As is the usual deal when your game hits, you end up doing the press circuit. While Frictional Games’ SOMA has been out now for a while, it just hit XBox One a few weeks back with a new “Safe Mode” feature. And as such, we received the opportunity to chat for a bit with SOMA Creative Director and Frictional Games Co-Founder Thomas Grip not only about SOMA, but about what he’s up to, and his thoughts on the horror genre itself.
You’ve stated in the past that your first game, Penumbra, was inspired by Resident Evil. Is that your favourite game?
“Obviously a lot of the stuff in Resident Evil has aged by now, but when it was released there was so much that inspired me; how they introduced monsters, the mix of action and puzzles, the atmosphere, and so forth. It was easily one of the most inspirational games for me.”
What made you guys decide to go the survival horror route with Penumbra, seeing as the genre had essentially reached its peak a few years prior to Penumbra’s release, and had started to get bogged down?
“I had been making free hobby games in the same vein five years prior to that. So, for me it felt like time to to make a commercial one. It was simply the type of game we all wanted to play, so it made sense to make it!”
With SOMA, why did you decide to go with the “under the ocean” setting?
“I’m afraid there is no deep reason for this. One day [Jens Nilsson] (who co-founded Frictional with me) simply said it would be cool if we could set a game at the bottom of the ocean, and then it all went from there.”
With your new port of SOMA to the Xbox One, did you face any challenges with the hardware?
“It’s worth noting that we used Blitworks, a Spanish studio, to take care of the porting so we didn’t mess with the this directly. The challenges they encountered were of the usual sort though. For instance we might have used some quirk of the original hardware to our advantage and then that had to be changed because the Xbox didn’t have that quirk. That sort thing. Nowadays, porting is relatively easy as much of the underlying hardware is the same. It was way harder 10 or so years ago, when each console could be radically different.”
What made the team decide on the new Safe Mode feature for SOMA? It would seem like removing the monsters is the antithesis in some ways to a survival horror game.
“We actually thought about having a mode similar to this at launch, but decided not to. This was mostly because it we were worried that the intended experience of the game would be fuzzy. Now, over two years later, that no longer feels like the case. On top of that, there is a lot of people who have wanted to experience the sci-fi narrative without any monsters encounters. So, it felt like the right time to release the Safe Mode.”
“It’s important to point out that the game is still quite scary. In fact, I was surprised how tense it all felt despite knowing I couldn’t get killed. The mode honestly worked a lot better than I thought it would, and playing it feels like a legit SOMA experience.”
In a past interview, you had mentioned that the team ultimately decided against doing DLC for SOMA. Do you think the idea of DLC can be a detriment to a game’s development?
“I think that DLC can be great, both from a customer and developer point of view. With SOMA, we just felt it would be too hard and the team was quite exhausted. Instead of risking making some sub-par DLC, it felt better to just focus on making a new game. I don’t rule us out making DLC for any upcoming titles though.”
In the same interview, you had mentioned that the team had looked into a VR version for SOMA, but that time was a factor. Would you still want to see a VR version of the game (or any of your games) down the road?
“We had a pretty cool idea for a short VR version based in the same world. I really would have liked to give it a go, but unfortunately our time and resources are limited. So, we had to put in on the shelf, for now at least. We might get back to it later.”
The Frictional team is currently working on two secret projects, one of which you had described as “a proper horror game”. What did you mean by that?
“One of the core intents will be to frighten the player. SOMA, for instance, was more of a sci-fi game and the horror was more of a supportive feature. In one of our upcoming games, the horror will be front and center.”
What do you say to those people that when they hear the about anything related to “horror”, they react with disdain or ridicule?
“Are there really people like that?! Most people I meet seem to have some sort of interest in horror and the reason for not watching is simply that they think it is too scary. Horror is an ancient theme for storytelling, possibly the oldest there is. It deals with our deepest fears and forces us to face them head-on. When done right, horror can give you insights into the human condition and our place in the universe. People who ridicule that don’t really know what they are talking about.”
What games are you currently playing? There’s a running theme with some people who work in the industry that when they get home after work, they do anything but play games.
“The latest game I played is Lego Jurassic Park which I am playing with my kid. I also checked out Observer and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice recently. I try to play as much as I can, and feel it is quite different from working on games. However, my spare time is limited and right now I am overwhelmed with things to do, so I’m feeling a bit behind. I aim to do quite a bit of playing during the Christmas vacation though!”
Finally, what’s your favourite horror film?
“Hmm…that’s really hard to pick. I think I have to go with The Exorcist. There is just so much good in that movie. What I like is that it takes a fantastic subject and makes it all feel so real. I just love the whole build-up and how all of the parts come together so perfectly.”
Thank you for your time, Thomas. Soma: Safe Mode is out now on XBox One, but also as a free update on PlayStation 4 and Steam.