News Article

News Article

Our Chat with 'Dead Space' Producer Chuck Beaver!

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Life is hard sometimes, you know? A few weeks ago my tiring life consisted of flying out to sunny, breezy San Francisco, California--while the sidewalks in Philly steamed from unbearable humidity--and lounging around in one of the most famous video-game company's development lair, playing one of the most hotly anticipated video games of the year. Ahhh yes, life is quite intolerable at times providing very little sleep and some serious jet-lag. But, it's not all bad. I mean, hell, playing Dead Space for Xbox/PS3 before anyone else in the world and hanging out with the uber-talented EA (Entertainment Arts) development/production team is pretty damn sweet! And between mastering (or trying to at least) select levels of Dead Space and enjoying the great company, I took a few breaks to gather some tidbits to tide you guys over at home until the games release this October. Chuck Beaver, Dead Space producer, was nice enough to sit for a chat with us and we got the scoop on everything from gore and blood-splatter to the distinctive blend of artwork and gameplay you can expect to see! Read on and be sure to check back with FEARnet for all your Dead Space coverage!

 

If you were to send a message to the horror fans out there that aren?t aware of the horror niche in games, what would you say to them to get them pumped up about Dead Space?

Well, first of all, for sure, I would say at least just pick it up and try it. The game has turned out to be highly accessible. We started out with traditional niche survival horror and that means sort of a sluggish control, everything?s hard to get to, you die a lot and you?re sort of this scared girl in the corner with a knife. And it?s sort of a niche play if you want that specific feeling. After our focus testing and as we kept designing, we kind of came to different conclusions about what we wanted to make and we changed the game to be more accessible, where the controller is more transparent, like you pick up the controller and you?re just playing, you don?t really notice anything about it, and that?s a lot of work. And it?s a big change from when we started, but in doing that the game play is very addictive, and very fun, the idea of strategic dismemberment, and shooting stuff off, so that becomes very fun, and then on top of that its quite gory because you?re chopping off limbs. So if you?re a horror fan and you like that type of thing, apparently the big vibration that everyone loves is just grotesque humans, like the more human it is and relatable, and the more gross you?ve made it, that?s kind of the pitch you?re trying to hit. Well all of our enemies sort of do that, they all take something very relatable and they give it very unpredictable like ?ugggh! That guy?s out of it? or ?I wish it wasn?t true? and so all the enemies have that. So you get the visceral gore and the gross disgusting human twist so those things are in the game in spades. So if you like the genre then come play the game and you can get to it without getting through all the gamer crap.

I can definitely attest to that. Having never played an Xbox 360 before and not being a hardcore gamer, it actually didn?t take me that long to get the pick it up and its like once you start to get the hang of it you sort of break yourself in a little.

Did you feel that you were able to figure it out easily?

Absolutely

Because we require that you master that pretty fast and as you get swarmed by enemies you have to take out their limbs and legs to stop them and use stasis to control them and you?ve got to get all that down so its encouraging to hear. Then you can enjoy the rest of the game with the production value which is an extremely high production value. We?ve got all the beautiful art from the best artists in the world and audio guys are right this minute cranking it out to get that all done in 5.1 sound.

Speaking of the art of this you?ve basically got three that are kind of running concurrently with each other. You have the comic books which Ben Templesmith, 30 Days of Night artist, then you also have the anime. Three very distinct styles which are all happening at the same time. As a producer what was your involvement with the three of them and how do you retain the brand identity having these three different styles all happening at once without confusing the user?

Well I was the guy running those three properties so I was the guy in charge of making sure they all came out and making sure the story was coherent across all three lines. So I did the master timeline and worked with the writers on the comic and the anime feature, so we lined all that up so that the properties were telling a story. As far as the art though, that?s really in question, the point of those other properties was not to do them in the Dead Space style of photo-realism because we were going to master that on our end. So when we put these other properties together we just wanted it to be whole different styles that still evoked the mood of the game. So if you look at Ben Templesmith?s style it couldn?t be any more perfect, right? It?s somewhat suggestive, it?s representational enough, but it?s very clearly abstracted in some ways. And there?s lots of mood and the colors he uses are gigantic. Swaths of palates per page and it?s so moody. So that actually fit well, we wanted to go that way instead of hyper realistic comics. We thought this is a great mood piece and it would go well. And the same thing is true for the anime that we did because they?re half-Japanese and sort of a half American horror look. And their whole team was so excited about horror and horror anime and they wanted to do their version of it. Their art style, again as long as it was the same mood as ours: forlorn, foreboding, guy?s alone, it?s the future, it?s dangerous, keep all these things in their art and they?d be good to go. And we sent them all of our art as well, so they could see what we?re doing and then do it in the anime style.

It?s a brave choice to take this abstract idea of mood and not be concerned with aesthetics. Some would say that was risky.

Well we did want it to be risky. We?ve been under the yoke of licensed properties ourselves for a long time. And we wanted to make sure that these guys felt enough creative freedom to run and do their thing and not have us get in our way. And plus we wanted to create for these three properties a cannon of a universe and not a little slice of tight ?let?s do this!? And Isaac doesn?t even show up until the game, Isaac?s not even part of it until the game. So they?re busy telling their stories and they?ve got their own characters and having and good time. And like we said the art aesthetic was the same, we said as long as you get the mood right you?re fine. And I think it worked out really well.

Were there any struggles with corporate or higher ups? Did you have to fight for some things? Hold back on some things?

You know it?s really weird because we were sort of the licensors now and we were working with them and we were really determined to let them feel like they had the freedom to make the choices they wanted as long as it followed the master timeline and all that stuff. And weirdly we only had a few iterations with script, we?d gotten some changes with stuff that wasn?t quite accurate so we changed that but all the stuff they brought was actually pretty creatively whole when they got it because they were using top talent like Jimmy Pomioti was writing and they had all these great artists so the stuff they were bringing was already kind of done whole-cloth so we didn?t have a lot of conflict creatively to begin with but if we had it we would have been able to resolve it ourselves anyway because the Dead Space team, we were in charge of the license so we were kind of making the calls.

 

The game?s pretty gory but it?s not so much that there?s blood splatter it?s what leads up to the blood splatter that can make it pretty disturbing. Was there any concern about how this is going to be perceived by the ratings board or in other territories? So is there going to be any type of compromise down the road if you?re told that you can?t release the game you won?t get the rating?

Well, we?re strong M (Mature) so we?re clearly an M rated and with that we decided to take the implications of what that means. So if we can?t get in to certain territories than we won?t get into certain territories. So Germany clearly, they have an issue with that and possibly Japan and maybe Australia. We can?t change the game, we don?t want to change the game.

And it wouldn?t be as easy as just taking away some of the blood splatter, the subject matter is so strong, it?s what leads to the blood splatter that?s integral to the game.

Right, it?s strategic dismemberment. If I?m not going to cut off limbs than I?m not playing the game. So that?s the reason we can?t change it, if it didn?t have that you wouldn?t have the same game.

Dead Space has such a strong main character in Isaac. Ten years down the road, in a perfect world, where would you like to see him?

Well we haven?t even put any thought into the next story we?ve been so busy trying to get this one done and get it right. It?s hard to conjecture I wouldn?t want to commit us to anything with Isaac, but we want to take his character to someplace that was interesting to his circumstance and specific to his circumstance. So he?s not just going to be cliché, we want it to be ?okay these specific things happen to him? and I?m not going to say what happens to him because that?s part of the game, but when these things happen what does he do, what emerges from that. And than it?s really interesting because you get this human condition about this broken character and you get to see what happens to him. Will we break him? Will we make him crazy? I mean, yeah we?d really like to have a distinct character and have him do something really original. We don?t want him to be the superhero or the space marine or ?the guy that made it!? We want to just have great story going forward with a great character going forward.

With a game like Dead Space, you?re basically creating a movie. You have a script, you have characters, you have lighting, you have creatures, you have all the stuff that goes into making a movie but you?re essentially making a 14 or 15 hour movie. And you?re making a 14 or 15 hour movie that has to engage the user. Can you speak about how that process works?

 

It's just ridiculous, the size of it. When we were writing the story we had all the plotline laid out, we looked at it all and we were like "oh my god how do we know we're telling a story?" so we made this huge spreadsheet that had all these elements and we took all the things we wanted to cover and talk about and we laid them out on a spreadsheet. And then we said ?okay that?s going to be so-and-so talking about?? it really felt like Clue. So we had this huge complicated puzzle that you put together which was fun because we had all the hard moments of figuring out what was cool and what we wanted to show and now we?ve got like this 4000 piece puzzle.

So how do you retain that sense of fear and suspense in a 14-15 hour game like this?

Well you can?t keep going Boo! Like with things popping out or dropping from the ceiling. That gets old quick, every gag has one use, you know? So we found out a lot of the scare for us came from the negative space, like what isn?t there and what is suggested. The less predictable the enemy tells and the combat tells are, the more every hallway becomes like a ?am I going to get my ass handed to me here? Or is it going to be okay?? and you walk through it and you don?t know. So that keeps it pretty tense all the way through, and then when you are getting your ass handed to you, when you are in combat that can be very scary too. And you know if you don?t have your act together you?re going to bite it. And if there?s another enemy in the background and you?re just barely handling this one and you have low health that?s just tense and scary and people are playing on the edge of their seat and holding their controller in funny ways. So those are the two major ways we get it scary.

In real life what?s your biggest fear?

That?s easy, I think about this all the time. I get freaked out when I see primates, like gorillas, in the zoo?and they look at me! I don?t know what it is but it?s so relatable and it?s just this whole weird connection that you get with these human looking eyes. And I can?t handle Sasquatch or big foot movies where they do it and they make it look real, that wigs me out big time!

 

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