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How Frictional pacified SOMA's monsters without sacrificing the scary

Speaking to PC Gamer, SOMA director Thomas Grip discusses the design considerations made when creating the game's upcoming 'safe mode'.
"We have to think of them as inhabitants of the environment and make their interactions with the player fit the game’s atmosphere and story"

- SOMA Director Thomas Grip says Safe Mode forced devs to think about enemy encounters differently 

When SOMA releases for the Xbox One at the beginning of December, all versions of the game will receive a new update that introduces a 'Safe Mode'. Announced last week, the new mode will pacify the creepy cast of creatures that would otherwise pursue and attack the player as they work their way through SOMA's submerged world. 

Speaking to PC Gamer, Frictional Games founder and SOMA director Thomas Grip elaborated on how the mode operates within the game and how, in many ways, it improves on SOMA's design. 

“I think the biggest problem with SOMA is that the experience of meeting the creatures doesn’t really add anything to the themes," Grip tells PC Gamer. "They help build the atmosphere, but the stories they generate don’t have a lot to do with the game’s larger themes of identity and consciousness. Gameplay has to give rise to personal stories that mirror the narrative, and we’re making sure this is the case in both our upcoming games.”

Grip says that the presence of hostile monsters in SOMA was originally intended to help convey the unpleasant world in which the game takes place to players by delivering a hefty dose of fear and tension. At one point during development, the team had considered including a death-free mode at launch, but ultimately canned the idea to instead focus on delivering that core creepy experience.

In the time since, a number of community modders have stepped up to the plate and created their own take on a monster-free SOMA, confirming the team's early hunch that the game could benefit from that sort of option. For the official alteration, however, Frictional spent a lot of time thinking about how to pacify SOMA's monsters without losing the original intention of their inclusion in the process.

“So while you can’t die, the monsters may still be dangerous if you push your luck too much," explains Grip. "This means there’s still a sense of hostility in these creatures, which preserves the original intention of making the world feel inhospitable and oppressive."

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