Embrace Fans: How One Mystery Modder Has Kept System Shock 2 Playable

from the shocking dept

There's this weird thing in the video game industry in terms of how the industry reacts to fans doing things with their games. On one side, you have publishers that strictly control what fans can do with their games, even going the legal threat route at times. Other publishers are more permissive with game IP and are then shocked at what fans manage to do with their games. Still other publishers proactively create tools within their games to allow fans to create wildly cool productions within the games and then celebrate those fans. And, of course, there are fans manipulating properties such as original soundtracks to create new music as an homage to the original score.

There is a wide spectrum of what fans want to do to express their fandom with video games, in other words, and also a spectrum of ways publishers respond to these dedicated fans. The original Doom, for instance, was created nearly three decades ago, but an active modding community has kept the game relevant by building on that original work. In the case of System Shock 2, however, it turns out the game originally released in 1999 is essentially only playable on modern machines due to the dedication of one single mystery fan.

After developer Looking Glass Studios closed in 2000, the game wound up in ownership limbo. For a time, it languished without updates. Getting it to run on more modern machines increasingly became a massive hassle. Then, in 2012, a fan released an unofficial update that took aim at those issues with almost cyborg-like laser precision. To this day, nobody knows the identity of the fan who released this update.

The mystery savior of System Shock 2 goes by the online handle “Le Corbeau.” In 2012, according to a feature over at Rock Paper Shotgun, they first posted their revolutionary patch to the game, titled “NewDark,” on a French Thief fan forum. Nobody’s entirely sure how this fan pulled off an update of this magnitude, but it likely involved building upon an incomplete version of the game’s source code that leaked in 2010.

The effect of the patch was that people could actually play the game again. Strangely, at no point has Le Corbeau sought any credit for his or her work. Nobody to date knows who this person is. But, because of their dedication and, my assumption, fandom, System Shock 2 is not only still relevant, but now on sale on Steam once more. That's because Nightdive Studios got the rights to System Shock 2 and promptly inserted Le Corbeau's patch into a re-release. Far from being upset about this, Le Corbeau has continued to patch the game.

Nightdive even tried to get the modder involved, but to no avail.

Nightdive, having found System Shock 2's actual source code in Looking Glass founder Paul Neurath’s closet, is now making its own improvements to System Shock 2, as well as a remake of the first System Shock and an all-new System Shock game. Despite all this, the studio—like perplexed but grateful fans—has no idea who Le Corbeau actually is. CEO Stephen Kick told RPS that he’s tried to reach out in hopes of collaborating over the years, but hasn’t had any success yet. “They have done an amazing job, but at some point those efforts will collide with our own as we wish to improve the original title,” said Kick.

If that last bit in some way signals some animosity towards the modder on the part of Nightdive, this story is going to have a massively infuriating ending. Because the fact is that Le Cordeau's efforts directly kept System Shock 2 relevant and available for fans to enjoy, which in turn kept the market open and ready to accept re-releases of the game and new iterations of it.

Regardless, sure, let game companies claim that fans being fans is some threat to their business if they like, so long as everyone realizes how silly that is.

Filed Under: culture, fans, le corbeau, modding, patches, system shock 2, video games


Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Carson Auspufftopf Bangengebangen, 16 Aug 2019 @ 7:56pm

    Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

    You are just, as usual for Techdirt, making a story to fit your notions.

    "French Thief fan forum" is at least honest. Why don't you here at Techdirt just admit that piracy is theft?

    Now, here's the key point to successful return: "Nightdive Studios got the rights to System Shock 2 and promptly inserted Le Corbeau's patch into a re-release." -- Else Steam wouldn't be able to list it, and thus, obscurity.

    Regardless, sure, let game companies claim that fans being fans is some threat to their business if they like, so long as everyone realizes how silly that is.

    BUT the original company was defuncticated! -- No doubt due to piracy.

    You've proven that piracy killed the biz, but clearly a dedicated programmer, no mere fan by your own statements could do those feats, heart-broken over that theft of his efforts, went insane and patched it up. -- It's valid as your "story".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:13pm

      Re:

      Anyone else surprised that blue is offended over an otherwise inaccessible product being available again?

      Article 13 voted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Roddy (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:50pm

      Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

      1) Looking Glass Studios are most widely known as the developers of the Thief series.

      2) According to Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation, Looking Glass Studios was ultimately another developer that got swept into the great Eidos whirlpool, caused by--among other things--the sinking of the SS. John Romero. In other words, it was management and business acquisitions. Nothing more.

      3) System Shock 2 is notorious for being unavailable due to the way the rights were acquired via liquidation, and the insurance company who obtained them refusing to license them or anything.

      4) It's Le Corbeau's patch though, so isn't (at least by your definition) "piracy" for Nightdive Studios to redistribute it with their game? Who is the bad guy? What is this "key point" you're referring to?

      5) Even if it were a prior programmer, they still didn't have the rights to contribute that code anymore. You paint them as a heart-broken creator, but your own explanation says they're also the worst thing since sliced Hitler.

      Who are we supposed to sympathize with here? You are openly stating that the giant heartless corporations are the only ones in the right, and you even directly threw a hypothetical creator under the bus to do it.

      (BONUS POINT: if it was that simple to patch the game to be playable, why didn't the creators do that from the start? I'm starting to suspect you might not understand how programming works.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 9:05pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm starting to suspect you might not understand how programming works.

        blue believes that the high level of inaccuracy of the RIAA's IP address forensics and the inability to create a "good guys only" encryption backdoor are because the nerds aren't working hard enough. To say that he doesn't understand how programming works is like saying Mount Everest is a lump of rock on the ground.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 9:05pm

      Re: Since don't know is "Blue Balls Crybaby"

      Hi Blue! How is your self-imposed exile into the Midwest, unable to do google searches, or obtain the meds that let you function?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 9:15pm

      Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

      Why don't you here at Techdirt just admit that piracy is theft?

      Because you can't point to anything that was stolen without trying to steal things that were never yours to begin with. The only genuine thieves are those pushing this obvious lie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 3:49am

      Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

      "Why don't you here at Techdirt just admit that piracy is theft?"

      Do you want to have "pirates" charged with theft or with copyright infringement?
      You choose, we'll use

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 4:15am

      Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

      Why don't you here at Techdirt just admit that piracy is theft?

      Because that is a mischaracterisation of infringement pushed by publishers so that they can get the law ratcheted up..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 17 Aug 2019 @ 6:21am

      Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

      "French Thief fan forum" is at least honest. Why don't you here at Techdirt just admit that piracy is theft?"

      I.......but......wait, do you REALLY not understand that "Thief" is the title of a game, and this is a forum for fans of that game?!??!?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Michael, 19 Aug 2019 @ 2:01am

        Re: Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programm

        I didn't. But then again, I didn't then go spouting off a bunch of garbage claiming any expertise on this topic either, so i guess it's ok.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 2:38am

        Re: Re:

        Let's face it, blue could look at Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" and scream at the bookseller for stocking literature advocating illegitimate access to electricity.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 19 Aug 2019 @ 12:09am

      Re: Since don't know is "fan" far more likely prior programmer.

      ""French Thief fan forum" is at least honest"

      That he's a fan of a game series called Thief, and has set up a forum to discuss the series with other fans? Sure, why is that a problem?

      "Else Steam wouldn't be able to list it"

      Yes, Steam need the rightsholders to post the game, and wouldn't have been able to post a game that wouldn't work on modern systems, therefore they needed the patch. None of that has anything to do with Le Corbeuax's original work, though, which was clearly an attempt to allow people who could no longer pay their legally purchased product to do so.

      If there's any "piracy" here, it's those rightsholders taking the patch without payment, depending on what kind of licence was supplied (and they clearly haven't paid him since they don't know who he is). But, it's just like you to attack a beneficial mutual agreement as some kind of criminal activity just because it benefits consumers.

      "You've proven that piracy killed the biz"

      Your ability to understand sarcasm is equally only by your ability to understand facts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:41pm

    Reminds me of Deus Ex: Revision

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:45pm

    If that last bit in some way signals some animosity towards the modder on the part of Nightdive, this story is going to have a massively infuriating ending.

    It could be animosity, or it could just be poor phrasing. If Nightdive is planning to extend/expand the game in some way, they may end up doing an expansion that requires new code to use the new features, and if they don't share that code with Le Corbeau, then either Le Corbeau has to write corresponding code to support the expansion or players get to choose between Nightdive-enhanced or NewDark. To me, that would be a collision, even if it's provoked by failure to collaborate, rather than active hostility.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      William Null, 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:50pm

      Re:

      Yeah, let's not assume any bad intentions until we have proof of them. World is a better place when people aren't jaded and see the best in the people, not the worst c:)/||=:=

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Kal Zekdor (profile), 16 Aug 2019 @ 8:56pm

      Re:

      Yeah, I don't read any animosity in that statement whatsoever. Without coordination, any fixes or updates Nightdive make to the game have a high probability of conflicting with anything Le Corbeau tries to do, from a purely technical standpoint.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dick Steele, 17 Aug 2019 @ 4:37am

    What Nightdive Studios meant was that both them and Le Corbeaux work on the same code base, which means day of they start modifying the same places, there will be a conflict and it will be a lot more effort to integrate Le Corbeaux's work. They're not suggesting that he's the bad guy, they want to either hire him, or at least share code with him so that they're both working off the same baseline.

    Source: I'm a software developer, and to me this seems like the most obvious explanation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 4:43am

    Gaming Us All

    "'They have done an amazing job, but at some point those efforts will collide with our own as we wish to improve the original title,' said Kick."

    Nightdive could take meticulous care NOT to screw up the Corbeau-patched platform with changes intended to "improve the original title." However, that would require extra development time and expense on the part of Nightdive's developers.

    Nightdive could undertake to cultivate in-house the competence to assume Le Corbeau's role. However, that wouldn't constitute salary-free support by a master video game programmer, who refuses to risk potential legal repercussions of public outing and doesn't crow about his/her efforts.

    Best of all, having done this public hand-waving and tap-dancing about Le Corbeau's reticence to become directly involved with Nightdive, Nightdive is now free to pretend innocence of anything that goes wrong as a result of its ongoing changes. That is, as Nightdive takes their version ever further away from the original game that Le Corbeau loves, it's Le Corbeau's fault if anything breaks. Well-played, Nightdive, well-played.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 11:16am

      Re: Gaming Us All

      You make it sound nefarious. It's a simple fact life - if two people work on the same thing, there will be conflicts. What do you propose as a solution? For NightDive to stop developing the game further because some random dude on the internet does? They're making a good faith effort to reach out to him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 3:11pm

        Re: Re: Gaming Us All

        If by "good faith" you mean "self-interested," sure.

        Nightdive doesn't have to break the game. They could become better developers, but it's easier to try to force their business model on an uninterested, unwilling, independent, private party while unleashing snark about this hero of the original game.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 18 Aug 2019 @ 4:05am

          Re: Re: Re: Gaming Us All

          I think what the person above you means is not personal or legal conflict, but a code conflict. Yes they can probably code around each others changes, but who waits for whom to release first? Who gets to do all the changes when 2 parts of a code conflicts?
          I find it most reasonable that they would like some form of communication between themselves and Corbeau to agree on who makes what.
          Both conflict and argument are used in coding but a conflicting argument has vastly different meaning compared to "the real world".

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2019 @ 6:59am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Gaming Us All

            Yeah -- merge conflicts are a fact of life when you have multiple developers working on the same codebase, and often require communication between the conflicting parties to resolve correctly.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 11:06am

    Its likely to be illegal under eu law to take a patch made by a fan and then sell it as the complete game on steam,
    without making some payment to the fan or getting permission from the fan to release the game using his software improvements .There are 100 s of pc games out there which are abandoned , the companys that made them
    no longer exist .
    there,s no legal way to release those game s .
    Also many old games are not released because the ip holder does not want
    to pay for the rights, eg they contain music or songs whose license is
    expired .
    They could just take out the old patch and make their own
    patch,
    if they think its worth it to release new versions of the game.
    for future versions of windows .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2019 @ 1:23pm

    Isnt it also just plain ol for sale in a working state on good old games?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 17 Aug 2019 @ 1:28pm

    Most interesting...

    ST Armada 2...(?)
    Was dumped and the Players kept adding to it.
    Finding an original copy isnt easy.
    But the game itself has expanded to include Almost every Real and fantasy Ship ever created to Play online..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2019 @ 6:53am

    Strikes me more as lament than animosity, but it can be hard to tell with text.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 19 Aug 2019 @ 12:26pm

    Fans have always done more to keep old games playable than the actual game companies that created them.

    For the longest time, the only copies of Alien vs. Predator available were the retail releases (original and Gold), but they weren't playable on newer graphics cards. People kept asking Nvidia to fix it, but nothing got done. Finally, a fan made a patch for the game (or for the driver, I forget which) which made it work. About a month later, Nvidia announced that they had, all on their own, without any help from anyone, created a patch that would allow the game to be played on newer cards. Sure...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: I Invented Email
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.