What I learned from SOMA

First of all, SPOILERS. This whole post is spoilers, so go and play SOMA first, if you haven’t yet, I highly recommend it.

The story felt compelling, interesting and unobtrusive. This was achieved by not removing control from the player during dialogue, except for the beginning dream sequence cutscene, which is about 30 seconds. You wake up in your apartment, answer a phone and are told that you have to find and drink a bottle of tracer fluid, and then make your way to an appointment. The apartment is the perfect safe zone for the player to learn the controls and basic mechanics of the game (find the thing, use the thing. This covers every objective in the game, along with: find the exit and avoid the baddies). The next scene provides you with an option to answer or decline a call, showing the player that they have options. These options were fairly infrequent throughout the game and I found that they did not seem to have any consequence at all, even the large one at the end where you choose whether or not you kill the last human or killing your own copy. I did only play through once, but these choices I made, along with others, never came up in dialogue again.

That having been said, the story itself was fantastic, although that may just be because I am interested in high science concepts and their philosophical repercussions.

The use of light to direct the player towards objectives was often very strong in this game, keeping that in mind during play made finding my way around very simple and helped lower my stress, although I had to make the conscious choice to look for these areas at times, as there were some areas with a lot of other sources of light, or they were obscured by scenery, however these areas never featured time constraints, giving me the time I required to figure them out.

The anxiety/boredom flow was used pretty well in this game, safe areas in the early game felt very safe at all times, but in later parts of the game had constant creepy or dangerous noises playing to make those areas feel much less safe than the earlier ones.

SomaPC12There was a small problem with the increase of enemy difficulty, where I moved from one area with an enemy that teleports around, and kills you if you look at it (which could see and hear you) and kills you if you are too close to it, to an area with an enemy that could not see you and you could look at, that seemed to only respond to sound. This was an enemy that was less dangerous than the previous one you encountered, in an area that you had more ability to move around (the previous was in a sunken ship, with tight corridors and was completely flooded so it felt like you had less move speed. You were expected to find your way through the ship and although the level itself was fairly linear, you had to spend most of the time not looking around or moving as quick as you can through the level, making it difficult for the player to map out the area. In contrast, the next level was just very dark. It was also a bit maze-like, but because of the nature of the enemy you had plenty of time to take the area in and get your bearings, not to mention the darkness meant that the use of lights to illuminate the goal were very obvious in contrast.

This situation could have been used to allow the player more confidence in themselves and may have been required to keep players interested. I myself felt quite hopeless when facing the previous enemy, if this difficulty had continued trending upwards, I may have given up. The problem I had was that there was a severe build up of this second monsters difficulty, much more than the previous, through constant ambient noise and story elements. This monster did not really need to be less difficult than the previous one though, as there was a whole level in between these monsters without any threat and much less ambient build up of stress.

355020960I noticed the possible use of an FSM in one of the enemies AI when I got it
stuck in one of its states. From what I could tell, it had 7 states; Idle with / without target, Patrol, Search for not – visible target, Search for lost target, Found target – Submissive / Aggressive behaviour. This particular AI (the small corrupted submarine with red lights) seemed to have a medium range of vision and hearing (you could sneak behind it but not run). If it spotted you, and then lost you, it would move to the location it last saw you, move around the area (possibly towards sounds made by the player?), then eventually return to its last position in its patrol (unless it heard or saw you). If spotted, the AI would move towards you, but in a submissive state, would attempt to keep a short distance between itself and the player (the player has a faster move speed than it). It had an extensive list of dialogue audio clips, in this state it would beg the player for their ‘structural gel’ (reinforcing the recent discovery that the player was not human). After a short time, the AI would move into the aggressive state, and advance on the player, attempting to collide with them. This was accompanied with aggressive dialogue and a change in the model (tentacles erupted out of its hull, reaching and wriggling towards the player).

I somehow caused the FSM on this AI to fall into its submissive state, but fail to move into its aggressive state (it just sat there begging me for structure gel). I’m pretty sure I was crouching and half hidden at the time, but I somehow caused its timer to never count down or to go outside its expected range, or possibly it skipped the exact number it was required to hit to move state, but that’s very unlikely. I held it there for a few minutes until I decided to move towards it, this caused it to move straight into its aggressive state and it killed me.

I hadn’t had any other issues with the AI in this game, so I believe that this was a freak occurrence and therefore nothing to worry about. This is also something that would be picked up in rigorous play testing.

The ending felt a little strange to me, as the copy of the player that was left behind could make its way back to the other sites, with Catherine’s copy (your AI ‘friend’ throughout the game), and just continue on with their lives, maybe working on the WAU to become something less horrible. I also don’t understand why the whole site did not try to continue the human race (and maybe nip the WAU in the bud, before everything got so nasty) and instead chose to only preserve the brain scans of a few people for a few hundred thousand years instead. This is just a prolonged but now inevitable death.

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