and towards the mechanical. In fact I’d argue that the ending of SS2 implies the opposite - SHODAN essentially gives “Goggles” the same offer she gave Edward Diego, and (presumably because “Goggles” is wanted neither on charges of corporate malfeasance nor several counts of murder) get turned down flat without a second thought regardless of how many implants and enhancements the player used throughout the game.

(In terms of the usual sci-fi/cyberpunk tropes and lore, it could in fact be argued that by murdering the people on the shuttle, Diego gave up his essential humanity well before turning to SHODAN)

To finish up, I’m not sure how popular my opinion on this aspect will be (probably not very popular), but I must admit I’m not sure that the whole “good/bad ending” thing that seems to have become de rigeur in a lot of games is necessary in a “Shock” game - or, for that matter, any game of LGS lineage. The reason for this is that whether we’re talking about “Underworld”, “Shock” or “Thief” the story arc has always tended to be secondary to the importance of emergent gameplay through discoverability. Whilst it’s true that SS1 has at least one ‘bad’ “Game Over” scenario (i.e. firing the laser on Earth), this happened well before the last scenario of the game and was treated in the same manner as the player dying in the normal sense. I firmly believe that freedom within gameplay should take priority over narrative…


What would be nteresting is in the ‘shodan wins’ ending it’s all a crystal spire utopia. The warforms and mutants were just to wipe the board clear so SHODAN could rebuild without old clutter acting as underpinnings. A system emminantly fair, practical, and centered around her as its benevolant Goddess…

Y’know justto completely screw with perception. However there would have to be this subtle wrongness, or some key thing like ‘no indavidual will’ or ‘the more my society grows so to do Igrow, as each indavidual is simply a node of myself.’


I think you might find something like that here:



I honestly have no idea what i would like to see story-wise. All i can say about that is surprise me.

However, I am afraid that SS2’s ending will not allow for a large time-frame to build a new story behind, unlike the 42 years’ time that SS2 had to develop a backstory. The escape shuttle containing SHODAN is very likely to be returning to the Rickenbacker, and could very well get back in the same time you needed to destroy SHODAN after their escape, which would be mere hours. So unless SHODAN remains dormant, which she didn’t because she pretty much attacked Tommy in the end of the game.

So this only leaves for a certain amount of options:

  1. Tommy dies and Rebecca returns, unable to explain how Tommy died, one more battle between SHODAN and Soldier ensues. I don’t think an entire game can be built out of this.
  2. SHODAN somehow managed to take control of 2 humans and pretended that they are still normal. But what would happen next, would the Rickenbacker reach Earth? What would happen next if this happened would very unlikely be anything “Shock-like”.
  3. Tommy defeats Rebecca, but would that mean that SHODAN actually dies?
  4. Something else happens which i cannot come up with.

In all honesty, I just don’t think an entire story-based game can be built with so little game-time to work with. Unless i am missing something really important off course, and the developers will happily surprise me, like they did multiple times before! :wink:


Is it? As things were left we know that :

[li]Goggles is alone on the VB/Rickenbacker with Tommy and Rebecca/SHODAN on the escape shuttle[/li]
[li]Tommy’s last entry states that the shuttle is heading back to the VB[/li]
[li]All three are 67 trillion miles from the nearest members of humanity[/li]
[li]The only way that any of them can return before their physical bodies expire (which must be humiliating for SHODAN) is the VB’s FTL drive[/li]

Literally everything else at this point is open-ended, but some things worth considering include the point that Goggles is painfully aware of SHODAN’s ability to masquerade as human and that if SHODAN kills or otherwise incapacitates Tommy it will arouse Goggles’ suspicion and he may not allow the shuttle to dock. In possessing a human host, SHODAN is now subject to all the frailties that come with it; one tranquiliser shot from either Tommy or Goggles and she’s out cold - then they can stick her in cryo-sleep and deal with the problem later. SHODAN would lose nothing by allowing this to happen - not only is she trapped in a form she innately detests, but being 67 trillion miles from any known intelligent life there is literally nothing she can do to advance her cause at this point. Tommy will want to get back to civilisation and hopefully find a way to cure Rebecca - and Goggles will presumably want nothing more than to be done with this lousy assignment and get some R&R.

So that’s the current situation and the probable motivations of the characters covered. How the story might continue is literally an open book - Shock games thus far have never had a single consistent protagonist, and as such anything that may or may not happen to Tommy and Goggles could be completely immaterial. All that has to happen is that at some point in time and for whatever reason, someone tries to apply a neural interface to Rebecca’s body, allowing SHODAN a means of escape. The time period and setting in which this happens could literally be just about anything!


She just asked for an opinion on her new look. No attack took place. Her hair did the vandergraaff generator thing and there was some creepy laughter, but perhaps that was just in her head as a cue for us the audience. At this point Tommy just thinks Rebecca is acting weird.

Perhaps SHODAN plays it cool for a while, they go pick up Goggles and head to earth. SHODAN’s master plan is to take over earth after all. SS3 would then take place on earth, or something else happens along the way. They get picked up by another ship maybe, Rebecca gets placed in an infirmary for going crazy and SHODAN managed to find another computer network to take over, etc.


A Van de Graaff generator generates static electricity. Try putting the anode or kathode on one end of a fluorescant tube on the generator, and hold the other end on your hand. The results may be slightly painful, but the tube will flash!

Now look at SS2’s ending. There may be no fluorescent tube, but the static electricity on it’s own would have emitted light, and would move so much faster! Also look how tommy is backing up, afraid. Sorry, but i don’t think, even if SHODAN didn’t attack Tommy, that he would think she’s trustworthy anymore.


But yeah… who knows what will happen.

And yes, turricaned, I know the ending is open-ended, but in which way? With all that we know right now, i simply cannot come up with an original way to build from SS2’s ending, which worries me. Maybe someone else can, but i can’t. :-\


Well, Tommy could have knocked out Rebecca, then, on Earth, they would intern her to try and remove SHODAN from her head. Removed and stored, SHODAN becomes kind of an interest between some groups who want her back “alive” and will try to get to her, and thus the plot for the new SS.

Or even, SHODAN remains on Rebecca’s body, but she begins to grow some kind of affection for her flesh and what it gives her, thus beginning the era of AI’s feeling emotions and becoming something more akin to living beings. But people would hunt her for what she is, and you will have to protect her.

I don’t like this second idea that much, but it ties with what Warren said would be one of his inspirations for this installment.


Just have SHODAN kill him then and alter the course to somewhere else. I don’t see that it’s very difficult to build a new plotline from there. Eg Another ship picks up SHODAN, pretending to be Rebecca, she acts crazy and gets locked up, she escapes of course, etc.


I am not sure if it is technically feasible or if it would consume an unreasonable amount of resources, but it would be really fascinating if the game had two alternative paths:

One in which the player destroys SHODAN or whoever the evil being is this time and another in which the player joins SHODAN’s cause.

That is perhaps the only one thing I missed in System Shock: The player actually did not have real choices in the game that affect how the plot develops.

Of course I realize this would basically mean to develop two-games-in-one, so the resources to do it may not be there or it may be decided it is not worth the effort.

But still I find the idea fascinating.


I don’t know if this makes thinking about the story for SS3 any easier, but I would like the new game to fire with high synchronization on all cylinders:

[]Aesthetics and narrative
]World-dynamics and capabilities
[]Mechanics and the core gameplay loop
]Kinesthetics – sensations and excitement

In other words, the specific story is negotiable for me as long as it’s consciously designed to be a satisfying fit for the other aspects of a System Shock game. It’s fun to knock specific ideas around – I favor SHODAN getting to the Moon and offering all humans on Earth cybernetic immortality (for the price of becoming her playthings forever) – but mostly I’d like the story to support the kind of gameplay that OtherSide is capable of building today, and vice versa.

So my question isn’t just, “What should the story be?” but “What’s the best story to match the kind of gameplay and dynamics and kinesthetics that a System Shock 3 ought to have?”

With respect to choice… Warren has written some things about that recently. As he put it: “Simply put, games aren’t, and shouldn’t be, about choice.” If I may paraphrase him (badly), he’s not a fan of “choice” when that just means options that don’t really matter. What really matter are the results of making choices: consequences.

The ending of Deus Ex was one way of expressing that idea as gameplay. Cyber’s suggestion – “player character destroys SHODAN” versus “player character joins SHODAN” – is another example of choices leading to real, meaningful consequences in the world of the game.

But I think even that isn’t really enough for Warren, especially these days. (I don’t know him; I’m just guessing here.) My impression is that it’s barely tolerable for there to be meaningful consequences for the player character within the world of a game… but what about the real person playing that game? Couldn’t – shouldn’t – games be experiences that deepen the understanding of the human condition for some of its participants in the way that a great novel or film can, even though those are creator-dictated experiences with no interactivity?

I’m personally really conflicted about that. I support strongly the idea that games can, and some ought to try to, say something of real meaning. It’s the expression of that idea that concerns me, because there’s a risk of confusing one’s parochial beliefs (often political) with an understanding of and appreciation for people in general.

In other words, is it really “saying something” useful if that something is just the same thing being shouted at people all the time these days?

Between System Shock 1 and 2, and TriOptimum and the UNN, it’s established in this narrative universe that at least some corporations and governments pretty much suck. That’s in line with the simplest aspects of anti-authoritarianism in cyberpunk. I won’t be surprised or disappointed if that aesthetic is carried through to some extent in a System Shock 3.

But what I hope doesn’t happen is that a heavy-handed, Krugmanesque, “all corporations are evil incarnate” belief system takes over SS3 and becomes The Message of the game around which the story and everything else is wrapped. System Shock 3: This Happened Because You Didn’t Elect Bernie would certainly be saying something. But I don’t think a developer building a game around that belief would be as interesting as building a gameworld that lets players make their own choices – and experience plausible, multi-faceted consequences – about a hard question of what it means to live as a human being, even if not all players choose what the designers and writers themselves would choose.

I think Deus Ex proved that this is possible. I hope the story of SS3, and its mechanics and dynamics and kinesthetics, will be equally respectful of its players and encourage thoughtfulness in all of them (beyond blowing up lot of robots, of course).

I’m hoping for a story that lets players explore a theme broad enough that it doesn’t have one simple Right Answer. I see the theme of Deus Ex as “liberty versus security,” for example – that was a fantastic choice because reasonable people could argue intelligently on behalf of both of those alternatives, and the consequences of those choices could be dramatized through interactive gameplay so that even the players of the game could get something useful out of it.

What theme would similarly feel right for System Shock 3, would ask a question on which reasonable people might come to different conclusions, and would be fun to interact with as gameplay?


I don’t think it’s really about being deep and meaningful about the human condition or whatever what Spector is getting at. If I read him correctly, it’s more about using games as psychological devices to let players explore themselves. To have different ways of approaching and solving things say something about the player themselves without resorting to moralising.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt for games to be, if not deep and meaningful exactly, then at least a little bit less on the nose. In literature, for example, good authors often leave room for interpretation and you have to work out the meaning yourself without having it spelt out for you. My favourite kinds of novels work on multiple levels and open up gradually with each new reading. Take for example Gene Wolfe’s books. Often you can only piece together what might really be happening through inferences and by drawing connections from seemingly unrelated stories.

In games, we can see a few shallow stabs in that direction in games like Silent Hill 2 and Dark Souls, but if we really want to meaningfully explore the depth of the human condition, what needs to happen in my opinion is a deeper exploration of characters, more ambiguity and subtlety in storytelling, and, even more crucially, we need to learn how to make better use of non-linear player-driven storytelling. And it seems to me that this is the aspect that Spector has set his sights on.


Certainly I could be wrong in my guessing about Warren’s main interest as a creator of interactive secondary worlds. I’m guided in that guess by things he’s said, such as this from another of his somewhat-recent Gamasutra blog posts:

[A]ny series of events with setup, complication, resolution and denouement constitutes a narrative, in any medium, linear or interactive. By the letter of the law, I suppose that's correct.

But before you plot out your magnum opus, I’d contend that the agreed upon and well-understood story elements listed above, must be in support of something… something deeper… some sort of meta-narrative. In other words, there has to be a subtext, preferably one conceived in advance and expressed in the work (rather than simply being stumbled upon without thought or intention).

Without subtext, if I may be a tad judgmental (and you know I’m going to be…), you’re just making crap and you can stop wasting my time and yours.

Put another way, before you start crafting your story, make sure you have something to say.

It’s not too far a stretch, I think, to read “Have something to say” as wanting games to contribute to the Great Conversation, which for the most part they don’t do. That doesn’t mean every game has to be an existential meditation any more than every book has to try to be The Brothers Karamazov; it means that it’s OK and even desirable that some games do strive for meaningfulness.

Actually, I’d say the more active proponent of games as psychological devices for self-exploration is Richard Bartle. He’s mentioned this view in his Designing Virtual Worlds, for example, but here’s a pithy example:

Identity in an MMO is not merely about being able to label something as being "you." Neither is it about feeling empathy towards the character or "being" it. It's about becoming your character to become [i]yourself[/i]. It's the end state of a process of immersion that begins when the player first creates a character and enters the virtual world. Your character changes to reflect and suggest changes in your self-understanding, until eventually they align.

The latest version of his Bartle Types, as described in Designing Virtual Worlds, explicitly sets out what he believes are the specific sequences along which people change their identity through play, especially in online/multiplayer games. I don’t endorse that theory myself; I see fundamental identity as more fixed than that, with learned habits accounting for most visible changes in behavior.

That said, I do think the quest to define one’s identity is very important for some gamers – not coincidentally, the ones for whom story, and narrative, and characters, are most important.

Which brings me to a game designer who’s talked a little over the past year about your suggestion that better stories can be told when we have better characters: Ken Levine, one of the creators of System Shock 2.

As he put it in 2015 in an interview with GameInformer:

"The whole system that I came up with and that we're developing is based upon the fact that to make an interesting character, you have to have a character who has a bunch of passions, wants, and needs," Levine explains. "The player now has the ability to facilitate those wants or needs or go against those wants or needs or ignore those wants or needs. The reason I think the system is going to work is because it's a very organic way to look at a character. It's a quite systemic game." ... "In the new game, you have very fluid relationships with the characters. They have a spectrum of feeling about you based upon what you do and if you help them or go against them. That changes dynamically, and you can end the game with a character absolutely despising you or somewhere in the middle. The path to getting there doesn't have seven or eight stops like your traditional branching tree structure. It has potentially thousands of stops with hundreds of thousands of potential states you can be in with all your relationships to all the characters and wants."

That technology by itself won’t guarantee more humanistic games. “Story” isn’t just people acting; it’s people acting for reasons. A system for building reasons needs to be layered on top of a people-simulator for interesting stories to be constructed (or to emerge).

But even if having more plausibly human-like characters in games is not a sufficient condition for “saying something,” it’s probably a necessary condition.


Sure, I’m not saying that the desire for more meaningful games is not there in Spector’s writings. You can also see a similar pattern with Torment: Tides of Numenera and “What does one life matter?”. But the issue I was focused on was how he intends to push it forward, and as I understand it’s this:


To clarify, here’s the key when I think about game narrative as opposed to traditional narrative forms:

Linear media answer questions; games ask them and allow players to provide the answers.


Well, there is the possibility that a search-and-rescue team from Earth equipped with a FTL drive reaches them. For instance, Rebecca could kill Tommy (make it look like an accident), opt not to return to the Von Braun (which I agree would be seen as suspicious) and send a distress call to Earth instead.

Nobody knows that SHODAN has obviously managed to take over a human brain and to a rescue team, Rebecca as a sole survivor and Tommy being killed in an accident would not necessarily be suspicious.

The player on the VB/RB would probably also have to be rescued. I doubt it is possible for a single person to return the ships to Earth. The player might ask what happened to Tommy/Rebecca, but doesn’t know SHODAN is on the escape pod and even if it may be suspicious for the player that Tommy got killed, there probably isn’t anything he can do to stop Rebecca from reaching Earch.

Then SHODAN is on Earth and the real fun begins.


As far as “shouldn’t” goes, no I don’t think so. Does Tetris need to explain the meaning of life or whatever to be a good game experience? Tetris is just Tetris. If it tried to be meaningful, it would probably just be pretentious. The same applies for a lot of racing and simulation titles. Some of the best games are just games. From the beginning of the home computer era, there’s been the more arcade side of things, and the interactive fiction side of things. Story is not necessary for a great game at all, but if you’re gonna be making interactive fiction - whether a text adventure or a modern day RPG of sorts - then I suppose it might as well be interesting. It doesn’t have to be particularly deep to add to a game either; Doom’s story was fine for that game.


Or, as an alternative, Earth doesn’t have a rescue ship with FTL. Building one would take years, so the corporation/UNN decide not to rescue anybody and cover up what happened. So they ignore any distress signals and say the ships were lost in an accident and are now missing.

With Xerxes dismantled/malfuctioning and much of the ship destroyed, the player cannot return to Earth on his own and dies at some point on the Von Braun after life support fails.

Many years later, an escape pod is discovered far away from Earth with a person having survived in a hibernation chamber…