Despite a history of decidedly average game to film translations, I believe there are some properties that could successfully make the transition, provided they were treated in a manner appropriate to the subject matter. At the risk of being branded a heretic I believe that System Shock 2 is such a title that has interesting film potential.
For anybody who has never played it the premise is fairly straightforward, you wake up alone on an board a space ship to find the crew have been killed and turned into zombies and worse. It eventually gets a little more complicated but that’s the core premise. The inclusion of the, arguably insane artificial intelligence SHODAN (Sentient Hyper-Optimized Data Access Network) adds some additional flavour but the basic premise of System Shock 2 is not the reason for its cinematic potential. For that we need to look at the manner in which the story is presented.
Developed through audio logs left behind by the crew, as well as the occasional ghost of anybody who died in particularly dramatic circumstances, the events leading up to the player’s awakening are told in a piecemeal and subjective fashion. This could translate well to film provided it didn’t play out using a traditional linear format. Instead the audio logs could act as framing devices for flashback sequences, much like the diary in The Prestige. As the protagonist awoke and began to explore their environment each log they found would lead into a flashback showing the events described. As often more than one log references a single event the film could develop in a manner similar to Rashomon with each event being show from multiple perspectives and coloured by each participants personal prejudices. The objective “truth” of what happened never being made explicit. This is not something that is dealt with in to any extent in the game, and I wonder if it might have benefited from a more ambiguous narrative delivery.
Together these flashbacks would combined to form a collage depicting the events leading up to the start of the film. As some characters are still alive at the start of the film, their logs would continue to describe events that took place only a few hours or minutes before the protagonist found them. The final climax of the protagonist fore-shadowed by the climatic failures that lead they to that point.
It’s a potentially complex film, and one that would require careful editing as well as a degree of active participation on the part of the audience in order to form a coherent narrative of both the past and the present; considering the source material that seems only fitting.
System Shock 2 is not likely to see a film release, but rumours abound that its spiritual successor BioShock is. It will be interesting to see how it is handled, though I do suspect it will utilise a traditional linear structure, possibly with a flashback or two to fill in the history of Rapture. If that is the case it will be a waste of potential.
The best game stories are one that are (Or at least make pretensions to be) non-linear, and any reinterpretation of them in another medium would be well advised to make use of whatever non-linear techniques are available.