Level design for SOMA
We are going to look at one of the first parts of soma (not including the prologue) and looking at its level design. First, we are going to look at the aesthetics of the level and how some elements of it have been flopped on its head.
The setting for the game is in a sci-fi lab/engineering facility, you later find out that this facility is located on the ocean floor. So, a lot of the level is made of metal plating, however it’s very clear for the beginning that this facility is very much abandoned (or the people who are there are dead) and in disrepair.
From the image above you can see that most of the rooms within the game are very square shaped. Now this is where things get turned on their head, as shapes have an impacted on us. Squares normally represent elements like stability and balance, yet because we can see that this place is falling apart we get this contrast between the two, telling us that this place is very wrong, resulting in us being unsettled about the place.
The lighting within the game also has a huge impact on us. Not only does it add to the character of the environment, aka this run downed facility is dimly lit. but it is also changes so that the player doesn’t get to use to the environment and to help to an element of control away from the player. Let me give an example. At the start of the game you move through this semi-dim environment, you find your way into a room where a few robots are hanging up, you interact with one of them and after so turn around to find that one of them has gone missing. After leaving this room and moving on into the next large open room, all the lights cut out, leaving only the emergency red lights on. Now it’s not the darkness itself that makes it scary, it’s that the player knows that robot is out there somewhere and now that the lights have gone out it takes away the ability of the player to see where it could be. The changing of lighting in an environment sets up/ reinforces the scary, it is not the scary itself.
The game is design to allow the player to explore a bit, but of course it still has sign posting within it to help stir the player in the right direction. At the start of the game the player is locked in a room, there are some computer but the player can’t interact with them until they find a device called a omni-tool. The player will be promoted to smash the window to escape, after doing so they will find a brightly lit lock on the other side of the door leading back into the room. The player can remove it and then contain down the hall way. It will split into a large hall with a few rooms on the sides, however the player can instantly see where to go as the next door they should go through has another lock on it. ones unlock and the player goes into the room the explores, this is the room filled with robots. The robot the player wants stands out because it has sparks flying from it, after interacting with it and the other robot escaping, the player will follow the sound of it which will lead them to a door that one before was lock and now has been smashed open. This then leads on to the room where the faculty loses power to the lights.
Within this game it is mainly lights and sounds that are used to direct the player with sometimes using objects like wires which the player may follow to guide them.