SOMA EP2: The Save Sphincter

By Shamus
on Mar 24, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning


Link (YouTube)

Let’s talk about these health sphincters. I think it’s really telling that 60% of the Spoiler Warning cast all came to the exact same wrong conclusion, and saw the healing icon as a D-pad symbol.

There are a lot of problems here. One is that you don’t have a health bar, so you can’t see any change when the device heals you. The only way you can tell if you’re injured is if the screen is glitching, which:

  1. At this early stage, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ve been injured. So you’re at full health when you encounter the first couple of healing stations. But even if you have been injured…
  2. At this point in the game, you don’t have any idea why your view would be “malfunctioning”. If I’m hurt, shouldn’t the screen turn red? If I’m going insane, shouldn’t I be seeing shadows? What does this glitch mean? Am I hurt, insane, or is this a stylized videogame-y way of telling me “monsters are near”? Or is this just a special effect just to set a “techno-future” mood, like bloom lighting is used to make things “dreamy”?

After using the device Simon remarks that he feels better. But again, if he wasn’t injured you might assume he’s talking about his emotional state. And that’s assuming the player chooses to interact with this huge writhing black sphincter dripping with scary black goo. It’s reasonable to imagine most players would stay clear of that thing. There’s certainly no in-universe reason for timid Simon to go jamming his digits into it.

Later revelations clear up what this thing is and what it does (sort of) but by then you’ve passed a half dozen of these gizmos. That’s pretty late in the game for it to finally get around to making the mechanics clear.

So the player doesn’t know what this thing is, or what it does, and it’s directly connected to player health, which is another system they don’t yet understand yet. The icon it uses is easily confused with standard interface symbols, which only makes things worse. I suppose it would help if the symbol was a fat green or red plus sign, and not the broken, narrow white symbol we see here.

The only reason this doesn’t ruin the game is because SOMA is usually pretty easy (especially in these early stages) and the player can still muddle through without understanding the health mechanics.

It’s not a serious problem with the game, but it is a pretty good illustration of a situation where things that seem obvious to the developer can be badly misinterpreted by the audience.

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From the Archives:

  1. Tony Kebell says:

    @ 2:15 I Assume Mumbles meant Jeff “Slapnuts” Jarrett.

  2. IFS says:

    I’m going to go ahead and say that guns in this game would be a phenomenally awful idea. This is an underwater science base, guns would be a MASSIVE liability to everyone on the base, there would be no reason for them to be there to begin with.

    That said (while I haven’t played SOMA, only watched it be streamed) I do agree that having some way to deal with the monsters other than just avoiding them would be good. The monsters from everything I’ve seen just seem to distract and annoy.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      I’m glad you agree they’d need lasers, not firearms.

    • Fizban says:

      Well, later on you do get a shock probe that you use to disable a robot, and then IIRC you just leave it behind. By that point you know most of what’s going on and I see no reason why you’d have left it behind, could have saved some time later on being able to just go through problems.

    • Mumbles says:

      oh yeah then explain all the GUNS and also SCIENCE in bioshock

      • IFS says:

        Magic sea slugs. Also maybe objectivism, and possibly magic objectivist sea slugs.

        • Sleeping Dragon says:

          Also constants and variables (if you include Infinite).

        • Tom says:

          Definitely objectivism. One of its biggest flaws is that it says you basically can’t stop anybody from doing anything, no matter how stupid, unless it threatens you physically, directly and immediately. Nonphysical threat? Indirect physical threat? Cumulative or statistically likely future threat? Well that’s just too bad.

          You thus can’t prevent people from having guns (or bombs, or nerve gas, or bioweapons, or whatever incredibly dangerous thing they want) in a Randian paradise, even if letting people run around with them in a glass underwater city is suicidally reckless; you can only prevent them shooting directly at you. By shooting back.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Drills, lasers, saws, swords, batons, and stun guns are all the portable weapons that wouldn’t be a problem (or would have a reason for being) in an underwater base. Then there’s also the possibility to crush the monsters in industrial doors and presses, lure them into lathes, or even set up traps to rip them apart with winches.

  3. Hermocrates says:

    In all fairness to Portal, Chell is also a woman and GLaDOS might be one of the best written characters. But I totally agree with what you’re saying mumbles.

    I’d like to see game creators take more of a “flip a quarter” tactic to assigning gender to their roles. Obviously some narratives will have predetermined genders , such as when they’re from personal experiences or what have you, but most games would basically be the same if you mixed up all the genders (sales aside :c ), and you wouldn’t have this silly bias towards “male protagonist/female support”.

    • Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      Maybe it’s because I’m coming off a Homeworld kick -and maybe I have unusual taste in games -but I wonder how monolithic the man as protagonist/woman as support is, and how much of it is driven by other considerations.

      Going across my shelf of active games (and skipping the strategy games that don’t have characters to speak of):
      Homeworld series: woman protagonist (Karan and then Rachel S’Jet) with man as support.
      Star Wars: Republic Commando: All men
      Jedi Knight 1/2: man protagonist (Kyle Katarn) with woman as support (Jan Ors), Jan is the Love Interest
      Ghost Recon: all men
      No One Lives Forever: woman protagonist (Kate Archer), with man as support (Bruno, then a series of other men)
      Deus Ex: Human Revolution: man protagonist (Adam Jenson), woman as support (Malik)
      Wing Commander: male protagonist (Blair) with variable support, though women most prominent (Spirit and Angel).

      So, 7-10 games. 2-4 fit the pattern, two of which because the woman is the love interest (3 if you subscribe to that interpretation of DX:HR). 2 are reversed (5 if we count all three HW games). 2 are, as our host says, “sausage fest.”

      So I tend to think the “baby steps” interpretation is more accurate. But again, not a great sample.

      (Also, I’m noticing that I’m playing a lot of games from the “Golden Age of PC Gaming…”)

      • Viktor says:

        It’s at least partly genre-based, but a lot of the exceptions are genres where building your own char is the norm. FPSs, which are the cornerstone of the AAA market, heavily lean towards Whitedude McBro as the hero with a female headset voice pointing you towards the ambiguously brown male villain, as do a lot of the 3rd person open world shooters. Racing games and RTS/turn-based strategy games have no hero 90% of the time, and RPGs tend towards customization with(hopefully) a diverse party. So a lot of people won’t notice that happening, while for others its inescapable.

        And yeah, there’s no reason for it to be this bad. TF2 is a perfect example bc really? 9 chars, each with a unique design, skeleton, and animation, and Valve couldn’t be bothered to make a single female char other than the announcer? W. T. F.

        • Gruhunchously says:

          In fairness, there does seem to be recent trend in AAA shooters to mask the identity and skin color of their protagonists through layers of armor. And the latest AAA shooter that I’ve seen, Rainbow Six Siege, has playable dudes of many ethnicities, and even some playable ladies as well. So there are baby steps being taken, even if there are still ways to go yet.

          And as a final point of disagreement, in the vast majority of bro shooters, including the great cornerstone of them all, Call of Duty, you shoot significantly more white dudes (Russians, Germans, Private Militaries, rogue Americans, ect.) than brown dudes, with few exceptions. And almost all of the primary antagonists in COD games are white as well: Zakaev, Makarov, Shepard, Rourke, and Irons being prime examples. That in and of itself raises some unfortunate implications, but I’ll save that argument for later.

          In short, nothing you said was wrong, but precedents are being set for improvements.

      • ehlijen says:

        It’s not been universal in my experience, but there is a trend to man does, woman radios recently. Then again, I also recall more games with female protagonists in the past than in the present (though not usually in a good way).

        My list (of the top of my head):
        -Red Alert had a female voice announce the status messages (‘base under attack’ etc), while the player character didn’t exist outside of cutscenes but I believe was referred to as male(?)
        -Homeworld: S’jet was not the protagonist. She addressed the player in the same way intelligence guy did, implying the player was yet another, third character. But at least it had two diverse radio voices.
        -Mechwarrior 4: Mercs and Mechcommander (1 and 2, though 1 only had her pipe in every 5-6 missions)
        -Freelancer? (don’t remember much except for the idiocy that was naming two battleships Goethe and Schiller. Seriously? Why hot HMS Shakepeare and HMS Tolkien while we’re at it?)
        -Mass Effect went from Joker being the voice of the normandy to EDI taking that job over
        -Half life 2 had Alyx
        -Don’t the batman games have oracle talk to him over the radio?

        While in Metroid, other M, it’s the opposite and I recall a lot of criticism for the way that was handled.

        I think the solution might just be to switch the radio head voices now and then?

        • Gruhunchously says:

          The problem with Metroid Other M wasn’t that it reversed the roles, it’s just that it did it REALLY REALLY BADLY. Conceptually there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a female character taking advice or even instructions from a male one, but Other M made Samus and Adam’s relationship a mess of creepy dominance and dependency…and then tried to pass it off as positive character development.

          • Nimas says:

            Other M did not happen. I don’t care what possible evidence you show, you can never convince me that Samus Aran, universe’s greatest bounty hunter and all round wrecker of shit, had an abusive relationship with her superior and *thanked him for it*

        • Mintskittle says:

          The old Westwood Command & Conquer games were actually split on the male/female announcer voices.

          C&C had a female announcer for both factions, Red Alert had a male announcer for both factions, and Tiberium Sun was split, female for GDI, male for NOD. That said, Tiberium Sun also had characters who were supposed to represent the PC commanders, both male with female aids.

          Then EA messed it up with both sides having female aids who were also the ingame adjutants and were all hot for the PC, at least for RA 2 and 3. Don’t remember C&C 3, didn’t play 4.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        In human revolution your support was pritchard.Malik was secondary support,your driver.

        Anyway,I dont see this “women are always talking to you over the radio” as a trend at all.Its rather that Mumbles has played a string of games where thats a thing.There are plenty of games where thats not a thing,and if she played those in succession shed say that women are never in support.

      • Hermocrates says:

        I mean yeah, it is baby steps. But to adapt a quote from a certain world leader with a nice head of hair, why are we still only taking baby steps in 2016?

        The frustration of mumblo is understandable, and justified in my opinion.

    • straymute says:

      For me at least I think the issue is the implied assumptions about the player. Like how in Bioshock Infinite we have Elizabeth trapped almost her entire life in a small room surrounded by ultra nationalist, but we can’t have her share their views or display the negative effects of isolation, we can’t do anything that would make her anything less than a great tour guide/girlfriend/tech support to the assumed male player.

      So in a way gruff sargent radio man can be more tolerable because gruff sargent radio man is simply the one who yells things in warzones, he isn’t there because of anything assumed of you as a person.

  4. Jabrwock says:

    Damn you Shamus, and your trolling of Canadians. :P

    About 8 years ago, I was travelling from Saskatchewan to Rainy River, Ontario (crossing Manitoba), and the easiest way to do this is to travel through Minnesota (otherwise you have to drive around a bunch of lakes that adds 2 extra hours to the trip).

    The US border guard, upon hearing that I was from the town of “Saskatoon”, in “Saskatchewan”, gave me a look like I was punking him. He kept asking me where I was from, what town, what province, over and over, and kept getting more and more annoyed every time I gave the same response.

    All this time he had my driver’s license in his hand, which said my address was Saskatoon, SK. Thankfully his partner walked up and explained that Saskatoon does, in fact, exist, and so does Saskatchewan, and no, they are not the same word.

  5. Joe Informatico says:

    In the future, they could give the Voice on the Headset a slight accent? If not a distinct regional accent, then something that indicates English might not be this guy’s first language? There’s other kinds of diversity they could be exploring.

  6. Mintskittle says:

    Over on Jesse Cox’ Scary Game Squad ep 6 for SOMA, they made the same claims that you have to kill at least some of the robots to proceed, but some in the comments were making the claim that you can complete the game without killing anyone. Can anyone clarify this one way or the other for me?

    • Narkis says:

      I’m pretty sure you have to kill at least a couple.

      Early on you have to disconnect a robot so before you talk to Catherine for the first time. And later you can’t progress until you kill either the dogbot or the crazy simulation for a chip.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        That one was the hardest for me.On the one hand,the puppy was pretty useful,and its a puppy.I hate hurting animals,even in games,but people I dont mind hurting,maiming,torturing or killing.With the exception of crazy people.I dont like adding grief to someone who is mentally unstable,especially the amalgamation presented in that choice.So yeah,it was a pretty difficult scene for me.Ultimately,I decided that death is better than that torturous existence for the crazybot.

        • Narkis says:

          Yeah, it was the only decision in the entire game I agonised over. All the others were “be exceedingly cruel to make things a bit easier for you”, and that’s not a choice at all.

          I ended up doing the same thing, for the same reason. It was a selfish act either way, but the crazybot was absolutely miserable, while the dogbot was both happy and helpful. Putting the crazy one down was far easier on my conscience.

          • Pilcow says:

            I did the opposite and was rewarded with one of the best laughs of the game. (My logic was that we are accustomed to sacrifice animals for our needs, and crazy people are not even let to choose by themselves)
            It was curious how Catherine could make light of an agonizing decision, precisely because she knew how guilty I felt.

    • Quent says:

      I think that you only need to kill the first one, the one that says “I was Happy”. I think. there may have been a way around that but I couldn’t find one. Every single other one can live.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I have a better idea than guns.Since you are a hulking robot,how about instead of being able to shoot the monsters,you instead got to suplex them to death.Now that wouldve made the areas easier to transverse,AND would also be cool.

  8. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I had a suspicion that this was underwater and not in space because of how bulky the equipment was.In space,I usually expect everything to be automated,not with manual wrench locks.Also all the stuff oozing from walls.This game was more reminiscent of bioshock to me than system shock.

  9. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I never saw the anus icon as a d-pad.Could this be because I use controllers only when Im in someone elses house?How about the rest of you?If you are purely keyboard and mouse people like me,did you associate the symbol with the d-pad?

    • Narkis says:

      Same here. I haven’t used a controller since I wad a kid, and a D-pad never crossed my mind.

      • Echo Tango says:

        I barely ever use my cheapo gamepad, and I never owned any game system until I bought myself a DS as an adult, but I still thought “D-pad symbol” before I thought “medical icon”. Probably because I’m so used to medical/emergency stuff being brightly and distinctly coloured so it’s easy to find in an emergency.

  10. Daemian Lucifer says:

    At this point in the game, you don’t have any idea why your view would be “malfunctioning”.

    Judging by the comments on the previous episode,plenty of people had the idea why that would be a thing.The glitching view simply confirmed their strong suspicions.

  11. Narkis says:

    Has anyone played Geneforge? Spoiler alert: In that game you find mutagenic canisters that give you power at the cost of your sanity: The more you use them , the crazier you become, and the worse the ending you get. In order to get the best ending, you have to use at most one or two, out of dozens. It makes the game significantly harder, though still doable.

    SOMA spoilers: After seeing Simon’s reaction the first time he sticks his hand into one of those things, I was sure they’d turn out to be similar: Addictive, and ultimately bad. I was mildly disappointed when I found out they didn’t matter at all, and my conserving their uses was ultimately pointless.

  12. Mersadeon says:

    The “glitching” screen effect actually made this game unplayable for me. Like, I’m not blaming them or anything – but that causes eye-strain and a headache for me. Even on Let’s Plays I sometimes can’t look at it for long.

    • Pilcow says:

      I have the same problem but way worse with Xcom 2. Every time you go from the Avenger to the map (three times per minute, more or less) there are two white flashes that burn my retinas and wake my migraine.

      I’m hoping for a mod that makes transitions between different screens automatic, because as it is, it’s really painful.

  13. Amstrad says:

    While I don’t think it’s entirely a great excuse for the male protagonist/female guide dynamic, I would like to point out there is some historical/scientific precedent for it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitching_Betty
    Terrible slang term aside (that’s the military for you), at one point research was done that pointed to a female voice being “more authoritative to male pilots and crew members and were more likely to get their attention”. More recent research somewhat thwarts that notion, but the fact is for three or more decades female voices had been used in the automated instruction giving systems of various aircraft.
    On a more specific games related bent: I wonder how much the Half-Life Lambda facility female voice system affected games after it.

    • Mersadeon says:

      I think part of it is also that fiction always portrays “station-controlling AIs” as female-voiced. Which in itself has its origins in stuff like navigation-systems having female voices for practical reasons (apparently, the voice-range that could be recorded fit better with female voices).

  14. Christopher says:

    I’m surprised no ones mentioned this or caught on to this, but the reason whatshisname doesn’t mention your “form” is because from his perspective you’re just a normal human.

    He’s very obviously not seeing himself as a dude stuck in a robot. He states clearly that he has arms, legs, and a body, and even waves his hand in front of your face.

    Whatever he’s seeing, it’s not “a diving suit”. He probably sees Simon as a guy.

    • Mersadeon says:

      That’s not really how it works. Essentially, robot-guy only sees himself differently. You see him as a robot, afterall, even though you see yourself as a human at first. The implication is that everyone sees themselves as human – but not necessarily others.

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