Interview: Dead Space 2
Announced in December and due to launch early next year, Dead Space 2 is the follow-up to Visceral Games’ critically acclaimed 2008 take on the survival horror genre. Taking place three years after the original nightmare on the USG Ishimura the game moves the action to the Sprawl, a bustling space station built on the rings of Saturn. The setting may have changed but when the necromorphs rise again it’s left to engineer Isaac Clarke, sole survivor of the first Dead Space, to reacquaint himself with the art of strategic dismemberment.
We recently had a chance to speak to the game’s executive producer, Steve Papoutsis, about widening the franchise’s appeal without alienating existing fans, why the team felt it necessary to introduce multiplayer, and about the role the community is playing in the title’s development, among other things.
Visceral said last May that Dead Space sales were at 1.4 million units. Can you give us an update on where the game stands now?
Yeah, it’s more than that now. It’s definitely gone up but I don’t have the number in front of me.
Dead Space: Extraction got off to a slow start, didn’t it? How’s it performed sales-wise and do you deem it to have been a success?
First of all, from the team and my perspective we’re very proud of that game and we think that critically it was very well received. As far as commercial numbers on that, again I don’t have that information, but I think the perception of it starting out slowly as you said, that did happen, but clearly it increased in popularity as time went by. What we’ve noticed is if you look at Xbox 360 and PS3 software sales they tend to spike right away when a game comes out, and then on the Wii it tends to be a little longer of a tail, so to speak. Even if you look at the Nintendo firstparty titles, their games continue to be at the top of the charts many months after they’ve released.
I think it would be fair to say that Dead Space games have sold then, but not off the charts. Like a lot of publisher’s EA’s tightened its belt recently. Did you ever fear that Dead Space 2 might not be approved – was it ever touch and go?
No. I think what the team and I are focused on is just creating compelling and awesomely fun software. There are all of the business pieces that you talked about and that’s part of my job as well, to interact with the executives around the game, but Dead Space is a very special franchise for Visceral clearly, and for EA. It’s one of the brand new IPs that we brought to market. It’s [EA CEO] John Riccitiello’s favourite game, so we weren’t really worried about that. What we’ve focused on as a dev team is creating a sequel that’s better than the original game in every way, and one that lives up to the expectations of people that have supported the game, which are the gamers. We can’t get caught up in those other [business] bits because that’s not going to help us deliver the best game possible. From time to time I had to pop out to meetings to talk about those other elements, but we’ve just had our heads down trying to make sure that Dead Space 2 is super kick-ass.
I’d imagine that a key part of your remit for Dead Space 2 is to attract a wider audience. What kinds of changes are you’re implementing to achieve that and how are you ensuring that you don’t alienate the core following that made the first game a success?
We clearly do want to get more people on board with Dead Space. As makers of software it’s important that we get more people enjoying it because we’re making games we want people to have fun with. As far as the way that we’re changing the software to appeal to more people, I think the big thing with the original game that helped us stand out a bit from some the other games similar to ours was the setting, the science fiction theme, [as well as] the unique controls, mechanics and enemy designs that we had. And really, just the way the basic controller felt in your hands. Dead Space kind of evolved on the formula you may have seen in previous survival horror games, and we are really proud of the fact that we made some innovations in the way the character moved and some of those other elements, and one of the things that we’re focusing on with Dead Space 2 is to continue to refine those controls. It is our belief and philosophy with the franchise that we want the controls to be an extension of the player, we don’t want them to be an inhibitor to fun. We don’t want to create tension and horror out of bad controls, we want the player to accumulate skill with the controller so that they eventually feel like they’re very capable, so that’s one area where we continue to focus and make refinements in the hope of improving on the previous game and appealing to more people.
Another way is just by continuing to focus on our story to make it even more compelling this time out. So we’re really focusing on having a story that is easily understandable but also has all the intricacies and depth of the first game. It will also lend itself to some very epic moments throughout the game, so from time to time we want to make the player go, "Oh my god, I can’t believe I just did that, I can’t believe I just saw that." And those epic moments can range from being a really scary moment to just being a really awesome moment where you’re blasting the shit out of the necromorphs.
Senior VP of Visceral Nick Earl said in an interview in February that Dead Space 2 is “more focused on the action than the horror this time”. But noises coming from the development team seem to contradict that. I’ve heard it described as an “action horror” title. Where does the balance lie?
Again, we’re very focused on listening to what the community of Dead Space players want. That quote was probably taken out of context a little bit or changed a little bit when it was said, which happens from time to time. But we’re dedicated to making Dead Space 2 a true sequel to Dead Space, and that means retaining the survival horror elements. And if that means adding a bit more action in because it makes sense with the story then that’s going to happen, but we aren’t making a run-and-gun shoot ‘em up space marine game. That’s not our game and it would be silly for us to make a game like that because that’s not what Dead Space is about. We value the people that have supported this franchise to date and we would never want to alienate or turn them off. We’ve seen what has happened with other games out there when things like that happen and we’re not going to let that happen to Dead Space. So I just want to dispel any concerns people have – this is a true Dead Space game.