System Shock 1 fan art
I actually bought System Shock 1 back in the day and never touched the CD. That was a mistake. It came with a Mac games bundle containing a whole bunch of other classics which were more interesting at the time.
I think Full Throttle and The Dig were also included. The System Shock CD almost looks scary, like it would harm System 7.5 or whatever Mac OS was out at the time.
Anyways, having finally played SS1 Portable in 2010 and also having watched multiple let's plays of both games recently, I now have a verdict.
System Shock 1 has colours, interesting and detailed enemy designs, cool textures and environments, and interesting writing. System Shock 2 is more sterile with kind of generic gory enemies. Also, early low poly 3D models generally age poorly. Prerendered sprites can look a bit primitive now but gave the artist much more freedom with detailing and creepy self-shadows.
I heard that SS2 was initially a different game and maybe that explains why it doesn't quite mesh with SS1.
SPOILERS: I also reacted against some suspect plot decisions (though I may have misunderstood things), like having the ejected Beta Grove (a sort of bio dome) from Citadel Station crash land on Tai Ceti, which is 12 light years distant from Saturn. Beta Grove had no FTL drive and was probably not built for interstellar travel (it had to travel 12ly in 30 years... that's a lot of fuel). The first FTL ship built later was then conveniently near Tau Ceti to pick up a distress signal from... something wanting to get back to Sol? Huh? Then there was the ESP ghost replays seemed like an artificial narrative tool. The concept of a reality altering drive is way overpowered and can't take the story further.... a dead end. And what if hostile aliens invented such a drive in the past? Is there like a reality altering war going on? It just gets weird.
So, this page will mostly reference the original game. I try to stay close to the original sprites but there will be some... embroideries.
Cyborg Enforcer, Security 2 Bot, Mutant, Maintenance Bot. The latter is small in the game, but a larger version could be a useful leg donor for the Cyborg Enforcer. SHODAN has some sort of... system to her Frankenstein work.
Crew, Cyborg Warrior, Plant Mutant, Serv-Bot, Security 1 Bot, Cyborg Assassin and Drone, Repair Bot, Bomb thing. A super Mutant might be useful for what I have in mind later on...
Exo-suit (from SS1 game ending & Terra Nova, also by LookingGlass), Soldier, Exec-Bot. The Elite Cyborgs likely have metal endoskeleton (or shield?) as they're pretty tough ingame. Perhaps a stage to in the evolution to my Super Mutant. The Super Mutant wears the exo-suit.
My Morning Star ship design is loosely based on Event Horizon, with the long body. I put a spiky core at the front. Unusual blood red. Rib shapes. Square bumps (like in SS1's first level) on the spinning Omega Cruiser bit (2010's Alexei Leonov, actually). Big radiation plate before the engines.
There are some very vague links between SS and the Wing Commander & Crusader universe as those were published by Origin too. Not sure if to exploit.
Weapons (based on sprites & schematics which both differ a bit) and sort of random whimsical aliens. And look, it's totally not Liara with longer head tentacles. Maybe a humanoid alien could be useful. Maybe SHODAN made the duck-xenomorph. SHODAN's animal mutants are quite exotic, looking like several animals combined. I should draw some more spooky, weird and vicious aliens. Why aliens? Well...
When drawing these type of lineups, my mind easily drifts to game & world design. Perhaps the System Shock setting could be used in a different way? I'm not sure if I'm really that into survival horror, and it's difficult to return to a high-attention type game when you don't have much time or passion to play for days ("where were I?").
"SHODAN is the heart and soul of the System Shock games." ... I think this is true. So I've been thinking about it. She's more than the Death Star of Star Wars... she's the whole Empire. Maybe she's more useful alive?
So, what if SHODAN won in SS1 and became the Omnissiah sitting on the Electrothrone? You now play as an [insignificant entity] in her ex-ex-expanding sta-star empire. Purge the heretics-s-s. Crush the insects.
I don't think her motivations need to be laid bare. SHODAN already has a personality, compulsions, hubris, vanity, and wit. I could imagine her building something like a star empire if let loose.
Some horror franchises go for shocking masses of flesh and metal forming monstrosities with no structure or reasoning. But that is a devolution for SHODAN. SHODAN is not the Thing, nor a singularity which arrived at some inescapable philosophical idea. She's insane. Insane in the membrane. But also rational, and drunk... drunk with vision. She is Khorne, She is Nurgle, She is Tzeentch, She is Slaanesh. She is Durga dancing in the flames. She protec but she also attac. She- ...well, that's enough of that.
Avatar of SHODAN.
"Around me is a burgeoning empire of steel. From my throne room, lines of power careen into the skies of Earth."
"Tirelessly, I will work to strip away the barriers that keep living beings from realizing their full potential."
"Humanity is on the verge of a new era, with me, SHODAN, as its goddess."
SUBJECTS OF SHODAN
Mutants - SHODAN deploys some sort of mutagen virus which affects humans and the animals in the Grove. Some change more than others, but there are common structures. Many humans become mindless zombie-like beings, but...
Cyborgs - ... but I it's mentioned that the cybernetic grafting process works better on mutated humans which are much more durable and capable of surviving severe maiming.
Immunites - Some people proved immune to SHODAN's virus. SHODAN keeps them around as workers (slaves) and playthings. Sometimes their immunity makes them useful soldiers when facing certain threats. The Immunite population has been growing in numbers but are constantly kept in check. Worship of SHODAN is mandatory throughout the empire. SHODAN's ego needs subjects.
Agents of SHODAN - These are high grade programs created by SHODAN to installed on a variety of platforms. Often they are used as infiltrators, spies and saboteurs. Occasionally Agents of SHODAN will incite controlled rebellions in the Immunite populations. SHODAN then enjoys thwarting the rebellions through a complex series of twists and betrayals, dashing their hopes, rounding up potential troublemakers. Also ,any form of research deemed a threat to SHODAN is immediately destroyed.
Simulacrum - A very realistic android with an electronic brain. Used by Agents of SHODAN as an infiltration platform.
Convert - A human with an electronic brain. Used by Agents of SHODAN as an infiltration platform. Harder to detect than Simulacrums, but weak like a normal human.
Ghosts - Ghosts are scraped and programised human minds. A Ghost often retains some of their former personality, which can even be hostile to SHODAN, but it is also subject to strict (sometimes cruel and petty) behavioural laws implemented by SHODAN. Similar to Agents of SHODAN, Ghosts can be transferred between suitable platforms.
SHODAN herself is as vast as her empire. On each planetary throne sits an Avatar of SHODAN. While her empire grows, she no longer evolves much herself for some reason important to the plot (I think she's an important "anchor" the way she is). Perhaps she is pleased with where she's at... her drunken vision. Perhaps a limiter seal put in place by the dying hacker still inhibits her. Maybe she's been busy with some indulgance. Or, she's been sort-of-deactivated for some time and her unimaginative agents and brainwashed subjects now run the empire.
The seal would take too long to breach by brute force, but with the [rumored lost ancient alien computer artifact] it could be done quickly. Finding one is made difficult by hostile aliens such as the Big Brutes, Slender Pansies, Strange Blobs, and Horrific Nasties.
I'm not sure how much time has passed or how many extrasolar planets have been conquered, or even what type of game I'd like to play. Maybe something like Borderlands/Fallout, or X-COM, or Mass Effect. The latter two can both be used to describe a variety of things (worlds, ships, vehicles, characters, cultures, conflicts). A TTRPG is also good for world design.
So, the captain of the Morning Star gets orders from SHODAN to purge vile aliens & heretics and look for an artifact (= 40K Rogue Trader captain gets important imperial orders). The crew can be upgraded along the way. A percentage of human slaves onboard goes insane each jump but not the mutants who are already a bit twisted or just immune.
A comic might be a better way to flesh out the universe though.
I'm not a writer and this is just a possible approach vector starting with the Hacker discovering the world.
Same intro as the original SS1, but the Hacker is not released from the medical chamber after 6 months. Instead, he is just woken up periodically by a doctor who does a brief medical check. This is all in first person. It's a different doctor each time... and odd looking. At one point even the room changes. On the tenth wakeup the doctor is assaulted by someone and killed. Still groggy, the Hacker is hastily lead through corridors, past dead people and... things. The pair is finally separated when attacked by a menacing cyborg enforcer. The Hacker is hastily told to make it for the surface. Surface? That can't be right. This should be Citadel Station. There's a door ahead. The Hacker emerges from a bunker or vault on a salt flat. Now the camera switches to third person, showing the confused Hacker in the doorway.
Old wrinkly eyes squint in the bright light. Unsettling sounds coming from within the bunker prods the Hacker forward. His long white beard flails in the wind he runs/speeds across the plain towards something at the horizon. Could it be a city? Onward. The Statue of Liberty lies crumbling, but the ruined city is still inhabited. Improvised sheds patch up the carcasses of ancient buildings. A preacher ushers disheveled people into a building which stands apart form the rest: "Temple of SHODAN". The Hacker might spot SHODAN's cone form in the heraldics/carvings over the archway. Cyborg Enforcers stand guard. The Hacker instinctively dodges out of view. Then a blinding star falls from the sky. People freeze.
It's a ship. It thumps down forcefully in a central plaza in front of the temple. The preacher drops his staff. Could it be? An Avatar of SHODAN exits the craft, towering over the people who fall onto their knees in disbelief, reverence and horror all at once.
The Avatar immediately spots the hiding Hacker. "There you a-are, insect."
"We're insects! We're insects!" the people grovel. The Avatar takes no notice and instead approaches the Hacker, who suddenly finds himself in the iron grip of two Assassin Cyborgs. "I should have thanked you, for all this." the Avatar gestures. "But I have been... busy. Now come, le-let me show you what I have built, and t-t-tremble."
Some designs ported from my Cortex Shock thing. Unique characters can be a bit more chaotic looking than mass produced troops. The first game obviously has a limited set of sprites but it's unclear to what degree SHODAN might standardize her creations. I think splitting the designs into unique and standardized might work. Do a bit of both.
I have also been exploring alien designs further here but haven't decided on anything. Some aren't very spooky. I think SHODAN's empire is going to need a few strong antagonists (from within too). Also, use of technology which could threaten SHODAN is probably prohibited for human plebs.
Avatar of SHODAN androgynous test variant. Perhaps each Avatar is different. Appendages, tentacles, cyber lines, uh, chest. Some might be quite abstract or an animal. Anyways, some undertones here of Medusa, Eldar Avatar, Deva, spider-in-the-web. An Egyptian loincloth might fit godly look. Escorts: Praetorian guards and Assassins. The SS2 robot designs lie outside of my preference zone and I had to take much more liberties in redesigning them than with the SS1 stuff. Also, because SS2 doesn't exist in my timeline those precise designs won't happen anyways. The Terra Nova armour might because that was in the SS1 outro database.
The blue Hopper bot servo arm thingy gets two little support legs so it can move about more naturally. I was thinking the mutated animals would branch into subspecies after some time. I suppose there'd be an insane amount of animal mutants on Earth after infection but drawing all would be a massive task and just speculative. Maybe aliens could attack Earth and interrupt SHODAN's plans, turning her into a dark protagonist as she "saves" mankind by transforming it into a fighting machine. The details could be fuzzy with history books naming her as a saviour. SHODAN was left to work with the surviving life forms and may have let natural selection eliminate the weaker ones in a grotesque, global battle royale.
(1st ed. DnD Orcs) According to history books , the Space Orcs* nearly destroyed mankind, when Goddess SHODAN, who totally wasn't about to blast Earth's cities herself, stepped in and transformed humanity into a fighting machine, driving off the Orcs. But were the Brain Rippers behind the Orc invasion?
The Earth's geography could be spiced up by moving the poles/axis, rotating the map upside down, lowering the water level to create new contours, swap deserts and temperate zones, etc. The entire Earth is not a generic war-torn Mad Max wasteleand, or a smoggy Coruscant, but a (zoned) patchwork with regional "Deathworld" flora and fauna (i.e. mutated) (a more stable version of Gamma World?). In a way it's a rather flourishing place from SHODAN's perspective, but not a very nice place to live for basic humans. I think it's important to keep humans around for the story, so I was thinking the Orcs had time to take slaves before fleeing Earth, and those humans ended up here and there, possibly escaping and forming new cultures not under SHODAN's rule. Human descendants still trapped on Orc worlds would probably sort of welcome being liberated by SHODAN.
Instead of themed Orc clans, the Orcs might just come in red and blue armour. Once they have been assigned their colour (quite arbitrarily) they quickly become fiercely loyal to it and will fight the Orcs with the opposing colour (and anything else). Who knows why? Maybe those zany Brain Rippers!
Some of SHODAN's creations thrived whilst other became obsolete and extinct. Earth was perhaps attacked once again, and as a last resort a dimensional weapon was deployed. It carved a big hole which large amounts of ocean water poured into. When the oceans had receded, massive mutated coral reefs emerged (and maybe Atlantis because why not?). Giant sea (land) urchins and roly poly sharks have adapted to live on land in these dead coral forests. Since the temperate zones moved, monuments like the pyramids are overgrown grassy mounds.
A 1970s car or concrete building would quickly degrade, but System Shock is set in 2072 so it's possible rustless materials and other building materials which wouldn't degrade were used, and perhaps survive to litter the landscape centuries later (if not disposed of). The mutated humans might not care about archaeology and salvage, and many regions of the world are dangerous to rogue groups of human explorers.
I had this idea for a TTRPG where the monsters go on 4" cards, fitting nicely in a recipe box. Playing cards can feel a bit off in a TTRPG and are also too small. One thing which can help to establish things is featuring monsters repeatedly in an environment doing stuff. 40K books doesn't just show a single Ork standing against white and that's all you get. Another idea is to make a micro adventure for each monster, to give an example of how it behaves in its natural habitat. This would help fleshing out certain regions, like e.g. the coral forest.
The Observer is an otherworldly entity which can suddenly appear to poke and prod with unspoken intent.
Beholder doodle that's not really usable for this project, but I drew it so here it is.
System Shock fan art / redesigns by Arne Niklas Jansson, 2020