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AusGamers Dead Space 3 Developer Interview with Dave Woldman
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:02pm 31/01/13 | Comments
AusGamers caught up with Visceral Games' Dave Woldman to talk all things scary, friendly and Dead Space (in threes). Read on or watch for what he had to say...

Watch the full video interview embedded above, or click here for a direct link.

AusGamers: Ladies and gents, welcome back. I am here with Dave Woldman from Visceral Games -- who is the Senior Producer on Dead Space 3.

First of all, it’s such an epic game -- a monster of a game. How did you guys balance in the scare-factor that everyone has come to know and love with the Dead Space franchise, but also add so much more to it? In terms of story, weapon customisation, looting -- even a few new movement mechanics. How did you guys go about that?

Dave Woldman: You know, with Dead Space, we’ve established who we are in the marketplace. When you say you’re going to make a Dead Space game, customers expect some things right from the start: compelling, elaborate, deep story and characters, tension and atmosphere, scares, heroic character. There’s all sorts of things that go into what makes Dead Space, Dead Space.

So when you set out to make a game like Dead Space 3, we have to take a long look at what’s come before us, and part of the franchise we’ve established -- especially through all the media extensions -- is, we have a very continuous, very specific fiction that we’ve grown. Starting with Isaac on the Ishimura, as a lone man thrust into a bunch of scenarios and trying to figure out what’s going on. Leading him down the road through Dead Space: Extraction, through the animated features, through Dead Space 2, to arrive where we are in Dead Space 3: which is, in some ways, a very live, living fiction.

So the story and the structure that we’ve made for Dead Space 3, is a very logical continuation of these events. What happens when this Necromorph outbreak becomes Universe wide; when other people are infected by it? Isaac could no longer be by himself, he has to be interacting with other people who’ve seen these experiences, and have their own perspective on them. And what goes into that?

So when other people are involved; when other governments are involved; there are other societies; they’re going to bring their own weapons to the table; they’re going to bring things that they’re familiar with, fictionally, to the table. So what we try to do in Dead Space 3 --through the weapon crafting, as you mentioned; the movement mechanics; through co-op-- is try to infuse our story with all of these gameplay elements, that from a storytelling standpoint, makes a lot of logical sense. That you could say “Alright, I understand these people have seen it; this guy has a history with it”, and it’s easier to accept introducing these elements into your game, when your fiction is consistent and it all makes sense.

AusGamers: Yeah. Sticking with Isaac for a bit, you mentioned that obviously he’s a main thing throughout the franchise. In a way we’ve seen him grow through the three games --from what little I’ve played of this one so far -- but in the first one, he didn’t even talk, then in the next one we saw him come out a little bit more, and now we’re seeing a lot more. Was that driven by you guys exploring the character, or was that, again, back to a story thing?

Dave: It’s one of those interesting things. Because when Dead Space began, he was an everyman engineer thrust into crazy situations. And by growing the character over time, you have to say “Is his reaction to these scenarios plausible? Is there something he’s doing that makes sense?”. And having gone through it all once, it just wouldn’t make a lot of sense, if in the third game, he’s still saying “What’s going on over here? What’s the cause of this?”.

To anyone who is familiar with our franchise --and our fans, love it and eat it up-- it just wouldn’t make any sense, and they’d be scratching their heads and say “Your story is comical”. Clearly, there’s a Necromorph there, and he’s going to know what to do this time around. He is a reluctant hero; he was thrust into it initially. In Dead Space 2, he was brought on... he was thrust into it in Dead Space 1, pulled into it in Dead Space 2, and then in Dead Space 3, it’s continuing.

His reputation is something that has gotten wide, so when the big epidemic starts, what are they going to do? They’re going to go to the guy that’s the expert; they’re going to pull him in there. He’s gone from, I don’t want to say antagonist, but he’s gone from sort of the everyman, to the heroic figure, because he is the expert. It’s kind of like the journey of Ripley in Alien, she’s the expert in the second movie, therefore, people rely on her to guide them. He’s becoming much more the drive of the action, rather than a reactor.

AusGamers: So when you’re bringing in another character for the co-op like John Carver, will we see him -- it’s almost like Isaac is their go-to guy -- so will we see John Carver develop in similar ways? Or will the background be different, and again, bringing in the transmedia approach that is there with Dead Space, will he have that same strength behind him that Isaac did, do you think?

Dave: One of the things we set out to do, was try to make Carver a true character in the franchise, not someone who’s along for the ride -- who’s dropping in through co-op there, or a follower -- but someone that if you’re a fan of the fiction, you’re going to want to understand their story. Carver comes from a very different spot in life than Isaac does, he’s a soldier by trade, he was a warrior going through these battles against necromorphs when his family was killed and murdered -- so that puts a tone to him right off the start; he’s very hard, very callous to begin with.

Through single-player you see him evolve a little bit throughout the game, and you see the journey that he goes on when he’s thrust into this environment, and you can see his reaction to the characters and the settings. But in co-op, you start to really understand the backstory around him --what drives him, and motivates him -- and I think that’s one the biggest draws to me, as a gamer, in our co-op design, is: you’re going to really learn the colour around Carver. To understand more specifically, why his approach to the other members of his party on the planet, and what-not, change. Because you’ll see the experiences that he is experiencing, that you may not get in single-player.

So co-op, and especially the co-op storytelling, really helps build out Carver as a grounded, real character that I think our fans will like.

AusGamers: Going back to the feeling that you get with the previous two games. What sort of challenges did you guys have implementing co-op, but maintaining that scare-the-crap-out-of-you element that we’ve... that’s what people have come to expect -- they set themselves up for that when they’re playing a Dead Space game.

Dave: We did some things different in Dead Space 1 to Dead Space 2, and we’re going to do some things different from Dead Space 2 to Dead Space 3. It’s a natural progression and evolution of the franchise. One of the things I always think about when we’re talking about scares in horror, is that: fear for a lot of people... for many people, it is all psychological --it lives in your head.

What is frightening for you, might not be frightening to me, regardless of if I’m in single-player or co-op, or playing with a rifle, or a plasma cutter. Fear is subjective; scares are subjective. So we didn’t set out to do anything fundamentally different in single-player or co-op, other than build up Carver’s dementia, and the scares of understanding, and trying to understand what’s going on in the game world on the Carver side.

There’s these wonderful moments that happen for him, as part of his interaction with dementia, and the Markers. But horror is very subjective, and just because you’re playing in co-op, if your setting is still quiet and scary, if the partner you’re playing with is chatty or not chatty, it is one of those things where we believe we’ve created an experience that our fans are going to love, and will also become more accessible.

One of the things that I’ve often gravitated towards when talking about our game design --especially the horror-- is that it is very common for people to go to horror movies, or other kinds of media, with a friend. Because that inherently lowers the tension, because you’re not by yourself anymore. You can elbow your buddy in the ribs and make a joke, you can stay quiet; it’s really up to you how you want to deal with this.

So adapting that to Dead Space: I think for some people, if the game was too frightening, this is an accessibility point to it. If they’re a story enthusiast, then co-op is another accessibility point. So it’s really what you want to make of it, and however you structure the game experience at your house, at your home on your couch, that’s going to be what you... whatever you want, I believe that we’ve created a game that will help you deliver it, as long as you setup your environment appropriately.

AusGamers: Yeah, for sure. We’re seeing very different necromorphs this time around, or so far from what I’ve seen, was that again story-driven, or is that just a natural progression when you’re doing this kind of game, and stepping it up each time the way you guys have?

Dave: It’s a combination of things. There’s always a desire to create new, frightening enemies to throw at players. Our character animators, and our combat controls design team really enjoy creating new experiences. We have things that transform, and start off in a much more humanoid position, so there’s a natural understanding straight away -- if you’re not necessarily familiar with Dead Space -- of how to attack them: shoot them in the head; then all of a sudden, they start to do something very different when you do that.

So the story and the fiction doesn’t really dictate a lot of the specific character designs, other than the standard ones we hold true for Dead Space, which are that they’re made from the reanimated flesh of dead people, that The Marker is driving and building these things. But as far as the gameplay components and designs, we approach those in parallel. We want to make sure we create an enemy that is fun, and keeps you on your toes, but also fits with the game world that we’re building.

AusGamers: In the presentation you guys mentioned you want this to be something memorable for this generation. With the next generation of consoles looming, how did you guys prepare for that? Was that a consideration, or are you just focused on where you’re at?

Dave: I know it’s kind of a standardised answer right now, but we’ve been laser-focused on making Dead Space 3 the best game we can make for the console generation that we’re on. There are a lot of opportunities ahead of us, that people want more Dead Space to really change things around with the next generation of hardware. But right now, we are laser-focused on making the best experience on this current generation of platforms, and PC, for the people that want to play it in February --not waiting until next year.

AusGamers: Yeah alright; great. Well thank you very much for your time, and I’m looking forward to the game.

Dave: Great. Thank you very much.
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