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SOMA: The 5-Year Design and Development of a Sci-Fi Horror game from the Amnesia devs

Verger

Banned
Jun 19, 2014
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0
A short, but yet another positive preview: http://www.hardcoregamer.com/2015/08/20/the-underwater-horror-apocalypse-of-soma/163326/
SOMA is Frictional Games’ new atmospheric horror game, and their first since 2010’s Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Like their previous game it trades more on a sense of dread and fear rather than throwing dozens of monsters your way. The terrible beasts are relatively scarce but incredibly dangerous, so fear is built by the dark hallways filled with decaying machinery and the remains of those who once worked there. Almost as bad as the dead is finding those who are still sort of alive, kept in stasis by weird machinery grafted to their bodies and plugged into the nearest power source.

...

I can say that the pieces start coming together relatively early. The preview build is only the first third of the game but, while there are many mysteries left to solve, the pacing of the story elements that explain what’s happened has been satisfying enough that I’m looking forward to learning more. SOMA is an oppressive and dark horror game, yes, but it’s also a well-paced story (at least as far as I’ve seen) that easily drags you from one plot point to another no matter how uninviting the next area may be.

...

SOMA is a deliberately-paced underwater science fiction horror story, beautiful and foreboding, and maybe a little hopeful despite the terrors that have been inflicted on the survivors.

I was often hoping that Frictional could meld the Gameplay and Designs of The Dark Descent with the Narration and Story of A Machine for Pigs. And it sounds like they may have succeeded in doing so.
 

https://www.facebook.com/2124162754...085441.544298.212416275440/10156032424945441/
Next week will be the last one before the games goes into Content Lock. After this, no new non-trivial content can be added to the game. Instead, all efforts will solely focus on bug fixing, tweaking details and low-level optimization. Having this kind of lock is vital as things that might seem really simple additions could have ramifications that cause all sort of unforeseen consequences. In the final weeks leading up to release, you want to make sure that you only fix issues and not cause new ones.

Because of this, work has been extra gruelling the last few weeks as everyone wants to add their final stuff before we reach the point when this is impossible. Things are looking really good though, and we should basically have every single bit of content in the game by now. This means that next week will act more as a buffer zone in case something unexpected shows up, instead of a frantic race against time.

While the game is pretty much done content-wise, there's still a lot of other content to do. We need to prepare for the final stretch of PR. This entails making videos, art for the stores, sending out press releases, coordinating various sources, making review builds and so forth. There will plenty of work for us all the way to the end.

After such a long development time, five whole years, it feels insane to be this close to the finishing line. In just a month we will have unleashed our game, and all of you will be able to play it!
 

Soyongdori

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Mar 9, 2012
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This will be their redemption title for passing over their Amnesia sequel to the company that is responsible for turning it into another Dear Esther/Gone Home.
 

Fractal

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Mar 25, 2014
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I pre-ordered Machine for Pigs and sadly walked away disappointed. Still, don't think I can go wrong with this one, will pre-order as well.
 

Funyarinpa

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Jul 8, 2014
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I am going to buy this ASAP because the setting looks amazing, then I won't bat a second eye at anything because I will be busy shitting my pants.

It will be glorious.
 

Brannon

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Jun 7, 2004
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It's a horror game, so I refuse to look at anything pertaining to it until release and will only play it at night with headphones.

And it will be glorious.
 

SugarDave

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Apr 11, 2014
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Adore the atmosphere in the screens and art. I'm terrible with horror but I have to give this a shot.
 
Mar 15, 2014
490
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Looks great...can't beat that price for a new release. And somewhere between 8-11 hrs for a playthrough is the perfect length I think.
 

Melchiah

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Sep 21, 2006
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This was just posted on Frictional's FB site.



SOMA has now reached content lock mode!

This means that we will no longer be adding any new content, except for really trivial things (eg some new menu detail). The remaining time will be spent testing, doing minor tweaks, fixing bugs, take care of any certification issues we get from Sony and some more testing.

We can also confirm that the game seems to run smoothly on just about any computer we throw it at. If we lower the settings a bit, we can get it to run on integrated intel cards, an ultrabook, a mac book air and other not-very-beefy setups. It is without a doubt the best optimized game we have ever made.

On PS4 the game will be running at a steady 30FPS in 1080p with all quality settings on highest.

Finally, here are some stats from SOMA:
4113 entity files
8984 textures
6240 meshes
914 animations

And most important of all:
2312 footstep sounds.
 

wouwie

Member
Dec 7, 2007
2,593
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Having watched some videos and not being familiar with previous games from the developer, i'm wondering what type of horror game this actually is as i didn't watch anything scary (such as jumpscares) iirc. Is it more horror/dark in atmosphere than straight horror? It seems like a totally different horror than for example Outlast (which isn't my thing).
 

Tarin02543

Member
Oct 14, 2007
2,683
677
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footsteps? footsteps!

I hope we also get alot of physics play. In Amnesia you could fill up drawers with books and stuff, Machine for Pigs didn't have that.

Hope it returns for soma
 

Melchiah

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SOMA - Environments Trailer
https://youtu.be/1jQQAVMxbkA

And few questions answered on their FB site:
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.
 

Auctopus

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Apr 6, 2014
13,921
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Can't wait.

Funnily enough, Outlast got me into this style of game and since then it's definitely become one of my favourite genres. I'm currently about a 1/4 of the way through Alien Isolation and will probably finish it off around Halloween but I'm gonna get right down to this at the end of the month.
 
Oct 2, 2012
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www.samueljustice.net
New trailer and blog post

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jQQAVMxbkA

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.



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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nCBd4fmcuWY

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!
 
Oct 2, 2012
251
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www.samueljustice.net
New monsters trailer and blog
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26vIpVjCh9g

http://blog.us.playstation.com/2015/09/10/5-ways-the-creatures-stay-creepy-in-soma-on-ps4/

1.) Creatures Have A Varying Degree of Hostility
It’s quite common for creatures in games to simply just run at the player as soon as they spot them. Not so in SOMA. Here, some creatures might just stand and stare at you for a while. Others will ignore you until you disturb them. Some might not be dangerous at all — or at least, not in a dangerous mood right now.
But the kicker is that you as a player will never know, and will constantly be pondering what might be the case for each creature that you see. Because of this players will build a more complex mental model of each creature, fueling their imagination.

2.) AI and Tactics Vary for Each Creature Type
When you first encounter a creature, your imagination runs wild trying to figure out how it might behave. A vivid mental image is built up and the creature feels really scary. But after a while you start noticing patterns, the monsters become more of a gameplay object and much of the dread is lost.
In order to combat this, we have made sure that different types of creature have completely different tactics. For example, one type of creature forces you to avoid eye contact, some creatures react to your movement speed, others only to sound, and so forth. This ensures that you are always out of your comfort zone.

3.) Creatures Are Used Sparingly
We also make sure that you never get too familiar with a creature. Each type of creature is only encountered a few times in the whole game, and you are never given enough time to fully figure them out. Instead you need to rely on narrative clues: things you find in notes or are told by other characters and so forth. Again, this makes sure that players are forced to use more of their imagination.

4.) Obscure Damage System
Normally a game gives you a life bar and it is pretty clear how many hits you can take before going down. But in SOMA it is much less deterministic. Sometimes an attack will barely make a scratch, sometimes it will knock you down and force you to crawl out of danger, and other times you will die on the first hit.
 

faridmon

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Dec 6, 2008
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HOLY SHIT!

How come no game have tried to implement situational enemies before?

Everything about this game sounds amazing. Too bad I can't play Horror games due to me being born as a coward and wuss :(
 

Melchiah

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The SOMA OT is coming together nicely

So excited for this game. I've never finished Amnesia, but sci fi horror makes anything a must-play for me and everything that devs have said, from the cerebral horror approach to the carefully paced enemy encounters, sounds perfect

Looking forward to see the OT.

I love sci-fi horror as well, it's just a damn shame there's slim pickings when it comes to quality representatives of the sub-genre in games (and movies).
 

Guymelef

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Sep 19, 2007
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Frictional Games ‏@frictionalgames

Quick #SOMA Facts #1:
- $30 on PC & PS4
- ~10 hours of playtime
- Live on Steam 22nd, 9.00 CET / 0.00 PDT
- US and EU region stores for PS4
- Translations: FRA, SPA, ITA, GER, BRA, RU (text only)
- No VR @ launch
- Digital only
- No PS4 pre-order
 

Melchiah

Member
Sep 21, 2006
26,830
159
1,565
46
Helsinki, Finland
www.youtube.com
Frictional Games ‏@frictionalgames

Quick #SOMA Facts #1:
- $30 on PC & PS4
- ~10 hours of playtime
- Live on Steam 22nd, 9.00 CET / 0.00 PDT
- US and EU region stores for PS4
- Translations: FRA, SPA, ITA, GER, BRA, RU (text only)
- No VR @ launch
- Digital only
- No PS4 pre-order

I wish it could be pre-ordered on the PS4, so I could start it at the stroke of midnight.


EDIT: New promotional artwork: