The New Theory Of Horror: Dead Space 2's Creative Director Speaks
January 24, 2011 Page 5 of 5
We haven't really talked about Isaac's character. He's kind of the strong, silent type in the first Dead Space, but he's not going to be like that in the second one.
WB: Well, there were a couple things we wanted to change in Dead Space 1 about Isaac. Number one, the structure of Dead Space 1 was that the story structure and the mission structure is you were an errand boy. Dead Space 1 was "Isaac, go fix the thing." "Okay." As soon as you pressed the button, it fixes the thing. Somebody calls you and is like, "Okay, now go fix the other thing."
And what I noticed was that there were people who complained that the missions weren't very interesting, and that the backtracking became a little repetitive. And we thought long and hard about it, and we realized that backtracking, for one, is not inherently boring or bad.
Backtracking is interesting when you have an idea about where you're going and what you're doing any why. It's a lot more interesting when it's sort of self-driven rather than a mission that's given to you. It's like "Okay, go here. Okay, well, now go back." That's not quite as interesting.
What we wanted to do this time is make the missions and objectives in the game feel a lot more intuitive. So, instead of things that people had to phone you and tell you you had to do, they were just more intuitive.
It was more obvious that there were things that needed to be done and that Isaac could then therefore be the driver of the missions in the game. So, first of all, yeah, we wanted to get rid of the idea that Isaac was somebody's errand boy.
The second thing is that we found it really, really hard when we started thinking about the story of Dead Space 2 to think that Isaac, after all that he had been through in Dead Space 1, would not have anything to say to anybody in Dead Space 2 about what's going on. Obviously, there's going to be Necromorphs. Obviously bad things are going to happen.
And it's also because we want to grow and build the franchise. We've made Dead Space 1, Dead Space Extraction, and Dead Space 2. We've done the comics, the books, the films and everything. We want to feel like there's depth and that the world continues to get more interesting.
If Isaac didn't really have anything to say about what was going on in Dead Space 2, then I think that the statement we would have made about the franchise is that there's this sort of ignorance on the character's part and on the player's part about the fact that you've seen the stuff before. And that just didn't really seem interesting to us when we were writing the story. And I think a lot of players might not have cared.
Most video games, I think, sort of have that ignorance. You know, you start up a sequel and it doesn't matter what happened before but it happened again this time, and you'll just have to shoot through some people again to get through it again.
We wanted Isaac to have an opinion. We wanted him to make observations and say interesting things, and we thought it would be really fun to develop him into a real character. So, from the start, we thought about Isaac talking. It was a big challenge, I have to say. It took us a while to get happy with the voice acting, just to get the right tone.
It was hard to get Isaac to feel like he has an opinion on things and he's the guy in charge, but to not make him feel like he's confident and brave. Because when Isaac comes off as confident, as a gamer, you're no longer scared. You're like, "Well, the guy on the screen seems to think everything's okay, therefore I think everything is okay."
That was one of the big challenges, getting Isaac to feel like he's in charge, he's making calls, but yet still sounding like a guy who's absolutely fucking terrified about the stuff that's going on.
Do you think that it's easier for a player to put themselves in the shoes of a silent hero as opposed to someone who is talking a lot and seen in cutscenes?
WB: I do think it's definitely easier. Believe me, there are times that we thought, "Oh my God, what did we get ourselves into?" It was a lot of work. "Maybe we should have kept Isaac silent!"
In the end, though, I think every time we asked ourselves that question, the answer was "We absolutely did the right thing because we want to tell a good story and we want to continue to figure out how to create good characters in our games."
It's definitely easier. And if you look at GameSpot, they did a survey of what people's favorite characters in games were, and I believe Gordon Freeman was the guy who came out on top, which was really fascinating.
It was fascinating because if you think about it, it's like, "Well, Gordon Freeman almost isn't really a character." You never see him, and he never speaks. You only see him in the picture on the box, and I thought it was an interesting statement about how gamers think of characters in games.
It's definitely hard to make a character that acts and speaks on screen that you're trying to get the player to relate to. But I think it's definitely the right call because I guess I see it personally as a challenge to figure out how to create more interesting characters that the players can be in control of, and I also think it's an interesting challenge to figure out how to become better storytellers in the games industry.
It's something that we're really struggling with now. It seems to be that there's sort of two camps. There's the Gordon Freeman camp, which is "never let your guy speak, let everybody else tell you what's going on." And then there's the camp that is really vocal about doing lots of cutscenes. Some people really love non-interactive cutscenes.
I'm really, really pushing our guys -- I have been for years in Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 2 -- to try to figure out how to create characters that are in alignment with the player. So, the trick is to get the character on screen to never do or say something that the player doesn't wish that he would do or say. And I think that's the challenge for the entire games industry moving forward, actually.
And speaking of the story, one of the things that made the game kind of like a page-turner is because it started out with a mystery, and it just slowly unravels. Is that a concept you're taking over to Dead Space 2?
WB: Yeah. The game starts off with a big question mark actually.
It's been a couple of years since Dead Space 1, and we don't tell you too much about where you've been or why you are where you are at the beginning of Dead Space 2. We started the game off with a little bit of mystery because we thought it would be really fun to throw you in right from the start into a situation where you're in a little bit of a panic and you don't know what's going on, and you need some answers right away.
There are some other big questions that remained unanswered throughout the game. It's a little bit different this time because we couldn't tell the same kind of story where it's like, "Hey, you go somewhere, you show up, everyone's dead, and you need to figure out why."
Yeah. Because you kind of know now. [laughs]
WB: [laughs] Yeah. It's the same reason we couldn't have Isaac not talk. It's just like we just can't throw you into another haunted house, change the house and change the monsters, and expect it to feel like a compelling story. So, the kinds of mysteries that you're going to encounter are a little different this time.
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