Speaking with Gamasutra about EA Redwood Shores' upcoming multiplatform third-person sci-fi horror game Dead Space, producer Chuck Beaver spoke on Electronic Arts' move into less family-friendly arenas, and admitted it can be hard convincing developers to part with long-practiced design assumptions.
Asked about the potential difficulties of pitching a very tense, violent game internally at a publisher like EA, which historically has tended towards "T"-rated or lower games, Beaver explained that the green light was based on a larger strategy of allowing more creative exploration company-wide:
"You know, EA likes to make games that have a broad appeal. That's the commercially-viable thing to be doing. When we pitched the game, we had to figure out a way that we weren't just going to be a tiny niche market - torture porn, and all these things that are more niche-y than not.
So, yeah, it's harder, but once they let us do the 'M' rating, that became sort of the ability to be really hardcore about it, and then attract people that are hardcore, or that want to be hardcore but aren't. If you don't go too far off the edge, you can actually appeal to a wide bunch of people.
As we were putting the slides together, all the executives were going, 'Yeah, I think this is going to work for you guys. It's actually a pretty good idea. It's coming together.'
"We'd been a really family-friendly [company], and so we figured out, 'Well, it's harder to be innovative and be creative with so many restrictions.' Not necessarily just 'M,' but just other restrictions about doing licensed games - like now trying to do [more] new IP.
EA is trying to stretch out, and reactivate some of the creative cores of some of these projects. 'Alright, you want to be "M"? We'll let you be "M," and see what happens.' And it turned it out it's been a really wise decision in the end."
Among the team's design choices were to adopt a Valve-like adherence to fully in-character storytelling - never giving the game control of the camera to deliver a cutscene.
As Beaver described, sometimes the most difficult part of making such decisions is convincing the team it's worth doing:
"People are really almost religious about their belief in what we should and shouldn't do. (laughs) The whole idea, it's a big binary switch - are we going to have cutscenes, or are we not going to have cutscenes? It's a big, big deal in design. When we decided at the beginning we were going to take [that route], we were like, 'Let's go for, let's go for it.' Everyone took a big breath.
It impacts everything. It's the levels themselves, it's line of sight - like you were saying, you have to design that into the levels so that it becomes part of the fabric of what the experience is. It's much different if [as a designer] you can just say, 'Well, I can take control of the camera, I can take control of this.' Then when we started taking the HUD away, and we were going to start making that on the character, people have very specific ideas about you should be doing with that."
In addition to the lack of discrete cutscenes, the EA Redwood Shores team also decided to strip away all superimposed HUD interface. All player information is conveyed via visual elements on the player model, and menus are depicted as Minority Report-like holographic systems that are rendered in the real-time 3D world.
Again, Beaver said, choices like that can have far-reaching repercussions, even if they aren't necessarily revolutionary at their core:
"When you take off into these design decisions, it's really not new territory, but it's not like you're aping everything. It's crazy. If you're copying stuff, so many decisions are made for you already.
When you start striking out into these new dial-twists, people might think you're just borrowing from other places, but really, if you're cobbling new stuff together, you have to re-answer all the questions all over again, and that makes people really nervous."
The full interview with Dead Space producer Chuck Beaver will be published on Gamasutra in the near future.