A Second Look At SOMA

By Craig Pearson on October 7th, 2013 at 4:00 pm.


We still don’t know much about SOMA, Amnesia developers Frictional’s next game. But there is a general theme emerging from the teaser videos: the first video showed an engineer attempting to communicate with what appeared to be a H.R. Giger’s CRT monitor. This new video shows the same engineer talking to a disassembled robot. In the game’s fiction, it’s a “standard UH3 articulated robot,” and it “spontaneously developed a desire to socialize from observing human interaction.” It gets creepier. Way creepier.

As far as I can tell, the robot in the video below has already mutilated one other robot, basically attempting to cannibalise it before pulling itself apart and mimicking a crew member. As you’ll see, aside from being deluded about what it is and where is it, the bot actually knows way more about the person it’s mimicking than it should. This is no mere reading of a personnel file, but a burrowing into his memories and emotions that he didn’t expect. It must have read his Livejournal page!

He is suitably spooked, and I am too. This is looking to be an interesting world they’re building, and it holds more interest to me than the castle of Amnesia. Robots > Gatherers.

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55 Comments »

  1. Prolar Bear says:

    “Amneisa” on the last line, Mr. Pearson.

  2. RobinOttens says:

    I feel this would be way more interesting if it was set in the present times, starring people instead of sentient robots. Insane robots in a sci-fi setting has been done one too many times in videogames. And it’s too removed from reality for me to really be creeped out by at this point.

    Video was cool though. The game will no doubt turn out fine as well. Despite Amnesia’s castle setting never quite working for me (felt too much like videogame corridors strung together, not an actual place), that was still a good game.

    • Hauskamies says:

      The point of Frictional Games isn’t just to make scary games. It’s to make meaningful games that convey themes. I don’t think present day offers the kind of setting for the themes they have chosen.

      • RobinOttens says:

        Well, I think it does. Especially for the kinds of stories frictional is trying to tell.

        And I get that they don’t just make their games to be scary, because that’s not what I play them for in the first place. I was sort of reacting to Craig finding that robot creepy.

        But even without the horror factor, I think Fricional’s stories could fit onto a present day setting and work way better that way.

    • Bull0 says:

      Oh wow, I don’t think “too removed from reality” has ever been something that’s stopped me finding something scary! It’s all about the little believable touches – drab dirty uniforms being a quick example of this – that make space horror relatable and terrifying.

      • RobinOttens says:

        Well, the first thing my brain does when presented with the ‘affliction’ this robot has, is project a human onto the robot, and only then I think ‘huh, that’s pretty creepy behaviour’. That robot is not a robot or a metaphor for a robot, it’s a metaphor for a human with an unexplained (supernatural) mental illness. At least, in my mind.

        I guess the ‘too’ in ‘too removed from reality’ is a bit strong; I’ve certainly been creeped out playing stuff like system shock/amnesia/whatever. But the extra steps of translation remove me from what’s happening on the screen. Something like Silent Hill hits much closer to home.

        • Bull0 says:

          I wouldn’t say it creeped me out either, really, but I did find it quite arresting. I’m intrigued rather than afraid, I think. Whereas Amnesia just made me poo myself and stop playing

        • P.Funk says:

          Do you just not “get” the whole sci fi thing? Because in my experience lots of people get very luke warm about this whole robot sentience thing when they’re not really into sci fi.

          In many respects the whole point of sci fi is for it to feel alien from our current circumstances so that we are therefore forced to evaluate themes and ideas at least somewhat outside of the prism of our own contemporary biases, at least that’s how I feel non hard sci fi tends to work. The whole robot/cyborg identity thing really just comes back to us trying to evaluate our own broken and fucked up impressions of humanity in the present. Bladerunner being about engineered slaves also has a lot to offer about how we look at our own contemporary prejudices. Of course Asimov’s Foundation is a retelling of the fall of the Roman empire.

          But I tell any of that to my friend who’s a massive history buff and he just says “I prefer history”, even though I try and say “this is history, just spun differently”. But thats the argument that never ends, so I guess… do you not dig sci fi?

          P.S. By “get” I don’t necessarily mean you don’t comprehend it, just that you don’t get the hook in you over it. That it doesn’t grab your attention and make you want to explore its unfamiliar dimensions.

          • RobinOttens says:

            Nah man, I love sci-fi. I’m in the middle of reading an Iain M Banks novel, I’ve loved Ghost in the Shell in all it’s incarnations, Blade Runner is fantastic. Videogame sci fi is generally less interesting and inventive, but there’s a fair share of sci-fi game universes that I love. Still, the first thing I thought when seeing the above trailer was “I’d love to see this done in a non-sci-fi way”. I’m guessing it’s because I’ve seen rampant/insane sentient AI done so many times in games now.

    • Rhodokasaurus says:

      Not to be too snide, but when someone is making something they like, telling them it doesn’t match your personal preference is pretty much the epitome of elitism. It’s about as useful as telling you to go make your own game.

      • RobinOttens says:

        No? It would be elitism if I actually expected them to listen to my opinion, take it seriously and change their game to suit me. I was just expressing a realisation I had while reading the article/watching the trailer. Which, for a live action teaser trailer involving a game we have no further details on, is not a very useful thing to do, sure.

    • ViktorBerg says:

      I completely disagree. We haven’t had good sci-fi horror in years. And no, I am not counting Dead Space as horror.

  3. Jekhar says:

    So there is more than one anomalous object, not just that weird tv screen. This could very well be “SCP – the game”.

    • Ricc says:

      I’m getting the same vibe. Currently reading the SCP wiki for the first time and it’s really good.

      It could just be a single entity as well. Something that can read people’s minds and control robots / machinery, for example. The CRT was rather vague in hinting at what is going on.

      Certainly very intriguing so far.

  4. Maritz says:

    Not sure it really qualifies as creepy, but I do prefer the sci-fi setting too.

    Plus, I can really recommend those twin work lights they have at the back of the room. Picked some up in Aldi a few years ago and they were a bargain.

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    RedViv says:

    Oh goodness. Now that’s horrifying on an existential level.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      What I’m especially impressed by is that when the robot is told to stand, it acts exactly the way someone with partial brain damage to their motor center would act: convinced that they can do what’s asked of them, to the point of their brain making up excuses and lying about what they can see/do. You see this in relation to visual cortex damage as well, where the subject is blind, but their brain still believes they can see (and vice versa).

      It’s not just that this robot knows way too much about the guy it believes it is, this robot’s programming is literally acting like a human brain.

      • hilltop says:

        I am not aware of damage to the motor strip or attendant regions causing what you describe, although your description of the cortical blindness seems consistent with Anton-Babinski syndrome.

        Could you give more detail on the motor syndrome you are describing?

  6. Premium User Badge

    CelticPixel says:

    I’m really excited about the game, but I’m not digging these dodgy fmv-era live action ‘teasers’

    • LionsPhil says:

      Serious 7th Guest/11th Hour vibes.

      • Turkey says:

        I’m getting Looking Glass FMV era vibes. Terra Nova and the Crusader series.

        • Ross Angus says:

          Did you notice the video length? 451. I’m sure I’ve encountered that number before…

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Hm, I mostly just want more of those teasers now.

    • MeestaNob says:

      I think they actually work really well. Pre-rendered fmv wouldn’t have the same effect.

      It’s just a shame the whole game can’t be fmv and interactive to the degree a 3D engined game would be.

  7. Solidstate89 says:

    Oh yeah. As if the previous video didn’t already remind of the SCP Foundation, this pretty much cements it.

    • Synesthesia says:

      giddyup!

    • The Random One says:

      Their standards are a lot more lax that the Foundation’s, though. I bet that if Dr. Bright could see this he’d be like “no no no, what the FUCK is this? Get the fucking skip a room to itself, are you leaving it in the fucking janitor’s closet!”

      (I mean the character Dr. Bright, of course. There is a chance user Dr. Bright would think something similar, though.)

  8. kwyjibo says:

    Thought the second trailer was quite good, getting a Solaris kind of feeling from it.

    But then I think, why not just make a film?

    • 12inchPlasticToy says:

      You cannot be in a film.
      Unless you’re in Videodrome, which is impossible unless you’re in Videodrome, which is impossible unless you’re in Videodrome, which is impossible unless you’re in Videodrome, which is impossible unless you’re in Videodrome, which is impossible unless…
      You cannot be in a film.

    • GameCat says:

      Uhm, these teasers already look better than most of latest (pseudo) sci-fi Hollywood movies so I think it would be even more awesome as movie than as a game.

      Also, jeez, guys, go read some real good sci-fi books, not some SCP crap.

  9. CookPassBabtridge says:

    Aperture Science engineer joke. Someone took a copy of his personality and loaded it into a maintenance droid. Personality is not capable of an awareness of its new body and just believes its still human. Reminds me of Cotards syndrome a little, the lack of awareness element anyway

    • SillyWizard says:

      YOU’RE a Cotard!

    • The Random One says:

      I find Cotard’s syndrome horrifying. Not the actual delusion, but just its existence. Why do our brains have a switch to tell it the body is dead?

      • Sheng-ji says:

        Its really not that simple, it’s a complex disorder and is a psychosis – suffers will look at their hand, their eyes will see a normal hand but the brain will interpret the signal from the eyes to see a rotting hand for example. They don’t believe they are dead because of some switch, they believe they are dead because their brain is interpreting the world wrong – same as people who hear voices which don’t exist etc.

      • hilltop says:

        Yes, I think it is probably best not to conceptualize it as a switch. The explanation for the subjective sensation of being dead – or at least the manner in which I have seen it explained – has to do with abnormal perception.

        Salient environmental cues should trigger a certain degree of response in the brain. Particularly recognizable things (like a mother’s face, or our own body) should be highly salient. If – for whatever reason – this elevated level of response is not triggered, then a strange disconnect is encountered.

        In the case of the mother’s face, it leads to a visual perception of someone identical to one’s mother. Without the additional emotional response that this would trigger, the patient is left feeling as though the individual in front of them is a doppelganger of sorts since they can see that this person is identical to their mother, but it does not feel as though she is their mother.

        In the case of Cotard’s either the environment around the patient, or the patient themselves, feels somewhat unreal. Interpreting this, trying to resolve this incongruent sensation, is difficult, I would imagine. Seemingly one of the ways in which people try is by interpreting the sensation in the context of what they know about the world. So if it feels unreal, perhaps they are dead/in purgatory or some such.

        This is really just a hypothesis sometimes employed to explain a phenomenon not fully understood, given certain rudimentary imaging findings. And it is also not my field.
        Perhaps another reader will shed more light.

  10. Jason Moyer says:

    Want want want want want want want.

  11. Wedge says:

    This is the best stuff ever, I do hope this means the game will try to set new standards for “horror” by not being so directly terrifying most of the time.

    • Jalan says:

      They tried that with A Machine for Pigs and angered a great deal of their fans. Removing The Chinese Room from the equation and leaving just Frictional on their own, I guess everyone’s ready to start kissing the ground they walk on again.

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    Anthile says:

    They say this is how RPS writers are made.

  13. Shuck says:

    I’m quite excited about this. Now I just need to finish Amnesia, and actually start their other games, that I bought after Amnesia. Darn unfinished backlog.

  14. realitysconcierge says:

    This looks amazing.

  15. Kubrick Stare Nun says:

    Could that be… A worthy opponent for Torment Tides of Numenera?

  16. DarkFarmer says:

    frictional: NOW YOU”RE TALKING MY LANGUAGE. I didn’t really like Amnesia, cuz of the medieval setting, but this is toooootally my jam. Day 1 purch.

  17. Zenicetus says:

    I like the production values and respect for the viewer’s attention span in these trailers. I’m so tired of game trailers with hyperactive edits over throbbing sound tracks. This is good marketing; I’m definitely interested in this game now.

    I just hope this isn’t going to be the “Dead Island” initial trailer all over again; a very creative trailer made by an outside production company that wasn’t at all representative of the final product. Don’t do that. We need more good sci-fi themed games.

    • Jalan says:

      I didn’t get the Dead Island trailer syndrome vibe from it but these videos, along with how the SOMA site is currently, make me think this is some ongoing ARG before they unleash whatever the game is actually going to be to all the yearning masses.

  18. Lazarus_Soma says:

    Looks rather interesting.

    I can already guess at what the plot is although even if it is what it looks like it wouldn’t be too bad at the very least it could be an interesting journey through a trope, oh well even if it is what I think it is here’s hoping im either wrong or they do a good job of it.

  19. Orageon says:

    This trailer reminded me of some good old episodes of “The Outer Limits”. The kind where it doesn’t end well…
    And I friggin’ love that!

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      A good show, that. And this was rather good as well. Um.. well done, Frictional.

  20. Nouser says:

    Frictional is back to close future sci-fi? I loved the Penumbra series’ atmosphere.