Dead Space 2 is one of the year's most anticipated games, and we've got an inside look at the action-horror series' next chapter. Check out an exclusive pulse-pounding trailer featuring Smashing Pumpkins, plus our interview with Executive Producer Steve Papoutsis.
Who can Isaac Clarke trust? How can he survive on a whole space station full of Necromorphs? And can you get used to a talking Isaac Clarke?
We had lots of questions, so we caught up with Steve Papoutsis, the executive producer of the Dead Space series who worked on the original game as well as all the sequels. Here's what he told us.
Can you give us some hints of what to expect this time around, and how this game will be different than the first Dead Space game or the spin-offs?
Dead Space 2 is about delivering more of what fans loved from the previous games, while injecting occasional moments of epic action into the episodes of white-knuckled terror and suspense that Dead Space is known for. You can expect Isaac Clarke to be back, as well as the Necromorphs, in a "real space" setting that sci-fi fans can really sink their teeth into. Since this game takes place three years after the original, a lot has changed: Isaac is more capable, his RIG has improved abilities (like total Zero G flight control), and his engineering tools and weapons are totally overhauled. This is good because the Necromorphs are smarter, and the environments Isaac explores are deadlier too.
How do you create a video game with a mentally ill protagonist? Does this change the gameplay in any way, or create new challenges in terms of the character's perceptions?
The key is to make Isaac react in the same way we expect players to react in the situations the character comes across. For example, the first time Isaac hallucinates, we want players to question what's real and what's not, and so we made Isaac react in a similar fashion. But over time, we expect players to pick up on the clues that delineate the real from the demented, and to be more shocked than surprised. We think gamers will "get it" pretty soon, so Isaac has to as well. So when Isaac hallucinates, he recognizes what's going on, and the threat becomes more about finding a cure for his illness as opposed to questioning his reality.
Because it can kill him, there are a few cases where Isaac's dementia affects gameplay. But we kept these sequences to a minimum, to keep players focused on their goal of survival.
In terms of setting, how is a heavily populated space station different than an abandoned spaceship? Are there going to be a lot of different environments, as we visit different "neighborhoods" in The Sprawl? Is the William Gibson nod in the Sprawl's name intentional?
The biggest difference is that we get to show off how people live and work in the Dead Space universe, beyond just the miners and engineers we saw on the Ishimura. We do a lot of storytelling via the environment, and the variety of places you'll see lets us expand on parts of the fiction that we otherwise couldn't cover. In terms of gameplay, it also gives us more creative opportunities to build fun places to explore. The first game had a lot of corridors, but Dead Space 2 goes further with vertical apartment complexes, twisted malls, underground energy facilities, and the labyrinthine Church of Unitology.
Regarding William Gibson... I don't want to spoil any Easter eggs from the game, but observant players can uncover lots of nods to our favorite sci-fi inspirations around the Sprawl!
With the game's multiplayer mode, it sounds like players will be able to be a security squad or a group of necromorphs. What were the challenges in creating necromorph gameplay?
The biggest challenge was figuring out what Necromorphs to use for multiplayer. We decided that we wanted just a handful of Necromorphs that had symmetry with the offensive abilities of the human team. So the Pack, for instance, specializes in melee and speed. Pukers and Spitters give the Necromorph team a short and long range attacker. And finally, the Lurker lets players crawl on walls and ceilings, hide in shadows, and snipe at the humans from afar.
Now that Isaac can talk and interact with a group of other characters, how will this change the creepy atmosphere of the original game?
We wanted to make Isaac a more relatable character, and to do that he had to have the opportunity to interact with other NPCs – help them, get mad at them, and even crack a smile now and then. So throughout Dead Space 2, you'll see Isaac pursuing his own objectives while developing relationships with a small cast of characters. But Isaac's adventure is a solo one – don't expect a lot of cooperation from the people Isaac meets! This is because working alone and adventuring solo into dangerous sectors of the Sprawl is what makes Dead Space 2 scary, and we'll never sacrifice on a feature as important as horror.
So now that Isaac has "total Zero-G flight control," how does that change things? Also, what was it like designing decompression scenes? And also, we hear that telekinesis will be more important this time — how do you make TK into a weapon?
We had Zero G in the first game, but you may remember that Isaac could only locomote between fixed points. The first thing we did with Dead Space 2 was prototype ways to control Isaac so that he had full mobility in Zero G. We had a couple of different approaches, but the one in the final game was by far the most fun. After we decided on how Isaac would locomote, our art and character teams brainstormed concepts for how his suit would allow for this new ability, and you'll see their efforts in the flaps and thrusters that are part of Isaac's new RIG.
Prototyping decompression was a bit trickier. We went through several different variations, but they all started with the core tech that was built into the "drag tentacle" sequences from the original Dead Space. So when you play Dead Space 2, and get sucked out into the void of space, know that the whole idea started with a giant tentacle knocking you around a cramped corridor.
As for kinesis, this was something that was possible in the first Dead Space, but it was never messaged well or incredibly useful. For the sequel, Isaac actually starts without any weapons, so being able to use kinesis as a weapon is much more important. It's valuable later on too, as a means of conserving ammo. Just dismember an enemy limb, and then shoot it back at him for a quick impalement!
How do "destructible environments" change the way you design a setting? How can players tell which environments are destructible and which aren't?
The design differences between a destructible and non-destructible environment are mostly technical. For instance, you can have 100 panes of destructible glass in a scene, so long as they're spaced out half a meter apart. Our designers get guidance from the engineers, so when they design a room or arena, they just take those rules into account.
One of the goals for Dead Space 2 was to ensure that the "interactive fidelity" of a scene matched its "visual fidelity." That is, we already know how to create great-looking environments – the challenge for the team was to make sure they played and reacted as well as they looked. The result is that players won't have to figure out what's destructible and what isn't, because almost everything in the game has some degree of interactivity to it!
Why does the government want to resurrect the Marker and why are they after Isaac Clarke? Is the government just basically pro-zombie?
To answer this question would give away too many secrets of the game. Let me just say that nobody in the Government is pro-zombie, but they are pro-Marker. That's a big difference.
I've heard there's a Church of Unitology environment in the Sprawl. Are we going to learn more about this religion and its tenets?
Yes. And not just about the Church of Unitology, but the Marker as well. The Marker has always been a core element of the Dead Space franchise, but we couldn't just dump one hundred pages of backstory onto players who bought the original Dead Space. So we held back some of its secrets, revealed a bit more in Dead Space Extraction, and really raise the curtain on the Marker for Dead Space 2. The beliefs and motivations of the Unitologists are also fully explored in this game. Inside the Church, you can actually take a narrated tour of their holy grounds (if you want) while exploring and killing Necromorphs. It's a cool little side-feature that Dead Space fans should really enjoy.
Dead Space 2 comes out on January 25. Here are some previously released images: