Visceral Games on breathing life into Dead Space

Comic-Con 2010: Developers discuss the tie-ins to their survival horror franchise with the people behind the comic, novel, and animated film.

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Who was there: From the Dead Space team at Visceral Games, there was executive producer Steve Papoutsis, art director Ian Milham, and producer Rich Briggs. Joining them on stage were Christopher Shy, artist on the Dead Space Salvage graphic novel; Brian Evenson, author of the novel Dead Space Martyr; Christopher Judge, an actor lending his voice to the upcoming animated film Dead Space Aftermath; and Gunner Wright, voice of protagonist Isaac Clarke in Dead Space 2.

Dead Space 2 art director Ian Milham manned the podium for most of the panel.
Dead Space 2 art director Ian Milham manned the podium for most of the panel.

What they talked about: The panel was a discussion of the various ways EA has expanded its Dead Space intellectual property into new forms of media, with a focus on the most recent projects.

Leading the panel from his place behind the podium, Milham began by asking Shy about the upcoming graphic novel. Shy started by offering some basic context, stating that Salvage will explore the "dark corners" of the Dead Space universe in order to shed some light on the lesser known characters. In a later audience question, Shy described the story as a "sidequel" to the events of the video games. When asked about translating Dead Space's trademark horror atmosphere--a quality reviewers praised about the original game--Shy responded by saying he's going for a very "bleak" visual style, making numerous references to the first two Alien films as inspirational material.

After the graphic novel discussion, the conversation turned toward the printed word. Evenson, who coincidentally has written a novel based on the Alien franchise, described Martyr as a prequel that sets the stage for all the stories told in the Dead Space universe thus far. Like Shy, Evenson was initially drawn to the project by Dead Space's dark and imposing atmosphere. Much of Evenson's remarks focused on the themes he explored while writing Martyr. These range from basic ideas like how people react to intense trauma to a more intellectual subject matter, like how people behave when society is collapsing around them. An interesting comparison Evenson drew between the game and his novel was the sense of desperation and panic the player feels when his or her oxygen is rapidly depleting in the game's zero-gravity sequences. Taking those emotions and translating them into a text-based narrative was one of the most compelling challenges he faced.

Next, it was Judge talking about his voice acting work in Dead Space Aftermath. Judge, who has a sci-fi background playing Teal'c on Stargate SG-1, was asked about some of the challenges of going from a traditional acting medium like television to using purely his voice in an animated movie. He joked that the hardest part was going from a "monosyllabic" character like Teal'c to playing someone far less stoic. Expanding on that joke with some seriousness, Judge said that he initially had a hard time believing that the script was for an animated movie, praising the script for being far more "emotional" than most animated fare. They then showed a very work-in-progress clip from Aftermath, which despite its unfinished animation, served to show that the plot will deal with Judge's character searching desperately for his daughter.

After this, the members of Visceral Games took the opportunity to talk about their upcoming games. Briggs gave the audience an overview of the recently announced downloadable title Dead Space Ignition, which brings the franchise's multimedia expansion full circle in the form of an "interactive comic book" video game. A description of Dead Space Ignition can be found in GameSpot's recent preview.

Christopher Shy wasn't… bashful… about wanting to create a bleak atmosphere in his graphic novel.
Christopher Shy wasn't… bashful… about wanting to create a bleak atmosphere in his graphic novel.

Saving the highest profile title for last, the trio of Visceral developers then talked to Wright about his involvement in Dead Space 2. Unlike Shy and Evenson being drawn in by Dead Space's atmosphere, Wright said it was the story of the first game that got him interested in voicing Isaac in the sequel. (Wright wasn't a part of the first game.) He cited Isaac's status as an unremarkable everyman, which was more interesting for him than voicing the typically powerful video game protagonist.

As a visual aid for what kind of work went into playing a character in Dead Space 2, the panel showed a clip from a motion-capture session with the actors recording dialogue in full mo-cap gear, including dozens of small sensors attached to their faces. Wright said that the biggest challenge recording this way was simply being on an empty stage with the in-game environment invisible to him. This kept him from being able to move freely about the stage because there was no way to know whether he'd run into an object in the level or collide with another character in an awkward way. But he soon grew to enjoy acting in an empty space because the lack of distractions let him run wild with this imagination. "It's like going back to being five years old in a sand box," Wright said. "You're just getting paid for it."

Quote: After an audience member dressed in full Batman attire asked a question during the audience Q&A session, Briggs pointed to someone across the room and said, "Can we go to Joker next? That seems only fitting." Sure enough, there was someone dressed as Batman's archnemesis waiting to ask something next.

That wasn't the only highlight from the Q&A session. One fan garnered quite a bit of laughter for asking this blunt question about Dead Space's enemies: "Why exactly do they die when you chop off their arms?" Papoutsis got just as much of a laugh by immediately quipping with "You know, technically they're already dead."

The Takeaway: One thing made clear by the Dead Space panel is that a lot of time and effort has gone into developing the Dead Space canon. Visceral has done a lot to create a universe rife with stories, and the developer is confident that the franchise can be adapted across multiple forms of media.

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