Often more disappointing than the execution or timeliness of these projects is their follow through on rewards and stretch goals. Bad distribution (even in the case of digital) inadequate funding for fulfillment infrastructure, and a general flaunting of obligations to backers are typical when it comes time to make good on their promises. Of course, they’re under little to no legal requirement to hold up their ends once they get their funds out of escrow, but it would be nice if the more average projects made an effort to look like they do. The reason I’m discussing the pitfalls of Kickstarting games now is that a project has been successfully funded to remake System Shock, the genre-defining cyberpunk-horror RPG that spawned classics like Deus Ex and Bioshock. This game is near and dear to my heart. It’s the title that first got me interested in PC gaming, and along with the Shadowrun tabletop RPG, put cyberpunk right up there with horror, classic futurist sci-fi, and low fantasy as a god in my entertainment pantheon.
This is a game that I bought again, along with its sequel, twenty-one years after its first release because it made such an impression on a younger me. I was pleased to see that the sequel came with a native Linux version. The long-haired cousin of BSD and Unix is my primary gaming platform, and every title I don’t have to install in a low-level VM or with a translation layer is appreciated, and it’s often the make or break consideration if I’m deciding between two games for purchase. Imagine my consternation when I heard about the Linux port stretch goal for the System Shock Remake. If there were an award for most broken developer promise, ‘Linux port’ would take gold, silver, and perhaps be edged out for bronze by ‘Local and Network Co-Op’ in recent times. Combine that with the fund first, help backers later climate that Kickstarter engenders, and you get a recipe for disappointment.
I almost didn’t want the crowdfunding to succeed for the project because I couldn’t handle the possibility a botched remaster, or a broken promise of support for my platform of choice. But Lo and behold, Night Dive Studios has released a working Linux demo before the stretch goal for the port hits its funding. Naturally, I tried it out, and I have never been more glad to be proven shortsighted and wrong.
The demo looks excellent, and is a testament to the graphical chops of the newer versions of Unity 3D. It plays fluidly at native resolution with a mobile graphics card, and still feels very -- for lack of a better term -- "System Shock," despite the night and day difference in graphical fidelity. Even more surprising is the range of features supported in the Linux demo. Things you don’t typically get with full ports to the platform, like gamepad and virtual desktop support are there and working out of the box (you apparently have to install updated sound libraries in Ubuntu, but I had no problems on my Arch system.) System Shock feels like a game that could give the likes of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Cyberpunk: 2077 a run for their money even though the people who were born in the year of its original release are all old enough to drink now.
Night Dive’s Faithfulness to the original game, and to their Linux-using fan base, have made me want to believe in a Kickstarter project for the first time in a long time. At the time of writing, the project is funded, but still about $58,000 away from committing to Linux support. If you game on Linux, or just like cyberpunk and Stealth ARPGs, check the demo out. If you deem the project worthy of your backing, know that every faithful Linux port, especially for good games, helps free software adoption, games consumers, and loosens the PC monopoly held by Microsoft. If you don’t care about any of that, then rest easy knowing you’ve got a solid game coming your way in 2017.