On September 24, 2012 a patch was released for the classic Dark Engine games, Thief The Dark Project (+Gold), System Shock 2, and Thief II The Metal Age. It's not abnormal for additional content, patches & updates to be developed by the community of a game, especially games with a following as large Thief and System Shock. The community over at TTLG, and other Looking Glass Games fan websites has been polishing up the games for over a decade now. A lot of these community patches are typically hacks, plug-ins, tweaks, and other things to work-around an issue presented by the game or engine.
The unusual thing about this patch, however, which updates Thief 2 to v1.19 and System Shock 2 to 2.4 respectively, is it disregards all the community efforts of the past, works without them, and allows the games to function stand-alone, without seemingly any hacks, and actually expands the functionality of the engine. There is something strange about this patch here, I don't aim to explore that just yet.
The patch itself, however clearly has some magic behind it. The patchnotes read like some modders christmas wishlist, it upgrades the maximum terrain polygon limit in a scene from 1024 to 204800 (that's 20* as many polys). Which in itself is a blessing to all DromED modders, they'll all attest to how the polygon limit has been an obstacle in thief and system shock 2 mapping for over a decade now. What is interesting is how this has been attempted to be worked around so many different times. Most would conclude that it's a hardcoded aspect of the engines architecture.
Among other things, the lighting has been vastly improved, as well as the introduction to additional sound middleware such as OpenAL replacing being an optional replacement to the old sound engine. I don't expect the readers to necessarily understand what all this means, frankly I only have a basic comprehension of it, but what I can discern is it isn't something easily accomplished though hacks. I am thoroughly convinced that the developers of the patch had source code level access to the engine.
That raises the question of who could have access to the engine on such a base level? A few years ago, a Dreamcast collector recovered a Dreamcast SDK, and recently booted it up - discovered on its hard drive was a copy of the dreamcast version of system shock 2, and Thief 2. Shortly after the discovery, fans from TTLG got in contact with the collector, and requested the content on the drives to be shared. While I am uncertain, I believe the contents of the drive were game assets, including code. I recall hearing that the main missing element was references to network drives. This is possibly one of the sources for the recent patch, the work started some time ago was completed and released anonymously (as something manipulating the source code of a closed source project should be from an unauthorized source).
Which, unfortunately, would not explain its release on a French Thief discussion board, other than the connection to the fandom. I am thoroughly convinced however, that signs point to the patch being published by ex-looking glass studios developers. There's a few reasons behind this, of course. The first being who else would have access to the source code, as well as such a strong understanding to add so many features, improve so many functions, and publish it in such a package?
Secondly, it's a commonly known fact that a large number of ex-LGS employees now work at Arkane, who's home office exists in France. And lastly, why publish a patch like this anonymously? Well, simply put there's a lot of red tape involved. The disclaimer with the patches says explicitly Arkane, LGS, etc. were not involved in it, but I think there's a little more to it. I refuse to snoop any further, and my rationalizing for the snooping I did was that the patches just solved too many issues and came from seemingly nowhere to not have some high-level talent backing it.
I understand how a lot of this reads quite thoroughly like some crack-pots theory, because it is. Take what you read from me here with a grain of salt, but do interpret it as you wish. It is written with the passion only a fan of LGS can have, and the analysis only someone as anal as myself can produce.
The patches & patched demos can be found on this TTLG thread here,
And my own modified archive containing just the patches for the games (thief 1/gold, thief 2, and system shock 2) in easily installed drag+drop folders can be found here,
For those looking for a reason to re-live these classics, or experience them and find out why they are regarded as classics in the first place, now more than ever is the time for it.