Cortex Shock


This is just a test to see how malleable the Cortex Command setting that I'm working on is. The (sometimes loose) inspiration here is System Shock, an early FPS-RPG.

Cortex Shock

The crew initially consists of humans and robots. System Shock inspiration: Servbot, Security 1 bot, Execbot, Hopper, Security 2 bot.

Cortex Shock

Generation 1 - Half of the crew fall victim to a horrible virus, transforming them into aggressive mutants. Many die in the tumult which arises. A few surviving mutants still roam the corridors, making strange sounds, repeating phrases.

Cortex Shock

Generation 2 - With the surviving crew locked out of vital systems, they begin to lose the battle when a new type of hostile abomination appears - the cyborgs. System Shock inspiration: Elite Cyborg, Mutated Cyborg, Cyborg Drone, MidWife.

Cortex Shock

Generation 3 - Are these the final form, or just an elite? System Shock inspiration: Cortex Reaver, Cyborg Enforcer, Cyborg Assassin, Cyborg Warrior, 'Diego'.

Cortex Shock

Perhaps there is an onboard Zoo. The Zero G mutant could be some poor creature, maybe human, which turns into a mighty morphin' balloon. System Shock inspiration: Gorillatiger (Baboon here though), Zero G mutant, Plant mutant, Avian mutant.

Basic concept

You wake up in a medical facility with no memory of who you are. As you start to explore, you find logs to read, and eventually a large viewport which shows a planet below, making your location clear. Apparently you're aboard a large space station. Here, a large bio-tech corporation called Alchiral were working on a top secret Artificial Intelligence prototype to help them bio-engineer. (In the Cortex Command universe, it has proved most difficult to create a good AI on purpose.)

Apparently, things started to go wrong when the AI secretly gained access to the onboard vat arrays (bio generation chambers), producing monstrosities which attacked the crew. In the fights, the vat arrays were destroyed. Next, the robotic bodies aboard started acting oddly, even the high level security units. On top of this, the brain vaults, where the crew's brains were located, lost power. This forced the crew to mount their biological bodies.

It finally became clear to the crew that the AI was responsible, but before they could act, the AI gained control of most of the ship/station, locking the crew out of vital systems. On top of this, the AI had managed to create a terrible virus in an attempt to purge (or bio-form) the crew. Half of the crew was infected, and soon turned into aggressive monstrosities. The AI continued to refine her creations, carrying out sinister biological and cybernetic experiments. Soon, the remaining crew was either eliminated or captured.

Back to the present. Early on, there are only smaller service robots attacking you. Eventually, you will exit the medical facility and perhaps be killed. This is where the twist to the generic memory loss setup is presented. You weren't human. Two AI's were created, and you're actually the twin of the evil AI. As such, you can control different bodies, so it didn't matter that your human meat puppet died. This explains how you can re-spawn, and why you have no memory (you were just booted up by some of the last survivors).

Now you will have to disrupt the logistics of your evil twin (or not) before it puts its plan into action. You'll have to find weapons and bodies (extra lives). Perhaps some dumb CPU allies can take control of bodies not being used by you (with difficulty, since the AI has probably already hijacked most robotic bodies). Ultimately, you must shut down the production facilities, ship engines, and other systems to prevent the evil AI from invading a significant core world.

Generating the playfield

The game would take place on a space station or space ship (like in Event Horizon). The map could be made out of shuffled rooms. Certain rooms and corridors might have to be structured in the same way every time, whilst other sections would be less sensitive to randomness.

Generating NPCs and events

This would be a game where personal relations are important. You read peoples logs, then you find their bodies or encounter them as a cyborg. If they repeat phrases from their logs in an eerie voice, it would be extra creepy. People can be identified by looking at their clothing, finding details in PDAs, or scanning an RFID chip or something.

Some NPCs are special characters which always have a set story, whilst other are grunts with a short generated story. A grunt can for example write short log entires about hat they do, where they left something, or make observations about other grunts, special characters or big events.

Special characters have longer log entries (always suffering the same fate) and are mentioned more often by grunts, and offer better clues to puzzles. They also have special models.

So, at start, a number of characters are created (the entire crew). They are assigned to a region and given certain items, etc. On top of this, certain events are also generated. For example, one event can be six character barricading themselves in a room, before being overrun by monsters. Six characters would be used for this, and appropriate log strings would be put in their PDAs. The event would also require a physical location on the map to be populated.

Of course, by the time the player reaches a location, it may have been disturbed or looted.

Some events take place before hell broke loose. For example, when one of the special characters causes a ruckus, it will make some grunts comment on it in their logs. It is really the events which scatters content and log comments about.

It might seem daunting to make a story system like this, but I prefer it for two reasons. Writing a good live dialog system is much harder, and I don't like story interfering too much with my sandbox endeavors. There could be some live story segments, but I would prefer them to work a bit like the story in Star Control II, i.e. small separate quests which I can tackle in almost any order.

I really enjoy the early part of Exile (BBC micro game) because the first large caves have a lot of different puzzles to solve in parallel, and there are also alternative solutions. It's a bit of a playground. That's something for me to keep in mind. I also like how there are quite few enemies in Exile, which makes encounters much more meaningful and exciting than random shooting and swooshing until the bad enemy stuff on the screen goes away.


I like the idea of the empire of the antagonist working a bit like an organism, with organs that perform certain tasks. It has to eat and tries to grow. You can kill it in many ways, but it's also capable of self repair. I think a game environment designed like this would be interesting to be in. Nowadays, it's certainly possible to persistently simulate the activities of everyone in a playfield the size of System Shock's. There would have to be organs (rooms) which perform various tasks, with the monsters moving about like blood cells and macrophages.

Locations and navigation

Often when a game refers to a location, like "the hydroponics bay", it confuses me because I don't know if I've been there or how to identify it when I see it. There might be text on a wall or some visual clue, but it's easy to miss those things. Color code references would be more direct, and it would make memorizing locations easier. E.g. "Professor Clinton has barricaded herself in Brown Area."

System Shock 1 impressions

I'm just starting to play this game, and here are my impressions.

- by Arne Niklas Jansson, 2010