Dead Space 3 interview: "I love seeing our testers freaking out..."
27th Dec 2012 | 14:00
Getting a chance to use Kinect was something that was pretty cool for us. We've explored motion controls on some of the other platforms and that was fun and informative, but we hadn't done Kinect. So when we got the opportunity to sit down with Dead Space 3 we asked, "Well what can we do with Kinect?" "How can we make that feel like an addition to the game that makes it fun and really leverages the strengths of Kinect?"
So being able to do certain things without changing the grip on your controller is really advantageous. Add in co-op and now you can do things with simple voice commands like give your partner ammo or items - things that would normally take a couple of extra clicks on the sticks. That was really cool. And we've had fun in the team when we're sitting down playing and I'm in the room with you and I can mess with you a little bit. That's fun.
So you see Kinect as an opportunity to grief others, also?
Weeellllll... just your friends! Kinect's actually working out really well and the team's done a great job with it.
We saw Kinect's voice capabilities come into play in Mass Effect 3, also. Being under the big EA umbrella did you guys talk to Bioware about Kinect implementation at all?
Nope. Huge fan of
And what of Kinect's cameras? Did you consider any gesture-based inputs?
No, because people at this point with the third one are very used to the experience we have when kicking back on their couch with the gamepad, so it didn't make sense to put that in. When we have approached things like motion control we've done that from the ground up, such as with Extraction on the other platforms. We were allowed to think of it as an integral part of that experience. So with Dead Space 3 it didn't make sense to put that in.
When we think of horror games we think of people screaming and swearing... will Kinect pick up on our feedback?
Yes! We actually have some commands that people will need to figure out. But there are commands where you might be in a certain situation and you might yell a specific expletive and it might behave in a way that you want it to. We definitely have done some things there...
In co-op there are going to be areas where Isaac and Carver see different things. Did you see these moments as an opportunity to really deliver on Dead Space's focus on metal instabilities?
Yeah, so that was one of the things that when we were kicking around the idea of co-op we really wanted to innovate and make it feel different and unique to Dead Space. Dementia has been an undercurrent throughout the Dead Space games: it's always been there and has always been a big cornerstone of the franchise, so we were able to utilize dementia in a way that allows Carver and Isaac to see different things from time to time.
That creates an interesting dynamic when you're sitting in your house, I'm sitting in my house, and now I'm saying, "What are you doing man? Help me out here - what are you doing!?!" And you're saying, "Are you crazy? I'm seeing something totally different, you're not seeing this?"
You start to have a little argument and it's like you're having real-life dementia when the characters in the game are having dementia and it's different, nobody's done that. We're very excited to show that off.
Can you give us an explicit example of dementia in action?
Carver sees an item in the world that triggers a specific memory in him. And when he sees that item it leads him to an area that's now accessible to Carver and Isaac. So previously, in single player, that area's not accessible, but now Carver's there and he sees this iconic element he's able to access that area.
When that moment starts Carver's seeing the face of somebody - I won't tell you who - but he's seeing their face and Isaac's just seeing Carver look at nothing: he's just reacting like he's seeing something weird. When the duo go into that area Carver has even more dementia fits and starts having conversations with people that Isaac's not seeing.
Fans are familiar with Isaac. They like Isaac and they want to stick with Isaac. How tough was it to introduce this new guy, Carver, who immediately needs to be equally as important as the guy we've spend dozens of hours with already?
That was one of the things everyone on the team was worried about - just like when we gave Isaac his voice. How do we do this without making everyone freak out? And the answer is we're going to do it with care, and we're going to be sensitive to what our players want and we'll make sure the character is integral to our universe, has an interesting and compelling back-story, has strengths, has weaknesses, and throughout the game goes on a journey where we see him grow. And we felt as long as we followed those key tenets of good story-telling that people would enjoy it. He's actually in another Dead Space graphic novel, too.
You've now got to ensure every boss and puzzle works in single-player and co-op. Does that mean your approach to design has had to shift, or is there a simple quick-fix to quickly turn everything co-op-compatible at the click of your fingers?
We're really lucky that we get to work with really talented designers and artists and engineers who really think about these things. At the top level it's one of the first things we do: we sit down and talk about a boss, or a puzzle, we think how does it work in co-op because it does need to work in co-op. Then, of course, it's like, "what do I do if I don't have another player there?"
So one of the simple things we've done is, in single player you do an action, one action, while in co-op maybe you have to TK something up while I do another action.
It's definitely important as we design and develop
Does Dead Space scare you?
There are moments throughout the development of all the games where you get startled or you see something you weren't expecting and you go, "Aaargh!" and get a little jumpy. But having the privilege of working on every one of these games and knowing what the story is and being part of that process, I know what's going to happen so it's not like I go screaming.
Do your team sneak stuff in to try and get under the skin of others working on the game?
Yeah, sometimes. When we work together on horror moments we definitely try them out on people because sometimes an artist doesn't see it because they're not working on that part of the game and so we giggle and watch what happens when they do it. People who are in production generally, we have to know about the whole things so we don't really get that completely virginal experience so to speak. So it makes it challenging because we don't want to become totally desensitised. We do have to do a lot of testing in our game lab and observing of people.
Do you like watching testers freak out?
Yeah, it's great. I love it. I love seeing somebody jump back.
It's the usual expletives or make a funny face or jump. I've seen people pause the game and walk away and that's a sad one because it's too much for them and they don't want to play anymore. That's a bummer.
Does that situation concern you as a developer or do you just have to concede that the player isn't right for the genre?
Yeah it is concerning to see, but in a good way and a bad way. In a good way we're getting a reaction and we're causing people to respond, which is good: it's what we're after. But on the negative side it's alienating that person. They don't want to carry on and they're missing out on all the cool stuff we're making.
It's definitely something we think about and something like co-op perhaps is for them. Maybe you're not the kind of person who goes and sees a horror movie by themselves. But if you go with your buddies now you're cool. Maybe that's the experience people get with co-op and now they're able to experience Dead Space.
Or maybe, furthermore, people really want to play but they're not very good. So maybe now they play with someone who is good and they can go through the story and feel that they're helping out. So we're hoping the steps we're taking really open it out and get people to experience and share it with their friends.
What does scare you?
One of the things I was really trying to emulate and recreate was a sense of vertigo and the feeling you get when you're high up. Heights to me are just, "Ooooh." I get sweaty palms and back away from the edge... We have some rappel sequences that do a good job of showing off verticality and to me those are exhilarating as much as they are frightening. I was really happy to see us do them.
The environment calls for verticality. Hey, we have snowy, frosty, scary mountains we need to go up and down. They're not going to put an elevator in there and we're not going to have zero G on the snow planet. So we had to come up with the rappelling concept: the story informs the decisions we make.