SOMA’s Grip On BioShock Comparisons, Indie Influences

By Nathan Grayson on April 10th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

SOMA didn’t scare the scuba suit off me, but I did find a creeping sort of potential in its soaked-to-the-bone corridors. Amnesia: The Dark Descent 2 this ain’t. Or at least, it’s not aiming to be. Currently, it still feels a lot like a slower-paced, less-monster-packed Amnesia in a different (though still very traditionally survival-horror-y) setting, but Frictional creative director Thomas Grip has big plans. I spoke with him about how he hopes to evolve the game, inevitable comparisons to the Big Daddy of gaming’s small undersea pond, BioShock, why simple monster AI is better than more sophisticated options, the mundanity of death, and how SOMA’s been pretty profoundly influenced by indie mega-hits like Dear Esther and Gone Home.

RPS: So let’s get the zombie skeleton ghost elephant whale in the room out of the way first. Why an underwater setting?

Grip: Actually, it was a pretty quick decision. Me and Jens, who’s the other co-founder of Frictional Games, we used to live in the same city, and we’d meet up every other month in a park. Just after we’d released Amnesia, we were were talking to each other – what should the next game be about? He says we should set it underwater, and I said, oh, I was thinking about that too. It was that sort of decision. We’d both been thinking about it a lot.

It’s a very cool setting, because normally, you don’t really think about how weird the ocean is, with the big pressures around you deep below and all the weird creatures that live there and so forth. It’s a very hostile environment. It’s hostile in a different way from space – even more hostile in a way, because you have this enormous pressure difference just outside you. That builds this claustrophobic feeling. It just felt right.

It was a great decision in hindsight, because we felt like if we were going to set it in space, there would be tons of other games in space, like Alien: Isolation being the big one. It was a good way to differentiate ourselves, and we just liked the setting.

RPS: The second you revealed your setting people started bringing up BioShock, which was set underwater and had some horror overtones, even if it wasn’t actually a horror game. Even if your game is pretty hugely different, are you worried about inevitable comparisons and callbacks?

Grip: I don’t know. We’ll have to see. I think that one of the big differences is that we have a sort of Aliens-like atmosphere in our game, the overall aesthetic. BioShock has their art deco style. It’s almost a fantasy setting in BioShock. They don’t really care about the ocean as such, other than it just has water in it. We’ve tried at length to make sure that we think about pressure differences and what sorts of things you’d have to do to build something underwater. That’s an integral part of the game.

The whole aesthetic is different. In BioShock, at least in the first one, you’re not much actually in the water. Soma, about 50 percent of the gameplay takes place in the water, in sunken stuff or on the ocean bottom. It’s a lot more focused on being in the water than BioShock is. But it’s hard to see, from this gut reaction, how this is going to shake out. I hope, at least, that not everyone will directly compare it to BioShock. I don’t think so.

RPS: You were mentioning a lot of stuff about pressure differences and whatnot. How does that get involved in gameplay?

Grip: The thing that we’re focusing on with our games now, and it’s a big design cornerstone, is that we don’t want to try and gamify too much of it. One thing we could have done with pressure is add puzzles around it – oh, before I go into this airlock I need to think about that sort of thing. Then it ends up in this abstract system. You’re not emotionally involved in it. Instead, what we’re trying to do – and it’s a bit more difficult – we’re trying to create this emotional background. You’re thinking about it in a more realistic way than you might have done if it was a sort of puzzle system.

There are events and so forth where it plays a big part, like in the sequence that you saw at the end of the first part of the demo, when the water comes crashing down and so forth. But otherwise it’s sort of like a lingering fear. You’re not sure when it’s going to happen. That ties into a lot of things we have in our game.

It’s sort of like what we did in Amnesia with the enemies. They’re pretty simplistic in their behavior. There are a few behaviors you can work around, like hiding behind doors and stuff. But half of the gameplay comes from just hearing the sound effects and trying to guess what’s happening next, what’s going to be around that next corner. That’s really interesting stuff. We’re trying to use that sort of feel for other elements of the game, and not just monster encounters.

RPS: When you say you’re trying to apply that feel to elements beyond just monsters, can you give any examples?

Grip: I’ll say what I can without spoiling anything. For instance, we have our consciousness stuff. That’s a big thematic. I’m not sure how much you got that because it depends on how much you connect into it. It’s something you might have noticed when playing. It’s an aspect of the game at the start, the story, because you’re missing a bit of backstory and you’re dropped into it directly.

For instance, you have you have a robot at the start of the game, and you can find out that it’s the same person as another character that you met with in the game. And that, then, has relevance to stuff that the player is going to find out later in the game. You can use that experience to say, oh, shit! Now I get why that was happening there. You can use that in your own experience of certain events that happen later on. We use it as a sort of reflection on that sort of thing.

Then, what happens is that, because the player has been aware of these sorts of things happening in the narrative sense, when they’re close to something similar happening to themselves, then they can project from what they have learned before – oh, this and this happened in the story – and project that onto things that might happen to themselves. Okay, how am I going to deal with this in order to stop this sort of thing? It’s difficult to talk about, because there’s a couple of mysteries that I really want people to figure out for themselves.

But it’s that sort of thing that we’re aiming for, just like with the monsters. You have this narrative backstory – you know they’re sneaking around – and although the monsters are pretty simplistic, with a few basic characteristics… When you think that the monster is near, you start thinking about those things in the backstory. If you think that something has to do with a situation that’s similar to the one that you experienced before, when you’re close to something like that happening, you start thinking about that. Just as in Amnesia, there might be ways for you to avoid these things happening, or at least sort of dampen the blow. You can start to project and think about, how am I going to advance from here on? It’s that sort of thinking. It’s a bit vague, I know, but the monster thing… That’s easy to do. The other idea requires a bit more buildup.

RPS: Are there multiple story paths, then?

Grip: No. It’s going to be more like The Walking Dead. There are going to be specific events. It’s pretty linear in a sense, but there are always [bits of story]. For instance, in the demo, did you find the girl who committed suicide? There are certain things you can notice in the environment that lead you to finding her, and finding her is going to reveal a bit more about what happened. It’s more in the sense that you can find side paths and things to figure out. That might change how you view certain things.

But it’s not going to be some sort of Heavy Rain thing, where everything branches out a lot and different characters could die depending on the choices you make. It’s going to be pretty linear, with a certain path that you walk on, but there are different choices. In the end players might have very different experiences, even though they went through, in broad terms, the same path.

RPS: You were talking about the fact that Amnesia had fairly simplistic monster AI overall. Are the monsters in Soma going to be any more sophisticated?

Grip: No, they’re not. What we’re trying to do, though, is that they’re going to have different ways of interacting with the player. We’re not overly reliant on things like really sophisticated AI models. I think it works well when you have simplistic models that can work in many different situations. Having some AI that works really well, but if the player screws up a little bit, then it goes really wrong.

We’re going to have something pretty much like in Amnesia, but the enemies are going to be a lot more varied. The monster encounters are really short in the demo, but they have some special abilities that ends up making life for the player a bit more worrisome, more than the Amnesia monsters.

We also have some enemies that aren’t really outright hostile to the player, unless you do certain things. That brings back how I wanted the player to imagine things. For instance, these enemy creatures that aren’t hostile, or are hostile under certain conditions, it’s sort of vague, exactly what those conditions are. The player is going to have to make up their own mind, and depending on story stuff that happens before, what actions it might be that will make these creatures aggressive. It’s that sort of stuff, where you have different things happening to the player depending on what they do. It’s on that sort of level.

RPS: Briefly, I wanted to circle back around to the AI machine arm thing that was at the start of the demo. The one that’s clearly dying, that mentions how scared it is and that it’s happy to see somebody named Amy (who is clearly not me). What’s the context of that? What’s happening in the world, in the way that the game world functions, from a story standpoint?

Grip: What happens is, the player in the game is not an Amnesia character. He has a well-defined past. When you get to PATHOS-2, which is the research station where this all takes place, you’re not entirely sure how you got there. There is a mystery in that.

The interesting part, especially for players who play the game from the start, is that they all have very different explanations, going into the game, for why they ended up there. You can understand the reason from the very start, but I think that some people won’t really think about it. That’s very much related to the thematics that we’re working with. From the start, people start thinking about your background.

The robot that you see has connections to that thing. You’re seeing a robot that’s just talking in gibberish. It seems to think that you’re someone else. What we also have, another thing that adds into this… When you interact with the corpses that you find, you get a little snippet of dialogue – the last 10 or 20 seconds of the dead person or machine’s – their last 20 seconds in life. What we also have, and you can find hints about this on the map, are certain black box devices, that all the personnel and machines have installed. You can go around and figure things out.

RPS: That’s actually really fascinating. Most games tend to deal with two states for enemies, or any type of character – alive and dead. It sounds like you’re hitting a last little in-between state. That last twinkle of life that most games (or works in other mediums, really) don’t even consider.

Grip: Yeah. When you have audio logs in a game – we’ve done this in Amnesia, too – there’s a worst-case example of adding diary entries where it just makes no sense at all. You just have to go along with it. A lot of games do that. In, like, BioShock you can find the personal thoughts of some character, and you have no idea why they would be sitting there recording it. Why is any of that here? So we’re trying to make sure that all the audio logs and notes that you find really feel like they belong in the world.

As a design challenge to ourselves, we tried to make it so just noting where the audio log is, you can figure that out. You don’t have to wonder, why is this audio log here? And then you find out by discovering some extra story. The corpses are a good way of doing that. This sort of device also ties neatly into the story in several ways. It’s one of those things where we started from two different directions and it all came together in a nice way. It is a bit morbid. But all of our games are morbid. I think that’s to be expected of us, I’m afraid.

RPS: That notion is also kind of powerful to me. The moments before someone’s death can be extremely profound.

Grip: Yeah, but they can also be fairly trivial. Just slipping on something, maybe. You might think there’s always going to be some kind of elaborate setup, but some of the audio files you’re going to find, you’ll just find them saying, “Uh?” Or, “Oh, I forgot to…” I read something recently, I forget what it was called, but a sort of true crime story. This person’s last words were something really trivial like, “Oh, don’t forget to feed the cat,” or something like that. It’s weird what people think about.

It’s also interesting… There are two points to this. First off, we always consider ourselves the heroes of our own personal story in life. It’s just like in the movies. The main character never dies. We don’t expect ourselves to die like that, even if it’s really obvious that we’re going to. Another thing is, myself and the whole team, we’ve been very careful that we’re not just making a gratuitous torture-porn fest. We want to make sure that this has meaning. This isn’t just stuff that happens on a daily basis in this world. It’s not here just to be used for fun. We tried to be very aware of that.

RPS: On the subject of creatures that are not necessarily aggressive, I feel like that’s potentially interesting territory for a horror game. That could create instances where the primary source of what makes you feel safe at one moment becomes a thing you’re terrified of the next. Possibly more terrified than you might otherwise be, even. Like, “Oh no! Monsterbro, whyyyyyyy?”

Grip: Have you played Outlast? I think they could have gone a bit further with it, but they have characters you meet in the game who aren’t hostile. They just stand there and look very creepy. Those are the most interesting encounters, to me. They’re very sort of scripted. Nothing happens if you try and push the limits of it. But it’s interesting, because your mind races as you just see someone staring out the window.

It goes back to simplistic AI. Once you have a system that the player needs to gamify… Maybe he only takes cover behind barrels, or something like that, and then tries to attack me from behind. Even if that’s really sophisticated AI, it’s also a fairly simple system to take… You don’t have to take into account what sort of person this is. You just know that he likes to hide behind barrels. That’s what this person becomes. He’s the barrel-hider. That’s all he does.

But in Outlast, you have this person just staring out a window, and you’re like, shit! Is he going to do anything? Why is he standing there? It’s much harder to get a grip on it. Even if it turns out that he can’t do anything, in that moment when you see him you don’t know that.

What happens to thinking in games, it’s the opposite of reality. The more you interact with a character, the less real and complex they become. They become more and more mechanistic, an automaton. In real life, of course, the more you interact with someone, the more you understand them. But in games it’s the opposite. You have to be very careful about the interactions you’re going to do. That’s why I think it’s interesting to cut back on the actions instead of having this really sophisticated behavior. That sophisticated behavior tends to reveal itself a bit more. If you can tone down the things that the player can do with different creatures, the possibilities in their mind open up a bit.

RPS: When I was playing the demo, because the interactions were so limited, I kind of found a space of safe predictability. There was obviously a lot of very heavy atmosphere, and it was meant to be very unsettling. But once I got into the groove of things, doing the same thing repeatedly, I kind of stopped being quite so afraid.

Grip: I think, to defend the demo a bit, there’s some buildup that’s missing from the demo. We have a bit more that we need to do to fix that. I’ve also seen one of the players that’s played come out to be really upset by this. “Shit! Is something going to happen soon?” He’s starting to panic more and more heavily. For some people this sort of works. But as you say, we have to be careful exactly how we do this. For instance, in the very open-space level you presumably found, where you’re walking on the ocean floor, that’s probably where you found the least interactions allowed. That’s where you sort of got into the groove, right?

RPS: I sprinted through that part [laughs]. By that point, I wasn’t scared at all. I knew nothing was actually going to hurt me. On top of that, the story and the world hadn’t really grabbed me. Nothing stopped me from thinking, “This is just a videogame, just an elaborate funhouse.”

Grip: Ah, oh, you sprinted! You’re playing it wrong! What happens there, actually, is that there are several encounters, but in the demo we misjudged a few things. Some of the players who played, they got all those interactions, the three or four encounters that are supposed to keep you active. If you go off-path too much, though, to go investigate, it can become very deadly. Some of the playtesters did just that, and then you get a much more intense experience. You know, oh, shit, if I go along the wrong path here, something is going to get me.

Whereas if you just go forward and don’t get into it, that’s not going to work as well. It’s a very thin line, because if we constantly bombard you with experiences, that’s just going to get repetitive – oh, I know what’s going to happen. You have to follow that thin thread. That’s something we’ll try to improve more as we work on the game and have more people play it. We’ll see what we can do to make sure everyone winds up in the right space, or as many people as possible.

RPS: I have heard from other Frictionalites that you were pretty influenced by games like Gone Home this time around.

Grip: I wouldn’t say that we were heavily inspired by them, but I had the entire team play it. Everyone’s played it. They used that sort of environmental storytelling – the variations on the different notes you can pick up, the places you can find – in a very good way. It’s a good inspiration from that standpoint.

But it’s also that Gone Home builds on a lot of things that we were inspired by from the past, like the BioShock games and the System Shock series and all those sorts of games. There’s a sort of System Shock heritage there in games that we’re all inspired by. Gone Home is one of those, of course, and it was very interesting to play that game. So yeah, it’s an inspiration, but it’s not like we saw Gone Home and said, yeah, we’re gonna make that! But it’s a very good game. It’s something that has a lot of design lessons to learn from.

RPS: Gone Home’s lineage is very interesting in that respect, where it’s rooted in a lot of triple-A stuff, but it expanded on triple-A design ideas in a much more focused way. I feel like that’s happening a lot with games in general, especially in horror. A lot of horror is moving toward more of the indie side of things. Are there any other indie games that have inspired you?

Grip: Gosh, let me think here. There are tons of indie games that I’ve found inspiration from. Dear Esther is one of those big inspirations. The interesting thing, I felt, with both Gone Home and Dear Esther is that they cut off so much of the fat from a game. You normally think, oh, walking through an environment, that’s not going to be very interesting. I need to have stuff happening all the time. I need to put enemies in here.

That’s what they said about Gone Home. You’re just reading notes for all this time? That’ll get boring pretty quickly. But with those games, you understand that [you can do more with less].These elements are more interesting on their own.

It’s something you can think about when designing games. Okay, now we can have a Dear Esther section, where it’s going to just be about the environment for a little while. Or now it’s going to be a Gone Home section, where you’ll just read notes, and we don’t need to have enemy encounters during that time. It’s a very interesting thing to have in your toolkit.

Other games that are very interesting… A lot of Brendon Chung’s games, like 30 Flights of Loving and Gravity Bone. Those are very interesting, too. They also have that same way of playing, and they’re super interesting. 30 Flights of Loving especially was great in many regards. That’s been an inspirational source. There are so many, I need to poke my brain and see what pops out. You have Proteus where you just walk around in an environment. I find it interesting, just from a design standpoint. It’s sort of like when you’re making experiments. One thing that you want to do is limit the parameters for the experiment, because if you have too many knobs to turn, it’s hard to understand what has and hasn’t been affecting it.

What these games all do – and as you said this is happening a lot in the horror genre – they cut away a lot of things. As a game designer, it’s very interesting to just walk through and feel that – shit, this is working all on its own. There’s a whole game built up from this. You can learn a lot of design lessons from that. Another game that also does that, and has tons of problems along with it as well, is Slender, which I also thought was really interesting. There was another game before that that was called Tide, which has the same sort of premise, where you just walk around picking up notes. It’s also very interesting, a very condensed sort of horror experience. Those have been interesting to play around with.

Check back soon for part two, in which we discuss horror gaming’s massive screamity-scream-scream-about-how-scared-I-am YouTube culture, why Frictional’s choosing to *not* embrace it, procedural generation, and the future of horror gaming. 

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50 Comments »

  1. Utsunomiya says:

    Gone Home and Dear Esther?
    What, we’re going to get another Machine for Pigs, Frictional’s take on a walking simulator?
    Fuck.

    • Anthile says:

      Still wasn’t made by Frictional.

    • Caiman says:

      Now that you’ve successfully read the opening paragraph, perhaps you should read the entire interview where they explain what they mean by those influences, rather than assuming they’re creating a “walking simulator*”? (spoiler, they’re not).

      *the term used by people who like to shoot things in the face when given more challenging gaming experiences.

      • Utsunomiya says:

        Why, yes, the only thing I care about is if I’ll be able to shoot the baddie in the face.
        And I obviously never ever read the article in question.
        “. . . now it’s going to be a Gone Home section, where you’ll just read notes . . . you just walk around picking up notes. . . . a very condensed sort of horror experience.”
        Oh, I’m already on the edge of my seat!

        • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

          It may boggle your mind, but some people are actually reading books and being “on the edge of their seats” so i don’t see why a combination of interactive and noninteractive storytelling should automatically fail to do so.

        • Continuity says:

          I don’t see any good reason to load a game up with mechanics if the developer can achieve the experience they’re aiming for without, sometimes less is more…. and if you want something more mechanics heavy why not go and play one of the tens of thousands of games that have already been created in that paradigm?
          Personally I think there is plenty of room and then some for innovation and experimental design in the games industry.

      • BlankDiploma says:

        Gone Home and Dear Esther are “more challenging gameplay experiences”? More challenging than what, watching paint dry?

        Of all the words you could have used, “Challenging” has got to be one of the worst possible choices.

        • AngelTear says:

          What about (personally/emotionally) engaging? I think that’s more what s/he meant…

          • Distec says:

            It’s bullshit either way though. For every person I’ve heard rave about Dear Esther or Gone Home, I’ve heard another report that they were absolutely unphased by their experiences.

            Of course, those critics are just a bunch of face-shooting neanderthals, right? RIGHT?! That’s an attitude I can do without; as if getting chased by a monster or reading notes on the virtual bedside table makes you a gaming connoisseur.

          • Continuity says:

            Distec there’s no need to be confrontational, some folks liked Dear Esther and some didn’t, where is it written that all much like every game? or even every genre? Its simply a question of taste and expectations, i.e. there is nothing wrong with Dear Esther, its just not what a lot of gamers expect or want, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the right to exist, because there are many of people like me who greatly appreciated the experience.

            I think gaming has grown to the point where we can afford to push the horizons a bit.

          • CookPassBabtridge says:

            Mudslinging aside, I think it is true that Dear Esther’s most vocal critics went in with an expectation. They were sitting in front of their screen, hands in WASD or thumbs poised on sticks, and their brains were primed for videogame emotions of adrenaline, overwhelm, reward, pleasure, or some kind of awestruckness. Video games are great at doling out dollops of challenge / reward, with elements of story and character development and doses of The Epic usually being something that is woven in.

            Dear Esther does not provide those emotions, and it was never designed to. The DE site itself tells you to abandon traditional concepts of games, to “forget the normal rules of play”, yet folks like Totalbiscuit still bemoan its lack of gameplay. That was their expectation. It was designed to be an experiment using the technology of first person games, not A First Person Game. The emotions it aimed to produce were curiosity, isolation, sadness, concern for others, identification with loss, fear of madness and a rising panic over the fate of the person you are following, and to see what happens when those typically movie or story-like elements combine with a sense of agency i.e. not being at the mercy of a director.

            Some desire those admittedly negative emotions. Some people like soap operas, because they like drama. I don’t, but I do seem to enjoy identifying with the pain of others. I identified with someone struggling to come to terms with, but denying, a profound sense of loss. That the first person perspective and control scheme is something I also identify with and enjoy far more than the passivity of a movie made DE a very personal experience. I can understand if this resonance was not there for others, but it should not be criticised on the basis of something it never aspired to: Gameplay.

          • Distec says:

            @Continuity

            I think you have completely misread me. My point was not to criticize those games. They’re not my cup of tea, but I don’t look down on gamers who like them. Although I do think “walking simulator” is pretty apt, if derisive.

            My issue was with the OP’s implication that if you don’t find merit in Dear Esther or Gone Home, you must be some kind of chump that doesn’t “get it”. Or the idea that those titles are somehow a cut above the rest and are more meaningful because… well, just because. I think that attitude totally warrants confrontation.

        • Continuity says:

          Challenging as in out of the ordinary or harder to appreciate/acquired taste. unconventional in a word.

      • Shooop says:

        “Challenging” is wrong in both ways you could use it.

        It’s not difficult to play, or to understand. It’s just plain awful. It’s a game of “find the objects and click on them to hear a sound clip”. And the story it reveals isn’t well-written or interesting. Telltale games can get away with being “press a button to choose the story branch” because they have good writers. Gone Home didn’t.

    • dskzero says:

      It’s funny cause when they get asked about it they bassically say “well I wouldn’t say we were HEAVILY influenced by them”. RPS wtf

  2. Artea says:

    Surely there has to be a way to make survival horror more involved than a hiking simulator with the occasional jump scare.

    Audio logs are, and have always been, dumb. They’re just so contrived and artificial.

    • Anthile says:

      It’s in the lineage. System Shock put audio logs on the map and Bioshock popularized it. Now it’s just something you put in your games because it was in games that sold well without much of a concern for plausibility.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I liked the audio logs in Doom 3. You got some background info and a sense of things starting to get weirder and weirder as time went by.

        • Donjo says:

          Yeah, I thought they were great in Doom 3 – when you get to hell and you figure out that some nerdy scientists had gotten there before you, still trying to be all scientisty even though they’re IN HELL :D

      • The Random One says:

        Audio logs seem to be a good way to tell backstory to the player without cutscenes or exposition. They aren’t, but because they seem to be devs accept them.

    • Dominare says:

      Oh for sure. Doom 3 and System Shock 2, both games set in space with aliens and cyborgs and demons, but holy shit those audio logs killed my suspension of disbelief immediately. So implausible, what *were* they thinking?!

    • BlocParty says:

      I enjoyed Halo 3 : ODST’s audio logs, even if it was an Xbox peasant game, and not part of the golden PC master race.

  3. bosseye says:

    The thing with these sort of games is you do actually have to play them ‘the right way’. The tricky part is getting the player to do that and to stop them sprinting through and certain people just won’t be psychologically herded towards a certain play style so the game is never scary for them, they never quite ‘get it’, they’re always in their comfort zone. Or they’re just less of a shrieking school girl than me, either way.

    Look at Outlast – I’m a complete wimp with dark and creepy games and with the lights off and my headphones in, the first few jump scares crapped me up enough to make me play slowly, carefully, creeping about scanning areas before entering them, heart in mouth, pulse a-poundin’ which meant I became entirely invested in the fiction and I experienced every cunning scare/setup that the developers had presumably been aiming for. It scared me witless basically and I loved it. Compare that to the number of Lets’ Play videos I watched after I’d finished it on Youtube and half of them were sprinting everywhere, cracking gags, looking in the wrong direction for the carefully directed scares……they’re never going to get to the point where they’re playing it in a way that the game is clearly designed for.

    I get the feeling that Soma is going to be the kind of game that requires a certain mindset (an easily susceptible one, prone to over-imagination?) to get the most out of. So it looks and sounds great to me.

    • AngelTear says:

      That is true of most horror *anything*. They must be experienced alone and with the right mindset, and the game can only be considered partially accountable for setting that mindset.

      If there are people around you, or other distractions, or you’re making a LP and therefore always commentating and distancing yourself from what happens, being your public persona, thinking of something interesting and funny to say instead of focusing on the atmosphere, or verbalizing what is happening instead of internalizing etc you’re just going to break the immersion and hardly going to get scared at all.

      Then again, I generally don’t like LPs.

  4. AngelTear says:

    So, you do this and witness these events, and then because you read this interview you can go “hey, now I understand!” So when you play the game and you go to a certain location, this thought will come to mind and you will take this action, and you will realize that was the plan all along. Then you do this and that and the player will fuse with the game and then everything will explode.

    Just say you don’t want to reveal anything next time? =P

    Otherwise, quite interesting interview. They definitely have a lot of ideas that I like on paper, hopefully they can pull it off.

  5. Shooop says:

    Frictional’s previous games had plenty of sections in them that didn’t have any enemies and now they’re pretending it’s revolutionary to have it in Soma?

    And anyone calling Gone Home an inspiration immediately puts up a red flag for their game. There doesn’t have to be things going on all the time, but there needs to be a suggestion that things are happening around you. Otherwise it’s a find-the-objects “game” like Gone Home minus the social commentary – the only reason for the game’s critical reception.

    • Serenegoose says:

      I dunno, usually when something inspires me creatively, I don’t just go and make exactly the same thing. Can’t frictional be inspired by gone home and not just make Gone Home Under The Sea? All it implies is that it made them think about things in a way they hadn’t before.

      • Shooop says:

        What gets me is they chose that for inspiration because it’s the perfect example of what not to do in a narrative-driven game.

        It just waits for the player to click on an object, play a sound clip, and that’s it. Absolutely nothing happens without the player’s initiative, and what does happen is insignificant. The player has to have a concrete role. It doesn’t have to be a singular force that everything else reacts to, it can give you the impression there are things always going on around you whether you see and hear them or not.

        But it has to give you enough agency to do things and go places while at least giving the illusion things are happening all around you. Another great example of a game failing to do that is Deus Ex: HR. There’s supposed to be unrest and upheaval going on in the world, but the areas you’re left to wander in are pristine and still. Take away the TVs broadcasting the news scattered around and you’d never know there’s supposedly a riot going on.

    • dskzero says:

      “RPS: I have heard from other Frictionalites that you were pretty influenced by games like Gone Home this time around.
      Grip: I wouldn’t say that we were heavily inspired by them, but I had the entire team play it. “

      • Shooop says:

        I know that, but it’s still a bad thing to me because Gone Home is one of the worst examples of how to do in-game narrative with static objects.

        It puts you in a situation where there is literally nothing and hopes you’ll pick up the slack and play “find the item”. Absolutely nothing happens without your initiative, and what does happen with it is insignificant. A game needs to put pressure on you to continue, and the ways to do that are by either making you force that everything reacts to (which is how most games work) or by convincing you things are always happening around you whether you see them or not – which would be how a horror game like Soma would work best.

        Otherwise you’re just a spectator who presses a key or two every now and then to move the story along. And the only developer who’s gotten that to work is Telltale because they have such good writers.

        • dskzero says:

          Oh I totally agree. Having Soma turning out into “Gone Home Inside a Deep Sea Base” it’s a frightening idea. That said, in a larger scale, Amnesia has the same elements of Gone Home, except they did make a game based on that, with clues, stuff to do, enemies to dodge, a lively, and interactive environment. You do a lot of walking around and reading in Amnesia, it’s just that you do have a challenge and you do have a purpose. In the end, this just feels like he talks about them just for the hell of it and satisfy RPS need to reminds us of Gone Home.

  6. Gabbo says:

    “Ah, oh, you sprinted! You’re playing it wrong! What happens there, actually, is that there are several encounters, but in the demo we misjudged a few things.”

    This is not what I consider a good response from the developer, even if he tries to clarify it further on. Go back and rethink your design choices for that area (sign posting, etc) or encounter design in general if 'sprinting through' becomes atmosphere/story breaking.

    • Serenegoose says:

      I dunno, to an extent it’s reasonable. If I close my eyes the whole way through a rollercoaster ride and then tell them it was kind of shit, like being queasy and jostled in a supermarket, they can’t go back and redesign it for me, and nor should they. Obviously the problem – which they acknowledged – was that they’d done something wrong that the player had started to sprint through, but if , as a player, you’re obstinately determined to do that, they don’t exactly have options to make it scary regardless.

      • Remer says:

        Thank you. If anything, it was just bad journalism. I don’t know much about how games journalism is conducted, but I feel like Nathan should have felt the need to test the game’s limits by exploring everything. I mean, you can’t really give a full impression of a half-played demo. The fact that he missed SEVERAL monster encounters tells me he did just this – closed his eyes during a rollercoaster ride. Of course it is gonna feel gamey if you tell yourself the entire time “I’m playing a game, I’m playing a game” instead of investing yourself.

  7. dskzero says:

    From the intro: “… and how SOMA’s been pretty profoundly influenced by indie mega-hits like Dear Esther and Gone Home.”

    From the interview:
    “RPS: I have heard from other Frictionalites that you were pretty influenced by games like Gone Home this time around.
    Grip: I wouldn’t say that we were heavily inspired by them, but I had the entire team play it. ”

    Can you please stop trying to shove Gone Home down everybody’s throath?

    • FrumiousBandersnatch says:

      While “pretty profoundly” might be an exaggeration, “shoving down everybody’s throat” is an even worse one.

      • dskzero says:

        I fail to see the purpose of that question other than burning a light under the fans’ collective butts by instilling the fear that this game might suffer the same fate as A Machine for Pigs.

        • AngelTear says:

          Well, I don’t know why this comment section is so one-sided, so, for balance’s sake, I’d like to remind everyone that there are a lot of people, including me, who enjoyed AMFP and held Gone Home in their Top 5 games from last year.

          I for one am seriously intrigued by the ideas they’re displaying, and while execution is always tricky (hey, Binfinite!) I definitely like the theory.

          • dskzero says:

            I *Loved* AMFP but most fans of the original didn’t. I didn’t like Gone Home though.

  8. Fenix says:

    Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason did the “last moment before death” thing. It was a weird Russian game, but it is so criminally underrated it’s kind of sad..

    • Kuromatsu says:

      That game has what I feel to be the best story I’ve seen in any FPS thus far. It actually got me to cry. Not to mention, there are some incredible setpiece moments set throughout. More people need to play this immediately.

    • dskzero says:

      It was also nearly unplayable due to awful optimization and while the set pieces and scripted moments – that movie! – are still amazing, the monsters did wore out their shock factor way too fast. Still quite interesting, just pretty flawed.

  9. BlankDiploma says:

    Ugh, this is incredibly disappointing. After playing the shocking disappointment that was Machine for Pigs, I was holding out hope that SOMA would be a return to form without Chinese Room’s involvement.

    This interview makes it sound like that won’t be the case at all.

    The worst thing about Machine for Pigs (other than the pointless and frustrating removal of an inventory) is that it rapidly became clear that everything was just a spooky roller coaster ride where you’re never in any actual danger. The worst offender was the part where you return to the surface and the town is being raided by monsters, and you’re just free to sort of meander around in total safety while you watch everybody else get murdered right in front of you and the monsters conveniently ignore you. Yawn.

  10. strav says:

    I sure can’t be the only one around here to think that Gone Home is perhaps (with Stanley’s Parable), the most overrated game in the know universe? What really baffles me though is how I keep hearing how innovative this game was. Have those people missed the last 20 years in the video game world? Exploring your environment to find clues and notes that convey the story (in a non linear way) was done in every Myst game (except Myst added interesting puzzles and environments to this lot). How does Gone Home innovate on that? Is it because of it’s dull setting or it’s down-to-earth story? In terms of story telling, it was on par with any cheap teen novel with a slight (oh how edgy!) homosexual undertones? Am I missing something here?

    Still, I think I see what Frictional’s dev are referring to when they speak of Gone Home and Dear Esther (how pompous that monologue was, I ask you) as influences. Those games, despite me thinking that they are total failures, took a bold step outside the usual “gamification” mechanisms to offer an experience where what you ought to do is not explicitly defined. You are free to evolve in the environnement, at your own pace and in some way, if well done, this might very well lead to a better sense of immersion. Actually, even if referring to Gone Home and Dear Esther raise serious flags in my mind, I can see that Frictional’s devs are making a substantial effort in creating a mind set that would lay the foundation for a truly poignant experience. As they hinted at in the interview, Amnesia didn’t had the best graphics of the time but, at least to me, it was one of the most intense game immersion I ever experienced simply because of how the setting made me paranoid about every little sound I could hear. In making the gameplay more subtle, less predictable by for instance, blurring the line between hostile and non-hostile encounters and giving the game a more ambient setting, I believe they might very well be able to create an experience that would be as novel as Amnesia (the dark descent) was at it’s time – that is, if they succeed.

    For full disclosure: I’m not exactly the FPS/ARPG guy who get’s bored if my mouse click frequency gets below 25 cps. I’m actually a big time Myst fan, I enjoy new gaming paradigms such as what TellTale has been doing with the Walking Dead and I crave stuff like Anti-Chamber, The Swappe, etc. Still, I cannot understand why people praise stuff like Gone Home.

  11. IgneousPapyrusBlunderbuss says:

    Calm down everyone, Jesus. It was the interviewer who brought up Gone Home to begin with and even then he was like “yeah it was good it has some good ideas that might be similar to our game in some fashion.” Based on the rest of the interview and what he was talking about I don’t see how this game will be anything like Gone Home. Do people here even read these things before commenting, because from what it looks like everyone just saw the sensationalist headline and the give their hysterics-ridden 2 cents.

    And everyone who was also afraid that he liked Dear Esther… well what the hell did you expect? If he didn’t like it why would he have The Chinese Room develop a game for them in the first place. Do you think he’s gonna be like “oh no, look at all the backlash A Machine for Pigs got, I realize now that Dear Esther was a terrible game and we should never have partnered with The Chinese Room.” I got no indication here this is going to be a DE-like experience. I mean, I have no idea what the game will be like, but really I’m just sick of people who won’t stop whining about The Chinese Room and games like Gone Home. They may not be for you but they have their place in the gaming lexicon so you all should just *sunglasses slowly levitate downward* deal with it.

    • strav says:

      Speaking for myself, I genuinely wish to know what the fuss about Gone Home/Dear Esther is all about, what have I missed? And then, from what’s been said in the interview, I believe I understand how those games may have affected Soma’s design. Of course, the reason why there’s such a strong reaction about Gone Home or Dear Esther influencing Soma, is I believe because those games, despite their conceptual innovation where seen by many as utter failures.

      Now I guess the big question is: can this “ambient”, slow-paced/nearly dull exploration type of gaming can really succeed in being an asset to an enjoyable game? I tend to think that yes but as I’ve hinted in my post, this is a special kind of challenge (where many people might perhaps just “play it wrong”).

  12. whydidyoumakemeregister says:

    Hadn’t heard about this until now but I’m definitely looking forward to it. It’s a shame the comments here seem like two steps backwards for videogames-as-an-artform in the public eye. You’d think readers of this site would realize that inspiration comes from everything, and just because you dislike a game the developer likes doesn’t mean you should write off their creative output entirely.

  13. starmatt says:

    Where is p2 qq

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