Science fiction, for me, has always been about exploring the question: how does human nature express itself when given advanced technology?
The cyberpunk genre is that kind of science fiction with a couple of constraints: 1) the tech in question involves fusing human consciousness (either indirectly or directly) to computing systems and networks, and 2) the result is mostly horrible. System Shock is well within that framework.
System Shock 2, I would say, moved out of that sort of philosophical space (bearing in mind that System Shock did ask you to shoot lots of robots with big guns) toward more of a survival horror game. I enjoyed SS2, and still replay it. But I think I’d like to see SS3 come back to the ideas behind cyberpunk: what does it mean to fuse human consciousness with computers? How does basic human nature express itself when meshed with an AI’s lack of moral and ethical constraints?
As I’ve said before, I’d like to see the story of SS3 look at SHODAN having to live through humans. Basically, she’s decided that if you can’t beat them (dang hackers!), join them – literally. The original game featured SHODAN as an isolated cybernetic mind; the sequel explored how technology deals with a biological hive-mind. I think it would be satisfying for SS3 to be a synthesis of these modes of non-human sentience. SHODAN is no longer just software, and Rebecca Siddons is no longer just human: what if this merged existence is the future of both humanity and AI?
Would most people living on Earth embrace this for themselves if offered it? What would happen to us as a species, and our varied cultures, if many did agree to let a version of SHODAN become part of them? What if many chose not to – would it be right to force them?
In particular, I note that, as a player of a game (produced by Warren Spector), it would be the player who is confronted with these questions, who can choose how to answer them, and who gets to safely explore within the gameworld the consequences of those choices (which is what computer games uniquely offer).
Everything else about System Shock 3 – the plot, the locations, the objects, the power progression model, the graphics and audio, the soundtrack – would be devised to help let players grapple with these questions and experience some possible results of their answers. This being cyberpunk, those consequences, and all the computer game elements through which the results are rendered to the player, could be pretty horrific: this technoflesh blending is basically what H.R. Giger explored in his creepier artwork.
I might have more specific ideas later. But for now, this is where I’d like to see System Shock 3 go as a concept, with all the concrete details flowing from it.