Dead Space 3 Interview: John Calhoun speaks scepticism, co-op and terrorWritten by: / / No Comments
El33tonline has come to be very familiar with Dead Space 3 since its announcement at E3 in 2012, and even as rumours of the game’s existence swirled it was only at EA’s El33tonline-attended press conference that year that the reports were confirmed and we caught our first glimpses of Visceral’s new vision for its action horror franchise.
Less than a year later, Dead Space 3 is due for release around the world next week and to get ourselves even more psyched for launch we’re able to share an in-depth interview with associate producer, John Calhoun, who speaks about the game’s co-operative nature, giving Isaac Clarke more personality, intriguing gameplay touches and fan scepticism following the game’s reveal. Enjoy:
Question 1: How will Dead Space 3 attract new visitors to the franchise? Is pre-play of 1 & 2 a pre-requisite and if not, how do you ensure they’re suitably informed?
Calhoun: The most important thing we can do to attract new players is to make a kick-ass, high-quality game! More than anything else, gamers want fun and thrills; when we deliver on that expectation, people are going to check us out. But we hope Dead Space 3 will also attract new players with the game’s optional drop-in, drop-out co-op experience.
For long-time fans, it’s an entirely new way to play Dead Space. And for people who may have found previous Dead Space games too scary or challenging to play alone, it gives them the option to take down the terror with a friend.
Playing the previous Dead Space games is not a pre-requisite to enjoying Dead Space 3. Obviously, veterans will be able to rely on their strategic dismemberment skills and knowledge from past games. But new players will be able to jump into the action with a slick “Previously On” video, and a spine-tingling tutorial level will ensure they know the basics before the action gets too intense.
Question 2: During the past two titles Isaac faced his foes alone, and that was a major factor in setting the mood and atmosphere. How will you balance the original game’s deep sense of abandonment with the camaraderie of additional characters in Dead Space 3?
Calhoun: We’ve always had additional characters in Dead Space games; in fact, knowing that other people are relying on you to survive (or vice-a-versa) is part of what makes our atmosphere unique. The addition of optional co-op to Dead Space 3 hasn’t changed this. If you choose to play in singleplayer, Isaac Clarke is still on his own. He’s isolated from his squad and has to rely on his engineering skills and wits to survive.
There aren’t any AI followers to back him up in a fight, or NPCs that you’ll have to escort through a level. As in previous Dead Space games, you’ll be facing the Necromorphs alone. It’s only when you choose to play in co-op that Isaac is joined by John Carver, a trained soldier with a troubled past. The dialogue and some of the cut-scenes between Isaac and Carver are unique to co-op, making the two experiences pretty different.
Question 3: The schizophrenic-like symptoms caused by the Markers have always been a staple of the Dead Space franchise. How will the dementia affect the main characters of Dead Space 3? Will the gameplay undergo variations? If so, to what extent?
Calhoun: This question is venturing into spoiler territory, so I don’t want to give away too much. If you’ve finished Dead Space 2, you’ll know that Isaac is more or less freed from his Marker-induced dementia. But he continues to carry the Marker signals in his brain, and has the unique ability to understand the Marker’s language. How this plays out in Dead Space 3 is a secret that you’ll have to experience for yourself.
But just because Isaac can fight through the Marker dementia, it doesn’t mean that everyone else is immune. John Carver, for example, sometimes struggles to understand what’s real and what’s not. The way this plays out in co-op is subtle, and we hope players will sometimes question if what they’re seeing is real, or if they’re even seeing the same things at all.
Question 4: How is the co-op going to affect the narrative of the main story? Are the players going to lose something (in terms of story progression, exclusive items etc.) if they decide to play on their own?
Calhoun: Co-op is optional, and fully drop-in, drop-out. This means that the game is designed to keep the story moving along with or without the presence of a second character. The main narrative arc, which is about exploring the frozen plains of Tau Volantis for the key to stopping the Markers, is the same in both styles of play.
In singleplayer, the dialogue and some cut-scenes change to focus solely on Isaac ‒ making it clear that it’s up to him, and him alone, to accomplish this goal. In co-op, the dialogue changes to accommodate John Carver, and you’ll learn more about his own personal reasons for wanting to stop the Markers. Nobody will miss out on the main beats of the story, although the tone and content are different enough that we hope fans will try out the game both ways. (And let us know which was your favourite!)
Question 5: Isaac’s voice was often heard on Dead Space 2, in comparison to Dead Space 1. Is this something we should expect to see in Dead Space 3 as well, and if yes, why?
Calhoun: Absolutely! Giving Isaac a voice and relatable personality were big goals in Dead Space 2, and we’re pushing this even further in Dead Space 3 with a more sophisticated animation and cinematic engine. Isaac doesn’t just emote vocally ‒ you’ll see anguish and relief in his facial expressions, eye movements, and body language.
Having a more expressive character is a big part of bridging the gap between what the player sees on the screen, and what he experiences in his mind. We try to make sure Isaac only speaks when we think players would have something to say, or have other characters talk to him only when players might have a question that needs to be answered. It’s all part of creating a high-quality, immersive experience.
Question 6: Tell us more about oxygen supply in vacuum areas. It seems that it is a strong survival horror element – will it dramatically affect the gameplay by challenging the player?
Calhoun: The airless environments are foremost about creating a “real space” vibe to the game; it’s not just about creating an element of survival (although it does that, too). Mostly, it’s about letting players experience what it would be like to be in the real vacuum of space.
So you hear your heartbeat and breathing more. The ambient audio is muffled, to mimic the experience of sounds being transmitted via vibrations in your suit. Light from the sun is brighter in vacuum areas due to the lack of atmosphere. The gameplay challenge isn’t too significant, but you will have to be mindful to scavenge for O2 tanks whenever your oxygen supply starts to run low.
Question 7: With Dead Space 1 & 2 there were tie-in games, comics, and an anime to become further immerse in the DS universe. Can we expect something similar this time around?
Calhoun: Dead Space 3’s launch is accompanied by a graphic novel, “Dead Space Liberation,” that focuses on John Carver’s backstory. You’ll learn how he came to get mixed up with the Markers and Necromorphs, and why he’s on a mission to destroy them forever. There’s also a new book out, “Dead Space Catalyst,” that dives deep into the overall Dead Space lore that we’ve teased over the past few games.
Question 8: What was the reason behind adding the Kinect functionality? Will it use movement controls or is it solely voice-control? Can you give us some examples of voice commands?
Calhoun: Dead Space 3 supports voice commands via the Kinect. In fact, we’re the first game ever to feature co-op exclusive voice commands! This means you can find your partner, share ammo, or request help just by shouting at your screen. There are also a bunch of commands for all styles of play, such as the ability to browse your RIG’s interface, reload weapons, fire stasis, and more.
We added Kinect functionality because we truly think it adds to the Dead Space experience. If your veteran player, you’ll appreciate the ability to navigate straight to your objective screen, or instantly share a pick-up with your friend.
Question 9: Do you feel that the scepticism of Dead Space fans towards DS 3 is justified?
Calhoun: Dead Space 3 is a big game with a lot of new features, but it’s still a Dead Space game through and through. It’s made by the same team that made Dead Space 1 and 2, and believe me when I say we’re the franchise’s biggest fans. We not only want Dead Space 3 to maintain the integrity and atmosphere that the franchise is known for, but we’re also in a position to ensure that this happens.
The scepticism comes from the fact that we want to show off all the new stuff, but we have to do it in one and two minute videos or gameplay segments that aren’t representative of the whole game. If we release a trailer that shows 30 seconds of action, it doesn’t mean that Dead Space 3 is entirely an action game.
Similarly, we’re proud of co-op and want to demo it whenever we can ‒ but people then forget that the entire game can be played in singleplayer, with no AI followers. Dead Space 3 is long, epic, intense, and atmospheric. It can’t be conveyed in a YouTube clip. My advice to fans is to play the game when it launches, or download the demo, and judge for yourself. You’ll see that this is the best Dead Space game yet.
Question 10: Are we likely to see Dead Space continue as a series of games?
Calhoun: Right now, we’re just focused on making Dead Space 3 as polished and high quality as possible. We’ll only think about the future once that job is finished!
Dead Space 3 is due out on February 5th in the US and February 8th in Europe, the UK and South Africa across Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC – don’t miss El33tonline’s extensive previous coverage of the game for megatons of screenshots, videos and extra information.
You should also read our two Dead Space 3 previews to get an even better idea of the latest action horror title from Visceral Games: