Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on a conference call for EA and Visceral Games’ upcoming Dead Space extraction. As one of several journalists present I had a few questions answered by the Visceral team. The conference was held in a call-and-response style with their PR rep, Stephanie Schopp asking the questions. Below you’ll find my questions, annotated by a Gaming Nexus “GN,” while the other journalists’ questions are simply labeled “Q.” The following developers were on hand, and their names will be abbreviated in initials as follows:
Steve Papoutsis (SP) – Executive Producer
Wright Bagwell (WB)- Creative Director
John Calhoun – (JC) Senior Designer
Jonathan Hackett – (JH) Art Lead / Direction
Shereif Fattouh – (SF) Associate Producer
GN - As a prequel, how does this game’s story link up to Isaac, Kendra and Hammond? Do we learn more about Nicole and what happened to her?
JC – First I’m going to answer that question more broadly, which is how as a prequel this game connects to the original Dead Space. Extraction takes place three weeks before Dead Space, and parallel to the events in the animated feature and the comic books. It does have connection to Dead Space 1 but the main character that appears in both Extraction and the first Dead Space is Nicole. We don’t get to see what happens to her the way our timeline connects to the first Dead Space, but we do get to see what she was like as a person before the infection broke out. Our characters will come across in a very expressive way, and we’re going to see how her story has just started in terms of the original game. But as far as Isaac, Kenrda and Hammond are concerned, we do have a very spoilerish connection that I can’t give away right now, but I can say that there will be a surprise for Dead Space 1 fans that involves those three characters in the game.
Q – What were the challenged of bringing the Dead Space experience to the Wii?
SF – The obvious part of that question is that you have hardware limitations on the Wii as opposed to the 360 or PS3, but on the flip side you have a lot of unique mechanics that work for a ground-up experience for the Wii. We’re really happy with the graphical fidelity we achieved on the Wii. Compared to other titles on the Wii we’re proud of what we were able to put out there. Of course the core experience of Dead Space is all about strategic dismemberment, horror, pacing, story, how we can bring all those elements to any platform is a unique challenge. We think we were able to do that with the intuitive controls we came up with, and really focusing on those core mechanics. So you still have enemies you have to shoot in a specific way, the pacing of the game is done in a special way that maintains the feel of the original Dead Space. Because it’s more of a scripted path we were actually able to do more in our setup, dictating certain situations where we were able to know exactly where the player is going to be, and create really cool experiences and scare moments that stand out. It was a nice tool that we didn’t have in the original game and it turned out really well. So there were challenges from a hardware standpoint but there were bonuses that we got from moving to the Wii, using a more scripted mechanic and the hardware that was there.
Q – Dead Space Extraction is a rail shooter that offers many mechanics that are new to the genre. This makes it more like a first person shooter than a rail shooter. Why did you decide to make a rail shooter instead of a straight FPS?
SP – We decided to go with a rail shooter or what we’re calling a guided first person approach because we had a few core focal points when we kicked off the project that we needed to nail. Those included creating a very deep, rich experience that resonated with Dead Space fans. We found the key things for making Dead Space originally were having great atmosphere, having great visuals and sound, and of course strategic dismemberment. Going with a first person on-rails as opposed to a third or first person shooter let us control where the camera was at all times, which let us maximize the visuals we could get out of the Wii. It also made strategic dismemberment feel really satisfying, and aided the players greatly in their control. So that was the motivation there.
Q – Were the controls always going to be the way they are now, or were there other options or perspectives considered?
WB – We set out from the start to create a first person experience, but for a number of reasons we felt that on-rails was the way to go. We did talk about bringing the controls from Dead Space 1 directly over to the Wii, but eventually we settled on the guided first person perspective that Steve and John mentioned. We were very conscious about what we could and couldn’t do with the hardware.Q – How will strategic limb dismemberment come into play in Extraction?
WB – The good news is that it comes into play in exactly the same way it did in Dead Space 1, so anyone who liked it in the first game will be pretty happy with Extraction. We brought over almost all the enemies from Dead Space 1 and they dismember in the same ways, really gory, satisfying ways. You’ll be using it the same way, to slow enemies down, to not explode the exploders’ arms at the wrong time or rupturing open the pregnant’s belly and causing a swarm, all those kinds of things. We have some new enemies in there as well and they have unique dismemberment mechanics, but again the great thing is that the dismemberment translates really well to this new format, and anyone who played Dead Space 1 should love it.
Q – For the Wii did you have to dial back any of the blood and gore?
JH – Not at all. Extraction is just as bloody and violent as the first Dead Space was. Nothing was left out or toned down, if you’re looking for a visceral, mature-rated experience you’ll get it with Extraction.
GN - With the colony being the focal point as opposed to the final location, what new areas do we see? Are there any new weapons or Necromorphs as well?
JH – As far as the weapons and enemies go, Wright mentioned that there are certainly new ones. We do have a new arsenal of weapons as well that take advantage of the Wii controls. At the end of Dead Space we did see the colony, we had the shuttle landing area and the Marker section, we do see that in Extraction but we see a lot more of the colony. We see where people hung out, where their day-to-day lives took place, we see the base headquarters, where people would go to see a movie, slice of life aspects. We also see behind the scenes areas of the colony, how things worked, the infrastructure. Not to give too much away, but we will see locations from Dead Space 1, the Ishimura and in addition, places on the Ishimura that haven’t been seen before.
Q – How much freedom were you given to tell your part of the story?
JC – All the freedom in the world. We’re working with an original IP that has a story bible dating back 200 years, so it was actually a challenge figuring out where to place the story. We teased the Necromorph invasion of the colony in Dead Space 1 so we decided to focus on that. This lets people who never played the original start at the beginning of the story, while fans of Dead Space 1 get to see events in detail that were only referred to in the first game.
Q – What horror movies inspired the game’s setting and direction?
WB – The same films that inspired the first game. But with the guided experience, we drew inspiration from films like Cloverfield too. As a developer I’ve never had complete control over what the player sees before, they could be staring in the wrong direction or fighting a Necromorph when we want to show them something really dramatic or scary, and this let us do that.
Q – Give the Wii’s graphical limitations, how close will the visuals be to the original Dead Space?
JH – Were there concessions made? Sure—we couldn’t bring over all the polygons or shaders that we wanted. That said, the Wii is more powerful than a lot of people give it credit for, and I think gamers will be surprised by how good Extraction looks and how close it is to the original. I don’t think there will be many complaints; our artists did a fantastic job capturing the same vibe and look, there were no sacrifices in terms of art and Extraction looks purely Dead Space.
Q – How will the weapons differ? Will ammo be less scarce?
WB – A lot of the old weapons are back with some cool new ones. As for ammo, we give you a little more in Extraction but we still wanted players to be pressured to conserve ammo, to use their weapons accurately and scour the world for supplies. You still get weapon upgrades but this time you’ll just be picking up schematics instead of going to the store.Q – Is Extraction a self-contained story or are there links to the first game?
JC – It is a stand-alone plot with its own characters, but as I said there are references to the first game. On the Ishimura you’ll actually be doing things that directly affect Isaac in the first game. For instance you’ll enter a room and activate the gravity, and Isaac will have to turn it off, or you’ll turn off the ADS cannon and Isaac needs to turn it back on. So you get that satisfying connection between the two, of “oh yeah, I was here and did that, sorry Isaac but I kind of screwed you over.”
Q – Was working with the Wii controls liberating or constraining?
WB – Definitely liberating. We came up with a control scheme that is very simple and elegant, but difficult to master. Casual gamers can pick it up and enjoy Extraction on easier settings but hardcore gamers will find this game very deep and very challenging.
GN - The game supposedly has branching paths and puzzles. How does this make it different from other rail shooters, and do the different paths affect the story?
SF – You’ll come to parts in Extraction where you can choose which path you want to go down, and this has an outcome on the gameplay because you’ll be locked down on that path for the remainder of the playthrough. They’ll take you to completely different environments, there will be different things to pick up, different situations to deal with, different enemy encounters, different reactions from your teammates. What you do greatly affects the outcome; some of your core team can die, including you because you play as each character in different chapters. Characters can fall into a pit or appear to die and maybe they come back later. This also adds to the replay value because you can’t see everything the first or second time you play through the game.
GN – One thing I found in Resident Evil 5 was that adding a co-op experience made it a lot less scary than previous games in the series. With Extraction’s emphasis on cooperative play and the focus on four people instead of one, does the lack of Isaac’s isolation made the game less tense and frightening?
SP – Well a big part of the story is this group of people trying to survive, as opposed to that other game you referenced. The core of this story is about four people playing off each other and working together, more like a survival movie, so I don’t think the addition of co-op will affect the overall tension of the game. Considering the game was built around a group of people to begin with and how the story was written, co-op doesn’t feel forced or out of place, in fact it was one of our goals from the beginning.
I have to admit, months ago when I heard Extraction was a rail shooter I lost a lot of enthusiasm for it. I assumed, after playing Resident Evil Umbrella Chronicles, that it was just another horror series being dumbed down for casual Wii owners. From what the Visceral guys tell me, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Extraction has received no whitewashing for the family-friendly Wii and it isn’t a short, simple franchise spinoff. Extraction is a 10-12 hour experience with a story that factors hugely into the Dead Space continuity and action just as intense and violent as the original. As a fan of the first game I’m really looking forward to going hands on with Extraction. Expect a full review in the next couple of weeks.