September 22, 2009 - After long days at work crafting a macabre sci-fi landscape populated with crawling, flesh-craving corpses, humans with splayed viscera, dismembered limbs of all shapes and sizes, and other spine-tingling audio and visual manifestations of pure digital evil, one might imagine members of EA's Visceral Games have a hard time getting to sleep at night. Their ceaseless toil in the realm of sci-fi horror is about to bear delicious fruit - the kind that shuffles forth from the bloated corpse it crawled out of to rip into your flesh. Indeed, Dead Space Extraction is almost upon us, and CheatCC caught up with the development team during a recent conference call to get all the gruesome and gory details.
The original Dead Space followed Isaac Clarke on a horrific jaunt through the USG Ishimura battling Necromorphs - human corpses reanimated and twisted by a deadly virus - which could only be stopped by strategically blowing them apart limb-from-limb. Moving in a very different direction in terms perspective and gameplay, the Wii-exclusive Dead Space Extraction is a "guided first-person experience" that has players wielding the Wii Remote to fire at the screen and dismember the onrushing Necromorphs in a very direct way.
Extraction is a prequel that takes place three weeks before Dead Space and dovetails with the events from the animated feature and comic book that accompanied the launch of the original game. "Dead Space has a story bible that dates back 200 years," says senior designer John Calhoun. "The real challenge is figuring out where in the timeline we wanted to be." Starting at the beginning of the extraction hinted at in the original game let the team create a game that provides a perfect starting point for new players just getting into the franchise for the first time. Also, there's a lot of fan fiction and connections to the first game (in terms of events, characters, and settings) that will resonate with existing Dead Space Fans.
"We decided to carve out a brand new story. There are four brand-new characters, but we wanted to make sure their motives and their misadventures intersect the bigger franchise in interesting ways," he says. Focusing on new characters let the team tell the story through different perspectives. You'll eventually build up a group of four as you play through the game, though which character you play as changes from chapter-to-chapter. In Extraction, all of the characters are fair game, explains Calhoun, which means the group may get separated, some may die, and others disappear. No one is safe, and this plays directly into the horror aesthetic found in every aspect of the game.
Dementia also plays a much more front-and-center role this time around, says associate producer Shereif Fattouh. Having total control over where players are looking at almost all times really gave the team the ability to script dementia more into the moment-to-moment gameplay. Unusual screen effects, seeing things that aren't there, and other audio and visual trickery is a key part of the experience. Members of your party are also going to react in interesting ways when you start to experience dementia.
A Completely New Perspective
Going from the third-person, over-the-shoulder view in the original Dead Space to a first-person perspective for Extraction was a surprise move. The decision to make the game an enhanced on-rails shooter is an even bigger departure, but it's one the developers stand by. This new approached gave the team total control over where the camera is pointed at all times, allowing them to maximize the visuals on the Wii, dial-up the horror suspense, and make the strategic dismemberment mechanics feel even more satisfying and connected to the controls, says executive producer Steve Papoutsis.
There were some early conversations about making Extraction a first-person shooter or trying to carry-over the controls from the first game, says creative director Wright Bagwell, but the team ultimately wanted to focus on utilizing the unique aspects of the Wii. "Having the light gun-style aiming scheme we thought was really super cool," he says, "And being able to leverage that in a really deep way with all of our strategic dismemberment mechanics felt a lot more interesting than just trying to bring over third-person controls or first-person. We wanted to really just take advantage of what the platform can do that no other platform could do."