Next February sees the release of the third main entry in EA’s critically lauded sci-fi survival horror series, Dead Space. While the first two games followed very similar templates, the latest instalment really mixes things by introducing full co-op play to the main campaign.
The optional drop-in, drop-out multiplayer lets a second player join in the story as new character Sergeant John Carver. While the game is fully playable as a solo experience, if you play with a friend you’ll have an expanded story and get to experience a number of extra sequences and set-pieces.
We sat down with the game’s producer Steve Papoutsis to find out how – and why – developer Visceral Games has implemented this new system and what fans of the series can expect from reluctant hero Isaac Clarke’s latest adventure.
What goals did you set yourself when you first started work on Dead Space 3?
Steve Papoutsis: When we started work on Dead Space 3 we set a couple of things in front of the team. One of the things we talked about was how do we make the best game we’ve ever done? So, we came up with a weird saying: we want to make a AAAA game. Everybody says they want to make a AAA game. Well, we said ‘you know what? **** that, we’re going to make a AAAA game’. I know it sounds funny, but we needed to set a target for ourselves.
The other thing we set out to do was to really deliver on what the essence of a Dead Space game is. We’re really not into the stereotypes of ‘it’s an action game’ or ‘it’s a horror game’, and so on. It’s a Dead Space game. That means intense atmosphere, engaging narrative, thrilling action, horror, survival, tension. Those are the thing a Dead Space game needs to have. Those are the blocks we’re building with.
You introduced competitive multiplayer in Dead Space 2 which had a mixed response from gamers. Do you think Dead Space 3’s co-op play is a better fit?
Steve Papoutsis: We’re not doing competitive multiplayer this time – we’ve done that – but it was a big help in us understanding how to build an online game. With our co-op we wanted to make sure that whatever we did felt unique. We didn’t just want to have an AI bot follow the player around and then when you hit a button someone starts controlling that guy. That wouldn’t feel like Dead Space.
The other challenge was creating a co-op mode that felt additive to the experience. You don’t have to play it – you can play Dead Space 3 in single player and it plays out in very similar way to what you’ve experienced in the past.
And we needed to create a character that fit into the universe and didn’t feel like a throw-away character. We first announced John Carver through a graphic novel, so he has his own unique personality and backstory. So when you get into the game he actually brings value to what’s going on. You learn about him and his own personal demons. That’s very different, and we feel it’s very innovative.
Many of the original Dead Space’s scares derived from the sense of solitude and loneliness.Won’t having another player at your shoulder dilute the horror?
Steve Papoutsis: As for being alone and walking down a corridor on your own – you still have that in Dead Space 3. You can play the single player and you still have that. But now when you have another character in the scene with you, it’s a different approach to the horror – it’s more psychological. That’s a new feeling that you’ve never had in a Dead Space game. That’s how we’re injecting horror into the co-op.
I also think there’s a lot more to horror than things just popping out at you. There’s the atmosphere, the sound, the events, the things that you see in the environment – those all have different impacts on people. You can still have all that when you have two people walking around the environment.
Ultimately I think it will come down to who you’re playing with. I like to think of it like going to a movie. Say you and I go to a horror movie – we’ll sit there as horror fans and really get into it. We’re not going to talk during the movie, we’re going to sit on the edge of our seat, and be really into it.
But if you went with a different friend who doesn’t like horror, he or she might choose to talk through the movie or laugh at what’s going on. That’s going to impact how you enjoy the movie.
So, if you want to have the intense single play experience you can still do that. And if you want to have an experience in co-op like that, I suggest you play with someone who likes to play that way. But if you just want to have fun like you’re at a popcorn movie, laughing and having a good time, play it with a friend who likes to play like that.
How hard is it to make a game that’s genuinely scary?
Steve Papoutsis: What’s interesting to me is that I’ll read a lot of the feedback to our game and it’s vastly different. Some people say ‘oh gosh, it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever played’ while others just say ‘bah, I wasn’t scared at all’.
So, yeah, I think it’s hard to say you’re going to scare people. It’s very subjective. We don’t have a magic formula. We take our best guess at what will resonate with players. For us, it’s usually things that are relatable. Look at the character design of the necromorphs – they’re humanoid. You can relate to a guy who doesn’t have a jaw and has weird spikes sticking out of his arm. You can imagine ‘Ooh, that would be terribly painful!’ You can react to that.
How much of the game will you miss out on if you only play the single player?
Steve Papoutsis: You’re not missing out on anything. The multiplayer is additive. If you’re playing single player you’re choosing to have that solitary Isaac experience. If you’re interested in learning about Carver, you’re playing with a friend and you’re getting that additive information, but it’s not changing the end of the story. It’s impacting Carver’s story.
Isaac has had a pretty terrible time over the course of the first two games. Will he finally catch a few breaks in Dead Space 3?
Steve Papoutsis: We’ll see! I can say that Isaac was not looking to get himself into an adventure in this game. We’ll leave it at that and see where it winds up.