Amnesia: The Dark Descent developer Frictional has released a slew of new details about its upcoming first-person sci-fi horror game Soma.
Studio founder Thomas Grip explained on the PlayStation Blog that the studio is on the cusp of having a playable build of the game's first five hours, out of a roughly eight hour game. He explained that unlike most games, Frictional couldn't build an ugly prototype to test the mechanics, because the game's atmosphere is the mechanics as it's all about how it feels to explore this haunted spaceship.
"Soma doesn't rely on a core gameplay loop - such as shooting baddies or jumping platforms - to create a sense of fun," Grip explained. "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."
Grip further explained that one reason he wanted to avoid a core mechanic was because he didn't want players to "break" the game by understanding how its systems worked - a problem with The Dark Descent where many players learned how to adjust their playstyle and it stopped being scary. "We don't want the player to become too fixated on figuring out the game's underlying abstract systems," Grip said. "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."
The Frictional founder also suggested that Soma's puzzles will be rather light, so as not to impede the player's progression in any significant way (ala Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs). "It's important that the game 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 go '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."
This ties into something the Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs director, Dan Pinchbeck, said when he noted that most players never actually completed The Dark Descent.
Grip also said that Soma will be a hard sci-fi tale, so the level design needs to be more believable than the more abstract, fantasy-based Amnesia games. "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'" he explained. "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."
Finally, "the game should be utterly terrifying," Grip stated. "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."
Soma isn't due until sometime in 2015 on PS4 and PC. Until then, check out the new "Theta" trailer above that gives a look at the sort of atmosphere Soma is going for. Grip said if you listen closely it will "contains a few clues on what the game's story will be about"; a story that aims to "tackle unsettling questions about consciousness." Spooky.