Dead Space Extraction Panel Recap

Visceral Games talks storytelling within the Dead Space universe, fire extinguishers of the future, and the possibility of an iPhone game.


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Who Was There: From Visceral Games there was executive producer Steve Papoutsis, dialogue writer Antony Johnston, and art director Ian Melham. Joining them was Ben Templesmith, the artist on the Dead Space comics.

What They Talked About: The main theme of the panel was storytelling within the Dead Space universe. Papoutsis gave a general overview of the sort of effort that’s gone into creating a vast fiction and the painstaking way they go about relaying that story in the game. From the very outset, Dead Space Extraction was mapped out in the traditional three-act structure of setup, confrontation, and resolution, which can be further divided into catalyst, turning point, climax, and finale. He then showed a graph that depicted player tension within the game, showing a steady upward trend with noticeable peaks for each of those four segments. Definitely a very scientific approach to the art of storytelling.

After that, Papoutsis talked about the process of creating the Dead Space fiction. Before they went about spreading the story into various forms of media, they wanted to make sure they had a consistent timeline and that none of the various Dead Space projects would conflict with the others. He showed a visual aid in the form of a chronological timeline where events were depicted in color-coded font according to Dead Space, Extraction, the comic, the animated film, and so on. It was a pretty elaborate timeline utterly packed with text, so you can be sure there was some serious work put into this universe.

Then the panel moved on to the other guests. Antony Johnston wrote dialogue for the games and the comic, so he was asked about some of the differences in writing for the two formats. According to him, the key difference is how much room you have to work with. Since people play games in isolated chunks rather than one contiguous session, he has to be a lot more economical with his writing. He made sure to avoid long, rambling cutscenes. Then Ben Templesmith talked about his work illustrating the comics. He said that on a personal level he’s had more fun with the Extraction comics because it took him four issues in the original Dead Space comics before he got to draw a single necromorph, whereas with Extraction the action starts much quicker.

Then Ian Helman took to the microphone to talk about some of the big differences between designing environments for Extraction compared to the first game and how it related to the camera. As fans of the series know, Dead Space used a traditional free-roam camera while Extraction uses a scripted one (call it a rail shooter or guided experience--whatever you like). In some ways, it’s easier because he can concentrate items and ideas of interest a lot more easily because the user doesn’t control the camera. However, they run the risk of a user becoming disgruntled if he ever sees something interesting that the camera doesn’t explore. To avoid this, Helman has relied on some of his old film-school tricks of creating theatrical teases and lighting effects to draw a player’s attention to a distant point onscreen, then move the camera there and have the player feel rewarded that the place they wanted to visit originally turned out to be part of the camera’s path.

Helman also talked about some of the troubles of designing environments 400 years into the future and trying to tell a story within them. As an example, he mentioned how the fire extinguishers in Dead Space were the same exact models as you’d find today. In the future, they’re sure to have invented another type of fire extinguisher, which Helman could have theorized and put in the game. But players would become too distracted trying to guess what that mystery device was for that they’d be taken out of the story.

Best Audience Question: There was an audience member dressed in full Isaac Clarke costume who asked--in first person, mind you--whether he’s going to be able to see himself die in gruesome ways in Extraction (a reference to Dead Space’s extremely violent death animations when the player gets killed). The answer was no, since Extraction was in first-person. But it was hilarious to see the developers react to the Isaac cosplayer, especially when Helman shouted how weird it was to see one of his own creations talk directly to him.

There was an alternate best question that led us to believe that Dead Space Extraction is destined for another system with a unique control scheme: the iPhone. One audience member asked if there were any plans to release Extraction on another system at a later date, to which Papoutsis responded by saying with a sort of coy tone in his voice that Extraction is a Wii exclusive for now . Then another audience member got right to it and asked if we’ll see an iPhone version in the future, at which point smiles flashed across the faces of a few panel members as Papoutsis exclaimed there are no official plans for that but that he feels the iPhone as a game platform is “top-notch!” We could be conspiracy theorizing here--maybe they were all simultaneously thinking of a funny joke they heard earlier today--but it seems like a safe bet that Dead Space is going to make its way to the iPhone in the near future.

Worst Audience Question: This wasn't a dumb question by any means, but one that just happened to conjure up a funny image. An audience member pointed out that the E3 trailer used a song from the band Mogwai and wondered if the full game would use more of their music. The answer was a definite no. Can you imagine a Dead Space game using an entire soundtrack of licensed music? Maybe the little EA Trax logo popping up in the corner of the screen during a boss fight to let you know a Belle and Sebastian song just started? That made us laugh.

The Takeway: Dead Space took a lot of people by surprise by just how awesome it was, with preconceptions of the “Old EA” not being risky enough to make such a creative and original game. Well, it’s clear that Dead Space was no accident. The team put a lot of hard work into that game’s storytelling, and it looks like just as much effort is being put into Extraction.

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