So, you’ve decided to fire up the old classic System Shock 2, recently released on GOG and now Steam (check out this article if you want a good read as to why it’s taken so damn long). You may have noticed that the polygon count is a bit too low and the texture resolution is quite blurry and you just want to bump things up a little in the graphical fidelity department. Well, never fear, this guide will help you turn SS2 into a Crysis killer! Maybe not..
In this shot there are a bunch of mods at work; you have Vurt’s Earth mod in the background, a texture resolution bump on the blurrier of textures (some aren’t possible to upgrade because of an engine limitation) and rather brilliantly; anti-aliasing.
Now, you might say to me “why would I want to mod the game? The beauty is in it’s ugliness and the developers had specific reasons in mind when the made something a certain way!” For that, I’ll applaud you for considering the creators’ intentions. All mods featured are simply texture resolution updates and in no way overhauls the look and feel of the game and all modders featured take careful consideration of everything’s place in the world. Imagine being able to take a .4 megapixel picture (in this case, stock System Shock 2) and up it to 1 megapixel (modded SS2). It’s still the same picture, just sharper and less painful for your eyes to look at.
Preparation: the Program Files folder
Let’s say you installed Steam to the default \Program Files\ folder and you just downloaded the game without a care in the world. You’ve made a huge mistake (due to the fact that mods won’t have the correct permissions to access the \Program Files\ folder) and you’re going to have to delete the game and redownload into a new folder. If you installed Steam to a different folder, you can skip to the next part Modding the game.
As of late, Steam has allowed you to create new libraries for you to download your games to, however the system is a bit cumbersome. First, go to the Steam drop down button and hit settings. Select the Downloads tab and then click the Steam library folders button in the lower left, shown bellow.
Modding the game
First off, you will need to make your game mod-able by installing the latest version of the excellent mod SS2Tool An existing version is included in the GOG/Steam versions, but it is out of date and missing many essential features.
Edit: A report from the System Shock 2 modding community at systemshock.org indicates the stock version of SS2Tool included in the Steam version is causing audio and multiplayer bugs and that the SS2Tool directory needs to be modified before it can be updated, instructions on the PCGamingWiki.
To update SS2Tool, simply download the latest version 5.1 and point the mod installation wizard towards your install directory. Whatever you do, don’t follow my install path exactly; adjust for your own file path.
The tool will flash some command prompts at you for half a minute (if that) and then complete. Well done, you can now mod System Shock to your hearts content! Feel free to go off on your own or maybe stay and learn about the biggest and best mods within the SS2 community and how to install them.
The links to the mods we’ll be using:
- CyberBlutch Rebirth
- Straylight ADaoB
- Four Hundred
- Schatten SHMUP (music update)
- Tacticool Weapon Replacements
- Eldron Psi Amp
- Vurt’s Hi-Res Space Textures
- Vurt’s Organics/Goo
- Vurt’s Flora Overhaul
- Vurt’s misc stuff
- Vurt’s water
- Vurt’s .PNG Hi-Res Space with Earth ADaoB
- SHNUP (interface update)
This is the preferred order for mod installation. The reason being, mods overlap and if you follow this order, it will mean that the better mod (in that area applicable) will be present. I will be installing the mods on my own machine as I go through this, so I will be able to specifically highlight any special requirements or actions (not that many should be necessary). A lot of these mods are a breeze to install, save yourself some trouble now and open your game’s install directory and your downloads folder now in separate windows.
First up is the Shock Texture Update Project, or SHTUP, a mod which provides a welcome texture resolution bump for objects. The original game has textures of 128×128 or lower, despite the game being capable of 256×256. SHTUP simply aims to give you the best textures possible.
Now, you may get a prompt saying that files already exist in the folder, simply overwrite all. This is the standard procedure unless stated otherwise, so always read ahead before you do something.
This mod improves and overhauls the game’s NPC textures. Follow the same procedure here, extract, drag, overwrite. This time, you do get a choice of install paths, put into the \DataPermMods\ folder or merge with the mesh folder, both do exactly the same thing. Just for consistency’s sake, I’m going to stick with putting it into \DataPermMods\.
Straylight is a fan made patch for System Shock after the games official support ended. No worries about install the official patch, if it wasn’t included with the Steam download, you patched it with SS2Tool. Can you guess how to install this one? Did you answer, extract, drag, overwrite? Go get yourself a cookie. Once again, all into the \DataPermMods\ folder.
This is yet another texture mod, this time for the terrain and environments You can clearly see we’re moving through all the different assets of the game and upgrading them. Again, \DataPermMods\, extract, drag, over- aha! Almost caught you out, nothing to overwrite this time.
This mod is quite big, clocking in at 250MB (which, well, isn’t much by today’s standards but you have to take into account we’ve bumped up the games visual goodies in no more than 50MB). Standard procedure here, \DataPermMods\, extract and drag.
All of the surfaces are quite clearer, the text on the display is crisper and there is an incredibly subtle bloom effect on the main sources of light (while I’m usually against bloom, this actually looks rather tasteful). If you look at my wrench, you’ll see the Tacticool mod in effect, there’s a higher polygon count and not to mention the drastically higher clarity. The little spatters of blood sends chills down your spine thinking about how the previous owner got it in such a state.
To install this mod, things are going to be mixed up a little. You’re going to download one of the files, rename the extension (the last characters of a filename, EG: .txt, .mp3, .jpg) and then extract it. The rest are standard. The deviating file is the first, TC_Pistol_ADaoB028-compatible_v1.1b.ss2mod. I want you to simply rename it to TC_Pistol_ADaoB028-compatible_v1.1b.zip (obviously, without the bold characters).
After that, it’s back to the usual regime of extract, drag and overwrite. Using 7zip, it was easy to extract them all at once by highlighting them (either by mouse click+drag or ctrl+click) and then using the extract here option. It got a bit messy, so I recommend putting all the Tacticool files in a temporary sub-folder to contain the spillage. After that, it was just a case of dragging to \DataPermMods\. Don’t forget to overwrite.
From this point onward, most further mods (Eldron Psi Amp to SHNUP) just extract to \DataPermMods\ and overwrite. If you’re going to blindly install the rest on the list, remove door_s1.bin from DataPermMods/obj, it’s required for Vurt’s misc stuff. You can continue on without this guide, although we’ll give little descriptions about them.
Eldron Psi Amp
The Eldron Psi Amp is an absolutely gorgeous reskin for the Psi Amp (brownie points if you guessed it). This is kind of optional if you don’t plan to use Psi powers but I would, just in case.
The colours of the Psi Amp are just gorgeous, the lifeless bodies have an incredible polygon count increase to the point of them actually having fingers. The blood looks more natural, the light in the upper left isn’t just a grey blob and the door looks much clearer. Let’s not forget about the anti-aliasing that just tops the image off.
Vurt’s Hi-Res Space Textures
If you’re one of those people who get tingles over their bodies (like myself) when you look at a beautiful view in a game, you’ll fall in love with this mod.
For this organics mod, it’s quite difficult to simply give download links as there is a decision to be made over which texture you want. Go check out the forum post, look at which egg version you prefer and just download all the files but the one the one you didn’t like. Also, I know that if I just give links to download the other parts of the collection, people would totally miss the egg update. Vurt seems oddly good at making textures of things that would make you want a scrub down if you ever came into contact with it. Hmm.
Vurt’s Flora Overhaul
This mod coming from my now favourite texture artist, Vurt, is a subtle touch to the game world. Your socks remain firmly un-blown off but having this level of consistency in quality throughout is something that leaves me, personally, really content in a game’s visuals.
Vurt’s misc stuff
Vurt saves the day by once again spit shining every last bit of System Shock 2′s legacy. For this mod, you need to delete door_s1.bin from DataPermMods/obj before initiating the now ritualistic extract, copy, overwrite. These files will improve the doors, muzzle flashes and explosion textures.
I recommend you check out the screenshots and take a look at the alternate iterations as it’s all personal choice, although I would go so far to say that the current is the best (the current being version 5). But to each their own. The title’s quite self explanatory, it makes water look nice. Again, continuing with the theme of consistent quality.
Vurt’s .PNG Hi-Res Space with Earth ADaoB
Vurt won’t stop until every last spec of dust is cleaned of this decade old master piece, as this updates a particularly ugly earth view seen early in the game. He probably just nicked it off Google Earth but let’s not dwell on that.
SHNUP (interface update)
This is actually a really optional mod which some people might not like and for that reason, I won’t provide a direct link. This mod updates the UI look without moving anything about, it’s purely cosmetic and for that reason alone, pure subjective. I liked it at first but then it became a distraction every time I looked at the inventory screen, so you’ll need to have a look at it first before you decide to install.
If you made it this far, you’ve witnessed a true-to-original community update of arguably one of the best games ever released. Hell, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve endured roughly 2000 words of me trying to tell you that you need prettier plants and my attempts to make extract-copy-overwrite interesting. If you got all of the mods on this list, you should have an entirely updated game with no gaps in it. I know that there are mods that can give you Superman like abilities and turn the enemies into small Japanese girls but for the sake of honoring the stock game (and keeping this a safe for work site), you can find them yourselves.
For an up to date list of fixes and workarounds for System Shock 2, please refer to the relevant PCGamingWiki article.