Dead Space returns in 2023 after a ten-year hiatus. But the remake will arrive in a very different landscape from the one it left; terror has become big business, and once-niche survival horror games are now booming. Resident Evil has regained its glory, Silent Hill rises from the grave, and many terrifying indies have captured the imagination of gamers and streamers around the world. Where the original Dead Space was something of a gamble for distinctly mainstream publisher EA in 2008, the remake is pretty much a surefire hit in 2023.
As part of this month’s Dead Space-focused IGN First, we caught up with members of EA Motive to explore how the original Dead Space changed survival horror, why the genre is so popular today. today and how the evolution of technology has made the return of the game even more terrifying.
Take a look at Dead Space and it’s immediately obvious where its roots lie. “I think something like Resident Evil 4 changed, I guess, the landscape of survival horror at the time,” says Taylor Kingston, environmental artist at EA Motive and veteran of the Dead Space series. “Dead Space was certainly inspired by a ton of [it].”
But while Resident Evil 4 certainly inspired Dead Space’s approach to over-the-shoulder combat and haunted house level design, much of the original game’s direction was drawn from films such as Alien, The Thing and Event Horizon.
“I think over the years we’ve seen games influenced by feature films and bringing a lot more of those cinematic techniques and influences into games,” says Dead Space Art Director Mike Yazijian. “And over the years – whether it was Silent Hill or Resident Evil, obviously Dead Space brought a lot of that feeling – it actually felt like it was a lot more immersive, a lot more mature in tone than your old video game. horror game.
Roman Campos-Oriola, creative director of the Dead Space remake, thinks the original game’s dedication to cinematic-style realism had wider implications. “I think one of the things that Dead Space really pushed further, and inspired a lot of other games, was really this thing about immersion,” he says. “Since […] Starting with Resident Evil 7, there’s been a bigger push, I think, in survival horror to try to make them more immersive in order to make them scarier.
Strangely, it may actually have been the influence of Dead Space that put it on ice for ten years. When Dead Space 3 arrived in 2013, survival horror was mutating. The Resident Evil formula was falling into disuse, and scarier indie hits like Amnesia and Outlast were redefining the genre. These games had a new dedication to immersion via their first-person perspectives, which heightened the intensity of the scares. Third-person horror has become kind of an antiquated thing of the past, to the point that even Resident Evil itself has finally switched to a first-person camera.
But, years later, Resident Evil has returned to its third-person roots and is more popular than ever. In fact, the popularity of survival horror games as a whole is apparently higher than it’s ever been.
“Why do I think [survival horror is] to come back? It’s because he’s not just coming back into gaming, he’s coming back into the broader entertainment industry,” Campos-Oriola theorizes. “It’s been a while since [came] back in the entertainment industry at large. If you remember when the original Dead Space [was released], or even before that, if you wanted to go see a horror movie, you had to find the only cinema in town that showed horror movies. These days, most horror movies have a national release.
Yazijian agrees. “I like the way he’s making a comeback,” he said. “But what I love about it now is it’s becoming almost mainstream, isn’t it? There’s so many games coming out, there’s so many movies coming out as well that are popular and people are watching the horror genre more than ever.
While the popularity of survival horror right now certainly makes 2023 a great time for Dead Space to return, the biggest upside is the advancement in technology. “We have more tips and tools as developers,” says Campos-Oriola. “And so we were able to go back to the original inspirations of Dead Space – The Thing, Alien, Event Horizon, those types of movies – and look for elements in those movies that were tried and didn’t do so well in the original .because of technological constraints, or have not even been tried because we [could not] do this. Today, now we can do these things.
Graphic Comparison Dead Space – Remake vs Original
“If you think of the original Alien, when they walk into this big room with all the eggs hidden in the fog, the fog is more than a mood, it’s part of the hideout,” he continues. “Well now we have a real dynamic physical fog. So yeah, we could hide creatures there. You could actually lose an enemy inside the fog. You can follow their trail and how they split the fog and how the fog closes in behind him.
The new technology available in the Frostbite Engine means that the team at EA Motive is able to enhance the very heart of Dead Space: a fully immersive experience.
“I think for me the most important thing is the mood, right?” Yazijian said. “Because looking at the three main pillars of Dead Space, from an art direction perspective, […] number one was horror. […] So we wanted to go back to that horror. And we say, ‘What’s the scariest thing in a horror movie?’ It is the meaning of lighting, light and dark, the interplay between the two. So when you play the game now, it’s darker. […] Thus, when the player moves through the environment, the enemies move. You can see the play of light and dark in the environment.
In an effort to push the immersion further, the Ishimura was transformed from a series of separate levels into a complete, interconnected spaceship. You can walk its full length and back freely, a feature that makes it feel more like an authentic location than a set of video game missions. But this transformation meant more work than just creating areas connecting the maps of the original game.
“If you have this ship, then you’ve kind of created another problem where you have to fill it,” says technical director David Robillard. “So how do you fill those empty moments? […] Well, we created this Intensity Director, which is more than just an AI generator. It creates moments where you freak out and that’s the whole point. And it follows you through a predicted intensity curve that level designers place in their levels and modulate it based on where you are in your mission instructions.
Somewhat similar to Left 4 Dead’s lauded AI system, the Intensity Director is able to analyze the action and horror curve of your experience and trigger events if things have been quiet for too long. Robillard says there are “almost 400 events we can generate”, and dropping enemies onto the map is just the start.
“It has more than just AI,” he reveals. “There are sound bites, animations, environmental triggers. So you’ll have a fan starting up, you’ll have creaks coming from the ship, you’ll have lights flickering, you’ll have lights going out, you’ll have psychosis events happening. So anything that happens in the script can happen with the Intensity Director and that’s how we manage to make sure the lines are blurred and you’re never really sure what’s scripted and of what is not.
Immersive horror was at the heart of the original Dead Space. And now, with horror’s popularity at an all-time high, it’s the perfect time for it to come back and use modern technology to take that immersion to the next level. New VFX technology allows the environments to replicate the cinematic influences of the original game, and the Intensity Director ensures immersion facilitates gameplay as well as atmosphere. To see what the Dead Space Remake makes even better, take a look at how the EA Motive team created a new version of the Necromorph transformation stage, and how history was rewritten.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.