If you wonder why Dead Space cribs from other material, consider the fact that they were the sole new IP developed in competition with The Godfather, Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons.
There is no way EA would let a licensed game near the chopping block — not if a little-known new IP like Dead Space could be canceled first to free up resources.
"Dead Space doesn't have much stuff in it compared to what we thought we were going to make," Art Director Ian Milham explained. "We thought, let's not get fancy with the art direction. Our risk tolerance was pretty maxed out from the start."
For his panel on "Creating Horror and Immersion with the Art of Dead Space (which could be canceled any minute)," Milham discussed the myriad
inspirations that led to EA's only horror title ever created (at least until Dead Space 2 comes out).
A big one was David Fincher films. Milham explained that the colors in movies like Se7en and Fight Club "feel hopeless and decayed – while still varying up the color so you don't have the next-gen brown that everybody gets raked over the coals for."
Colors like Fincher's are consistent within one frame — but varied throughout the whole project, which is definitely what happens in Dead Space. Go back and play the Leviathan boss fight again and you'll see what Milham was talking about: it starts out blue and warms to red as the boss comes closer and closer toward Isaac.
Next up was Gothic architecture for the actual innards of the Planet Cracker ship, Ishimura. I won't bore you with specifics, but if you think to yourself "Gee, the inside of this place looks like a rib cage," there's a reason for that. Bonus if you can find circles with ribbing on them — Milham is fond of those.
Lastly, Dead Space drew from dentists offices to create the lighting concept for the game. The point of that, said Milham, was both to cut down on the troubles of deferred lighting and to make the player feel constantly uncomfortable. "You sort of feel interrogated," he said, showing a slide of a room dotted with dentist lights. "A lot of our lighting is on arms like that. We wanted no indirect light."
The result, along with a lot more borrowing from Sci-Fi Horror classics like Alien, was this:
Not everything in the game was cribbed, to be fair — sometimes the things that we saw are the direct result of the dev team applying some of Kojima's problem-solving skills. For example, the game was never meant to include heads-up displays, maps, or helpful terminals that tell you where to go. Everything has to be communicated visually — from Isaac's health bar to whether or not a door is open.
The art team rose to the challenge, coming up with the Japanese subway-style signs above doors and a landmark system using the lurid advertisement posters throughout the ship. The result is something that looks a like like other stuff, but still scares you just the same. Even anachronistic things like fire extinguishers (which you'd think would have evolved a little in a hundred years) were choices made by the art team that drew you into the world and made it truly scary when you finally saw an alien.
But you wanna know what's really scary? The they might have canceled Dead Space to make this.