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Interview: Dead Space 3 producer on micro-transactions and keeping the horror alive

John Calhoun goes into bat for in-game purchases and 'Asymmetrical Dementia'

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There's a kind of Lovecraft dimension to the Asymmetrical Dementia - there's the sense that you're not getting the full picture, and that's a great source of dread. Was that a conceptual idea, or was it a cool mechanic you happened upon?

It was more a result of just tinkering. We're not geniuses right, we can't say "oh we read this great psychological theory about not trusting your friends". But we've also made sure [to abide] the principal of great thrillers - like Psycho, or Jaws - which is: show less, imagine more. We've been doing that in Dead Space for a really long time. I love that you mention Lovecraft, because that is our creative director's favourite author, and all the creatures are kind of Lovecraftian - at least in the early stages, when he draws them on napkins and on the back of notebooks.

Is it possible for someone to comfortably play Dead Space 3 without bothering with the weapon crafting system?

Absolutely. The weapon crafting is really deep, and for some people it's really intimidating. When we focus tested the game we were surprised - it's a minority - that there are people out there who are just not interested. Usually it's the people who come from shooter games, who say "I'm looking for a shotgun. Just give me a shotgun." That's a quote we were given. So, at the weapon crafting bench there are five options: the first one is to craft a weapon from parts, and the next one is blueprints. The blueprints are predetermined recipes for creating a specific weapon, so you go into that menu. Some of the blueprints you have to find in order to unlock them, but the blueprint will simply say shotgun. If you have the resources and the parts in order to build it, you press a button, and it's yours.

We have blueprints for weapons that can be created with some of the very early parts found in the game. We also have blueprints for many of the classic Dead Space weapons, and we also have blueprints for weapons that are "team favourites", which were weapons that we ended up building again and again because we liked them, so we put them in as blueprints. Choose your own style, you have both those systems in the game.

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And there are also micro-transactions on the crafting bench, is that correct?

Not much has been spoken about that, but I can tell you the details now. The way the micro-transactions work, is that there's only three things that you can buy, and they're basically tiers of different resources. Resources are extremely valuable in Dead Space - we got rid of credits entirely. Everything that you can find in the game can be constructed from resources, which includes Tungsten, Semi-Conductors, Somatic Gel. Combining these in different ways will create either a weapon part, an ammo pack or an upgrade to Isaac's suit. There's a lot of players out there, especially players coming from mobile games, who are accustomed to micro-transactions. They're like "I need this now, I want this now". They need instant gratification. So we included that option in order to attract those players, so that if they're 5000 Tungsten short of this upgrade, they can have it.

There's also the hardcore Dead Space players, who are reluctant to spend money outside the purchase of the game. Honestly, most of the dev team are that way, we're kind of old school, a little bit older. So not only are the micro-transactions completely optional, but all packs are available to purchase using in-game resources that you find. So, your scavenger bot will go out, and sometimes when he comes back he'll deliver ration seals. You'll start to accumulate ration seals at a pretty steady clip throughout the game, and everything that can be purchased with real world dollars can also be purchased with ration seals.

Philosophically - and like you said before, you're quite old fashioned - do you agree that micro-transactions will gradually diminish the value of completing a game, of beating it?

I don't think so. We're gamers, we wouldn't allow ourselves to do that. Before you guys showed up I was reading the Eurogamer article, that argued that it's a slippery slope, that if you put micro-transactions in Dead Space, aren't you just saying you can pay to win? We would never make a game you have to pay to win. There are genres of games where that is the answer, and you know what? The world has spoken, they suck. We don't want to make games that suck, we want to make games that people want to hold on to, to keep on their shelves. That is our mark of success.

But we need to make sure we're expanding our audience as well. There are action game fans, and survival horror game fans, who are 19 and 20, and they've only played games on their smartphones, and micro-transactions are to them a standard part of gaming. It's a different generation. So if we're going to bring those people into our world, let's speak their language, but let's not alienate our fans at the same time.

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