System Shock served as the inspiration for countless games, from fellow immersive sims like Deus Ex, to direct spiritual successors like Bioshock. Even Dead Space was initially conceived as System Shock 3. But according to a new report, System Shock's own origins are stranger than you could possibly imagine.
Published by Rock Paper Shotgun, the report tells the story of the game's creation through the voices of the game's developers. And during his recollection, designer Austin Grossman states that the game's initial inspiration was none other than Sonic the Hedgehog.
"The first reference I heard to the System Shock project was somebody saying 'Oh yeah, we're gonna do Sonic the Hedgehog, but it's in space," Grossman says. "That was the original concept. I don't know whose concept that was, or why that sounded like a super good idea to them."
It's a truly bizarre origin story, one which the game's executive producer, Warren Spector, struggles to recall. "I have no memory of that at all. Even looking back, I don't see it. Weird."
Grossman goes on to explain that this idea eventually "went away", at which point System Shock's more familiar cyberpunk premise took over." Everybody had seen the Ridley Scott films, and I was a huge fan of William Gibson. After all of the pretension and forced whimsy of the Ultima franchise, we just wanted things to be dirty and messy and futuristic for a while."
The report unearths a couple of other interesting facts about System Shock's origins. Grossman, for example, is credited with the idea of telling the story through audio-logs, with programmer Rob Fermier stating "There was a desire to have the mechanics be a little more degetic in their nature." Grossman cites several inspirations for the audio log idea, including a game called Pool of Radiance, and a scene in The Fellowship of the Ring "when they're in Moria and Gandalf is reading out the record the dwarves have kept of their downfall." It also reveals one of the alternative titles for System Shock was BIOSfear "which is like computer BIOS, and sort of like 'biosphere' also'" Fermier elaborates.
You can read the full story of System Shock's creation here. It's a fascinating companion piece to the recently released System Shock remake, which does an excellent job of modernising the game without compromising its original design. As noted by by Joshua in his review "This is, I feel confident saying, the definitive way to play System Shock in 2023 and beyond."