Dead Space, a new survival-horror franchise for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, is set to ship this Halloween, which means the development team is knee-deep in code and bug fixes. Amid the madness, the developers are updating gamers periodically via their blog — and now, through DailyGame as well. In this exclusive article, EA has provided DailyGame readers a complete look at what they’ll be posting in the next Dead Space blog entry. We know you like “insider” information, and EA has been kind enough to give us a sneak peek at what the rest of the world won’t be seeing for several more days.
You Can’t Spell SEXY without S-E
I’m Rich Briggs, a Producer on Dead Space working on our Scripted Events and Focus Groups. In retrospect, I probably didn’t need to tell you that I work on Dead Space, as you are on the Dead Space site, reading the Dead Space blog.
Please strike the portion from your memory.
After eight years marketing a wide variety of video games, Dead Space came along and made me want to devote all of my time to it. Much like a marriage, I agreed to forsake all other games and spend my every waking moment with just one. I joined the Dead Space production team last year, and it has been an amazing and challenging experience. As part of my weekly focus group work, I watch people play the game, discuss it with them, analyze data and create a report with proposed action items for various departments. With that comes a much clearer understanding of how much time and manpower it takes to implement what seems like the smallest change.
I quickly came to regret some of my comments during the year that I spent working on the Marketing for Dead Space. Requests like “Add more consumer enjoyment” and “Make that wall pink!” suddenly didn’t seem critical. As you saw from Glen’s blog, there are ripple effects from small changes that can reverberate throughout the entire game. Everything is an opportunity cost — even the best ideas, the ones that we know we have to act on, come at the expense of other elements. I now understand the little smile that Glen used to give me, which said “Poor Marketing Guy. If only you knew what that would take.” Remarkably — and somewhat regrettably since I’ve been practicing my own “Poor Marketing Guy” smile in the mirror — I haven’t had to do this yet. Perhaps we’re doing such a great job that Marketing doesn’t feel the need to add anything else. Or maybe they just don’t ask for stupid $hit like I used to.
While focus groups are critical, my primary focus is our Scripted Events, or “SEs,” as people who have no time for non-acronym jargon like to call them. Chuck already talked a little about the performance and motion capture sessions, and while it’s amazing to have those done, now the real work starts. Thanks to the efforts of highly talented animation, level design, engineering, lighting and audio experts, the data from these capture sessions transform into the vehicle that delivers the majority of the Dead Space story.
I won’t go into all the technical details of how this happens. Not because you wouldn’t understand it, but because I have no idea what those technical details are. As far as I’m concerned, our SEs work much like the Play-Doh Funshape Factory I had as a child: I put in big lumps of shapeless and tasty Play-Doh, push down on a lever and out comes a delightfully colorful tube in the shape of a star.
My job is to make sure that everyone is pushing toward the same goal and date, and has the information and assets they need to make their part of the SE work. As you read this, the SEs are starting to appear in the game, and with that, the story is layered onto the experience. Dead Space is a horrific roller coaster ride that we want to take you on. The framework of the coaster is already there, as our core gameplay mechanics will drive your second to second enjoyment. The SEs are the paint, decorations and lights. They are the dark tunnel you plummet through, and the plumes of water that spray up as you skim along the water. It’s the name of the experience, which is why roller coasters are called “The Viper” or “Death Rail” as opposed to “Mobile Cart Precariously Connected to Wooden Tracks.”
The SEs work with the environments, the enemy design and the combat to help deliver the horror. Watching bad things happen, and worrying about whether the same thing could happen to you, is part of the tension that we build. I wish I could describe some of the scenes that we have, but you’ll have to wait until you see the game in its complete form. You wouldn’t want someone to tell you about all the scary parts in a horror movie before you saw it, would you? Half of the fun is waiting for the scare — the other half is the scare itself. The last half is recovering from the scare.
Yes, I realize that is make-believe math.
If we nail the SEs, they should frighten you in multiple ways and on a variety of levels. The terror ranges from quick “boo” moments where an enemy jumps out of the shadows, to disturbing and violent scenarios where terrible things happen to (presumably) good people, to intricate and dramatic scenes in which key characters reveal the dark underbelly of what’s really happening in Dead Space. We also have to make sure that you can’t break the SE, since you’ll still have control over Isaac while they occur. In a horror movie, the Director puts the camera where he wants you to look — you are a captive audience. With real-time SEs, we do not enjoy this luxury.
Helping all of the pieces come together is both demanding and intoxicating. So when you play Dead Space, and you reach an SE that makes you jump, think of the months of work that went into that moment of gameplay. Then get a grip, change your pants and start anticipating the next one.
Rich Briggs is the Producer in charge of Scripted Events and other story elements for Dead Space.