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:
- 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…
- 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.
The Best of 2014
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2014.
Good Robot Dev Blog
An ongoing series where I work on making a 2D action game from scratch.
Even allegedly smart people can make life-changing blunders that seem very, very obvious in retrospect.
Trashing the Heap
What does it mean when a program crashes, and why does it happen?
Quakecon 2011 Keynote Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.