Thursday, 3 September 2015

Top Three Questions About SOMA

First up, here's a new trailer for SOMA that shows off some of the environments:



Now I'm going to answer three common questions that we've seen all over the internet:

1) Is SOMA scarier than Amnesia: The Dark Descent?
We think that SOMA is just as scary, if not even more so, but in a different fashion.

In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, there's constant oppression that starts from the get go, peaks somewhere half-way through, and then continues until the end. What you get is a game that's very nerve-wracking, but which also becomes numbing after while. It's pretty common for players to feel the game loses much of its impact halfway through. SOMA is laid out a bit differently. At first it relies more on a mysterious and creepy tone, slowly ramps up the scariness, and peaks pretty late in the game.

Another aspect is that SOMA's horror relies a lot on the player starting to understand the underlying subjects we're exploring. These elements will be present from the very start, and then as the game progresses you'll encounter them in increasingly disturbing situations; things which seem trivial at the start of the game will become much more deeply entangled with your own story later in the game.

It's also important to point out that SOMA relies on very different scare tactics. In Amnesia the focus was on having a "haunted house"-style ride where creepy supernatural things could pop up any point. Most of the scares were all about inducing primal "afraid of the dark"-like responses. SOMA, on the other hand, derives much of its horror from the subject matter. The real terror will not just come from hard-wired gut reactions, but from thinking about your situation and the events that unfold from it.

2) Will SOMA have proper puzzles?
Short answer: Yes. It will have puzzles similar to those in Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

Long answer: While SOMA does have a bunch of puzzles, they are designed a bit differently.

First, the puzzles in SOMA have been designed to flow along with the narrative. Our goal is for you to never feel like puzzles have been added merely to provide some extra padding. We want them to feel as an integral part of the experience. For example, in one area we have a door that needs to be opened. But there is also a communications device that runs off the same power source as the door, so the puzzle-goal becomes entangled with a narrative one. On top of that, you also need to take part in a creepy activity in order to get the power running. This means that solving the puzzle is far from a purely mechanical exercise, but includes a strong sense of narrative too. Just about all of the puzzles are structured along similar lines.

Second, many puzzles are spiced up with some kind of hard decision, making them a lot less straightforward to solve. For instance, in one scene you need to decide whether you want to inflict terrible pain on a robot, or take your chances with the warning signs that the former residents of Pathos have left for you. Which one to choose?

Third, the complexity of the puzzles will rise as the game progresses. The reason for this is to give the player some time to understand the world and their place in it. And then when that's established we start to demand a bit more from the players, and crank the difficulty up a bit. This doesn't mean that the game becomes all about puzzle-solving, though, it just means that we include more elements that you need to keep track of, we make the world more open, and we hold your hand less. Puzzles will be an integral part of the game's narrative from start to finish.

3) How is the story told?

The storytelling in SOMA has both an active and a passive part. The active part is the narrative that unfolds that as you play the game. These are the things that happen to you as a player and what the gameplay is built around. On top of that is the passive part, that tells you about past events. It's told through notes, pictures, terminals, audio and the environment itself.

An important thing to note is that the passive part is almost completely optional. It'll obviously give you a much greater understanding of the game's world and lore but it's not our major means of getting the story across. This is very different from Amnesia: The Dark Descent where reading the diary entries scattered across the game was crucial for understanding what was going on. This means that you are free to choose how much you want to invest into uncovering all of the backstory. For instance, you could choose to only check the fragmentary audio buffers of intercoms, and just skim any notes. Or you could decide to find everything in one area, but skip most in another. The game has been designed to support a variety of play styles and still give a complete experience, but we hope you'll find that by immersing yourself in the world of SOMA your story experience will be considerably enhanced.

There is also a big emphasis on making everything coherent. You won't find any haphazardly strewn notes, documents or props in SOMA; everything is there for a reason. This to the point where you can get story information from merely pondering the placement of a book or a picture on a desk.

SOMA is easily the most story-heavy game we have made so far. But unlike our other titles, a major part of that story comes from simply playing the game.


10 comments:

  1. I have to say that I really love reading your posts about puzzles and narrative; what you describe here is really helping me taking some decisions about my own game.
    I wish your games where not as scary because I can only play sparsely, I really have to think twice before launching them ... :p

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  2. Thanks for answering these questions!

    Sounds like it might just tick all the right boxes provided it doesn't focus too strongly on story without the interaction required to make it fun to play. I understand some want those sort of interactive experiences but personally I prefer to feel that I've actually accomplished something that required some effort (i.e. I wasn't just lead through a story heavy walking simulator that my seven year old could accomplish) - after all The Dark Descent required a bit of mental power as opposed to A Machine for Pigs.

    Either way I'm pretty sure (okay mostly optimistic) that this is going to be a lot better than that piggy game I wanted to love.

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  3. great read, thanks guys.

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  4. Looks great!! Keep it up!! :D

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  5. This sounds fantastic! A lot of the issues I had with Amnesia stemed from its lack of environmental storytelling and excessive reliance on notes to get the story across.

    That's not to say that I wouldn't go out exploring every inch of the castle, soaking-in the awesome atmosphere you guys created, but it's just great to hear about all the effort that went into implementing as much narrative significance as possible, within SOMA's mechanics themselves and its environment.

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  6. Will SOMA run on Windows 8 or 8.1?

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