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Why SOMA's dev wants to postpone death

In the survival horror genre, death changes a player's relationship with the game, according to a recent blog post from SOMA developer Frictional Games creative director Thomas Grip.

Inspired by a recent video for Alien: Isolation in which players react to in-game scares, Grip took the opportunity to talk about how Frictional sees death in survival horror games. 

"If you watch the video you can see that the players aren't being freaked out of their minds when they die," Grip wrote. "They're laughing, and feeling relief. And the death sequence is non-interactive, which further enhances this sense of sitting back and becoming a spectator."

Players die, and tension and terror get refocused into the desire to beat a section through gameplay. According to Grip, Frictional's Penumbra: Overture presented a similar problem in a chase scene in which players' experience "depended on the number of attempts" to survive. 

"I think it's important to remove this sense of repetition."

So what can a developer do to maintain the suspense of a survival horror game? 

"The only proper solution is to make sure that death is postponed," he wrote. "Outlast has a monster that throws you to one side, giving you a chance to run off, a mechanic that works well in its story. Daylight has damage build up on the screen, which gives you time to escape. Both of these are great ways of extending the terror. Some kind of death must happen sooner or later, though, or the player will quickly realize that the monster is harmless — and that's no good at all. When death occurs I think it's important to remove this sense of repetition. For instance, in Amnesia we changed the map a bit after each death (which in some cases led to additional scares)."

Frictional is also experimenting with "a fate worse than death" in its next game, SOMA, in which the "basic idea is that 'death' is not final but takes the player closer and closer to a very disturbing state of being."

For more on SOMA, which is headed to PlayStation 4 and Windows PC in 2014, be sure to read our hands-on impressions and interview with developers and watch the trailer below. 

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