Monday, 29 June 2015

What We Showed At E3

So this year we went to E3 for first time and did two things we have never done before.

First, we took part in an E3 show, the PC Gaming Show, and showed off a brand new trailer. You can watch that trailer here:




This showcases the player's first encounter with a type of creature that roams this part of the game, and gives some hints on how to best deal with them. This clip is a bit shorter than we wanted it to be and therefore misses some build-up and is a bit hurried. But one minute was all we were allowed for the show. Still, hope you all liked it!

Second, we showed off a public demo of the game (something we only did after release for previous games).

Choosing a demo for SOMA proved to be quite difficult as we wanted to have something that we felt represented the game properly without giving away lots of spoilers. The problem is that SOMA is not the sort of game that can be easily explained in a short session. For E3 we had to make it last 15 - 20 minutes, which for us is really short indeed.

SOMA is a slow burn experience with a primary focus on the exploration of high-level concepts. Trying to showcase this is very different from showing off a game that is about exploring an environment or one that's focused on a set of core mechanics - in those sort of games it's much easier to find a short segment that serves as a good example. But for SOMA, that sort of segment really doesn't exist. SOMA is designed to carefully introduce the player to a variety of concepts and to ease the player into a certain kind of atmosphere and state of mind.

The best solution would have been to do a special map, similar to how we did with the announcement video. That way we could have tried to condense the intended experience into a shorter level. But this takes a lot of time. Setting up the announcement video took several weeks. Doing one meant for public demoing would take even longer as we'd have to make sure it was bug free and that the gameplay worked as intended. So the next best thing was to take something from the game and modify it slightly to avoid big spoilers.

But the problem was: what section from the game should we use? As I noted above, SOMA takes its time to establish concepts and atmosphere, and any 15 minute segment we just chopped out would lack the context needed to properly understand the situation at hand and to be immersed in it.

Our first plan was simply to take one of our more intense monster sequences. That would provide a quick demo that was easy to get into and would provide a thrilling experience. But the issue was that we then would fail to showcase what's special about our game. The game would just look like yet another "run from the monster"-ordeal, and making sure that people understand that SOMA is something way beyond this is very important to us.

So after much discussion we decided to rip the latter half of a level that is about 1-2 hours into the game. This part would showcase player choices, environmental storytelling, our philosophical aspects, provide an underwater revelation at the end and (if the player chose to take a particular path) would have a short monster encounter.

However, our choice of demo was not perfect. Most importantly, by itself, this part of the game isn't particularly scary. This in part is because the demo lacks a lot of the intended build-up, and in part because it wasn't (apart from a final monster encounter) designed to be all that frightening. And while SOMA doesn't focus on "run from monsters", it is a horror game and we are very much intending to induce terror in our players. Therefore it felt annoying to have a demo that didn't bring home that aspect. But still, making players whimper from fear is not really a unique concept any more, so given the choice, it felt much more important to give a taste of the disturbing feel our themes give rise to.

Another issue was that our demo took place in a section of game that we'd already showed off in our release date reveal trailer (check it out here). I think this has led to a bit less coverage than we'd have had otherwise. There was quite a bit of new stuff that players could do in the demo, such as checking out black boxes on corpses, interacting in different ways with "Carl" the robot, exploring the computer system etc. and a previously unseen sequence at the end. But the demo still took place in the same locale and all of the major elements were still the same.

That said, I feel we did the best we could given the constraints we had. And judging from the reactions that we got at E3, people enjoyed it quite a lot and almost all the players came away with the right impression. Both Ian and Aaron (the Frictional Games team members that attended E3) were actually quite surprised how well most people picked up on our deeper aspects. This despite playing the game under far from optimal conditions (a well-lit, loud and crowded room is not all that great for games that thrive on immersion and introspection). Again, just like in our last round of testing, the way people connect to the themes in SOMA went way better than expected, and that makes us even more even more thrilled to unleash our creation on the world!

On that note, SOMA is less than three months from release now! So close!


23 comments:

  1. Looking forward to the release! I'm glad it went well for you guys at E3!

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  2. I'm very proud of you Frictional Games!
    Though there will be a playable demo that will be available to download soon?

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    Replies
    1. Afraid we will probably skip a demo, due to it just being to hard to make one. See the blog post for reasons why :)

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    2. Alrighty then, thanks for replying! Can't wait to play it :)

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    3. Couldn't you simply release the demo you showed at E3?

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    4. I don't think they could, since the demo won't get a lot of interest if it's the same one, and this demo is not perfect anyway.

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  3. Can't wait for SOMA! I love all your games. You know how to create a REAL horror game! I already know SOMA is going to be great!

    When can I pre-order SOMA?

    Will it be DRM-Free + a Steam Key (humble store)?

    Will there be a physical edition for PC?

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    Replies
    1. - pre-order: 1 - 2 months before release

      - game will be on steam and possibly GOG and Humble, not decided yet.

      - Physical edition would be awesome, but not worth it financially and no time to set something up. Perhaps later.

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  4. Replies
    1. We'll announce that along with pre-order

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  5. Hey Thomas,will SOMA be focused on "jumpscaring" or more on psychological way?I really like "empathy" between main character and robot that is showed in E3 Gameplay Teaser.I noticed also when a player is focused too much on enemy,he notices you and start chasing you.You guys really "upgraded" horror genre in loong way! And about modding customs.Will scripting be easier than previous one in Amnesia?

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    Replies
    1. quick answers:
      - focus is on psychological horror
      - scripting will be easier!

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  6. The bassoons are coming!

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  7. Will you release the demo? I'm not sure I will be able to withstand the scariness of the full game, but I would still like to have some of the experience.

    I bought all your previous games, and will probably buy this one too, but so far I only played the beginning of Penumbra while scouting ahead with lets play videos.

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    Replies
    1. I'm afraid we will not release any demo.

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  9. Mr.Thomas, I dont know how to ask this question, but, how scary is this game compared to Outlast, Amnesia:TDD, Alien Isolation ?

    Is this on par with Outlast or does the horror exceed even more than that ?

    Im picking up vibes form Soma, of a twist in the end, but, i hope its shocking and not obvious, to everyone. :(

    Im really excited for this game, and i want you devs and the game to get as much public recognition and fame as other games and their devs, and even more. :)

    I hope Soma scares everyone and appeals to wide audience... :)


    ---Sandy---

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  10. Will you please provide an option to play the game with the scariness turned off? I would really like to explore the environment and the story without the creepy music and sound effects and with the monsters being inert. It looks really interesting, but I'm just no good with horror.

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  11. I keep thinking that the main character is himself a machine that stole the identity of a human. according the the videos he has a human body, but we know that the human machines the player encounters all think of themselves as humans and see their own body as a human body, comically waving around mechanical parts and calling them arms.

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  12. I know you guys liked the work of the Chinese Room, so perhaps your next game could be a dark descent into the ill mind, like their original game Korsakovia.

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  13. I hope it still brings the scares like the first Amnesia did. I love story focus, but Machine for Pigs (that I know you didn't develop) didn't evoke any real emotion in me. The fear of monsters around every corner in The Dark Descent sparked my imagination to fill in the blanks for all the torture sections all the better. Machine for Pigs dulled my imagination by having nothing for me to do but walk and that made the story less interesting too.

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  14. I'm wondering, was The Shadow and these robotic growths that we're being shown in SOMA inspired by Lovecraft's title for Nyalrthrotep, The Crawling Chaos?

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  15. I am so looking forward to this game. I've just finished reading all posts on this forum. Your insights on how to create horror and what direction horror games should try to go to is very close to my own opinions on the topic. I find that you are frequently very unforgiving on really great games you review but I understand that to go forward and truly evolve the medium you have to be unforgiving (even about your own games) so that we are not stuck repeating the errors of the past and the present.
    Your posts about the 4-layer approach are eye opening, but still very abstract so I am really curious to see how you've managed to implement it all in SOMA.

    On an unrelated note how do you create your levels in terms of scale. I find myself constantly having to distort the rooms (say if I am modelling a house) to be much more wide and long then they would be in the original blue print. I always find that using real world measures creates very small looking rooms. How do you get over this at frictional games.

    Thanks you for your attention, for your dedication to your craft and keep up the excellent work.
    Ricardo Mota

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