Everyone knows that the scariest things aren’t actually monsters themselves. It’s the horrors lurking in our own runaway imaginations, creatures of such impossible (and impossibly specific) phobia that our only recourse is to head for the hills long before we ever see them. That’s the power of a great horror environment. SOMA‘s Upsilon research facility, for instance, creaks, groans, and whines quietly to itself like a child who’s afraid of the dark. From there, your mind does the heavy lifting. Watch below, and then read about Amnesia: The Dark Descent developer Frictional’s core design pillars for its sci-fi madhouse.
Frictional unleashed the brief trailer alongside a blog post about the most important ingredients in SOMA’s development process. The big five? 1) Everything is story, 2) take the world seriously, 3) the player is in charge, 4) trust the player, and 5) thematics emerge through play.
The summation of that is more or less that Frictional wants to create a seamless experience where puzzles, narrative, and action all exist as one. If a location or scenario’s main justification is, “Well, because it’s a game and we need that to happen there,” then it’s getting tossed out the airlock.
All of that, Frictional hopes, will culminate in a largely player-driven experience, even though the game itself is a pre-written narrative. If you’re of the “OH MAN NO. DON’T GO IN THERE” school of thought/panicked popcorn spewing, no one’s gonna force you to do it. Frictional wants you to take away from SOMA as much as you put in.
“SOMA is meant to explore deep subjects such as consciousness and the nature of existence,” the blog post concludes. “We could have done this with cutscenes and long conversations, but we chose not to. We want players to become immersed in these thematics, and the discussions to emerge from within themselves.”
“It feels wrong to just shove information down the player’s throat. What I find so exciting about having these thematics in a game is that the player is an active participant. There are plenty of books and movies that cover these sort of subjects, but videogames provide a personal involvement that other mediums lack. We want to explore this to the fullest degree.”