Designing horror: The art of Dead Space
Ben Wanat is the creative director of Dead Space 3, and in fact he’s worked on all the Dead Space titles. He explained that over the years they’ve put together a sort of “Bible” for the visual design of Dead Space games, including information on aesthetics, monsters, and lore.
That information is then shared with the team. “Most of the visual development stuff is in the form of presentation we give to the team. Color information, what makes a Dead Space game a Dead Space game. The core tenets of the visual design, how the story goes, how it’s supposed to feel, that sort of thing.”
The games all share a strong aesthetic. Were they worried about repeating themselves? “Not really. Once we did the second game we realized there was a lot more depth there than we originally thought. The first game was a very close, very closed idea; it was a single ship, a single type of architecture. It gave us a chance to go really deep on that idea,” Wanat said.
“Then on the second one we opened it up and asked what’s the natural progression of the world that grows out of what this ship looks like. It made us realize there was a lot more to this world than we originally realized… I could probably expand on Dead Space for many games.”
He explained that the third game had many real-world inspirations. “For the third one we looked at real human experience. Things that really happened to people in exploring the Antarctic and polar expeditions. Looking at what people can push their bodies to do to survive. Without having any monsters in it whatsoever these are thrilling scenarios that people can actually go through.Then you throw monsters on it and you have more to play with.”
“We’d look at expeditions that out went out there and what kind of gear they had and how different it is and how dangerous it was to go out and do these things. A lot of visual cues came from equipment they were using back in the day, and we used those shapes and designs to evoke a sense of the past.”
This was a tricky thing to do. They had to create equipment and designs that were from our future, while also designing them in such a way that they were clearly from the past of the game world. The player should see things that are clearly from the future, while visually understanding that, to Isaac, they are relics.
The character himself also had to change, and we see and play as an Isaac Clarke that has been damaged by the events of the past two games. “As we evolved we had to show how going through all that would affect someone. In the second game there were many sleepless nights in the psychiatric ward… In the third one he’s hiding away from the world as the game opens,” Wanat said.
“You can see the weight of the years in his face, it’s stress more than the years on him. You know, the old joke that it’s the mileage, not the years. You can tell that he’s still not sleeping well.” His clothes are the futuristic equivalent of jeans and a jacket. He has little money, and little regard for how he looks. “He’s just interested in hiding away with all those demons kind of tucked away in his head.” That plan, of course, doesn’t work out. Isaac finding peace would make for a very boring game.
Dead Space 3 will be released on February 5 for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. The Art of Dead Space will likewise be released in February. We’re playing through the game now, and will share thoughts as soon as we can.