Dead Space 2 Exclusive Q&A
When there’s no more room in space, aliens will be bloody everywhere!
If you’re excited about Visceral Games’ sequel to the sleeper hit Dead Space, then be sure to read our exclusive Q&A with Wright Bagwell – Creative Director, Ian Milham – Art Director and Steve Papoutsis – Executive Producer.
X360: Getting the horror right in the original Dead Space was clearly something that took a lot of thought and effort. At the time there were stories about the artists and designers looking at footage of dead bodies for authenticity, has this dedication to realism been repeated for the sequel?
Steve: We take authenticity and terror very seriously on the Dead Space team. We want to make sure what we are creating will resonate with players and not feel cheesy or overly gamey, so it’s important that we look at real world examples when possible. At times we also have team meetings, where we all watch horror movies together to help provide inspiration as well as have some fun.
X360: Are there any other examples of developers and artists looking at or taking inspiration from unusual/disgusting sources in order to make Dead Space 2 a unique and terrifying experience?
Ian: We try to look at everything, from other art that is trying to be scary (Lovecraft Books, Japanese Horror Films), to real life things that aren’t intentionally scary but end up that way (dentist’s lights, broken bones, too-low ceilings, etc.). We think about what makes us uncomfortable, like the unknown, lack of personal space, losing someone we love; and try to put the essence of that into the Dead Space experience. At the same time, we can’t be a constant grind of scare tactics, or it’ll get stale. So we plan moments of release and triumph before plunging the player back down into the pit.
X360: Sci-fi and gothic horror have strong roots in film (with the Alien franchise) that are clear inspirations for Dead Space, where do you start designing a world and an enemy that embodies fear but is also original?
Ian: Although we look at successful films to see what they’ve done, we really try to study the real world. For a horror story to work, the player really has to believe the world, so he or she can believe what happens there and not think it’s a fantasy. So we study what makes a world real believable and have a solid grounding. What makes an airport feel like an airport and not some other setting? What makes a room feel like a real room and not a bunch of polygons? Those are the questions we’re asking ourselves all the time. We find that settings that are trying too hard to be scary frequently feel amateurish and heavy handed. Real terror comes in the perversion of everyday spaces.
X360: The Necromorphs were a particularly disgusting enemy with some innovative creatures based on the human form; as a general rule for sequels we assume we’ll be seeing new designs, but where have you looked for inspiration?
Ian: We thought the most successful Necros from Dead Space were the ones that were little stories unto themselves. Where you could take one look and say “Holy crap! Look what happened to that guy!”. So the new Necros for Dead Space 2 will continue that tradition. On top of their looks, several new varieties will appear with new abilities and quirks. All pretty much based on what you’d least like someone to do to you.
X360: Have there been any moments during design where you perhaps took the creatures too far? Is that even possible in a horror title like Dead Space?
Wright: It’s pretty hard to go too far in Dead Space when it comes to being creepy, gory, or unsettling. We never really hold back there. But when not done in a particular style, elements of our creatures can go so far as to become comical or too alien-like. All of the Necromorphs in Dead Space originated as humans, so we can’t start making giant alien crocodiles. Everything has to have some element of humanity left in it.
It happens fairly often that when we first start sketching or animating a character, certain parts of the creature can just turn out to be comical or are interpreted differently than we had hoped. There’s a fine line between horror and camp, and we have to constantly make sure we’re staying away from camp.
X360: The Ishimura was an excellent homage to the haunted house, or derelict space craft motif; how do you top such a uniquely terrifying location in the sequel?
Ian: The feedback we got on Dead Space’s setting was overwhelmingly positive. Players really believed the Ishimura as a setting. But they also said that it was kind of the same looking all over. So we’re topping it for Dead Space 2 by keeping that same level of quality and believability, but offering much more diversity. In Dead Space 2 Isaac will go to locations that are built for many purposes by many different people. That lets us go much further with the cultural detail, variety of spaces, and different moods than we did last time. The player will get to go much deeper into the worlds of forces that were only hinted at in the first game.
X360: Nailing the atmosphere is as important as providing visceral scares, where do you start building the atmosphere? The right location? Art direction? Sound design?
Steve: It’s a combination of all of those elements. We need to start with a believable concept because that is a big part of getting the player to buy into the world. From there we consider the pacing of the game, where the combat happens, story elements, puzzles, and upgrade moments. We then bring all of the disciplines together and define what we are trying to accomplish in a specific location or scare. Creating the horror moments is a true team effort as it touches all of the various disciplines on the team.
X360: Much of the tension in the original Dead Space was a result of the player having to monitor his ammo and supplies, if you’re looking to provide a more action orientated sequel where do go for that tension?
Wright: We’re not abandoning what made Dead Space great. Players will still have to monitor ammo, health, and stasis, and spend credits wisely in order to stay alive in Dead Space 2. What we are doing is giving the player more variety, more of a roller-coaster ride. There are stretches of the game where resources will need to be carefully monitored and places where resources can be found fairly easily. By placing pickups in the levels strategically, we can make sure that the player is stocked up in places where we want him to feel like he has the upper hand for a brief amount of time. Some levels will be constructed to give you a sense of claustrophobic fear, and some will be constructed to give you tactical high ground.
Our goal is to make Dead Space 2 every bit as scary as Dead Space; but instead of constant fear and tension, there will be more emotional peaks and troughs.
X360: Dead Space made some genuine leaps forward with its gameplay integration of the menu’s and HUD to maintain atmosphere and tension. Will you be pushing this aspect further and what benefits does this have to producing great horror?
Steve: The biggest benefit our minimal approach to HUD and menus is that it keeps the player focused on what is happening around them. They are not distracted by some HUD element that reminds them they are playing a video game. We wanted players to feel like they are in the middle of a horrific experience and nothing says “game” like a big obtrusive HUD element . As far as pushing the design further we are continuing to push for innovation with our menus and hope that Dead Space 2 evolves what we did on Dead Space.