Interviews// Dead Space 3: The Horror of Co-Op

Posted 8 Nov 2012 14:00 by
The classic survival horror genre is dead, is it? Try telling that to Visceral Games, who essentially re-imagined the format in 2008ís Dead Space. A space opera that put you in the role of a silent protagonist, trying desperately to get off of a drifting starship and escape the dangers of Necromorphs - twisted, gory, human contortions that scuttle towards you and try to munch on your tender flesh.

In a world where many game franchises just fail to be scary - be it through lack of execution or by simply not trying anymore - Visceral proved that the genre could survive (so to speak), and be successful at the same time. So far, it hasnít put a foot wrong, with Dead Space 2 upping the ante and proving to be every bit as fresh as its predecessor.

Dead Space 3, however, is introducing a new location in ice planet Tal Valentis, along with a co-operative mode and a new character named John Carver. This isnít just Issacís horror story anymore. Naturally, fans and survival fans alike have reacted on the defensive. But, as Visceral Gamesí VP Steve Papoutsis tells me, thereís absolutely nothing to worry about.


SPOnG: Letís start with the cinematic and art design of Dead Space 3 and what influenced that. Weíve had shades of Alien before, but this one seems very much inspired by The Thing.

Steve Papoutsis: A lot of the time, people like to stereotype or classify a game as an action game, or a horror game. But we donít see it like that. For the team, our question is not, ĎWhat genre is this?í Itís, ĎWhat is Dead Space?í To us, Dead Space is about atmosphere. Itís about tension. Suspense, horror, action, thrills and survival.

When we started to work on this game we wondered what kind of environments can also speak to those things. And the planet, Tal Valentis, is all of that - itís an intense atmosphere, filled with tension. You never know whatís lurking out in the snow. The deadly conditions on the planet surface - you could fall off a cliff, into an avalanche - that screams Ďsurvivalí.


SPOnG: How challenging is it to maintain a sense of horror and suspense and keep that energy in Dead Space going, when youíve already made two games that have achieved that?

Steve Papoutsis: Well, I think the biggest thing is that itís not only about the horror, itís about trying to deliver the best Dead Space game weíve ever made. When we started developing this game, we thought about the [quality] target we were going to aim for. Everyone says theyíre going for AAA. So we thought, letís go crazy - letís go for AAAA.

And I know that sounds silly, but as a group we want to have something to rally around. Something to aim for. So we threw that idea out there, and thatís what our target is. To make a AAAA game; the very best game ever.

Talking specifically about horror... how do you continue to scare and frighten people? That, indeed, is very challenging. You need to maintain a freshness. It needs to not be predictable. So we were asking all sorts of questions during development about how we were going to achieve that on Tal Valentis. Shall we have guys pop out of the snow? Come out of the mist?

That mindset helped leverage a variety of things, like locations and the pacing of the game. Pacing is definitely one thing we looked at, especially when developing Dead Space 2. On Dead Space 1, we had the element of surprise. People didnít know what to expect. We didnít want to become predictable in Dead Space 2, so rather than just having the scares being in the exact same cadence, we mixed it up.

This time, weíre really looking at new ways to do that. One of those ways is through the psychological angle that you get to see with John Carver.


SPOnG: The co-op element threw a lot of fans off. What do you feel about the fan response to what theyíve seen? They probably see Dead Space as a solitary experience, and look at games like Resident Evil that have tried to add co-op without much success.

Steve Papoutsis: Well... for me, I would say the first thing is that I think itís great that people have an opinion. That means that people are passionate about the game that the team is building, which is awesome. The fact that people care so much about Dead Space is fantastic. Iím really happy about that, and Iím really proud of what the game team is making. So, itís good, in one way.

In another way... people arenít getting all the information. You see a small piece of the game, and you donít know what to expect. Maybe in the past, theyíve heard people say things and it doesnít come true, so they have a jaded opinion about what weíre going to do with the Dead Space games.

Weíre very genuine in what we say and what weíre going to do. We honour our commitments, and deliver on quality. Thatís what weíre all about. So when we say weíre going to make an innovative co-op game thatís true to what Dead Space is all about, we mean it. And when we say weíre going to make a single-player game that retains the same flavour and elements of Dead Space, we mean it.

Youíre able to play Dead Space in single-player without Carver following you around. I think a lot of people immediately jumped to the conclusion that they now have someone tagging along. Thatís not true - you never see Carver when youíre playing single-player. When you play co-op, itís additive to what youíre doing - meaning that it doesnít change the overall story or mission.

It doesnít feel like something totally bifurcated and different. Youíre getting details about a unique character that has his own story, his own demons, and actually adds flavour and context to the experience without changing the end result of the story. That was not easy, and I donít think people easily come to that conclusion when they just hear about Ďa co-op modeí. Because, honestly? They arenít thinking about it every day. Thatís not what they come to work to do, like the team does.

So for us, going back to what I said earlier, Dead Space is about a bunch of different things. Itís about atmosphere, tension, immersion, horror, action, suspense, survival. Thatís what the game is about, those are the things the team holds true and dear, and thatís what weíre going to deliver.


SPOnG: How much of an impact has including co-op had on developing Dead Space 3? Does the additional character change how you design the game?

Steve Papoutsis: Doing co-op was a huge undertaking for the team. Itís just more work, honestly. The stuff that Carver sees in co-op... we know that this is content that some people just arenít going to see. Some people just donít like co-op so will never experience that stuff. Thatís cool, they donít have to. Itís optional.

So we had to build something that some people arenít going to look at. Itís kind of a bummer, but you know what? Thatís alright. But there are also technical challenges - getting the game to run well, and maintain the visual fidelity that we want, and keep the combat pacing tight. All of those things weíve grown to expect in Dead Space.

Thatís hard work, and the teamís done a great job of making sure they can account for a second high-resolution character in the scene. It also impacts how we write and tell the story - having additive scenes that, again you may not hear or experience. Thatís extra work too, as well as having different cutscenes that change and morph as players come and go through the experience.

But at the end of the day, none of that matters. What matters is that we deliver the very highest quality and best Dead Space game we can. Weíre really fortunate to have people - our players - passionate and excited about what weíre doing. All that stuff aside, thatís whatís really important for us.


SPOnG: Did you guys look to different gameplay mechanics in design as well? When a lot of people think of co-op games especially, they just think of the other player as nothing more than an extra gun on your side. Someone who helps you open doors.

Steve Papoutsis: Well I think that was probably one of the easier things, actually. The Dead Space games have such a rich mechanic set, when you think about it. Sure, weíve got weapons that have primary and alt-fires - a lot of games have those. But we have kinesis, we have stasis. Those two mechanics are pretty cool.

So when you start playing with a friend, now youíve got a dynamic where maybe youíre the guy who really likes to crowd control, so youíre using stasis to slow enemies down while youíre friendís taking them out. Or maybe youíre the guy who wants to be in a support role so youíre healing your friend. Thereís a lot of different things that are just inherent in the mechanics set we have. So that part really felt natural for us.


SPOnG: Lot of other developers have said in the past that survival horror is dead, and that players donít want the classic survival horror experiences of the past. Do you agree with that sentiment?

Steve Papoutsis: I donít know. I mean, I think thereís a great opportunity for teams to make games that are true to those values and tenets. With Dead Space, we donít really want to stereotype or categorise ourselves. We feel like the game is a collection of tenets - a collection of emotions that are elicited from playing the game. As long as we continue to deliver on those core feelings, weíre making a Dead Space game.

And thatís what weíre making - whether you want to call it a survival horror, action game or a puzzle game. That doesnít matter. What matters to us is that you have those feelings that I talked about. And if you walk away feeling thrilled, this intense feeling of survival - awesome. Then we did our job, and we made a game that was true to what Dead Space is about.


SPOnG: Thanks a lot for your time.

Steve Papoutsis: No problem, thank you!
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