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SOMA Update, New Trailer: Crafting Survival Horror on PS4

Thomas Grip's Avatar + Posted by Thomas Grip on Mar 05, 2014 // Creative Director, Frictional Games

Time for a little update on how SOMA is doing. (A brief summary for those who don’t already know: SOMA is a sci-fi horror game from the creators of Amnesia: The Dark Descent that will tackle unsettling questions about consciousness. It will be released on PS4 in 2015.)

Before I get started, I should say a few words about the new teaser trailer, “Theta”. This video showcases a few in-game scenes along with fresh voice work. Our hope is to give you a taste of the feel and atmosphere that SOMA will have. It also contains a few clues on what the game’s story will be about.


SOMA’s current status

We are currently about a week away from the alpha of the game. This is a build in which a bit more than half of the full game is playable. It’s currently clocking in at around 5 hours, meaning the final game will end up at 8 hours or so.

A game like SOMA is a bit different to have in alpha than most other games. Normally, a game relies on a core mechanic that creates the basic engagement. While graphics and sound are important, you can mostly test the game pretty early on with only temporary assets in place. This lets you get a feel for the game at a very early stage. Not so for us.

We can play our game at last!

SOMA doesn’t rely on a core gameplay loop – such as shooting baddies or jumping platforms – to create a sense of fun. Instead, you’ll take part in a wide range of activities; it’s impossible to narrow it down to one. You’ll search for notes, solve puzzles, hide from dangers, explore unsettling places, take part in strange events and sometimes just run away. All of these come together with the graphics and soundscape to create a larger whole. This means that we couldn’t properly test SOMA without having all of these things implemented in a fairly final state. Making matters worse is the fact that the game lets things take their time; slowly building up the atmosphere, narrative and themes. It is hard to condense all this into a short prototype; a large chunk of the game is required.

Because of this, we haven’t been able to get a feel for how SOMA plays until very recently. The alpha is our first opportunity to really find out what the game is like. This means that we’ve had to take a lot of the design on faith, simply hoping that it’ll all work out. So it came as a great relief to us – when we’d managed to pull together everything for a pre-alpha test a few weeks ago – to find out that the game does hang together.

This doesn’t mean that we’re totally happy with everything. Now that we know how our game plays, we also know what needs to be fixed. There are a number of goals that we wanted to hit with SOMA, and now marks the first time we can properly evaluate how well we’re doing with them.

SOMA on PS4

Goal 1: The feeling of playing a narrative

It’s important that SOMA is constantly drenching the player in storytelling. We need to make sure there is always a red thread of narrative running through the game. We don’t want you to say “Oh, here comes a puzzle section”, but to constantly feel as if you are being told an interactive story. Getting this right is tricky as there still needs to be some challenge in progressing, but not so much that solving a difficult puzzle becomes your sole focus. Now that we’re close to alpha it’s possible for us to test this and tweak where needed.

Goal 2: A coherently crafted world

When creating Amnesia our setting was basically just “Old castle where supernatural stuff happens”. This allowed us to get away with just about anything and explain it with “because, magic”. But in SOMA we are building a world that is supposed to be tied into the real world and to make sense. Our goal here is to make proper sci-fi and not just a magical fantasy with futuristic designs.

This raises a whole load of issues that we might not have cared about in Amnesia. Puzzles that don’t make sense in the world, tech levels that vary throughout the game, basic physics principles that are broken and so forth. When you have a large part of the game playable a lot of these become visible, and we intend to squash them all!

Goal 3: Gameplay with plenty of variation

As mentioned above, SOMA does not rely on a core gameplay loop. There is a very good reason for this: we don’t want the player to become too fixated on figuring out the game’s underlying abstract systems. We want players to approach the game from how it looks, sounds and feels. In order for this to work the game’s different scenes can’t have the same setup, as that would make you familiar with how everything works. Instead, we need to keep things fresh and avoid repeating ourselves.

Now that we are in alpha we can more easily identify patterns and similarities in scenarios. If anything overstays its welcome it needs to be replaced by something else.

Goal 4: Deep, disturbing themes that make you think

A crucial design goal for us is to allow a deep exploration of what it means to be a sentient being. The first step towards doing this is to make sure that SOMA’s gameplay, plot, characters and setting reflect the subjects we want to discuss. If you approach the game in the right way, some seriously unsettling implications should be become clear.

And here lies the problem. Are we getting through to you in the right way? Will the really interesting details just rush past you, or will you stop and give them some serious consideration? What’s crucial here is that we don’t simply spell everything out for you, but that you can come to conclusions on your own. These sorts of things take a while to come together, and it’s not until this alpha that we’ll get a clear idea as to how it is working out.

Goal 5: A pervasive sense of horror

Finally, the game should be utterly terrifying. We do not want you to calmly stroll through the various environments; it must be emotionally tasking to progress. We want this blanket of oppression and fear wrapped around the entire experience. Sustaining this through eight or so hours takes some finesse – if we repeat something too often, you’ll get used to it and be able to predict upcoming events. The buildup must take time without becoming dull, and there needs to be a nice rhythm of ups and downs throughout the journey.

All of these are things that we’ve had a hard time getting a grip on until now. Now we can playtest a complete experience. A task that requires a dark room, a pair of headphones, an empty house and a tired, slightly hallucinating developer. You can’t leave this up to reports from your playtesters, you must experience the atmosphere firsthand to truly understand it.

The road left to travel

That should give you a good sense of the kinds of issues we’re currently struggling with. Hopefully it has also given you a bit more insight into what kind of game SOMA is.

We still have a long way to go; SOMA is still a year or so away from its 2015 release. We feel we are on the right track though, and we think this is shaping up to be our studio’s best work so far — by a wide margin.

Oh, and sometime soon, we’re going to reveal a big secret about SOMA. Keep your eyes open for it!

//Add Your Own

24 Comments   3 Replies

1

+ TimboJames on March 5th, 2014 at 6:13 am said:

You guys had me with the first trailer. Looking forward to this one even more now!


2

+ maxcoronel2014 on March 5th, 2014 at 6:19 am said:

Looks very promising. Love the atmosphere. Cant wait to give it a try.


3

+ Goniloc on March 5th, 2014 at 6:22 am said:

Looks awesome, Amnesia was incredible, as was Penumbra. This looks to be no exception.


4

+ charleschannels on March 5th, 2014 at 6:25 am said:

True survival horror FTW!!!


5

+ tokyopunchout on March 5th, 2014 at 6:31 am said:

It’s very humbling to show your hand this way and be so forward with your goals. Brava! Rooting for ya’ll to nail it!


6

+ Kevorcist on March 5th, 2014 at 6:38 am said:

Oh boy another Metro, Half-life clone. Oh boy. You say it’s coming out in 2015. Well, that will give you a lot of time to come up with something new.


7

+ thesuzukimethod on March 5th, 2014 at 7:35 am said:

I am intrigued to see what your approach leads to in terms of a finished game….reminds me a bit of the way Miasmata had exploration with a sense of impending danger/horror. So much better than silly environmental jump scares! Excited to see where this takes you…

lol @Kevorcist. baseless internet snark FTL!


8

+ SarshelYam on March 5th, 2014 at 7:36 am said:

What an incredibly intimate look at the development process. I’ve watched and read many development diaries, but the commentary here is a breath of fresh air. I remember seeing SOMA about a year ago in trailer form, and even then it looked incredibly exciting simply in terms of atmosphere. To say this is on my radar would be a colossal understatement. I wait, with bated breath, for more.


    Thomas Grip's Avatar

     

    + Thomas Grip on March 5th, 2014 at 9:52 am said:

    Glad to hear you liked the post!

    We have always tried to be upfront with our thoughts on design, developments, etc as much possible. It can actually be quite big help to state your goals out in the open. Part because then you need to think deeper about it when need to write it down and explain it to others. Part because you feel much more obligated to live up to what you have said.

    If you are interested in more like this, you might like the design posts on our blog:
    http://frictionalgames.blogspot.se/search/label/design


9

+ LordRaoh on March 5th, 2014 at 7:38 am said:

I’ve been anxious to play this game since I heard about it a few months back. 2015 seems so far away. Any chance of getting Amnesia: The Dark Descent released on PS4 as well?


10

+ reson8er on March 5th, 2014 at 7:54 am said:

2015 feel so far away :(


11

+ Vamphaery on March 5th, 2014 at 8:57 am said:

I trust Amnesia to construct a horrific experience.

@ Kevorcist You are evidently unfamiliar with Frictional’s history and pedigree. This game, I assure you, will have nothing to do with Half Life of Metro. That you cite Metro suggests you have a less than lengthy history with PC horror gaming. Metro is a quasi-RPG with action elements and a sense of fear. Half Life is an action-adventure RPG hybrid with combat elements. This could not be farther from that (as should be obvious based on the “lack of a gameplay loop” mentioned in the article.)

Check out Penumbra and Amnesia and you’ll begin to get the idea.


12

+ GREEK13 on March 5th, 2014 at 9:05 am said:

Why do we need to verify our age on most of these “mature” videos? Nothing in that video would substantiate a mature rating (even if the actual game is mature).


13

+ wanderjahr on March 5th, 2014 at 10:16 am said:

Def super excited for this!


14

+ Kchow23 on March 5th, 2014 at 10:53 am said:

2015!?


15

+ tusunami on March 5th, 2014 at 12:04 pm said:

Well now you can never get enough of survival horror games. As long as there done right that is, I look forward to more info on this game.


16

+ tonydamiani on March 5th, 2014 at 1:26 pm said:

Me likez! <3


17

+ brooklynzak on March 5th, 2014 at 3:07 pm said:

Thanks Thomas. I’d just like to echo @SarshelYam and say how much I appreciate your detailed, behind-the-scenes look at game development. I’m reading your “In the Games of Madness” blog (like the reference) and enjoying it even more. Best of luck with your project – look forward to checking it out in person next year!


    Thomas Grip's Avatar

     

    + Thomas Grip on March 5th, 2014 at 11:24 pm said:

    Thanks! We are looking forward releasing it to all of you next year as well! :)


18

+ janiclol on March 5th, 2014 at 3:14 pm said:

Thanks for keeping Survival Horror alive.


19

+ poodude on March 5th, 2014 at 3:20 pm said:

Oh God, I’m so hyped for this game. Probably my most anticipated PS4 release. So happy you guys were able to bring it to consoles.


    Thomas Grip's Avatar

     

    + Thomas Grip on March 5th, 2014 at 11:25 pm said:

    We are also super excited to get a console release. Feels like we are finally proper game developers! :)


20

+ iREVOLTER on March 6th, 2014 at 3:29 am said:

How about releasing Amnesia to PS4 sometimes in 2014? Pretty please :)

p.s: Love me some SOMA on PS4.


21

+ Major_Hoare on March 6th, 2014 at 6:35 am said:

Are you invited to a Scientology conference once you finish this game?


22

+ luvtoseek on March 6th, 2014 at 12:10 pm said:

I LOVE scary, psychological games! Thanks, Frictional!


23

+ ieatwaxoffcards on March 8th, 2014 at 4:20 am said:

I really liked outlast but i hope they don’t make SOMA some tuff to do puzzle game. I like to be scared the way outlast did it run hide keep moving with keys you find. This game could be really good if they copy what they did with better looking faces and tapes telling you the story of what happened or what not. I don’t know much about this game but the clips i seen don’t look that great and no one wants to be bogged down with puzzles non stop. Ill keep an eye on it because i do like horror games and the graphics do look good just hope they dont mess it up making it an puzzle game.


24

+ Staticks on March 12th, 2014 at 6:16 am said:

Amnesia was an incredible game–one of the best, most atmospheric survival-horror games ever. So I fully expect SOMA to be something special. Frictional games is an extremely talented developer; been fans of theirs for years now.


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