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Frictional on Machine for Pigs, SOMA and the future

Frictional Games was one of the break out indie stars a few years back, developing its own engine around the Penumbra universe and spearheading the helpless, horror driven story telling that has now become much more common place. So much so in-fact, that Red Barrels released Outlast almost alongside the latest Frictional published (though not developed) title, A Machine for Pigs. Nowadays though, Frictional is focused on developing its next game, the recently teased and trailerd, SOMA. Combining SCP creepyness and a sci-fi setting, we got in touch with Frictional founder Thomas Grip, to ask him about the last couple of months and to see if we could wheedle any more information out of him.

KG: Hey Thomas, thanks for speaking with us today. First off, I want to ask you what it was like handing over your Amnesia franchise to another developer (The Chinese Room)?

TG: I was a bit nervous, but we were all very interested in seeing what they could come up with.

KG: Ultimately the game they made, A Machine For Pigs, was released less than a week after Outlast, another survival horror where the player is technically defenceless. What did you think of all the comparisons people made between the two games?

TG: It was quite fun to have two horror games with similar base concept (unarmed & chased by monsters) be released almost at the same time.  When you read reviews and user comments, it is very interesting to see what aspects that are most prominent to the players; what they felt each game did best and worse, and so forth. There is a lot of stuff to learn from that, you just have to read between the lines a bit :).

KG: In the last few weeks though, you've been focused on teasing your next game, SOMA. There was some ARG-like elements with a faux website crash and those unnerving videos. You've hinted that there's more to come, but is it worth people still digging around now? Have they found all the secrets released so far?

TG: The teasing is over, so there will be a little while before we release more stuff. All of the major stuff has been found, but there are some small details that I think nobody has picked up on yet.

The SOMA trailer features an updated version of Frictional's HPL Engine (3) 

KG: You and fans have mentioned thematic links with the SCP Foundation, which focuses on unnerving or creeping out readers more often than scaring them outright. Is this something you plan to focus on with SOMA, and if so, will there still be elements of survival?

TG: SOMA will be very much about the unnerving quality that also exist in SCP. It will still have some good old survival in it though. The problem has been to properly combine the two. We do not want it to just boil down to a “run away from spooky monster”-affair, but want to to go much, much deeper than that. SCP was a major inspiration in getting it all right. This does not mean we imitate the SCP stories as such, but that there is a certain quality and highlevel structure to them that was very helpful when pondering our own design.

KG: We saw a brief glimpse of a Matrix sentinel-like monster in the trailer you released. Will we be running from this sort of creature like we did in Amnesia: Dark Descent? Or will we be able to combat them in some way?

TG: First of all, it is important to note that not all monsters are directly hostile. Some just simply exist in the world, and it is up to you to decide how to interact with them. We want to go beyond monsters that simply come running as soon as they spot you. The aim is to create this really unsettling feeling where you are constantly second guessing what a creature might do next.

KG: You wrote in a blog post recently, about interactive storytelling, the many elements involved in it and the difficulties that surround creating an experience that covers the bases and is still fun to play. Some of the criticism levied against A Machine For Pigs was that it was a bit gameplay light. Do you plan to address this in SOMA?

TG: It sort of depends on how you view storytelling. It is crucial to keep in mind that story is not just plot, I.E. a sequence of carefully laid out events. But story is also setting, themes, characters, etc. So a game that focuses on storytelling could really have no plot at all.

He may have a point there

TG: That said, the problem with storytelling arises when you want to create certain dramatic situations, but still want to have player agency intact. It is very common for games to just go cut-scene-mode when this happens in order to make 100% sure that all players experience it the right way. Our approach is to set up a scene in such a way that most, but not all, experience it properly. For instance, when encountering a monster we want the player to hide in a closet and watch it pass by, but since the player is in full control they might just rush the monster and ruin the scene. This is a bit risky, but for those players that play through properly the experience is so much more rewarding.A cannot say we will be addressing any AMFP issues, because that game was designed to be as such, and I think it was a valid approach. In SOMA we will take another direction though and provide open and dynamic environments that give more freedom for the player to act. This is not a reaction to any AMFP criticism though, but just how we feel works best for the game.

KG: So far you've announced PC and PS4 versions of SOMA. Why only one console? And more specifically, why Sony's?

TG: We wanted to start with one console platform, and when we reached out to Sony they were really easy to deal with and then it just went from there. There might be other platform versions later on, but since we are a small team a PS4 and PC release is more than enough for now!

There's a real Johnny Mnemonic feel to SOMA's early screenshots

KG: While there's a lot of different fictional and real world references to “SOMA,” I have to ask since it was the only one I knew: does it have anything to do with Aldous Huxley's fictional drug? 

TG: Interesting how much this has been brought up! I have read the novel but the name of the drug never stuck to my mind. Afraid there is no real connection between the two.

KG: I must admit, while I'm a fan of your games, I haven't gotten beyond the first hour of any of them. I'm sure the readers will think I'm pandering (or a girl) but I just can't do it. I feel like I'm going to have a heart attack. Part of that of course comes from the fear of being alone, but I wonder if these games would be possible with a cooperative aspect? I feel like I might be able to get through one of them if someone could hold my hand.

TG: Ha, yeah and we have some ideas that we might explore in the future. Right now it is only single player though.

KG: Well thanks for taking the time to get in touch Thomas, we appreciate it. Is there anything you'd like to add?

TG: We are really excited and happy about the great response we have gotten so far. Seems like people are really liking the premise even though it has been very vague. Also wanted to add that if people think that the game seem unsettling, they have seen nothing yet; the rabbit hole runs a lot deeper.

Frictional Games' SOMA is currently in development and scheduled for release sometime in 2015. For now you can check out the official site with its new trailer and keep up to date with any Frictional news on its Twitter.

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