Post Script

In­ter­view: Thomas Grip, cre­ative di­rec­tor, Fric­tional Games

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“Some peo­ple have said that it’s to­tally un­scary, and oth­ers say it’s so scary they can’t even fin­ish the open­ing hour”

Fric­tional Games co-founder Thomas Grip should be a happy man. At the time of writ­ing, Soma, the stu­dio’s first in-house game in five years ( Am­ne­sia: A Ma­chine For Pigs was han­dled by The Chi­nese Room), has shifted just shy of 100,000 copies in its first week on sale, and gar­nered al­most uni­ver­sal praise. But Grip is a per­fec­tion­ist, so in this in­ter­view we dis­cuss Soma’s hits and misses as he sees them. (Spoil­ers fol­low.) As an en­vi­ron­ment, Pathos-II feels re­ally au­then­tic. How much re­search did you do into un­der­sea bases? Not that much, ac­tu­ally. The base was very much, ‘Let’s make it up as we go along.’ That sums up the en­tire project, be­cause there were a lot of un­knowns from the get-go. Early on we weren’t even re­ally sure how much of the game would be in­side, and you were orig­i­nally meant to spend a lot more time in the wa­ter. So a lot of the in­door struc­tures came along as we started to re­design stuff. But we did a lot of re­search into spe­cific stuff like fish. We were very care­ful to pick species that could live at the depths where the game takes place. BioShock’s Rap­ture casts a long shadow over any un­der­wa­ter en­vi­ron­ment. Was that prob­lem­atic? It’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing: from what I read about the de­vel­op­ment of BioShock, we mir­ror a lot of how that game was de­vel­oped. But we haven’t been that in­flu­enced by BioShock other than check­ing out how the wa­ter was han­dled – we did that for a lot of other games, too. We found BioShock re­ally help­ful from a tech­ni­cal stand­point, but not aes­thetic. Ac­tu­ally, the thing that has cast a big­ger shadow on us has been the Alien movies, be­cause we re­ally wanted to make sure that our sci-fi cor­ri­dors had a dis­tinct feel to them. We re­ally en­joyed the Aliens ref­er­ences, es­pe­cially the miss­ing-crew mo­ment with the lo­ca­tors. That was al­most a di­rect rip from it [laughs]. We had the sto­ry­line, but then we added other sec­tions where we have th­ese black-box lo­ca­tors, and it just hit us: ‘This is Aliens – we need to have a map that shows where ev­ery­one is!’ It emerged nat­u­rally from our story and works, so we thought, ‘Let’s use it as an homage.’ Giger seems to have had a strong in­flu­ence on the WAU con­structs and drip­ping struc­ture gel, too. It was a big in­flu­ence, and it came pretty early on. The ini­tial idea was ‘Giger with fish scales’; then one of our con­cept artists, Rasmus [Gun­nars­son], sketched some early de­signs of that and it was like, ‘Yeah, this is cool – we need to have that.’ It feels like there should have been more games with his in­spi­ra­tion. Per­haps I missed some, but I can only re­call Dark Seed. Some­thing else that’s un­com­mon in hor­ror games is hu­mour. Were you ner­vous about in­clud­ing it? I mostly left Mikael [Hed­berg], our writer, to do what he thought fit­ting. He be­lieves it’s the en­vi­ron­ment and jour­ney that set the at­mos­phere, so the char­ac­ters don’t have to make it more scary, they just need to bring the hu­man part of the story in­stead. And hu­mour is the most re­al­is­tic thing you can do in hor­ror be­cause it’s a vent that you need in or­der to keep your san­ity. In terms of your goals for the game’s en­e­mies, how pleased are you with the fi­nal re­sult? I’m semi-happy. The most com­mon com­plaint that we’ve had is that there’s not enough me­chan­i­cal va­ri­ety to them, and not enough me­chan­i­cal dif­fer­ences to other games. But that’s ac­tu­ally a de­sign de­ci­sion. The whole idea be­hind the en­e­mies is that they should be a back­ground el­e­ment that you project your imag­i­na­tion on to. It worked out awe­some for the peo­ple who ex­pe­ri­enced every­thing [as we in­tended], but it worked out re­ally bad for some other peo­ple. Am­ne­sia pop­u­larised hid­ing in cup­boards, but why did you choose to leave that out of Soma, and other genre sta­ples like hid­ing un­der desks? I’ll ac­tu­ally say straight out that I think that was a slight de­sign blun­der from us – we could have done more. But then again, it leaves you a bit ex­posed and we did in­clude some hid­ing places, but I think a closet or two here and there would have been ap­pre­ci­ated! It’s al­ways a dif­fi­cult bal­ance be­tween hav­ing en­vi­ron­ments that are nar­ra­tively plau­si­ble and en­vi­ron­ments that, game­play-wise, of­fer you all the op­tions. What was the think­ing be­hind the health sys­tem? Once you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced death you know where you’re at – you know you’ve ex­pe­ri­enced the worst thing that can hap­pen to you. It’s the un­known that’s the most feared, so in­stead you’re knocked down, you’re hurt and you need to go fur­ther. And then in­cor­po­rated into that is this health sys­tem, which is dis­gust­ing, and it’s also un­clear as to whether what you’re do­ing is ul­ti­mately more harm­ful. We had even more am­bi­tious ef­forts on the death sys­tem from the get-go, but it didn’t turn out. Were you wor­ried the game might be too scary for some and not hard­core enough for hor­ror ob­ses­sives? [Laughs] It’s been very hard to fig­ure out where to draw the line. We’ve heard every­thing from peo­ple say­ing that it’s to­tally un­scary, to oth­ers say­ing it’s so scary they can’t even fin­ish the open­ing hour. So I can’t see any way to oblige ev­ery­one. We’re just go­ing for our in­tended ex­pe­ri­ence and hop­ing for the best.

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