Interviews// Ian Milham, the art director of Dead Space 2

Posted 10 Feb 2011 15:13 by
Games: Dead Space 2
Going along the PlayStation Experience in London this week was a blast. Itís always good to see new things. Especially new game things. And itís always good to chat. Especially to the people who make games. This time around I shot the breeze with Ian Milham, the art director of Dead Space 2.

SPOnG: How did you go about topping the sense of tension and dread that you guys achieved in the first Dead Space?

Ian Milham: Well, the feedback we got from the first game was good. I think we were really successful there. My big concern with Dead Space 1 was having something that was identifiable. It was a new franchise, and we wanted it to be as simple as looking at a screenshot to get people going, ďOh yeah, itís that Dead Space game thatís coming out.Ē

I think we may have been too successful in that sense, in that everything was a bit samey. The game ended up being so identifiable and so constrictive artistically that it kind of looked the same at the end as it did at the beginning. The big way in how weíre trying to top it this time was maintain that high level of quality, but offer much more variety. Thatís the big deal for Dead Space 2.

SPOnG: Of course one element of this is the new setting, the Sprawl - which has quite a lot of big open spaces, right?

Ian Milham: Not always, but yes. We change it up. There are some chances to stretch your legs a bit and have some epic moments in some broader settings. But itís not like weíve done away with the hallways.

SPOnG: How do you design the horror for those larger areas?

Ian Milham: Itís a combination of a few things. Firstly, a lot of the time those open areas arenít supposed to be particularly scary. The big rooms are meant to have action moments where we let you breathe again before shoving you back down into the horror bits. But there are other ways in how you can bring in the tension. Corridors are obviously easier to establish mystery and plant little hidey-holes that bad guys can be in.

If you want to achieve a level of suspense in a larger space, especially one thatís visually evocativeÖ I would say that the opening scenes of 28 Days Later were not scary per se, but they are very evocative and potentially horrific. And they were big wide shots of London, as an example. That sort of unsettling horror is different than you expect - thereís nobody in these shots, and theyíre jam-packed with visual storytelling. We tried to follow that tack for our larger areas, but they definitely represent the exception rather than the norm for Dead Space 2.

SPOnG: Iíve seen some areas that look very clean and clinical, that end up getting destroyed by necromorphs. When youíre setting tension in those seemingly inoffensive areas it must be a bit of a challenge.

Ian Milham: We definitely have areas in the game, without being too spoilerish, where weíve gone for that design specifically as a contrast and to establish that youíve achieved a new area. A part of the story in Dead Space 2 is that youíre racing the Necromorph wave across the Sprawl, so to really show that youíve gotten ahead of them a little bit weíll get you to a clean spot. Then as you fall back behind youíll be in a more terrible spot - we use that to give you an indication of where you are relative to the wave.

SPOnG: How difficult was it to design something that feels like it belongs in the Dead Space universe, without falling into the trap of just making it look like the Ishimura?

Ian Milham: Itís tricky, and thatís what takes so long. Both of these games took about two and a half years to make, and you would think that Dead Space 2 would be quite quick by comparison because weíve already figured a lot of stuff out, right? But all the art direction - getting the look just right so the settings are interesting and do pay off - I think thatís what takes a long time. And thereís no substitute for it besides a lot of pencil mileage.

SPOnG: What would you say are inspirations behind the design and direction of the game? You mentioned 28 Days Later earlier.

Ian Milham: 28 Days Later is a good example because thatís how we try to look at different mediums. Be it film or literature or paintings, we try as much as possible to think of not literally what that piece is showing us, but how it made us feel. Did it accomplish a feeling similar to what we want to do? And weíre inspired to achieve that same feeling, but not in a way that copycats that work. Itís all about the techniques used.

So we donít have any scenes that are exactly like 28 Days Later, but we took the methods of how to create a great sense of unease using that as a case example. For other examples, you might think of the loneliness and distrust of The Thing, or in the real world something as simple and clinical as dentist lights, and how being at the dentist makes you feel vulnerable and interrogated. There are no dentists in Dead Space, but that feeling is what weíre trying to get to.
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Games: Dead Space 2

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