Developer Diary – 87 – Dead Space

In this dev diary, I discuss the Dead Space franchise and what they did to create a horrifying atmosphere.

Hello, so today I’d like to talk about ‘Dead Space’. ‘Dead Space’ and I have an interesting relationship. I think EA launched a ‘Dead Space’ cartoon/anime movie tie in when the game launched, so I thought, as I didn’t have Gamefly, “Oh I’ll just Netflix this and I’ll judge the video game based on the quality of this,” which in hindsight seems like a terrible idea, but I was really busy, and I was looking for an excuse not to play a game. Which sounds weird, but I think that was during one of my numerous periods of crunch, so I had a huge game backlog, and so if I can say “Oh this is something that I don’t want to play,” it’s like more time I can spend on other things or play other games, as there are so many games that I’ve never played or didn’t finish playing.

Anyway I didn’t really like the animated movie. I’m sure it was rather low budget, and I doubt it would inspire anyone to play the game. I don’t know why they did it although now I’m almost tempted to re-watch it now that I quite enjoy ‘Dead Space’ to see if I have a finer appreciation for the animated tie in. The thing about ‘Dead Space’ is Joe, our artist, was a big fan and those are some of his favourite “horror” games and I say “horror” in quotations because I feel they’re too action heavy, at least for my tastes. I think a lot of people do like the action horror fusion, but to me, if I’m like superman with super powers and cutting limbs off enemies left and right it’s not as scary, I don’t feel as threatened. I think they had a really great idea with Issac Clarke being an engineer, and so it’s like, hey I’m an engineer! I have a degree from the college of engineering at Michigan! I mean I suck, I suck at everything, right? So if you put me in a room with aliens then I’m just going to get destroyed it’s going be a joke. Then unfortunately the engineer well I guess he seems more like a handyman and all his tools are super laser weapons that can destroy enemies, which works for the action set-pieces, but again it’s not as vulnerable as I’d like.

I played through all three ‘Dead Space’ games but I don’t want to talk about ‘Dead Space 3’. It’s dead to me! But I sort of played through the first two rather begrudgingly whilst grumbling to myself, “Oh this action-y, grrrr I’m an old curmudgeon this isn’t true horror,” but I couldn’t stop playing them. I played through them both very quickly over a week or two which is pretty impressive for me, really should have been a sign that I was digging them but even still afterwards I was like “Grrrr Dead Space, action-y, not my thing”.

But it kind of is my thing because I find myself thinking about the games and what they did well. I think they did a really good job with the audio, they had some scary and tense environments and they did a lot of smart things with their setting. I think that they really sort of explored the scariness of space which I think is terrifying and I haven’t seen the movie ‘Gravity’ yet, but I’m really excited to and I think that’s sort of falling in those lines of “Space can be scary” with all of its vast nothingness and the things they did with the audio whilst you were in space in that game.

Even the story was smart. The whole, I don’t know if they deliberately said if it was based on Scientology I thought they said that somewhere, but it did have that sort of Scientology cult feel with the Unitoligists even though their end game was bizarre. I don’t know what sort of religious beliefs wants to merge into a giant pillar of humans or something, I forget which game that was anyway but still that added an extra layer of depth made the world more interesting and feel more real. I mean people are always going to have religious beliefs even two million years in the future, so making that a part of your Sci-Fi world is a smart idea, and it certainly plays well into the plots which you know aren’t super compelling by themselves but I think they definitely held the game together quite well and were interesting. Oh yeah and the eye scene in Dead Space 2… That’s all I’m going to say, was pretty awesome.

So anyway if you can stomach the action aspects of horror game and I think the core gameplay is done well, but again its like “Ahhh you got action game in my horror pudding”. That said the ‘Dead Space’ games are worth a try. It’s kinda funny I was thinking like “Man I wish they ported those games to the Xbox One and PS4 with higher res textures and everything” but I guess I could play the PC versions as I played the Xbox versions, I’ve heard the PC ports weren’t all that special though like they didn’t make it much better. Still the idea of playing a better graphics ‘Dead Space’ was really sort of appealing to me but I don’t know if that will happen, I can still dream though. I do think we’ll see a lot of ports from last gen to this gen, especially from Sony who was the most pro-active about it but I think that’s a wise business decision as there’s no backwards compatibility and it’s a lot cheaper than creating a new game with the ability to generate interest in a franchise. Still I think EA has more or less given up on ‘Dead Space’ anyway.