SOMA EP12: Detainee Lab 2021

By Shamus
on Apr 22, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

26 comments


Link (YouTube)

The most suspenseful moment in this episode is where Chris vanishes, possibly to be force-upgraded to Windows 10 by the WAU. And just so you know: He didn’t come back. We have no idea how that drama turned out.

Yes, point and laugh at the 20 minute mark when I was lamenting how Catherine never explained what she was feeling, when she just got done doing that. Still, that statement felt like it should be the start of a discussion, not the end of it. The question of “What are these two characters experiencing in a physical sense?” was always in the forefront of my mind, and the game was very coy about it.

In this episode, Simon dreams. That’s the most concrete bit of evidence that this computer-based brain is honestly having a go as simulating human brain activity on some fundamental level.

Also, once again I have to commend the team for doing a proper dream sequence. In far too many movie dreams, the writer is just so childishly excited about the part where they get to pretend to kill someone important and then do the “Ha ha! It was all a dream!” thing. The problem is that when you do this, you can only do this. If you’re trying to pretend this is real, then you can’t put crazy dream stuff in there, since that would spoil the “surprise”. Which is why dream sequences are usually so terrible. They exist only for the sake of the surprise, which usually doesn’t even work because the trick is so played out.

Here, the writer skipped the trick and actually did something interesting. They kept it short, because overly long dream sequences are annoying. They made it feel dreamlike by hiding Ashley’s face and presenting the sort of unrealistic scenario Simon might dream about. It provided a nice time gap, so we wonder how long Simon has been asleep. And it provided a nice contrast of his old life and the new. We spend just enough time in his comfy little apartment to be reminded of just how much it must suck to be stuck in his current situation.

Also, as promised: This is a Trent Reznor song.

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20626 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Neko says:

    At what point do you stop, take a step back, and realise you’re in an abusive relationship with your OS? Not being able to reboot on your own terms is pretty awful.

    • nerdpride says:

      What amazing planet do you live on? I want to go there. I’m trying Linux but it isn’t 100% yet.

      Don’t paying users typically do beta testing? Isn’t there a lot of unnecessary drudgery with upgrading and installing and administering (administrating?) and remembering passwords?

      I wouldn’t want to be a computer-only robot like Catherine. Things probably ask to reformat her brain all the time.

      • Echo Tango says:

        The thing that kept me up all night when I thought of it, was kind of horrifying thing that’ll maybe crop up in a transhuman future. Like, if you’re a robot, there’s a non-zero chance that some bits will flip in your head. Enough of those happen, and you might get some self-perpetuating code that’s outside your normal operating process. Leave that long enough, and it’ll mutate further, and you’re left with robot brain cancer. Eating you. From the inside. Hell, even non-random changes, like from a self-changing learning algorithm, could potentially start up some kind of unexpected self-replicating process. Doom. DOOM AND GLOOM! :S

      • Neko says:

        You’re absolutely right, Linux isn’t perfect; not that I brought it up specifically. Neither is Mac OS, BSD, … I dunno, Risc OS? They all have their shortcomings.

        The thing is, while there are plenty of features missing that would make a theoretical ‘ideal’ OS, the reboot situation in recent Windows versions isn’t a shortcoming, it’s an anti-feature. Someone went out of their way to add this to remove control from the user. A “Cancel” button is far easier to implement than some timed system with periodic nag messages.

  2. silver Harloe says:

    @6:40 “does this simulated human feel aches in his knees from crawling around too much”

    I see where we’ve been miscommunicating now. You see “brain scan” in the game as trying to simulate a “human”, and noting all the places it fails, and thus assuming the brain scan is incomplete. Everytime you say his brain is lacking something, you’re always using an example of some missing input from outside the brain.

    I’ve been seeing “brain scan” in the game as trying to simulate a “human with prosthetic-everything”, and thus any failure of things like itches, or knee hurting from overuse, or lust is just like if he had his original squishy brain was in a robot body. And because I’m assuming prosthetic-everything-outside-the-brain I have no evidence that the brain scan is lacking anything and thus can take the game’s word that it is a complete brain scan.

    Right now, I have no way of distinguishing “Simon has his original brain in a robot body” from “Simon has a computer brain in a robot body”

    • nerdpride says:

      Yeah, some of Shamus’ complaints about the lack of human body nerves now seem unwarranted. Catherine doesn’t give you a lot of detail, but she sort of explains it and it’s enough for me. She doesn’t exactly say she can’t scratch her nose but does talk about fidgeting here. Plus she says she doesn’t want to talk about it. Would be interesting if Simon described what he felt like more often with good monologue but eh.

      I wish they had this conversation much sooner. Maybe take three to ten minutes on introduction to talk about what Catherine must be feeling like in a computer instead of rushing into everything. That was what I was thinking anyway. Also would be motivating for finding the Ark, would maybe explain it better.

      That and I wonder why Catherine can tell she’s a robot when the other people thought they were human. Eh. And what was she saying right when we met her?

      It’s weird IMHO that Shamus gets hung up on this but has no problem with the Star Trek teleporter problems. Did they explain everything about the teleporter just right? Is there something wrong about a convincing simulation of some parts of a human brain that could control a robot and computers? Was there something wrong with artificial intelligence that acted like people? Other than the body problems that you might just handwave away like making a sub-atomically correct copy of someone far away.

      • Shamus says:

        Like I said elsewhere, I wasn’t saying “If his elbows don’t hurt then he’s not human.” I was saying, “Since an engineer designed the brain and the link between brain and body, how did they handle stuff like pain, particularly mostly useless annoying pain like this?”

        Also, I was looking at the crawling he was doing and thinking “ouch”. That kind of stuff hurts more every year.

    • Shamus says:

      I posed the question not because I see it as a failure, but as a sort of engineering problem. This is less about brainscans and more about the opportunities presented when an engineer has control over the link between mind and body.

      Pain is there to keep you from doing things that damage your body. (Remember that Simon is a “webcam on a neck stump” as Rutskarn said.) He’s certainly getting sensory data from that body, or he’d be numb and have an extremely difficult time moving. But if he’s getting sensory data, then maybe he’s getting unwanted stuff like “ow my elbows hurt”. Is that being filtered out for user comfort? Or is it included for safety reasons? (So you don’t accidentally damage the body.)

      He’s a cobbled together pile of parts, hacked together under extenuating circumstances, so you could justify nearly any setup. I was just curious how it worked.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        Even if you were to include pain*,you wouldnt have to include it for stuff that dont actually harm the machine,like crouching.A robot can crouch walk indefinitely with no problem.But it would still be able to break its leg,or pull a “muscle”,or get damaged in other ways.

        *I sure wouldnt.Replacing it with some other indicator would be preferable.

        • Shamus says:

          That’s kind of what I was thinking. If we think of pain as a spectrum from mild to excruciating (which it isn’t, because there’s different kinds of pain, but I’m hand-waving it for now) then it seems like you’d want to do a kind of bandpass filter on it. You’d want to filter out:

          1) Bullshit trivial non-damaging pain, particularly stuff you can’t do stuff about. Joint pain, mild bruises, banging your shins, etc.
          2) Agonizing pain like broken bones.

          So, filter out the trivial stuff and then put a cap on the big stuff. A broken leg should be uncomfortable enough that you won’t forget about it and make it worse through movement, but you should still be able to think clearly.

          The game doesn’t say how the technology works or if this sort of thing is possible, but it’s the kind of stuff I wonder about.

          • Decius says:

            The minor aches and pains are normally associated with actual damage. We ignore them because the injury is subtle and chronic.

          • There’s also the “yup, working as intended” pain, which is especially sucky. Having scarring all over my intestines means I feel pain any time they move. Guess what intestines do lots of? On a good day I have pain till poop, then I’m fine. On a very good day, I’m not in pain and not pooping (which correlates pretty well with a) my hormones stopping the system for a bit which they do monthly or b) having several very bad days in a row meaning I’ve taken more pain meds that tend to slow things down) .

            On the plus side I know my intestines work (and believe me, I KNOW when they’re annoyed). On the minus side, abdominal pain is no longer a useful indicator for ANYTHING (Seriously, failing gallbladder, had surgery, the pain caused by the opioid and my digestive system(+scars!) hating each other hurt far more than the failing organ). Okay, so a robot body isn’t likely to have digestive issues, but I could easily see an indicator getting misprogrammed or miswired or something so that you end up with a robot dealing with what to a human would be a chronic pain issue. I’d be sticking in some sort of pain/fault filter for that reason, if none other. Yeah, you’re going to have idiot robots turning off all their fault sensors, but hopefully these robots are a bit sturdier than humans so they will “survive” doing so and thus hopefully learn why they exist.

  3. Quent says:

    Ok, I’ve gone around Frictional games’s blog and gathered together some of their best posts. It goes from theory about narrative in games, how to make immersion, GDC talks, to game analysis. I think that all of it makes for a good read; so if you have the time, dig in!

    Note: Each section is in chronological order.

    Note2: The SOMA game folders also contain a folder called _supersecret.rar that contains scattered design documents, concept art, screenshots, and videos of glitches. It is found in the game folder (in steamapps/common/SOMA). The password is 19PzQ8arc11rkdv. Enjoy!

    But if you read only one think read this:

    4-Layers, A Narrative Design Approach

    Live action:

    SOMA: Item #2656 – “Vivarium”

    SOMA: Item #4017 – “Mockingbird”

    There was also a series but they weren’t that good.

    Early gameplay:
    SOMA Gameplay Teaser Trailer
    ; Unused assets, unused monster, and different main character.

    SOMA Old Build (found in _supersecret.rar)
    Different story: Is it a dream or not? Aliens (there are some references to this in the “making of” folder), British Catherin, and a Cthulhu cult(?).

    Game design theory
    Before Amnesia
    A History of violence. Part 1

    A History of violence. Part 2

    A History of violence. Part 3

    The problem with obstacles

    Obstacles continued

    Puzzles in horror games. Part 1
    Puzzles in horror games. Part 2
    Puzzles in horror games. Part 3
    Puzzles in horror games. Part 4
    Puzzles in horror games. Part 5
    Puzzles in horror games. Part 6
    Puzzles in horror games. Part 7

    Why Horror Games Suck!

    Future of Adventure Game Interaction

    How Gameplay and Narrative kill Meaning in “Games”

    Exploring Deeper Meaning In Games

    Storytelling through fragments and situations

    Why Trial and Error will Doom Games

    Why I hate “Cinematic”

    After Amnesia

    Story: What is it really about?

    How the player becomes the protagonist

    Some Industry Reflections

    Finding videogame’s true voice

    The Problem of Repetition

    Narrative not a game mechanic?

    Unconventional Design Tips

    10 Ways to Evolve Horror Games

    The Self, Presence and Storytelling

    High-Level Storytelling Design

    Goals and Storytelling:

    Puzzles, what are they good for?

    Puzzles and Causal Histories

    Nailing Down Terminology

    Useful Tips for Horror Game Designers

    5 Core Elements Of Interactive Storytelling

    The Five Foundational Design Pillars Of SOMA

    http://unbirthgame.com/TheSelfPresenceStorytelling.pdf

    Thoughts on videogames:
    Thoughts on Lone Survivor

    Horror Tip: Slender

    Thoughts on Limbo

    Thoughts on Heavy Rain

    Thoughts of The Walking Dead (ep1)

    Thoughts on Bioshock Infinite

    Thoughts on Slender: The Arrival

    http://frictionalgames.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/thoughts-on-last-of-us.html

    Thoughts on Alien: Isolation and Horror Simulation

    Alien: Isolation and The Two Hardest Problems in Horror

    Thoughts on Until Dawn and Interactive Movies

    Specifically SOMA:
    SOMA Officially Revealed

    The Five Foundational Design Pillars Of SOMA

    The Voices of SOMA

    SOMA – 6 Months Later:

    GDC talks:
    GDC 2011 Talk:

    GDC 2013 Talk:

    GDC 2016 Talk:

    You made it through all that? Um, ok then. As a reward:
    Amnesia: The Dark Descent – Making of Sound Effects: Field Recording (skip to 2:12), Should you should kill the WAU?, and a video on identity.

    • el-b says:

      okay how did i get blocked for posting for trying to post a single screengrab from an episode but you can put a billion links down no problem?

      glad that using a different email address works at least.

      • Echo Tango says:

        The spambot detector (or set of detectors) Shamus uses is kinda wonky. I’ve been flagged for posting three links to Wikipedia, and other times I’ve been able to post ten links all at once to completely random websites.It’s usually not too bad, but it’s definitely got its moments of insanity. :)

  4. Christopher says:

    That’s not a dream, AFAIK.

    Major spoiler below, ye be warned.

    I’m pretty sure that’s the virtual environment the WAU has created in order to “save humanity” in its first iteration. That’s why you find the bodies of people pushed into the “goo” throughout the game. They’re all experiencing something similar, though it’s unclear if they’re all operating in a connected realm or each is in their own realm.

    As far as I can tell, WAU tries three different things to save humanity: The first are the creatures you see wandering about that are either insane or stuck in a loop. I guess technically the ones stuck in machines but aren’t insane would be the 1.5 test. The second one is the goo-people you meet throughout the game who are in something like the ARK. The third (and final) is Simon.

    • Echo Tango says:

      Man, now I feel kinda bad about destroying the WAU. They actually had a chance of saving humanity. I mean, they still messed things up a lot and actually caused us to be more boned than having a self-sufficient base with manufacturing, science, and therefore terraforming capabilities, but still…after they wrecked everything, they were trying to fix it. :)

      • IFS says:

        Given how strange the WAU is I’m not sure that whatever it might create in the long run would resemble what we know as humanity. Besides which humanity is basically gone on the surface, there’s no real saving it with the dwindling handful of people left even if the WAU could somehow terraform the whole planet (which even if it is capable of that would take forever and quite likely disrupt whatever ecosystem is developing in the wake of the mass extinction event that was the comet). I don’t think there is any real saving humanity in this game, the closest thing to it is the Ark which is more of a memorial of sorts.

        • Felblood says:

          If the WAU had more ability for long-term thinking and human type comunication, it would have been a great asset. It might have used all that structure gel to expand the facility into something that can support a larger colony and started cloning and breeding projects from whatever crew members would volunteer. You can’t tell me these people weren’t desperate enough to try anything.

    • NoneCallMeTim says:

      Yeah, I haven’t played the game, but when the dream sequence started, it seemed to be like when you are trying to get the cypher off that other guy, and you keep trying different environments to try and get him to react naturally.

      Almost like the WAU was doing something similar. The dialogue seemed a little off for it to be something Simon would have thought of.

  5. Rayen says:

    Hey shamus, this is really weird. I pulled this up on my phone to watch it (Internet app, Samsung Galaxy S6) and instead episode 12 it started playing episode 11. I dunno if that’s YouTube, my phone or Internet app. works fine my computer though.

  6. The Unforgiven says:

    I like how to Shamus a school with a graduating class of 700 is only large-ISH. To me that is /HUGE/. My elementary school (kindergarten to grade 8) had a total population of 300, and my high school (grades 9 to 12) had a population of 1000.

    I’m sure that Shamus’ (Shamus’s?) school is closer to the norm, and that my schools were quite small (I didn’t/don’t live in a big city, but a small-ish town outside of a big city), but still.

  7. RTBones says:

    I’m a little late getting to SW this week, and Chris may have already sorted out his Windows 10 upgrade issue, but on the off chance he hasnt:

    ZDNet posted a couple of registry tweaks that should help to calm Microsoft’s W10 angst down. Apart from that, as Shamus suggested, get rid of KB3035583 (though I’ve never had to drop to Safe Mode to do it).

  8. Joe Informatico says:

    Re: Mumbles’ comment at around 11:00–

    Does any work of horror remain scary if the horror/scares are constant? I’m not saying long periods of tedium are the best way to break up your scares/moments of terror. But even horror films or stories will break up the tense and scary moments with stretches of calm, or comic relief, or character development (if we’re expected to care about these people, anyway). Is the problem that game devs don’t think of other ways to break up the tension in a horror game, or that there’s not many good options to do so in a video game without tedium?

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