SOMA EP15: Under Pressure

By Shamus
on May 4, 2016
Filed under:
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37 comments


Link (YouTube)

We keep coming back to the question of “Did Simon need to be such a dummy?” Which leads you to the question of “Who was this game designed for?” The problem facing the design team is that there’s a huge difference between people who read sci-fi novels and people who get all their sci-fi from television.

I’m reminded of the time we showed off Good Robot at a trade show. Everyone played through one or two levels before they died and walked away from the game. But then one guy completely destroyed the demo. Instead of reflexively running from bullets like most people, he held his ground and weaved between them. He was obviously a fan of bullet-hell shooters, and so our game was completely trivial to him. He plowed all the way through the entire gameWhich wasn’t done, so it was maybe half the size of the completed version. The game was also much easier at that point. on the first try.

This led to a question, “Who is our game for?” This guy is obviously our core audience, but anything that’s fun for him is going to be impossible for everyone else. Do we tune the game to appeal to the most likely fans, or to the masses, where we might have some prayer of making money? And really, somehow we’d like it if the same game could satisfy both groups.

I guess I’d feel better about Simon’s apparent slowness if I got the sense that a large number of people needed the extra explanation. I can imagine a scenario where a bunch of relative sci-fi newbies were working with the mental model of (say) consciousness working like a “soul”. They begin with the assumption that there can never be more than one version of you at a time, and they never examined the idea of what would happen if you could copy a brain. Maybe those people needed the extra hand-holding not just to explain how a mind-copy works, but to disabuse them of their original assumptions.

There’s going to be a massive difference between people who have never been exposed to these ideas before, and people who have read dozens of different versions and detailed explanations of this over many sci-fi novels, to the point where the core concept is now boring and needs to be mixed with some other idea to be at all interesting. Maybe the developers were thinking, “Better safe than sorry” when it comes to explaining the premise that drives the conflict.

Still makes him annoying, though.

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From the Archives:

  1. Daemian Lucifer says:

    The protagonist doesnt have to be an idiot in order for the audience to get the exposition.Because the protagonist is voiced,we can use them to deliver exposition,we dont have to rely on npcs like in the games with mute protagonists.Instead of simon going “WTF?!I was there,but now I am here?Explaiiin!!”,he could say “But if I copy myself,wont there be to of me?One old simon and one new simon.”

    • Mersadeon says:

      If all else fails, do it Metal Gear Solid style!

      “We have to get out of here before the WAU gets us!”

      “WAU?”

      “Yeah, the WAU. It’s the black goo stuff that turns us all into robo-zombies.”

      “Robo-Zombies?”

  2. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Yeah, I’m sitting here thinking that if my consciousness got duplicated, I’d end up with someone who was the easiest in the world to work/live/cooperated with, and who was a colossal dick on what rare points of contention we encountered. But it would never enter my head that there would need to be only one of us or that other-me sacrificed part of me-ness. It would instead be all about who had to go into the office that day because we’d split up the job projects and were each only working about half a day.

    • Syal says:

      If there were duplicates of me I’m pretty sure we would have to fight to the death. Not for any “you should not exist” reason, but just because it’s intolerable to think there’s someone out there whose actions can directly affect my reputation, especially when they’re as stilted and antisocial as I am. I’d end up spending all my time worrying about how Other Me screwed up today.

      Plus a they would reflexively argue with everything I said, all of the time.

      Seriously: jackass.

  3. MechaCrash says:

    Catherine always struck me as too weird and awkward to have many real friends, let alone a girlfriend. As for Imogen Reed, her body is the one that was used to make the body you were running around in for most of the game.

  4. Mark says:

    Haven’t even watched the video yet; I just wanted to be the first to duck in here and say that this bit of the game, where you’re stumbling around on the abyssal plain, was simply amazing. One of the most memorable video game environments ever: the combination of the choked lighting, the thickness and blurriness of the dark, the seemingly zero-G physics, the sound design, just worked together to create a truly inhuman environment I just knew I really wasn’t supposed to be in.

  5. DGM says:

    Mumbles,

    I came across something that immediately made me think of you: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=attack+crows

    I’ve never been interested in wrestling, but after the end of this episode I suddenly want to see you in a female tag team match where your partner is a murder of trained crows. Is that wrong?

  6. Zaxares says:

    Regarding intended gaming audiences, Guild Wars 2 is currently undergoing some very interesting changes that probably relate directly to this. As some of you may know, when GW2 was originally released it was marketed as the “MMO for casual players”. It promised that you would never need to grind, that things like “holy trinities” were thing of a past etc. etc.

    And at release, that was true. You could generally login for just an hour or two, go aimlessly wandering across the landscape killing monsters, harvesting resources and participating in whatever events crossed your path, and log off feeling that you’d been pretty productive.

    Then things started to change. ARENANet introduced Ascended gear, something that was even more powerful than the maximum tier of equipment, and incredibly expensive and onerous to obtain. Ostensibly it was so that “players would have something long-term to work towards”, but privately the speculation among the player base was that ANet had seen game population levels start to plummet dramatically after the hardcore MMO players had torn through the game’s content like a whirlwind, went “That’s all?” and quit.

    Since then, the game obviously tried doing everything it could to court more of these hardcore MMO players. It introduced things like daily login rewards, ever more difficult dungeons and achievements, and exclusive gear tied to the PvP and WvW modes. The most recent expansion, Heart of Thorns, even introduced raids. Much of the expansion’s content was also locked behind horrendous amounts of grind and gold, and this finally was what prompted a severe backlash from players. A lot of us (me included) felt like the game we had been sold had mutated into just another MMO. The expansion sold decently, but it was far from being a rousing success.

    Then, a few months ago, massive changes occurred. The game director, Colin Johansson, quit. Although it was supposedly an amicable departure, privately there are many players who think that he might have been pushed. And since his departure, the game has again changed radically. A lot of the grind and gold costs for Heart of Thorns has been slashed, and the developers approach now seems a lot more focused on player feedback than it has been in the past. It seems that they may have realized that their approach to the game’s direction was alienating a lot of the original fanbase, and it was seriously starting to impact on satisfaction and sales. I don’t know whether they will keep this up, but it was quite a fascinating procession of events to observe.

  7. Vader says:

    To be honest, while I didn’t play the game myself (watched Mr Odds playthrough) I got everything about the exact same time as Simon. After the switch I was like, “holy shit, there’s two of him?” and I was completely baffeled when he didn’t enter the ark. And no, besides Star Wars I don’ watch any Sci-Fi.

  8. Fast_Fire says:

    It’s interesting watching Josh muck around through the game. When he tried to lure the monster under the ladder, I genuinely kept feeling tense thinking “Will the monster catch Josh THIS time before he gets up the ladder?” at each attempt.

  9. el-b says:

    i love the variety in pressure doors in this game, it reminds me of how doom 3 and quake 4 were just bridge porn. every single time you needed to cross a gap it had a different type of animated bridge, i was always wondering what the next one would be like…and in quake 4 you could turn some on and off at will!

  10. Echo Tango says:

    That giant fish encounter has to be randomized, or else I walked the wrong speed and messed up the game triggers. It never showed up for me just outside the cave, beside that cable, like for Josh, but it showed up about 50m from the big, heavy door. So, I had to die like three times in a row, because I didn’t understand how to avoid this death-fish. Tried sitting still, tried sitting off to the side beside a rock thing, tried walking slower to avoid it spawning. Eventually I brute-forced my way through it, but I had no idea you could lure it, and that I was actually supposed to lure it. :S

  11. Grudgeal says:

    Yeah, this game has nothing on The Beginner’s Guide on inducing existensialist angst. Playing that game was… In many ways not a very pleasant experience for me.

    While SOMA’s “am I really a person?” and “what does consciousness mean?” questions are philosophically interesting ones, it’s questions philosophers have squabbled over for two millennia and not one that many people may have a personal relation to and may not elicit a strong emotional response. Most people probably don’t go through the day looking at what their existence means and what defines ‘you’, because our brains evolved to constantly distract us from that kind of solipcism (or, more accurately, evolved sensory inputs first and the self-consciousness parts mostly grew out of that by accident).

    The things addressed by The Beginner’s Guide are a lot more human, and in many ways like a horoscope: It’s very easy to find yourself reflected in that narrative, especially if you think of yourself as a creative person and you’re part of the generation that uses the internet and modern mass media for expressing your creativity/leaving a legacy. It also goes into the whole paradox of wanting to be remembered, but also to be forgotten/forgiven.

  12. evilmrhenry says:

    So, you’re “interacting” with the WOW, while under 4 gazillion tons of pressure. How does that work, exactly? That just seems like a good way to get your suit punctured.

    • Gruhunchously says:

      They use protection, obviously. Can we not comment on the private affairs of consenting nano-mechanical constructs?

      • Mintskittle says:

        Normally, I’d agree, but the number of times Josh and the WAU have hooked up just in this episode alone is worrisome. I’m pretty sure it counts as an addiction now. Josh even says he’s been hooking up with the WAU every chance he gets. The SW Crew really needs to pull an intervention.

  13. Geebs says:

    To be fair to Simon, this is only a few hours after he woke up in the middle of the apocalypse, and Catherine is terrible at explaining stuff. I personally thought he coped pretty well. Also, it’s worth remembering that it’s established that at the time he was scanned, Simon was suffering from a soon-to-be-fatal brain injury.

    I reckon part of the crew’s perception of Simon as an idiot comes from the sense of security of re-playing through a game as a group. Maybe I’m a total wimp, but I found a lot of Soma, if not terrifying, certainly pretty harrowing. I totally get why Simon is desperate to be the version of himself that gets to escape, and why he doesn’t want any other version of him to suffer the way he has.

    • Nidokoenig says:

      I think it’s more that Simon has be slow enough that nobody who’s smart enough to work a controller and understand English gets left behind, similar to how a judge will ask the dumbest shit so that the jury, or the guy two hundred years from now fishing for precedent, don’t have to wonder if a t-shirt is a special shirt for tea time. Would be interesting, and horrifically expensive to voice act unless voices were synthesised, to give players some dialogue choices so that they can have their Simon be about as clued in as they are. It’s an extension of the common problem that every game has to be someone’s first game, even if it’s capping a trilogy, making it harder to build on themes like books and movies do.

  14. DGM says:

    Shamus,

    This is off-topic, but I just noticed that your Twitter self-description still says you’re a weekly writer for the Escapist. Might want to update.

    I’ll understand if you don’t answer, but do you have any plans to replace that gig yet? Developing another game, perhaps?

    • Fast_Fire says:

      Shamus’s weekly articles are still happening, so far, in the form of This Dumb Industry. The main difference being the lack of commission.

  15. I’d actually be pretty damn freaked out if the pressure doors in the abyss matched the pressure doors closer to the surface, because either the company over-engineered or under engineered one set, and given what I know about companies I’d think under engineered and “oh crap the only things keeping me from drowning or squish aren’t rated for this pressure!”

    • McNutcase says:

      On the plus side, 3km down you wouldn’t have the chance to drown. You’d need to use a broom to check for leaks, because they’d cut you apart instantly if you got in the way, but if the pressure vessel fails, odds are you’d get squished so fast you’d never know.

      • I figured squish was more likely. Actually what’s most likely is me not going anywhere near an underwater habitat at all, as while I adore swimming I had a huge amount of problems just sitting at the deep end of a pool while trying to learn how to scuba dive. After my 3rd panic attack, the instructor and I had a nice heart-to-heart about how not everyone’s cut out for being at depth. It’s for the best, I really don’t need to stress my ears (hereditary problems with the Eustachian Tubes that everyone in the family has, everyone my age and younger had tubes in, two cousins had eardrums burst from infection even with (or after) the tubes, and I still have random ear pain occasionally).

        Edit->Eustachian tubes are the tubes that connect your middle ear (which is full of air) to your sinuses. They equalize pressure between the outside and your middle ear as well as allow drainage from the inner ear. When you pop your ears, you’re forcing air through those tubes. Thought I’d save anyone who didn’t know this already the brief google….

  16. Nidokoenig says:

    Mirror match enemies are great. It’s a nice way to teach the player to have a go with the new thing they just got by using it on them, and for teaching them their weaknesses. Pity it’s usually saved for the final act.

  17. Philadelphus says:

    “This led to a question, “Who is our game for?” This guy is obviously our core audience, but anything that’s fun for him is going to be impossible for everyone else. Do we tune the game to appeal to the most likely fans, or to the masses, where we might have some prayer of making money? And really, somehow we’d like it if the same game could satisfy both groups.” (I dunno how to do the fancy quote box.)

    I haven’t played Good Robot (Linux gamer here) so I don’t know you if you did this, but isn’t this a problem difficulty levels are meant to solve? You have your Easy-Normal for the general public and your Hard-Ridiculous-Insane!!11!! for the people who are really into it, thus neatly covering all bases.

    I guess this could then lead into another philosophical question about whether the Easy and Insane versions are still fundamentally the same game if one can be beaten by a toddler and the other can only be beaten by maybe 10 people in the world, and which is the “real” version that best reflects the creators intent, but if you’re more interested in potential market coverage than philosophy it seems like that’d be the best bet. Again, I don’t know if you actually did this in the final game or not.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      (I dunno how to do the fancy quote box.)

      Use the blockquote tag.The easiest way is to apply the bold tag and then just add “lockquote” after every “b”.

      As for good robot,there is kind of a hard difficulty,in that one of the achievements requires you to finish the whole game without being hit even once.

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