Despite its plodding structure, obvious inspirations and unimaginative scares, Dead Space remains perhaps my favourite new IP of this generation, thanks in no small part to its starship setting – Silent Hill, Deep Space Nine and Rapture rolled into one vast, alien-infested and eerily drifting package.
The sequel has big shoes to fill, and thankfully it seems to have risen to the challenge, boasting not only a whole new spaceborne environment to tip-toe cautiously across but a team-oriented multiplayer component, pitting human squads against four breeds of oozy, decomposing horror in a race for objectives, items and experience points. We went hands-on with the latter at an EA showcase on Wednesday, and cornered Art Director Ian Milham afterwards to talk shop. Prime your Plasma Cutter and read on.
Hi Ian, thanks for chatting. I’ve just had my first taste of the maps, and I’m wondering if there are any of those graffiti messages in Necromorph-speak from the first game, the ones people could decode using tools on the web…
Let’s put it this way: we always try to put more in the world than can be easily seen at a glance, to reward hardcore people like that. So yeah, there might be some stuff.
Great. I also wanted to ask about the mutated soldier Necromorphs who could mess with time. Were they ever tabled for multiplayer?
The Twitchers? Yeah, we considered all of them. I think in that case it was very difficult to balance those guys out, and give an effective counter-strategy. It’s very tricky when you’re working on an asynchronous game like this, where the sides play so differently and have such different goals, to keep it balanced. So no, the Twitchers didn’t make the cut.
Aww. Was the multiplayer component a given from the beginning, or did you come round to the idea during development?
We knew from the start of Dead Space 2 that there was going to be a multiplayer component. The real trick was finding one that was compelling – nobody wanted a cheesy, me-too, tacked-on thing. So finding one that was compelling, and dedicating the proper resources to it, without compromising the single player in any way. So yeah, it’s been going since day one, and has been in addition to our single player development not instead of.
Obviously you’ve done a lot of playtesting. Was there a big surprise during the tests which significantly altered how you approached Dead Space multiplayer?
It didn’t change how we did it, but there was one very pleasant surprise. One question from the start was “Dead Space is known as a scary game – why would you do multiplayer for it, it’s not going to be scary?” What’s been great is to see people play as Necromorphs and try to be scary. They hide in the shadows, they crawl on the ceiling, they jump out at just the right time, they wait for the last guy to enter the room before they strike. It’s been gratifying to see the scariness carry over into the multiplayer.
Will Necromorph players be able to interact with the environment to raise the tension – taking out all the lights in a room, for instance?
Yes, we do have destructable lights in some maps.
How much does multiplayer feed back into the single player?
Our hope with single and multiplayer is that they illuminate each other without being requirements. We want someone who plays the multiplayer right off the bat to be effective and have a good time in it – at the same time, there are links and connections between the two camps. So they do sort of strengthen each other without being actual requirements.
I absolutely loved the Ishimura. Will we be seeing the old ship again at any point in Dead Space 2?
We have not confirmed or denied that the Ishimura will make an appearance. Let’s put it this way: while there’s a lot more variety in Dead Space 2, which I think is a good thing, the response to Dead Space 1 was very positive in terms of the setting, but I think it all felt towards the end a bit samey. Brown spaceship – OK. So we’re bringing a lot more variety this time round, a lot more new spaces, but I will say, without being too specific, that classic Dead Space fans will be very happy with what’s in the game.
We look forward to being very happy then. Thanks again for your time!
Dead Space 2 hits Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on 25th January 2011.