It may be set in space, but everyone will be able to hear you scream. Chuck Beaver, Producer of Electronic Arts' chilling survival horror, Dead Space, explains why...
Outside of videogames, what horror media provided the inspiration for Dead Space?
We're just huge horror and sci-fi fans. We're influenced by so many of them, but we don't want to be exactly like any of them. Our goal was to create something new and fresh that could live in the sci-fi universe without being identified and compared.
We aspired to have a frame of Dead Space to be as uniquely identifiable as a frame of Blade Runner, where when you looked at it, you knew immediately where it came from. Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke were influential in that they think on huge scales, such as not just mining on a planet, but mining a whole planet. We were inspired by all these, and maybe subconsciously some of their stuff made it into our game, but we wanted to be unique. We've also got some Japanese horror influences in our looks and approach to horror, as in our fascination with tentacles.
What made you decide to create the Dead Space online comics, paper-based comics and animated movie, and what sort of work did it take to co-ordinate?
Glen Schofield, our Executive Producer, saw that as we were creating our backstory, it was so big and rich that it ended up bigger than the game, and we wanted to tell all this story, so we decided to go with different extended media. As the projects got going, Producer Cate Latchford insisted it was critical to avoid even the hint of cheese in these executions, as the hardcore fanbase of both sci-fi and horror can sniff that out a mile away. It was a collaborative effort with some of the top talent in the world, such as Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith for the comic series, and the Starz team from Film Roman with Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray as writers for the animated feature (Dead Space: Downfall). By engaging them, we were able to improve the quality of the overall story and the product.
Co-ordinating them all wasn't too insane - Glen had separated the story into three chunks, which overlapped at their ends. Comic first, animated feature second, game third. This way, each was able to writhe and contort as needed to fit into their delivery schedules without wrecking the other two, except at the end points. That actually worked out quite well.
Were there specific rules in the creation of Dead Space that you had to follow? For example, the player has to feel this particular emotion, or must never have to backtrack, and so on?
This game needed to be scary all the time, both tense and intense. Everything had to be immersive, to keep you grounded in the experience so the scares and tension could get to you - this drove the Heads Up Display-less design and no cutscenes decisions. Also, this meant high realism. The art style, physics, plot points, ship design, everything had to be as realistic as possible to keep you in a state of belief. Since we wanted to put two great genres together and have sci-fi in our horror, it presented an interesting challenge. Sci-fi settings tend to conflict with relatable objects and environments, which are required for horror to be effective.
We also wanted a few mechanics that went really deep, and when you combined them, they worked together to give you tactical choices. It's very rewarding to figure out a new trick on your own from combining tactics. Providing the player a chance to feel clever is always a good Plan A.
How did the element of telekinesis come up in the creation of the game?
Well, we first thought we wouldn't need it. Then Paul Mathus, our lead Level Designer for pre-production, kept saying, "Isaac Clarke has to be able to move things." And we were all, nah, he can just use the knock-back from his various weapon's fire to knock things around. That of course proved to be too sledgehammery, so we gave Isaac the Kinesis module and called it the forklift of the future. It fit in the fiction as well, because as a miner you'd need the ability to actually do these things - lifting great weight from a safe distance while rooted to the hull in your gravity boots, etc. Once we coded it to let you grab severed enemy body parts and throw them back as weapons, it was clear we'd made a good choice here.
Just how far can you take the dismemberment of enemies?
Since it's a core mechanic in the game, there's not any body part you can't shoot off. And there's a huge variety of states in which they can still come after you. So you pretty much have to take it to completion on each enemy before they are really dead. And even then, maybe not. You can even take it so far as to pick up their own body parts and throw them back at them as weapons.
How many different death scenarios are there for the player?
Actually, I don't know. The physics and dismemberment system on Isaac and zero-g make for new death scenes literally every time he dies, and I see new ones every day I play. He meets as many gruesome fates as he has limbs to get chopped off, and his waist counts as a limb. Of course, that's just the regular combat variety of death. There are tons of special death scenes where a unique fate meets Isaac for each specific enemy. Once you have an 18+ rating, the twisted minds of your animators tend to go wild, and they dream up stuff that makes you wonder if they're feeling well. There's one death scene in particular that is the team's favourite. You'll know it when you see it.
What kind of experience do you want players to have with Dead Space on a whole?
First off, we want there to be moments when the player jumps and screams. Literally. Second, we want you to feel "I just had a great experience" whenever you finish the game. In the end, we want you to feel that this was a game that scared you, entertained you, and told a great story.