Interview: Dead Space 3 Producer John Calhoun; “It’s not an action game”

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With the release of Dead Space 3 in the next week, Capsule Computers were lucky enough to get our hands on the first three hours of Dead Space 3 and speak with Dead Space 3 producer John Calhoun on Dead Space 3’s differences from its previous games and some of the concerns fans may have on its new setting.

As a video game producer what’s your role in the making of Dead Space 3? 

So the producer’s role, we have five producers on the team and it’s our job to make sure that the entire development team – which is distribute in three different groups, in three different countries, all share the same vision. Dead Space is a big game and it has a lot of lore to it. We only have one creative director and he can’t be in a hundred different studios at once, so it’s really our job to make sure we’re all sharing the same vision and working towards the same goal, being the voice of the player, and the voice of the audience. Just because something is done well from a technical perspective, doesn’t mean it’s done from a fun perspective.

Has there been much fan feedback from the previous games? And how has it shaped the development of Dead Space 3?

Absolutely, we have a very vocal community in a good way. They criticise us constructively and tell us what they like and don’t like. In fact one of the reasons we’re doing drop in drop out co-op in Dead Space 3 is from feedback we’ve had from fans. We’ve heard the game is too scary to play by your self, people who played Dead Space 1 told us that. “It looked great, had fantastic audio but it was too dark, I didn’t have enough ammo and frankly it was just too scary, I played it for three hours and put it down, never touched it again” – we’ve had people come up and tell us that.

The fans have been telling us for a long time what they like to see in the game, and the great thing is that it lined up very well for the dev team because we wanted to do the same for a long time, so it was a perfect opportunity to build a game that was drop in drop out co-op.

Did the development team approach co-op differently from the previous single player Dead Space games?

It the most challenging thing we’ve done to be honest. To have an AI companion when you’re playing single player is a technical challenge because you have to make the AI for it, but it’s not a creative challenge because the game always can assumes there will be two people there. What was hard for us was making a game that can adapt dynamically to the presence of a second player at anytime point. So it was a creative challenge, it more then doubled the about of dialogue we had already, we have to do a lot more motion capture, we had to hire an actor who was the same calibre as Issac Clake so that he didn’t feel like a secondary character in the game but rather one of the main protagonists. Then we had to build the technical specs and frame work to support the drop in drop out functionality.


One of the key things we learnt that we initially didn’t originally include in our design was the persistence inventory would be, so with drop in drop out co-op your friend plays for 20 minutes and you two come out, that 20 minutes needs to be valuable for your friend. So we made sure that any progress you made in the game, not matter where you are, will be saved and be part of your experience. So if you played Dead Space 3 all the way to the very end, and your friend picks up a copy he can join you at the very end even though he’s never played it before. Anything that he does in your game will be remembered and saved to his profile. He can go back and play that one chapter or play though the full game. So the game knows if there’s any gap in the story, so it will pick up from that chapter if you want to.

Do you think that might ruin the game in terms of spoilers if my friend joins me at the very end?

We don’t think it is, we think about it in terms of player choice. What would ruin the player experience is if you tried to join my game and the software wouldn’t let you. It always better to allow players to do something then say “Well it’s not the way we wanted the game to be played, so we won’t let you do it”. Some people don’t care about the story, there are some people who just want the achievements or to finish the game as quickly as possible, and if you’re one of those types of players well we’re not going to say no. The right answer is always yes, it’s better to be welcoming than to push players away.

Will there significant changes game’s overall story when played though co-op?

The goal is the same, but the tone of the game is changed. You’re not going to miss anything if you play single player, all the major things are there. What changes is the tone from one of isolation and individual survival. When you’re playing co-op it’s about two people who come from very different backgrounds – engineer and a solider who have to rely on each other to survive. They talk to each other, they disagree, they yell, but they also share in their triumphs and successes so that’s very different tone and changes the way the game feels. While it’s not true to say the game’s story is completely different, it’s true to say that the game feels different and players will experience it differently.

From what we’ve seen in the trailers, is it fair to say that Dead Space 3 looks more like an action game rather than a survival horror game?

No it’s not an action game, a lot of people ask us that. They see the demo and previews, which are geared towards two-three minutes of being on youtube that are made for short attention spans. The moments of creeping dread where 15 minutes go by, you don’t see any enemies go by but you hear them – they don’t demo well. The ratio to action to tension has not changed in Dead Space 3, it’s the exact same formula. We like to say it’s in our DNA to make a game that takes you though peaks and valleys, sort of like a roller coaster.

It’s just that the game is so long, it’s about twice as long as Dead Space 2 so we just have so much content that we’re just showing the high action moments but as you’ve seen in the demo your fighting on the Luna colony and you’re using military weapons because that’s what Carver gives you but you still have your plasma cutter, by the time you get to the lost flotilla and derelict ships – you’re out of ammo, and every bullet counts. It’s a long claustrophobic ship. The entire game feels that way, it goes light, it goes dark, it goes loud it goes soft, it goes high intensity, low intensity. We’ve managed to stretch those moments out, were we only had 30 minutes of high intensity in Dead Space 2, we can now afford to do an hour followed by an hour more traditional gameplay simply because of the length of the new game.

Speaking of the game’s setting, as it’s set on a frozen planet and not on the dark corridors of a ship, will the game have any open-world elements?

It’s not open world but it will have room for exploration. A lot of people have been mistaken about that, but the game world is big and there are places to explore and go off the beaten path. One of the things that we haven’t really talked about much is all the optional content and missions that you come across. As you play though the story you’ll come across locked doors or a cavern, places that are just off the main road. All our optional content is just that – it’s optional, it’s a great place to find parts and recourses but also it makes the world feel more rich and immersive. In Dead Space 2, we made a couscous effort to be more linear than Dead Space 1 but in doing so we lost that sense of exploration and player impulse so we wanted bring that back in Dead Space 3.

Can you explain a bit about the new Weapon Craft feature and the different types of weapon combinations?

We’ve done the math several different ways, if you’re going to be the most liberal and go with every possible combination there’s hundreds and thousands of combinations out there. In reality, the ones I think that will matter to the player it’s in the low thousands but that’s still a huge number. And that includes the different engines and tips that players may choice. You can have new military weapons combined with traditional plasma weapons or kinetic weapons combined with ripcore weapons as well as the different attachments, which acts like buffs.

Are there plans for future Dead Space spin-off games or upcoming DLC for Dead Space 3?

We’re talking about any of our future projects at this point, simply because as believe it or not we’re still busy supporting Dead Space 3 so when it launches it can be the best possible game it can be. We want to make sure that from day one when you put your disc in everything goes smoothly and painlessly, we’re still really busy making Dead Space 3 in a way. After the game launches and we had time to breath a little bit and think about the future, then we’ll announce future projects.

Read our hands on preview of Dead Space 3 here.

Dead Space 3 is set to be released for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC on February 5 in North American and February 7 in Australia.

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