The hacker's guide to sin

System Shock : the hacker's guide to sin

-A complete mental breakdown of System Shock-


Last update 7th Feb 2016
Cybermodule fraud - Small update on something I discovered on a replay.

0.  This page contains dark humour.  You have been warned.

1.  I do not advocate the use of real drugs.
    (In fact I am teetotal and do not smoke.) 

2.  I do not advocate the use of violence as entertainment in real life.
    The last such act I took part in was in 1990 when I was 14 and we laid all these fish out
    over a busy road and watched each one get squashed by passing traffic.

3.  I do not advocate ruthlessness or evil as a means to an end.
    Except in computer games ;-)

Part One: What is System Shock?

System Shock is a brilliant piece of work by Warren Spector (of Ultima Underworld fame, and more recently Deus Ex). It was released by Origin Systems Inc, creators of the Ultima Series.

System Shock is like a cross between Ultima and Doom. It is a first-person 3D shooter, with tons of features, combined with the depth, detail and overall quality of a good Ultima game.
It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Fred Pohl's SF novel 'Age of the Pussyfoot' (1968) and has distinct parallels with 'Painwise' by James Tiptree Jr in the collection '10,000 light-years from home'.

It requires a 386 or a 486, and also a CD-ROM drive, unless you can get hold of the original 3.5" disk release.

System Shock can run in 320x200, 320x400, 640x400 or 640x480.
If you have access to an old Win95/98 machine, you can run it natively (note that the game will go funny if it sees more than 16MB). A P200 or above it recommended for the high-res 640x480 mode, a P75 for 320x400, or anything else for 320x200.

If you're trying to run it on a Windows XP-class machine, or Linux, your best bet is to try and run the game inside DOSbox.
Bear in mind that DOSbox is emulating the entire machine, which is not quick. It will probably require a machine rated around 2 AMD gigahertz (or 3 Intel gigahertz) in order to be playable.

An Overview of System Shock's features

A Plot?

Yes, a PLOT. Unlike Doom, System Shock has a complex story behind it, and it directly affects everything you do in the game.

What? You don't want a plot?!? Get back to the Doom page then.

(Whether SHODAN is a He or a She is somewhat debatable.
The CD Audio is definitely a female voice, but the in disk version, which I played first, everyone refers to a male SHODAN. You decide.)

Being Difficult

For amusement value it is worth playing the game with all the difficulty levels set to zero. This results in a surreal situation where all the doors are unlocked, and the mutants and robots ignore you completely unless you actually attack them.

I was so bewildered that I didn't pay any attention to the radiation damage in the reactor level and ended up dying anyway.

This has various impressive side-effects, for instance, SHODAN opens up her Death Machine to reveal a number of robots who just stand there impassively as you push them out of the way.

It is possible to complete the entire game in under 30 minutes without possessing a single weapon, and probably far less if you go directly to Level 8 from the get-go and don't stop to stare at it all.

The pacifist's guide to System Shock


Part Two: Getting Shocked


System Shock has plenty drugs. They are intended for medicinal use, but most of them have high recreational value as well.

Here is the streetwise guide to Trioptimum's line in Stuff:


One tab of this stuff and you'll get strong as an ox.
Then you start to see pretty lights and soon you might hear the grass grow as well.

Sight enhancement

Take one of these and you can see everything! Then it wears off and you can't see anything.
Don't do this one too much or you'll go blind.

Genius Mind-Enhancer

Oh groovy, some mind-expanding drugs. Tri-op really knows how to party.
Actually these help you solve the puzzles. Don't seem to work very well though.


This stuff is good. Everything slows down for the duration of the Trip.
Even better when taken in combination with some others...


This one cures radiation poisoning, bio-contamination and hangover.
It will also nullify the effect of the other drugs so if you're looking for a high, just say no.

Stam-up stimulant

Reduces fatigue. Then you suddenly feel very tired.
I suppose it's like ecstasy really.


This one heals you, fairly straightforward.
When it wears out, you die. (Just kidding). Good for all-night raves.

A guide to the use of drugs:

Drugs are in the form of dermal patches which are applied to the skin.

There's quite a lot of them lying around, but you can score some off the mutants.
Just dot one on the head with the pipe and it should easily surrender its stash.

Most of the time you can take drugs on the move, but once in a while you feel the need for a little privacy.
Find a small cupboard, or preferably an elevator shaft where no-one can disturb you.

The following is a transcript from Mr. Gibbon's black box recorder.
He is stalking a Security-1 robot and is very low on health:

JPM: Got to take some drugs.
    <Mr. G shoots a few medical patches>
IDM: It has seen you.  You are going to die.  It will kill you.  There is no way you can survive.
JPM: Laser rapier.
    <bang slash bang slash slash silence>
IDM: Incredible: you're not dead.  That was totally unexpected!
JPM: Oh dear, now I've got to take some more drugs again.
IDM: Yes.. it's called addiction.

The Hacker himself

He was wise in the ways of pain. He had to be, for he felt none.

A cursory examination of the hacker reveals that he is not human.

(He is capable of subsisting entirely on hard drugs and blue smarties)
So what is he?


Look downwards. Try and touch your toes.
You can't? Oh of course. No feet.

At this point you realise that you have no feet


What the hacker lacks in toes and legs, he makes up for in his arms.

In fact, the hacker has these wonderful gibbon arms that are thirteen foot long.
Try this for yourself, start a new game and play with the Healing Suite.

It may come as no surprise to learn than my player is often called Mr Gibbon.

Now interestingly, the hacker can't reach across a gap.
For example, later on in level 1, the hacker goes to blow up the CPU nodes.

(This is 'normally' done by running in there, and lying on his belly in between
 the nodes, then suddenly banging a live frag grenade on the ground using his teeth.
 SHODAN announces that he'll kill you, but the robots are already mopping up the juice.)
There is a warrior cyborg standing on a tower, one space away from you.
When it's dead you should be able to search the body but you can't.

The idea that you can't reach is out of the question. The problem is the gap between the two of you.

It seems we are looking at a hacker with 13 foot long, boneless tentacles that snake across the ground but are unable to support their own weight.
However, as of July 2005, I believe I have finally discovered Mr. Gibbon's race. I present my solution to this riddle below.

The cyberjack implant

This is a wonderful piece of kit. You can take anything with a battery in it and plug it directly into your brain.
Hoo! Even more magical, whatever you install, it always works and you never ever have an IRQ conflict.

So my player is called PNP man (plug'n'play man) whenever he's not called Mr. Gibbon.

The hacker does it standing up (dying, that is)

The Hacker always dies vertically. The reason for this is easy to imagine, when you consider the number of times you get resurrected.
Surely the robots find it much more easy to carry your body when it doesn't keep drooping about like that.

What could be done about it? Well the Hacker's got a head full of firmware, so adding just a tiny bit more won't hurt much:

Just imagine! No more limp, floppy corpses to pick up!
With the new rigor-mortis chip, you're guaranteed to go stiff as a board the moment you die..

General Resurrection Machinery

He paid no attention to the natives as they watched him systematically dismember himself.

The hacker freaks out and locks himself in a small cupboard, (such as a lift) assuming the lotus position and surrounded by a large pile of high explosives.

PNP man contemplates a viking funeral

The hacker then consumes all the berserk, genius and sight patches at once getting himself higher than the Pope.

Hoo! I'm glowing.. I'm glowing.. Hey Rick, I've got six arms!!

Totally stoned, he bangs two live frag grenades together.

Later on some robots come past and wonder why the lift doors are bulging out like that.

They find your body and give it new life.
As a cyborg you will serve SHODAN well.

I wonder how?

Q: What's green but turns red at the flick of a switch?
A: A frog in a blender

Now imagine the frog was 3 feet long. This is what the lift looks like at the moment. How can we possibly resurrect that?

They find the pieces and give them new life.
As a cyborg's kneecap you will serve SHODAN well.
So how is it done? Let's take a loook at the General Resurrection Machinery.

General Resurrection Machinery

Now, what is that man-shaped hole? There is only one thing it can be. A jelly-mould.

Of course. How simple. All the resurrection problems are solved in one stroke.

For example, the hacker decides to stick his head in one of the matter-converters to see if the robots can cope with that.

I consider turning my head into pure energy but think better of it

The robots scrape off the little wet bits and pour them into the mould.
After a while they put him in the fridge until he sets and they let him go again.

	Red blood cell count 100% normal....
	Cybernetic life support deactivated....
	Brain activity satisfactory....
	Recovery completed....

IM:  He ran into the heart of a nuclear reactor.
     The robots fished out his body and patched him up.
     Then he got away and ran back into the reactor and died.
     And then as soon as he has the chance, he goes off and does it AGAIN,
     but it still says 'Brain activity Satisfactory'..

Fortunately it's relatively easy to change the strings with a hex editor, they are in DATA\CYBSTRNG.DAT on your hard disk.

You can change them to something more appropriate:

	Brain activity corrupted....
	Recovery Failed....
Pad the end of each line out with spaces to make sure it's the same length.

Post-Mortem confusion

The disorienting effect of dying often means that I lose track of what I was doing just before the resurrection.
I forget where I was and how to get back there.
The net result is that the hacker runs around like a headless chicken, sometimes darting this way and that three or four times before I remember things again.

JM: Ugh!  Who am I?  Where am I?  What am I?
IM: You're Mr Gibbon, You're on level 5 but we don't really know what you are.
JM: Umm.. I was in.. SHODAN's trap.  That way.
IM: No, no, this way.
JM: That way
IM: No! This way.
JM: Oh yeah.
DANGER: Post-Mortem confusion often turns into Pre-Mortem confusion..

Part Three: Killing Beasts

Tools of the Trade: BOMBS

Bombs are wonderful. Set them up and get the beasties to tread on them.
Bombs set each other off, so you can have a stack of whatever you like and use a landmine to trigger it!
There are 7 types of Bomb.


These are simple proximity devices. Go near this and it goes off.

Sometimes there are live landmines mixed in with explosives caches, so look carefully before picking one up :-)

Frag grenade

A fragmentation device. This just goes off when you knock it against something. A fun way to deal with CPU nodes is to lie on the floor and bash this into them.
But don't try that unless the resurrection machine is working.


A bomb. The fuse ranges from 4 seconds to about 60 seconds. Then it blows up very nicely!
Quite potent.

EMP grenade

This is like the frag grenade, but it does nothing physical. Instead it damages or destroys electronic devices, such as robots.
It can give you quite a trip as well, although it will never actually hurt you.

Concussion bomb

A good bomb. The fuse is the same as the NitroPack. A powerful, all-purpose topping for any pile of explosives.
Quite potent, a couple of these is useful for trapping Edward Diego.

Gas grenade

This explodes and poisons biological life.
Good for Mutants, moderate for Cyborgs and totally useless for robots.
Good to use in a low-budget suicide when you want to get back to the Resurrection Unit quickly.


A BIG bomb. Again, the fuse is the same as the NitroPack. It makes a lovely rumbling sound when it kills you.
VERY potent, and ideal for trapping Edward Diego.

Tools of the Trade: GUNS

..No!  But why won't it let me point the gun at myself?

Lead Pipe

The first time I ever saw System Shock, we got stuck in the first room.
Then we ran about with the pipe for almost an hour, hitting everything we came across..

The pipe is what you will start with. It works fine on serv-bots and mutants and it never runs out of ammo.

Dart Gun

The dart gun fires either needle darts or tranquilisers. Neither of which are very effective.
Don't bother with it.

Stun Gun

This really is a stun gun, and it only works on mutants. They stop moving and bob up and down.
Don't bother with it, unless you want to watch some mutants bobbing (which can be fun).

Sparq beam

An energy gun. Very effective, it can also be used to vapourise corpses.
It has about 64 levels of power and an overload. It gobbles up the juice and it goes into standby if it gets too hot.

Your first Good Gun, but be sure you know where the nearest wall-socket is.


The pistol is good, there is plenty of ammo for it.
It takes Normal rounds, and Teflon rounds which are better but more scarce.

Your second Good Gun. Keep hold of it, you can use it on cameras later on.

Magnum 2100

Pro version of the pistol. Little ammo for it in early levels.
It fires hollow-tip rounds, or heavy SLUGS. (Aye, we have drugs and slugs..)
A sign of decadence among System Shock players is when you go around using the Magnum on cameras because you have nothing less powerful...

One of the Best guns. Never let this one go.


This is like an EMP mine. It fires green shots that destroy most types of robot, and some cyborgs.
It fires Magpulse Carts, which are abundant on level 4 in the Cargo Pits of Ragnarok.
It does not work on mutants at all!

You will need this!


A handy rapid-fire weapon
This is quite a neat piece of work, it is a low-budget RF Skorpion, and there is plenty of ammo.
It can take out most things except a Security-2 robot.

A pretty good weapon.

Laser Rapier

Imagine a professional version of the Lead Pipe...
This is a Sinclair monomolecular thread held in a stasis field. It cuts through anything. (Larry Niven fans should know this, think Variable Sword)
It kills most beasts with a single swipe. Tougher monsters need two or three hits..

You must have this one!

Riot gun

This is an interesting curiosity.
The riot gun is on the Cargo Deck, level 4. It fires rubber bullets, so it is almost useless.
HOWEVER: it can be used to PUSH CRATES and LIVE LAND MINES around the level, so it is essential for freaky experiments.

Only useful for weird things


A souped-up version of the Sparq beam.
Not especially wonderful, it uses more power but is only slightly more dangerous.
It makes a nice sound.

A reasonable replacement for the sparq beam.

Ion cannon

Ionise people. This is pretty cool. It makes a sound stolen from Star Wars but it's fun.
If you turn it down to minimum power, it will still vapourise any item with a single shot but consuming virtually no power.

Excellent tool for vapourising corpses.

Assault Rifle

A sort of super-magnum, but with less ammo available.

Try it, you might like it.


Fires explosive missiles, but they are not very effective. Ammo is only available from Mutant Cyborgs.
I never found it was any good against monsters, even a mutant takes several shots. It kills you more than it kills them so it's useful for ritual suicides.

It's brilliant for smashing cameras and even more decadant than the magnum.

IDM: What is a railgun anyway?
JPM: An experimental weapon using magnetic fields to propel a projectile at colossal speeds.
     It doesn't work in practice because you have to increase the field strength as it goes down
     the barrel.  As it approaches the muzzle you get a plasma and the coils burn out.
IDM: You mean it's like a hand-held linear accelerator?!?
JPM: No! A FULL-SIZE linear accelerator!  They built one in the desert.
     You have to wait for the target to get in range.. a hand-held one is pure fantasy.

RF Skorpion

An ultra-rapid fire rifle. (See the docs for the Blessed Engine, our Doom hack-up)
This is good, but hard to use and ammo is scarce. It fires standard ammunition and LARGE (fat?) SLAGS.

This is useful for tight spots, but can sometimes let you down.

Plasma gun

"Once I accidentally put 300 watts into a 60 watt light bulb.
 The filament detatched itself from the two connecting wires and drifted
 around inside the bulb, white-hot. Then it hit the side and bounced away.
 The glass was glowing cherry-red where it had touched."
  -PDM, 1992
Now you can do something similar to the walls of the citadel station.
But don't let the glowing ball of plasma touch you because you'll turn into ash.
This thing is good but it is difficult to wrest from SHODAN's grasp, and it consumes a third of your battery power with each shot.

It kills whatever it touches but it often touches you.

Edward Diego

If you thought SHODAN had topped Edward Diego, you were wrong. They have joined forces and he is incredibly dangerous.

Diego is a cyborg of SHODAN but he kept his personality, and he is armed with Laser Rapiers. He teleports away when you beat him.

Edward Diego appears at three points in the game, but you have ample time to prepare a little surprise for him each time.

On the Executive level

Firstly, Diego appears on the Executive Level, just after the Access Tunnel.
Hint: when blowing up the CPUs on the Exec level, place two emp grenades either side of
      the main CPU.
      Go back to the tunnel and shoot a single round at the autobomb to annoy it.
      Lead the Bomb into the computer room and let it attack you.
      Et voila!  SHODAN's little toy has just blown up some valuable equipment for you.

Get Edward

If he doesn't step on the pile, (or if you do) reload and place the land mine in a slightly different place.

Otherwise you should hear:




(depending on your CPU speed)

..followed by a brief swooshing sound as he turns red and vanishes.

On the Flight Deck

Before you blow up the reactor core and try to escape, place a nice selection of earthshakers mines and frag grenades at the bottom of the escape pod ramp.

Place all the explosives on the central triangle of the floor, with a live landmine.

A present from Joe

Now go about your business. When you try to escape the reactor detonation, Diego will email you a death threat.

However, by the time you've read the threat he will have appeared, exploded and disappeared again without you even seeing it!

As proof of his impending divinity, SHODAN demonstrates his power by appearing unto you in a Holy Vision.

"Accept the coming of your new Lord"

On The Bridge

Having trouble, Diego? Turn and face your executioner..

Diego should now be on the floor in a heap. His body cannot be vapourised, otherwise it would have done so by now.
Extract the little red card and carry on with the game.

Part Four: SHODAN's Death Machine

You've probably come across this dark empty room on the reactor level.
When you step inside, SHODAN appears to you in another Vision saying "Welcome to my Death Machine, Interloper!".

Here's a neat little trick that allows you to screw up the Death Machine..

First, get yourself lots of bombs. You need about 9 frag grenades and at least 1 Landmine.

Next, get yourself lots of detox. Yes, I know it ruins your trips but you need it against the radiation.

Now, look for this little hole. It's through the door on the right, starting from the lift (facing left).

Make sure you are at full health, and consume some drugs if you aren't.
Now, jump down the hole, and you'll see this big blast door (marked 'Radiation! No! Go away!' etc..). Open the door.

You are now within a few metres of the Reactor Core and getting sleeted with gamma rays, so hurry up.
You should see another blast door from your vantage point.

Go through the door and consume some Detox.
You should now be going up a repulser plate into a small grey room. This is the back end of the Death Machine!

If there is a Security-1 robot there, kill it and enter the door.

Now SAVE. Get on your belly, and remember not to cross the middle of the room, or you'll have to load back.
By just lying in the southern half of the room, you can throw bombs into place.

Throw an INACTIVE frag grenade at each door, so that there a bomb in front of each one.
Place some more bombs and things in a chain connecting them, so that all the devices will explode if one goes off.

Save (in another slot if possible) and place a LIVE landmine in front of one of the doors.

It should look like this:

Welcome to MY Death Machine!

Consume enough drugs to get you back to full health, and switch on your Shield.
Walk across to the North, and all the doors will open.

If you've done it right, all the monsters should die instantly!

Part Five: Other

Destroying Earth

If you switch on the Mining Laser without engaging the system shields, SHODAN appears in a Vision, inviting you to a party.

A cortex reaver will escort you to the celebrations.

Leaning at 45 degrees

Here's a neat little trick we discovered over Christmas 1997:

Fun with repulsor lifts

On level 4, (the cargo pits of Ragnarok) there is a blast door which is locked for a long time.
It is eventually opened using the switch in the Plastique ledge.

Inside are three Warrior Cyborgs. Kill the first one quickly and silently using the Laser Raper.

If you look out from where the cyborg was, You should now see this:

Let us now float up some mines on the repulsor lift!

Before we get to the fun part we must first capture the druuugs otherwise they will be destroyed in the explosion.

First save. Now, switch on your Skates and do a running jump across the room, so that you land on the drugsss and can pocket them.

If you hear a babbling sound then they have seen you, and you must reload or it won't work.

Now. You should be sitting on the drugs ledge. Switch off your skates and jump onto the floor. Again, make sure they don't see you.

Throw the following items onto the repulsor lift:

Now, tilt your head upwards so you can watch the nitropack as it rises, into a bobbing cornucopia of explosives.

In about 3 seconds you should get a BIG bang and two dead cyborgs.

Crashing the game through normal actions


While destroying the Earth I noticed that you can still move around while SHODAN is giving you the party invite.

Wondering if there was any way to prevent myself getting kicked out of the game, I did the following.

It's dependent on timing, so it will only work on the CD version and a relatively fast processor (like my P200).
Follow this exactly and it ought to work:

"You have saved us all so much trouble by destroying the greater part of Earth's civilisation yourself..."

An Easter Egg

Jay Brothwell sent me two interesting items about System Shock.
"If you go into the room on level 1 that has the monitor that looks down on
 the CPU nodes for that level, you can take the SPARQ beam and destroy the nodes
 by double-clicking on the screen, and then using ENTER on the keyboard to fire."
I tried this, and it's strange.
This is evidently an easter egg or artifact, because I shot one of the nodes, and it disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Then the others went out one by one.
It wasn't the chain explosion I was expecting. Strange....

The other item is a little bug.

On level 2 there's an area with an X-ray machine and a radiation door.
When you press the lever, the door is unlocked and can be opened.

Once the door is opened, you get bombarded with heavy X-rays from the radiation source in the cupboard.

But if you go inside the cupboard you find that it's perfectly safe.

It's all wrong. The room outside has 'become' radioactive and the radiation source isn't really radioactive at all...

Bugs in version F1.5s

I've seen 3 different versions of System Shock...

Now in the F1.5s release, there was a neat thing you could do with the Skates.
When you turned a corner with the skates off, the angle changed as you turned.

What we discovered was that with the skates on, the angle got much steeper.

If you made the hacker run around in a tight circle, you could make him do a Wall of Death by using the LEAN controls at the same time, and the angle would reach 90 degrees!

Can't do that anymore though :-(

Also, if you went into the nearly-final room on level 1, there's a small narrow bit you can only get to by going in on your belly. Inside is a skeleton, another pipe and a concussion bomb.

If you go in on your belly, but suddenly enable the Skates, he forcibly stood up and projected his head into absolute Nothing, It was really strange..

If you switched on lots of equipment and had the helmet-light on, by switching off the other stuff, you could set the energy usage to 0 even through the light was still on..

Finally, if you put one of the big blue smarties or a battery on the ground, held an object in your hand and tried to use the battery/smartie, you would increase your power or health without consuming it.

The Hacker Explained

"It seems we are looking at a hacker with 13 foot long, boneless tentacles that snake across the ground but are unable to support their own weight."

It has taken ten years, but I have finally found out what the Hacker is.

Mr. Gibbon is an incubus as found in the DMFA strip by Amber Panyko.

Mature incubi have, when suitably angered, boneless tentacles which which come out of their backwings. These can be stretched to approximately 13 feet long, and terminate in small heads which are capable of picking up small light objects, or pressing buttons, but not rifling through corpses across a gap to retrieve large, heavy weapons.

An immature feline incubus discovering his tentacles

Although the tentacle heads are generally controlled subconsciously, it is possible, through will and experience, to control them directly. Since a smart incubus trapped aboard Citadel Station would use their tentacles to see around a corner before exposing their head, this would also explain why the Hacker appears to have no feet.

Mature 'cubi do not usually eat, but feed on emotions as their prime energy source. Pain is a common energy source (plenty to go around in Citadel Station!), however 'cubi usually also have a favourite physical food such as ale, or in Mr. Gibbon's case, drugs and smarties.

"How about the fact you've lived three years on nothing but smarties?"

18/11/06 - update Ben Karnow writes with a different theory:

"Unfortunately, it's just come to my attention, after playing the CD Version of System Shock 1... that the Hacker's gibbon arms are actually not boneless. The warrior cyborg on the tower near the medical CPU node actually CAN be searched, if you stand on the grav lift.

"So I propose a different solution- The hacker is actually a "Diclonius" from the anime "Elfen Lied".

"He's a creature with two regular and two telekinetic arms... which perfectly explains his propensity to rummage through anything and everything and never need a wet-nap to wash off the blood. It also explains how he's able to manipulate circuit boards and suchlike without getting an electric shock, and probably also explains why he's such a wuss at throwing grenades."

Part Six: System Shock 2

System Shock 2 is, of course, the sequel to System Shock. It is based on the Thief engine, and shares most of its problems, such as being able to run around after you're dead, difficult to mess with and only being available for the ob-ob-obsolete Wiiindooowws. XIWYLYBSSCCHHHH!

It has taken four years to gather enough material to write about, and even that is scarce. But here it is anyway.. a list of stuff to do.

Back to the front page

Daniel Ti'Fiona, and DMFA is copyright (C) 2000-2005 Amber Panyko.
System Shock is a trademark of Electronic Arts.