SOMA EP11: A Monstrous Waste of Time

By Shamus Posted Thursday Apr 21, 2016

Filed under: Spoiler Warning 45 comments

Link (YouTube)

Watching Josh play this sequence confirms my suspicions: The monster is scripted to make a beeline for you when you approach the panel, logic be damned. Even if it’s locked in a room on the other side of the level. And even though it’s supposedly blind, slow-moving, and making tons of noise itself. Yet somehow walking near the panel will cause it to know where you are and magically escape the room and cover the distance.

So then you think, “Since his hearing is so good he can detect me looking at a panel over his own gargling from fifty meters away, maybe I can distract it with sound?” But once again, no. You can toss trash cans and paperweights all over the place and it won’t come to investigate. The only thing that attracts it is approaching the panel.

The game tells you he’s “blind” so you assume it’s all about managing sound. But then the game brazenly breaks that rule. Great. So what ARE the rules? Maybe the game is saying I need to deal with the monster before I can repair the panel? Maybe I’m supposed to stay in place but STOP working on the panel when the monster approaches? Maybe I’m supposed to solve this puzzle quickly, before the monster reaches the door?

I want to solve this door puzzle, but instead I end up working on this meta-game puzzle of trying to figure out what the designer is thinking. It’s a safe bet that if the player is thinking about the game designer, then they are no longer immersed in the world and thus aren’t likely to be very scared. The fact that the monster hangs out for a good minute or so and prevents you from making any progress makes it pretty likely that this whole section will turn fear into frustration.

This game has some moments that are, if not scary, then at least chilling or disturbing. But all of them happen when the actual “dangerous” monsters piss off and you’re able to think about the ideas the game is presenting.

On the other hand, running from monsters was a huge part of the cultural appeal of Amnesia. And Amnesia was one of the games that originally launched jumpscare streaming culture as we know it. It’s entirely possible that if it wasn’t for shrill teens screaming into their webcams, then there would be no Five Nights At Freddy’s. No Spooky’s House of Jump Scares. None of the hundreds of jumpscare-based games on Steam designed not to be fun to play, but to act as fodder for the streamers. Amnesia wasn’t the only game to launch this fad, but it was certainly one of the major contributors.

It’s like SOMA is torn between the really interesting Sci-fi the developers wanted to make, and the same old thing they assumed the fans expectedAnd maybe they were right? I dunno. I don’t follow streamers much..



[1] And maybe they were right? I dunno. I don’t follow streamers much.

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45 thoughts on “SOMA EP11: A Monstrous Waste of Time

  1. Sunshine says:

    Yahtzee had the same idea that the monsters were superfluous, but “What else would the streamers over-react to? ‘AAAHH! It’s so existential!'”

    1. Echo Tango says:

      I think they could have probably saved the budget from making monster chase scenes, and just spent it on more environmental storytelling. Like, they could have probably got a better use out of the monsters, if they were just cutscenes, like the monster who runs past outside of a window, at the beginning of System Shock 2. :)

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        But then it would have been branded a walking simulator. Maybe add more puzzles?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          But then it would have been branded a walking simulator.

          So?It may have started as a pejorative,but now its just as legitimate genre as a shooter or a strategy.

          Also,better to be a superb walking simulator than a middling horror.

          1. 4th Dimension says:

            While I agree a game should stick to it’s strengths, I think the potential customer base for games labeled “walking simulators” by the public is considerably smaller than the customer base of horror games.

  2. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Chris,you want to pronounce it like this:

  3. SlothfulCobra says:

    It’s weird, in movies and books, horror is often looked down on as a bit of a schlocky thing, but games have seized upon it. If you aren’t playing a power fantasy or a happy-go-lucky funtime adventure, it’s almost gotta be some kind of horror.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its shlocky in games as well.

      But now that vr is becoming a thing it has huge potential.

      1. Matt Downie says:

        From what I’ve read, VR is immersive enough that scaring most people isn’t difficult at all. Something that’s routine in on a TV or monitor feels very different when you’re in the middle of it. “Aaah! I’m in the middle of a gunfight! Help!”

  4. Wraith says:

    Josh seems to imply that Reed returning to Upsilon for some reason is a plot hole. There was actually a “spin-off” production made shortly after launch called Transmissions that explains this:

    Reed is part of a salvage team sent to Lambda. The WAU is becoming increasingly hostile and spreading everywhere, and several members of the salvage team become proxies through various means. Only Reed and one other team member survive – Reed goes to Upsilon to shut down the power as a last-ditch effort to kill the WAU (it fails), the other survivor returns to Theta (she is the dead body found right after escaping Theta through the tunnels). The thing is, the series also raises a different plot hole, because Reed removes her diving suit at Upsilon and eventually dies due to the WAU cutting off the oxygen supply to the room she’s in. Which raises the question of who or what stuffed Reed’s dead body back into her suit and dragged it to the scan chair.

    Also a very important note if anyone reads this and goes to watch the Transmission mini-series is that the first few episodes are NOT in chronological order. This actually threw me off a little when I watched it.

    1. Ivellius says:

      Related to this, I’ve been reading / watching some of the supplementary material, and it’s pretty good. The Coin Flip would be one of my recommendations just to give more insight into what people were thinking / feeling about the brain scans.

  5. Echo Tango says:

    The monsters are bad, but the forced-death / capture / whatever that’s going to start the next episode, that thing is the worst. I actually played it three times before I realized that I wasn’t actually dead / game-over. The problem was that it looks like death, and the fade-out time is just long enough, that I thought the game had glitched out, or was just taking a long time reloading / showing me the game-over screen. I think it could have been improved, if instead of just fading to black, they did the fade-in/fade-out thing, like when somebody in a movie is constantly coming into and out of consciousness. Then the player would be able to see that yes, this is bad, but no the game hasn’t ended or frozen. :)

  6. Warclam says:

    I think the most shocking part of the game, for me, is when Catherine tells you to run a dummy simulation, and somehow that’s different from running another Simon.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its probably just an ai, much less complex than a brain scan.

      1. Groboclown says:

        So Simon is just an ai?

        1. Daemian Lucifer says:

          Depends on how you look at it.If you see ai as any intelligence stored in a digital format,yes he is just an ai.If you see it as intelligence that was purposefully built by someone,then no he is not an ai.

  7. Jumus says:

    I never quite understood what happened to the people on the station and why they are flesh/clam hybrids

    1. Warclam says:

      Warclam processing component 43893 was performing a Grand and Wonderful experiment. It… didn’t turn out well. Sorry about that.

      1. Sunshine says:

        Our union is full of wonder, which your tiny individualism cannot even conceive. Though someone else would have figured it out by now.

    2. Wraith says:

      It’s what happens when Humans consume too much structure gel

      I’m just gonna play it safe and tag everything with spoilers.

      At Delta we come across the room with the bloodstains and eyes, as well as the busted chess game in a different room’s computer. Akers stuck around Delta for months alone, keeping his sanity by playing chess. When the game became corrupted after he won 1000 games, he lost his marbles and started consuming structure gel at an alarming rate. This mutated him and allowed him to be controlled by the WAU. He ripped out his own eyes at some point (his messages scrawled in gel on the walls of Delta refer to this) and then signalled Theta that he was ready to return to the group.

      When the blimp arrived with a salvage team, he attacked the salvage team and injected them with structure gel. The team tried to warn Theta but failed to get the signal through. When Akers arrived he was unconscious, and was brought to the medical bay. The medical examiner at Theta was busy typing a report on Akers’s condition when he regained conscious and bashed her head in from behind (she’s the person in the chair in this episode – the WAU actually has kept her alive). From there he started attacking and mutating people on the station, resulting in the other Proxies that are encountered.

      A handful of the Theta personnel escaped, as we’ll soon see, and tried to make their way to Omicron. Unfortunately for them, the WAU had already locked down Omicron…

      1. MechaCrash says:

        In regards to the first paragraph, a minor quibble that changes nothing but I’m slapping a spoiler tag over it anyway: is that why he started chugging structure gel? I know that the computer got corrupted, because WAU broke down so he couldn’t play chess against it anymore, but I thought it happened after he started turning everyone into monsters or shriveled husks, not that it was why he went stir-crazy.

        1. Mintskittle says:

          Maybe I just missed it, but who thought it was a good idea to consume structure gel? That just does not sound appetizing in the least.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            I think he did some experiments with animals before and that got him curious about immortality.

        2. Wraith says:

          I mean, he was probably out of food as well.

  8. MechaCrash says:

    The in-game explanation for what’s going on with the teleporting monsters is that they’re using the vents to get out. What’s actually happening is that the game despawns the Proxy and spawns in a new one. I think it did that so that you could trap it in a room and be rewarded for cleverness, but not allow that bit of cleverness to completely remove all the threat from the area.

    1. ehlijen says:

      Then in what way is it a reward for cleverness? The player’s use of the provided tools is completely undone when the thing can just escape the locked room without explanation and warning.

      1. MechaCrash says:

        It doesn’t stay in there forever, but it stays in there for a while. And as long as it’s stuck in there, you don’t have to play peek-a-boo with the thing.

        1. ehlijen says:

          As far as I’d judge, that only makes it worse. If the trap that should hold it permanently based on appearance won’t actually do so, the player should be warned, not have the thing suddenly pop into existence behind Simon again (cause that seems to be what it does; it’s not time based, it’s invisible trigger code based).

          Have it slowly break through the door, have the player be able to see it crawl into a duct through a small window in the door, something. Don’t have it obviously try and fail to get through the door while the player is there, only to then have it respawn outside without rhyme or reason.

          If the player is meant to be able to lock the monster up, reward them by letting them remove the threat that way. If they player is not meant to bypass the threat that way, don’t create the illusion of the trap working only to undo it by fiat moments later.

    2. Arstan says:

      On the contrary, you feel stupid when trapped monster suddenly buttslaps you from behind, when you explore curios in the area

    3. MrGuy says:

      The in-game explanation for what's going on with the teleporting monsters is that they're using the vents to get out

      It’s not reasonable that the human-sized monsters, who seem to have considerably less fine motor control than you, are capable of using vents to move in and out of locked areas, but you are apparently not.

      I’m not asking for DE:HR, but if this is “how they do it” it doesn’t make a lot of sense that you can’t do it too.

      Also, who builds human-sized vents underwater, where the need to isolate compartments from each other in a watertight way seems utterly imperative?

  9. Quent says:

    The game is a bit inconsistent with how the monsters work. In some instances, like this one, the monster spawns and despawns based on location based triggers. In the next section they are all persistent and have their own patrol routes. While I didn’t like this part that much I liked the next one; it feels like you’re in a hive and that that the WAUs creatures have their own ecological niches and raison d’etres, which I appreciated. That said, I did get lost at one point.

    Also, I think you missed another survey which was by catherine’s computer. It had different questions to the other one and you don’t encounter it again.

  10. Aitch says:

    On [1] – Everyone who played this (that I saw, at least) thought the same thing as you guys, just to different extents.

    Of course they’re always after the best show possible to put on and might ham up a chase scene when it first shows up, but every one eventually had whatever distress that could be mustered quickly turn into annoyed impatience and cheese tactics.

    It’s impossible to maintain any sort of fear state when there’s not only much more interesting concepts to discuss at the time, but no consequence in being caught, no obvious logic to avoidance, and what amounts to a grinding gear shift in play mechanics and tone any time one of the monsters shows up. The fact that they looked like… well.. I mean, the creatures varying from “shambling potato” to “disco ball head” didn’t exactly add tension to forced duckwaddle marching around half the level.

  11. Daemian Lucifer says:

    I really hated this part,because theres lore in here that youd like to read,but theres also a monster that gets to ambush you while you are reading the lore.It sucks.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Yup. Too bad they kept the monster chases in the game. :C

    2. Arstan says:

      I cheated the files, so the monsters didn’t pay attention to me )))

  12. Quent says:

    Was the next video supposed to go up early? Because it’s up.

    1. MichaelGC says:

      Aye right – don’t forget to link the thingy in the shownotes, Shamus! :D

  13. RTBones says:

    SOMA is in my Steam queue to get played. From what I have seen – if you wanted to make this game really scary, remove the monsters entirely. Have death or injury happen as a happenstance/miscue when you are interacting with the environment. The subject matter the game deals with could alone scare you, if expounded properly.

  14. Darren says:

    Now I’m really hoping for an Alien: Isolation Spoiler Warning so that we can have a full-blown discussion of the intricacies of monster AI in stealth-horror games.

  15. Zeb says:

    Okay so how about giving the answer for those who cannot watch videos? What DOES the game designer expect you to do at the panel, that he’s trying to encourage with the monster spawn?

    1. Loonyyy says:

      It’s a spoiler, but it’ll make the game easier

      Monster’s meant to get you

      Knowing that, which completely inverts your usual understanding, and it’s presented as a puzzle like the rest, it’s a baffling design choice. A user above kept quickloading because they didn’t realise it. It’s kind of a cheat of the usual gameplay to bring something which often would occur in a cutscene into gameplay, which kind of mandates that the player behave as though they’re in a cutscene of a style that Shamus has ranted about numerous times.

      And if you try to outthink it, the game breaks.

      1. Esp says:

        Thanks for the explanation.

        I’m glad I didn’t have to play the game just to find out. That single choice makes me completely certain that the game designer is a fuckhead.

  16. 4th Dimension says:

    The thing that makes Josh’s interaction with WAU even more disturbing is that way the pustule expands and contracts as if it’s “applying suction” to Simon.

  17. Felblood says:

    There’s a reason you don’t see many back-lit fans IRL.

    Anyone who builds one will be deluged with complaints about migraines and epileptic seizures.

    They sure do look cool in a game though.

    1. Richard says:

      Yep, flickering lights are by far the most evil thing you can put in a workplace.

      Even LED PWM below about 200Hz can cause this.
      If there are multiple free-running lights in sight, then the ‘beats’ result in the lights shimmering, which causes headaches, migraines and worse.

      Even alone they can freak out people who are completely unaffected by flashing lights, as they will appear to move and can even seem to jump out of the light fitting.

      If you have an LED clock and an electric toothbrush, try brushing your upper teeth while looking at the clock.

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