This page details prerelease information and/or media for System Shock.
Interactive Entertainment was a CD-ROM-only magazine that ran from 1994 to 1996 before being folded into Computer Games Strategy Plus. Unlike traditional gaming magazines, IE featured all previews, reviews, and other editorial content directly on the disc, including actual full-size screenshots taken directly from pre-release versions of games.
"Episode 0", released in February, featured one screenshot of System Shock in a news item about upcoming releases from Origin. This screenshot has a date stamp of January 3, 1994, making this possibly the earliest build demonstrated to the public. Despite this, the same shot continued being used to promote the game even after its release, even appearing on several versions of the packaging.
(Note: the exaggerated contrast in this shot was probably meant to make things more visible in regular print publications, rather than reflecting the actual palette seen in-game.)
Aside from the "Welcome to System Shock" message and the (probably mocked-up) enemy placement, several other noticeable differences can be seen:
- The view and posture controls and the health/energy gauges are completely different looking.
- Nearly all of the hardware icons are different.
- The "weapons/shots/grenade/patches" headers at the top of the inventory are misaligned.
- Most of the items shown in the inventory have shorter or completely different names:
- The pistol and dartgun are shown as "minipstl" and "dartpstl", respectively. "mk4rifle" is probably the assault rifle.
- The Sparq beam is shown as "phaser", and has a percentage next to it, probably to indicate the current heat level.
- The lead pipe is actually a PR-24 police baton (more on that later). For some reason, it also has an ammo count next to it, despite still being a melee weapon.
- "C4" is shown in place of the land mines.
- On the patches list, "Focus" is shown in place of Sight, "Craze" in place of Berserk, "Nopain" in place of Reflex, and "Berserk" in place of Genius. Later builds would combine Craze and Berserk into a single item.
- The dart gun shows a choice of three types of ammo, rather than just two.
- The items in the two side MFDs don't actually reflect what is selected in the inventory, suggesting that the inventory display may just currently be a mockup.
The level geometry itself also seems to differ from the layout of the medical level in the final game, and there's less visible variety in textures.
The "Short Takes" feature from Episode 1, released in May, featured the same screenshot as the previous episode, plus three more. These ones are datestamped April 17, and were also featured on the final game's packaging.
The first new screenshot shows off part of the bridge, though with apparently simpler geometry compared to the final version of the map. Based on the placement of the corpse in the screenshot, this shot may have been taken from the southwest area of the bridge, near the force doors leading to the computer room.
This shot also shows off a more minimal version of the full-screen interface, completely lacking the view/posture controls, health/energy meters, and hardware icons.
The next screenshot doesn't seem to represent any location that actually exists in the final game, so it's difficult to tell which level this would have been part of.
Compared to the screenshot from February, the inventory in this version has the header placement fixed. The side MFDs also correctly reflect which items are selected, suggesting the actual inventory system may be more complete than it was in that build. Unlike the final, fullscreen MFD text doesn't have a black outline around it here.
The last new screenshot in this issue shows off one of the groves, with a noticeably different (and more open) design than all of the grove maps in the final game. All of the HUD elements appear to be the same as in the build seen in February, and the 360-degree view hardware can also be seen in use.
Episode 2, released in June, featured a full-fledged narrated preview with 14 new screenshots, datestamped May 31, most of which have visible differences from the final game. The screenshots in this preview appear to have been taken from at least four different builds; this section will attempt to group them from oldest to newest, rather than showing them in the order in which they were shown in the original preview.
This screenshot is likely the oldest one featured in this preview, still featuring the very minimal full-screen view seen in some of the May screenshots. The new "Ninja Stealth Patch" can be seen here, which was later changed to the Reflex patch.
The thumbnail for the preview shows a somewhat newer build, with a more complete full-screen view featuring a mixture of the old and new hardware icons (including the email icon, which is visible for the first time). The health and energy meters are also now shown and use most of their final graphics, except for a shield icon in place of the energy icon.
An unknown debug display reading "6.66" can also be seen in the upper left corner.
Another screenshot shows a similar build to the one in the thumbnail, with the same combination of hardware icons visible.
An early version of the hardware list is visible in the MFD, with "AIM" and "HUD" items available. These items still exist in the final game, but are no longer obtainable and don't do anything useful.
This shot shows the newer version of the fullscreen icon.
The aforementioned PR-24 baton can be seen in the hacker's stash in place of the lead pipe. There is also a keypad by the door rather than a button - this might just be the same "451 keypad" that is now located at the exit from the healing suite.
In this shot the baton can actually be seen in use, though it is now just called a generic "police baton" and not a PR-24.
The map side view is also slightly different, showing the current level in the larger font used on the main map screen, rather than the normal small font as in the final game.
Here the full set of final hardware icons can be seen, along with the renamed police baton in the weapons list. The top-down map view in the MFD is different here, featuring an attempt at cramming the full set of view controls into the miniature view.
The partially-visible radiation warning is also shown here in all caps; in fact, all on-screen text in these builds is in all caps, which can be seen better in some other screenshots.
The same preview also features screenshots showing the tidied-up version of the automap along with the new icons, making this likely to be at least the fourth unique build seen in this preview. The only visible difference in this shot is that the text that appears when clicking on an object is not centered on the screen properly.
This shot also shows the newer map view as well as an early version of the target ID view. Compared to the final version, this one has a simpler style of numbering individual targets, and does not classify targets as mutant/cyborg/robot.
This shot of the flight deck, near the executive elevator, has a couple of cyborg assassins that don't appear in the final game. Another example of the all-caps HUD text can also be seen here.
One more instance of all-caps text in these builds, this time in the first message from Parovski (which is being viewed on the security level, for some reason). It's not hard to guess why they eventually added lower-case letters to the main font.
A screenshot of cyberspace is also featured in this preview, with noticeably different colors on some models (e.g. orange health, red mines). It's not clear which of the several individual builds this may have been from.
Finally, Episode 3 from July featured a review of the game, featuring both reused screenshots from June's preview as well as newer screenshots that appear to have been taken from a newer build (or builds). These are all datestamped July 1.
The setup screen when starting a new game isn't quite finished; the screen is titled "Difficulty Levels" instead of "Configuration", and there is no actual text describing any of the actual difficulty settings yet.
This in-game screenshot has a few noticeable HUD differences:
- The rear view and inventory are visible at the same time, which is not possible in the final build.
- The shield icon seen in previous builds has been replaced by the final energy icon.
- The police baton has been replaced with the lead pipe in this build, but Berserk is still called "Craze".
The entrance to Alpha quadrant is also a bit different in this build; the "ALPHA" sign is brighter and recessed into the wall, and the ceiling above the door is sloped upward rather than flat.
This shot has visibly different colors on the energy charge station. The bottom part of the rear view is also bleeding into the right-hand MFD, possibly due to a glitch involving the "updating..." text which wasn't shown in previous screenshots.
This shot features a few blue chevrons at the top end of the health meter. It's unclear what they're supposed to represent, but the graphic is still present in the final game's resources.
The room in this shot also appears to demonstrate a bug visible in the 3.0 beta version, where the repulsor lift in the center of the room is invisible when turned on.
All in-game text is still in all caps at this point.
Three more screenshots of cyberspace were included in the review as well. These all feature the same different object coloration as in the June preview; one of the shots also shows the same blue chevrons in the health meter as one of the other non-cyberspace shots in this review, as well as a slightly more populated HUD.
"Origin Systems: Works-In-Progress"
This 1994 VHS tape contains narrated footage of several games released by Origin throughout 1994, including System Shock. A digitized copy of the tape is available here courtesy of the University of Texas, or mirrored on YouTube.
Several visible elements in this footage - particularly the sparse fullscreen view, the newer health/energy meters, and the older item/weapon names - mean that this footage probably dates back to April or May, judging from the datestamps on the images included with the May and June issues of Interactive Entertainment.
The first shot seen in the video shows an early design of the medical level, with a prominent "Level 2" sign (level 1 presumably being the reactor) and several dead ends resembling the entrance to the Beta quadrant offices in the final version of the map.
An empty version of the office outside of the healing suite is also shown, along with some visible differences in the UI - there's a single "Stor. Card" item in the general inventory (probably the same card you use to unlock the storage room in the healing suite), and a simpler version of the Sparq beam MFD is also visible (still under its original "phaser" name), with a different-looking energy slider and no heat gauge or Overload button.
The pistol can be seen in action in two different shots from this video, with a noticeably more prominent hand/weapon sprite visible on-screen when firing. The text "you hit something" also appears on the HUD during both of these scenes.
The other one of the shots featuring the pistol also includes one of the lifter bots that eventually went unused in the final game.
A brief bit of cyberspace is shown as well. While the general aesthetic and gameplay style is already in place, the level design seems simpler, and the wall segments appear to flicker at random, rather than featuring the Conway's Game of Life simulation that they would later use.
The same "fully loaded" weapon inventory from other pre-release shots is also visible here (despite being in cyberspace), and the "tooltips" that appear when mousing over MFD buttons are colored white-on-grey rather than pink-on-red like in the final.
Finally, a couple of different shots of the bridge are shown as well. The outer and inner parts of the bridge both have simpler designs, with the basic elevator door located right in the middle of a corridor, and the inner room lacking the large columns that surround the central computer area.
The CD-ROM demo version of the game, compiled in early October 1994, has two different directories with screenshots:
- PICS\ containing 16 screenshots of the final game.
- CDROM\PCXS, containing 3 pre-release screenshots.
All three pre-release screenshots have a datestamp of October 5, but are likely all taken from builds from around the same time as the "Origin Systems: Works-In-Progress" tape.
- SHOCK00.PCX shows a shot of one of the flight decks, featuring avian mutants which are colored brown instead of blue. The lack of most of the fullscreen HUD in this shot places it around the same time as the earlier of the builds shown off in May and June.
- SHOCK01.PCX and SHOCK02.PCX were both included in the June issue of IE, though the latter was only available in slightly reduced quality and with the name of the game overlaid on the image.
Included with some copies of the CD-ROM demo was an interactive catalog, featuring three screenshots from a build (or builds) most likely between the ones seen in the May and June issues of Interactive Entertainment.
Both the older and newer hardware icons are visible on the HUD, and while most of the visible inventory items have their final names, the lead pipe is still the PR-24, the Sparq beam is still the phaser, the land mines are still C4, and Reflex patches are still called "Ninja", which can otherwise only be seen in the earliest of the screenshots from the July 1994 issue of IE.
The Security-1 robot in the first shot also seems to have a red glow over most of its upper body, which differs from its sprites in the final game.