The Dead Space series is one of Electronic Arts' biggest properties. And with Dead Space 3, the most ambitious game Visceral has made to date, horror comes home in a whole new way. The game features a new co-op campaign where series hero Isaac Clarke fights alongside newcomer John Carver. It is a major change to an established franchise. And it fits.
That's according to executive producer Steve Papoutsis, who told GameSpot this week that Visceral had been toying around with the idea for Dead Space co-op since the original Dead Space. He said co-op in Dead Space 3 fits the narrative and is a natural evolution of the franchise.
Elsewhere in the discussion, Papoutsis explained how his time as bassist for '90s punk rock band No Use For a Name influenced the music in the Dead Space series, why EA skipped the Wii U for Dead Space 3, and the challenges associated with finding new ways to scare gamers.
Your musical background is intriguing to me. No Use for a Name was unabashedly a punk rock group. But the Dead Space series seems to have a different energy. Whereas punk rock typically takes no time at all to get going, the Dead Space series feels slower, more direct, and more finely focused on building tension instead of launching straight into the action. Considering these dueling ideas, how did your time with No Use for a Name influence your work on the Dead Space series?
First off, I’m just one of many people that contribute on the game. In terms of my musical background’s impact on Dead Space, it actually comes in handy all of the time. Prior to being a video game producer, while I was playing in No Use For A Name, I was an audio engineer and producer, with my first work in video games as audio director at Crystal Dynamics, working on games like Soul Reaver. Whenever I’m working with the audio team here at Visceral my background really helps me provide feedback and direction for our soundscape. In Dead Space 3, we are trying to add in more melodic themes in addition to our usual musical queues. This is something we started playing with in Dead Space 2 and we are continuing to push into more. So far I’m digging the results. We have some really interesting themes going that I find myself humming after playing the game.
As for the game at hand, one of the biggest and most obvious changes with Dead Space 3 is the addition of a co-op partner. There was a report from this summer that suggested EA research found that single-player-only Dead Space games may have been too scary. Is this why a co-op partner was added?
We added co-op to Dead Space 3 because it was something the team was passionate about, something we actually played around with even on Dead Space 1, and it was where our story was heading. When we sit down to work on a game we really focus on our story and look at that as ways to develop and evolve our games. The story of Dead Space 3 really lent itself to introducing new characters and John Carver is just one of the new faces people will get to see.
I recently went on a haunted hayride in the middle-of-nowhere Maine. It was terrifying, but I was not alone. Rather, I was on a wagon with a dozen others. In a way, for me, going through that experience with others was exactly the right "scare level." Is there a similar aim in Dead Space 3? Or am I just a baby?
"We added co-op to Dead Space 3 because it was something the team was passionate about, something we actually played around with even on Dead Space 1, and it was where our story was headed."
That’s the thing; horror is subjective. What is fun or scary for one person may be boring for another or absolutely terrifying. We see this with feedback on Dead Space all the time. Some people claim it is not scary; others say it is way too scary. Ultimately, we just want people to say it is a really fun game and give them the opportunity to share the thrilling Dead Space experience with a friend, just like you and friends enjoyed the haunted hayride together.
Why did EA choose to skip the Wii U for Dead Space 3?
When we kicked off development for the Dead Space franchise we targeted the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC as our target platforms after our initial prototyping. Given that, we decided to stick with what we have done to date and stay with those systems. I’m sure the Nintendo will have great success with the Wii U.
What are your thoughts on the platform, specifically its GamePad controller? What kinds of control opportunities does it present?
A game developed specifically for the Wii U from the ground up would open up a lot of possibilities. The fact you can have a second screen with touch interface is pretty awesome. Some of the more obvious things that come to mind are maps and inventory on the second screen, or even some sort of cool scanning device if your game called for it. It would be fun to brainstorm ideas around it for sure.
Horror is at the core of the Dead Space franchise. But from what we've seen thus far of Dead Space 3, there is more action than ever before. How are you balancing staying true to the horror roots and providing an action experience as well?
The team takes the core tenets of Dead Space very seriously. For a game to be a Dead Space game it needs to have the following: great atmosphere, tension, thrills, horror, terror, immersion, superior sound, and action. If the game does not have a good mix of those key elements it's not a Dead Space game. The biggest challenge is blending and balancing all of those elements and ensuring the pacing does not become predictable. This is something we work on all the way up until we ship the game.
What are some of the challenges you face designing scenes meant to be terrifying when two players are involved instead of just one?
Our approach to creating tension and terror in co-op is slightly different than the in single-player. In co-op we utilize the dialog between the characters to amplify key moments, and the fact there are two players in the scene can really support making something feel more sketchy or challenging or risky. We also have introduced additional missions that only Carver can unlock that are centered around his own personal story. You’ll see Carver is having fits of dementia and that allows for us to tap into the elements of psychological horror that have been a key pillar of the series.
"That’s the thing; horror is subjective. What is fun/scary for one person may be boring for another or absolutely terrifying."
Is it difficult to continue creating new ways to scare gamers?
Our goal with the game is to try and get the pacing to a place that works and keeps things fresh and avoids repetition. The inclusion of scares or horror moments is really a part of our pacing pass. We need to look for pockets of the game that support scare moments. As an example, it’s not going to be super scary for someone to have another necromorph jump out of a vent in the middle of combat, as the player is probably already focused on another threat, so that type of scare is lost on the player. The best scares are the ones that come at unexpected times and keep the player on their toes.
So many EA titles today not only include a competitive multiplayer component, but they focus a lot of time and energy on this. Why did EA drop competitive multiplayer from Dead Space 3?
Competitive multiplayer made a lot of sense in Dead Space 2 given our story. There was an outbreak on The Sprawl, so The Sprawl security forces attempted to fight back the necromorphs, as a component of our story. In Dead Space 3, we are introducing co-op because that is where our story is headed and it is evolving our franchise. We are focusing on co-op because it is new for Visceral and we want it to be innovative and awesome. Dead Space 3 is the biggest game we have ever made so we want to make sure we nail single player and co-op.
A multiplayer component is often used, by EA and others, as a means to extend a title's longevity. Battlefield 3 players are encouraged to hold on to their discs because DLC streams in, even a year later. The same can be said for Mass Effect 3 and others. Without a competitive multiplayer component, how will you convince players to hold on to their discs?
Dead Space 3’s campaign is huge in itself as it’s the biggest game we’ve ever built with many side missions to explore, but we’ve also added new game modes, and our new weapon crafting system really encourages exploration, experimentation, and replayability. Couple that with co-op, which unlocks new story content focused around John Carver and I think we have a very compelling game for people to play and enjoy with their friends for a long time.
Certainly there is more material to tap into for future games, but is Dead Space 3 the end of a trilogy?
The Dead Space universe is massive and there are tons of interesting stories left to tell. We are looking forward to what our players think of the game and will consider our next steps then
Dead Space 3 is due out on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC February 5.