Though it's been the source of one of the more creative sci-fi horror games of the past few years, EA Redwood Shores has borne a workman-like title since its creation in 1982. But no longer. Today, Electronic Arts announced that its oldest studio is getting a brand-new name, logo, and identity. Rechristened Visceral Games, the shop will now focus on "creating intense action-oriented intellectual properties" like its two most recent creations, Dead Space and the forthcoming Dante's Inferno.
Now-Visceral Games is located on the same campus as EA's world headquarters, in Redwood City, California. That proved a hindrance to its name recognition, according to EA vice president and Visceral's general manager, Glen Schofield. "Over the last couple years doing interviews for Dead Space, Lord of the Rings, and [James] Bond and all, people kept asking, 'What is EA Redwood Shores? Is it the campus or your studio?' So we never really had a brand--we just had a confusing name, so people didn't really know who we were," he explained.
Schofield said that the selection of the studio's new name was specifically designed to generate an instant recognition along the lines of Valve Software. "Now when people hear 'Visceral,' they'll know that's the studio that made Dead Space," he said. The executive also hopes the new name will give the studio an individual identity on par with the other developers in EA's semi-autonomous "city-state" studio system, such as BioWare, Pandemic, or Maxis. "That's the intent," he explained.
Schofield was quick to underline the fact that just because Visceral is in the same building as EA management doesn't mean that it will be more beholden to it than other studios. "It's nice that I can go walk over and talk to [EA CEO] John Riccitiello if needed, but they've given me a lot of autonomy, and Dead Space has bought a lot of credibility."
The title's mention of viscera also evokes the intense blood and guts that made the game a favorite among critics. "It certainly gives us a focus," joked Schofield, before quickly adding that the studio would be open games not rated M for Mature. "You can make a Lord of the Rings game, which can be pretty visceral with swords, and have it be rated T for Teen."
NEW PROJECTS AND IPs
Such a project could be unveiled sooner rather than later. As part of today's announcement, EA revealed that in addition to Dante's Inferno and the Wii spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, Visceral has two unannounced projects in the pipe. When asked about whether or not the two games would be all-new IPs, he declined to comment. However, he did explain Visceral's internal attitude toward its existing catalog and new IPs.
"I'd like to think Dead Space and Dante's Inferno end up becoming major franchises that we could do every couple of years, like we're doing with Dead Space: Extraction. We've got a couple of new ideas we're tossing around, and they're new IPs. But I think if the right license came along--the right movie, the right book or whatever--we'd do that as well," mused Schofield.
"Making new IPs is expensive, and at some point, you're going to fail," he added. "So we're not just going to be 'The New IP House.' What we want to be is--I look at Capcom and they've been making new IPs and turning them into great franchises. I don't think they buy anything. Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Onimusha--they're all their own IP, and they've turned into major franchises. That's my goal here."
Schofield is satisfied that Dead Space is well on its way to becoming one such major franchise. He revealed that the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC game has sold about 1.4 million units worldwide, despite being released last October amid a worldwide financial panic.
"I'm happy with that, based on the economy," said Schofield. "Last year could've been one of the greatest launch years in the history of video games around October time, but it was a year where people bought less games than they normally would. Do I wish it sold more? Absolutely. But the critical acclaim and the number of awards--we're at 75 and counting now--have made [Dead Space] bigger than just the number of sales. If you look at used sales and rentals, we're looking at probably 3 or 4 million people who have played the game."
Such awareness and appreciation bodes well for any new entries in the Dead Space canon, such as the forthcoming Dead Space: Extraction. In fact, Schofield isn't worried that the more action-oriented first-person shooter's Wii exclusivity will hurt its chances, as it has for other recent M-for-Mature-rated games on the console such as Sega's Madworld.
"If you look back at Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil 4 for the Wii, those sold close to a million and over a million," he said. "Madworld--to me, personally it's an art piece, and after a while, I got really tired of the art look. For me, I just couldn't take the black and white. So I don't think it's a matter of there not being a market, because soon there will be 60 million Wiis out there."
Schofield also said that Visceral has borrowed some of EA's top Wii developers to work on Extraction, whose advanced graphics have earned praise from the Mario Factory itself. "Nintendo has told us that if it's not the top, it's one of one of the top five best-looking games on the Wii," beamed the studio chief. Schofield also said that his team--most of whom worked on the original Dead Space--have embraced the Wii's motion-sensing controls. Players must shake the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to free themselves from a necromorph's clutches or mix up a glowstick for illumination.
He expressed doubt that Dead Space would ever come to portable platforms despite the recently announced PSP edition of Dante's Inferno. "If we could, maybe. I think part of the problem is all the major physics and the dismemberment, and things like that," said Schofield. "I want to stay true to the vision of Dead Space, and that is about dismemberment, zero G, and stuff like that. We'd have to make some compromises that I am not willing to make yet."
As for Dante's Inferno, Schofield said that adapting a 14th-century work of literature, Dante's Inferno, into a 21st-century video game was a lot easier than one might expect. "The great thing about it is it's broken down into the nine circles of hell, which is perfect for a video game. It's got nine different locations, different major bosses at each one, each one has different look. ... After that, it's just a matter of adjusting the story, and that becomes a writing exercise. But we've got writers who are experienced, so it's not that big of a challenge. "
Of course, when it comes to bosses, Dante's Inferno will have a doozy--the devil himself. "One of the challenges for some of the bosses in this, and especially someone like Satan, is trying to figure out 'What does he look like?' There's been so many different looks to him, and we really wanted our own look."
To give a unique look to Satan and other Dante's Inferno bosses, Visceral hired artist Wayne Barlowe, who created the creature designs for Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Galaxy Quest, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Now, his twisted vision will be seen in Dante's Inferno's creatures, including the three-headed guard dog of the underworld.
Gushed Schofield, "Wayne, man, he's out there! Cerberus is just ****ing nuts!"