Dead Space producer Chuck Beaver talks science fiction, scary movies and crafting a story that spanned not only a videogame, but a comic and animated movie too.
Where did the idea for Dead Space come from?
Our Executive Producer, Glen Schofield, had a very specific idea about a gory, third person science fiction survival horror game, set in space. Strangely, that is pretty much what we ended up with three years later, which is very odd.
Usually, the game you set out to make is nothing like the game you ship. I remember the meeting where the core idea of planet cracking came about, and the idea of something being alive in one of the cracked planets. That became the core of the fiction, and we expanded the universe from there.
One of the chief mechanics in the game is strategic dismemberment: can you elaborate on this?
You pretty much have to dismember every limb from an enemy before it is really dead, whereas body shots are almost a waste. You can even take it so far as to pick up their own body parts and throw them back at them as weapons. Since dismemberment is a core mechanic in the game, there's really not any body parts you can't shoot off.
And there's a huge variety of states in which the necromorphs can still come after you as you are in the process of trying to fully de-limb them. Beyond those basics, many enemies in the later game ramp the tactical choices and chances for error by surprising you with how they react to dismemberment. Some burst forth new enemies if you hit them in the wrong place, others explode, others do things that are completely surprising.
What scary and science fiction movies is the team drawing inspiration from?
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 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.
Do you plan on putting the frighteners on people with plenty of seat-jolting shocks?
We rely heavily on immersion for keeping the player rooted in the moment, so that any bump or clank does have maximum impact. And we rely on unpredictability as to whether anything lies behind each bump and clank as the means to keep them effective.
We made our combat very lethal so you have a reason to be afraid if the noise turns out to be something. And of course, silence is just as valid a place for something to happen as well.
James Wan, the director of Saw became involved in the game, what part has he played in the Dead Space launch?
We sat with James several times over the course of the project and consulted with him on his ideas and philosophies on how he approached horror in his films. We get on with James quite well, and have a very productive relationship. He also cut a trailer for us that was quite brilliant.
Is there the potential to take the story beyond what's in the game and develop a sequel?
We had a hard enough time getting the whole story told between the six issue Comic series, the Dead Space: Downfall animated feature and then the game itself, so there's more than enough room in our canon for whatever may present itself after we launch. If we are a smash hit, we may get to visit our universe again.
It's quite unique in that you've done a comic and an animated prequel, it must be really interesting working on a project that spans so many mediums. Was it always the intention to do this?
Glen 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 this entire story, so we decided to go with different extended media in order to tell it all.
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.
By engaging them, we were able to improve the quality of the overall story and the product. Coordinating 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.
Comic book writers Warren Ellis and Anthony Johnson both worked on the game at separate stages of development, so who did what in Dead Space?
Warren was involved at the very start three years ago, and drafted some early treatments based on our key ideas of planetary mining and an infection that was released as a result. Warren's a great talent to get to work with, and presented some provocative ideas and concepts.
We've evolved those ideas quite a bit in the interceding three years, and added Anthony to our mix along the way. Antony did an astounding job on the comic books, and also wrote most of the dialogue for the game. His fan base in the comic world from his previous works is strong, and rightly so.
It was great to have him enmeshed in the story so he could orchestrate ideas across the properties. He may go Hollywood on us soon, so we'll need to keep an eye on his fortunes, lest he get out of reach!