Dead Space 3 has a mid-game twist and “did not change the formula”
Interview with Dead Space 3 Producer John Calhoun
by Arthur Kotsopoulos
©2013 Arthur Kotsopoulos
Some people said, no I just couldn’t take it, it’s unrelenting, it was gory, it was just too much.
EA Australia recently held a hands-on with Dead Space 3 and allowed journalists to get stomping with roughly the first 2-3 hours of the game.
Whilst it was an extremely intense session in a chilly room decked out with a fake-white snow carpet I had the chance to speak with John Calhoun producer on Dead Space 3.
In the 13 minute interview I got a better understanding of a developers point of view regarding backlash from consumers regarding the game’s change of direction and a delved a little deeper in the thought process of including certain features in the 3rd installment of this popular franchise.
Dead Space 3 Interview
Arthur: After the initial E3 2012 unveiling which I was present for, how did the team at Visceral react to the consumers’ concern over Dead Space 3 being much more action oriented?
The demo on the floor or behind closed doors was Isaac on Tau Volantis and there were a lot of Unitologist soldiers with guns, Necromorphs with guns; it kind of moved away from the slow confined corridors of Dead Space 1.
John: It was actually hard for us because we knew what the full game was like, and at that time we couldn’t actually talk about it because there was still a lot that was under wraps.
So people were saying it’s an action game, they’ve lost their roots, they’ve added co-op ruining everything and we heard all this and for the longest time we were unable to actually respond. But we knew the truth, right?
This is a long epic game and as you’ve seen from your play today there are periods of high action and there are also periods long suspended tension.
It’s the same team that made Dead Space 1 and 2, and we haven’t changed our formula. We’re still about epic action, quality audio, tension, thrills- everything that made Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 2 great is in Dead Space 3 but we just couldn’t say anything about it so people saw the demo and thought we lost our way.
Truth is when you go to E3 you have a very short amount of time to make a very big splash, so we put together a demo to specifically show off what was new.
No one’s going to put together a demo to show off everything that’s the same or that point in the game where you play for 15 minutes and there are no enemies, but rest assured all the things that work in previous versions of Dead Space are in full effect in Dead Space 3.
Arthur: And how do all these features fit in with the direction of Dead Space 3?
John: Co-op is something that we wanted to do for a long time, and we’ve actually done co-op already in a Dead Space game with Dead Space: Extraction so it’s not a first for us.
It’s a response to what the fans were telling us. We reach out online to people who have played the game and we ask them “What would you like?” and “what could we do better?”.
People said in response to Dead Space 2 that the thing they really liked doing was playing the game over and over again on different difficulty levels and that surprised us, but they loved the story and they loved the experience.
“What could we do better?”. “Well it gets harder, a lot harder on some of the difficulty levels I wish I could play with a friend”.
And we’ve also heard from the very beginning way back with Dead Space 1 that some people found the game too scary- we know people who played the game for 3 hours and said “No I just couldn’t take it, it’s unrelenting, it was gory, it was just too much”.
Well we decided to put co-op and really make it our focus to address those two camps. We want people to know that if the game gets too scary they can invite a friend to play with them and it takes a little bit of the edge off.
We haven’t lost the horror because there are some exclusive horror moments in co-op and for people who just like playing with a friend and want to play Dead Space at it’s fullest difficulty with all the action challenge it offers,.
You have to play cop-op it’s the best way to do it.
Other things like weapon crafting and other features; these are just a way of innovating and making sure that Dead Space isn’t stale. When people buy this game we want to make sure they get a good value, there’s a lot that’s new and everything that you love is still intact.
Arthur: With co-op I read that it was always a feature intended for the Dead Space universe. What was the decision for bringing it into the third installment? Was it because there wasn’t a character that the team felt comfortable with explaining in co-op mode?
John: The reason that we brought it in at this point, is in Dead Space 2 we had a competitive multiplayer match which allowed our team to learn online programming, well not learn because they knew it, but it was a first for Dead Space.
So we had this online backbone and architecture and we decided “Look we’ve always wanted to do co-op”. The reaction to competitive multiplayer was kind of neutral, people liked it but they only played it for 3-4 hours so it wasn’t really good return on investment for us.
We were like “Look we have this and people want it. Now’s the time to do it”.
We’ve had the character in the wings; we always had John Carver with his story fleshed out, like how do we get a more relate-able soldier style character into Dead Space, because some people don’t really get into the whole engineering aspect of Isaac Clarke: science fiction fans do, action fans don’t.
All the stars just kind of aligned for us and it was the perfect time to put it together.
Arthur: And with the character of John Carver and the drop-in drop-out co-op, obviously people that play as John Carver will have a different experience to those playing as Isaac Clarke. How fun was it to craft a unique experience like where one character is going to see and hear something and then the other character is not going to be able to understand what the other player is experiencing?
John: It was great, and what we found.. to answer your question, it was a LOT of fun!
The best days of production were the days we were playing old games like Eternal Darkness that screw with your imagination and just remembering all the times that we’ve played video games where we’ve been like, “What the heck was that?, was that real? Did my game just mute itself?”
Obviously we were not doing any 4th wall breaking things like that but it did kind of remind us of that element of surprise that we all love as gamers.
We had a blast developing it and the hardest part was that we had to dial it back a little bit with just how much we put in there. If you’re expecting it and you’re seeing it every 5 minutes it actually isn’t that unique so it was kind of an art figuring out just just the right moments to drop in the dementia for Carver.
You can’t do too much because then it becomes expected and you can’t do too little otherwise people might not even notice.
That was the real challenge just dialing in the right amount of dementia.
Arthur: Now obviously with Dead Space 3 being the last entry in the trilogy a lot of questions are going to be answered at the end of the game.
Is it going to be answered in a way that it’s going to service the core fans of the franchise or is it going to be something that’s going to wrap up the story from a development point of view?
So let’s say “Look this is the story we’ve told, these are the answers we’ve come to the conclusion of. It may not be what you were expecting but it wraps up the story nicely”. Will it be something like that?
John: So when we say that we’re intentionally answering all the questions fans have it’s going to satisfy the fans, so these are questions that have been brought up not just in previous Dead Space games, but also the mixed media – comic books – there’s a big following, millions of people that follow Dead Space and this is the game that’s going to answer that.
But let’s just say you’re a guy or a girl who’s never played or seen Dead Space in their life, are they still going to have fun whilst playing this game? The answer is yes.
All those questions get answered in the crisis moment right in the middle then there’s this twist that we introduce, this is classic Storytelling 101, and so the real resolution of Dead Space 3 is about this new crisis that we introduce.
If you’ve never played a Dead Space game you’re going to be on the edge of your seat when this twist is happening and you’ll be like “Oh my god, now what?”
And it’s all about solving this new crisis and that’s all contained within Dead Space 3. It doesn’t really spin out, the crisis doesn’t spin with new questions that aren’t answered and if you’re a long time fan then you find out the mythology of the markers and how the necomorphs are actually manifested and we’re hoping you’re going to be very satisfied.
Arthur: Just on the recently revealed news that Dead Space 3 is going to include micro-transactions to boost in game weapon crafting. A similar option was featured in Mass Effect 3‘s mutliplayer offering. What was the thought process to introduce this feature in Dead Space 3?
John: Well first let me describe the feature and then I can explain how it happened.
So we do have a micro-transaction system that actually buys you a pack of our in game resources; somatic gels, etc… as well as exclusive weapon parts, the Mark V that can’t be found in the full game.
Now we know that there are hardcore gamers that are opposed to micro-transactions so there is another way to get all the content without spending a single dollar.
That is using one of our in game resources called ration seals. So as you play through the game Isaac will find ration seals and they’re well hidden; in fact when you find a scavenger bot that was the actual way for you to accumulate ration seals.
Ration seals can be exchanged for these micro-transaction packs so have a choice: You can either spend some money- it’s a small amount to get one of these packs- or you can use the ration seals.
There are two ways you can full play the game if you’re a completion-ist and if you’re a hardcore gamer opposed to micro-transactions well then I would say upgrade your scavenger bot to level two which will get you double the resources twice as fast.
You can get all the content that is available to people who want to pay without spending a dollar.
Now it is true that there are a large amount of people who don’t mind paying a small amount of money to level up. Not level up in terms of experience but to get a part that gives you that extra edge as built in bonuses, or if they’re really low on health they go purchasing a pack that contains a lot of somatic gel they can use to craft health packs.
We wanted to make sure to satisfy both audiences- we didn’t want alienate anybody and the reason why we decided to put it in the game was honestly, these packs just sometimes come in handy.
We found out that being able to get resources on demand either through ration seals or dollars improves the experience of the game and you don’t need to do it.
If you’re playing on hardcore mode where you can’t die at all or pure survival mode where everything has to be crafted it’s really comforting to know that there is this new way in order to accumulate the resources in the game.
Arthur: That’s fair enough, and there seems to be some kind of weird rights that gamers have where something gets introduced into a franchise that they didn’t want and they automatically cry foul about it.
It’s giving the player an option obviously to enjoy the game one way or another; if a player’s got $2 to spare they get a certain in-game pack.
John: And that’s been the case with Dead Space 3 from the very beginning; we add co-op and people say “Why did you add co-op? It ruins the game”. Well it’s optional and in single player it’s the same Dead Space.
Even with micro-transactions everyone’s like “It’s just a cash grab”. Like no, some people actually wanted to do that, so for those who think its a cash grab then you have this other way to play the game.
Arthur: That’s right, and so you’ve got two options to play the game. It’s not just as if you buy the game and you have to pay money to play it.
John: It’s optional you can beat the game in Hardcore mode for the record without purchasing a single thing and it’s just nice to know you have that option.
Arthur: It’s good to get a better insight into the development process and obviously the decisions with some of the features behind Dead Space 3.
It’s nice to know the closer we get to the release date we’re being introduced to more Dead Space 1 style of gameplay, where it’s corridor, slow and very tense.
It’s scary and you have to be on your guard, you hear a noise and think something is going to come out and either nothing comes out or 2 seconds later out comes a Necromorph. It’s good good to see the game is coming along nicely and the action pieces aren’t going to be constant.
John: And as a data point Dead Space 3 is about twice as long as Dead Space 2. There’s a lot of content and believe me when I say it’s not all action-packed like the 20 minute demo represented at E3.
Arthur: Obviously just now when I was playing it, it was original Dead Space 1/2.
John: Great and I hope you can communicate that to your readers because that’s exactly what we want people to know.
Arthur: Thanks very much John.
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