Dead Space returns in 2023 after a decade-long hiatus. But the remake will reach a landscape very different from the one it left; Terror has become a big business, and once-niche survival horror games are now booming. Resident Evil has recaptured its glory, Silent Hill is returning from the grave, and numerous terrifying indies have captured the imagination of players and streamers across the globe. Where the original Dead Space was somewhat of a gamble for distinctly mainstream publisher EA back in 2008, the remake is practically a sure-fire hit in 2023.
As part of this month’s Dead Space-focused IGN First, we sat down with members of EA Motive to explore how the original Dead Space changed survival horror, why the genre is so popular today, and how the evolution of technology has made the game’s comeback. even more terrifying.
Take one 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, an environmental artist at EA Motive and a veteran of the Dead Space series. Dead Space certainly took a ton of inspiration from [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 throughout the years we’ve seen games being influenced by feature films and bringing a lot more of those cinematic techniques and influences into games,” says Mike Yazijian, art director on Dead Space. And throughout the years – whether it’s Silent Hill or Resident Evil, obviously Dead Space brought a lot of that feeling into it – it actually felt like it was a lot more immersive, a lot more mature in tone than your old video game-like horror game.”
Roman Campos-Oriola, creative director of the Dead Space remake, believes the original game’s dedication to cinematic-style realism had wider implications. “I think one of the elements that Dead Space really pushed further, and that has been inspiring to a lot of other games, it’s really that thing about immersion,” he says. Since then […] 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 more scary.”
Strangely, it may actually have been Dead Space’s influence 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 out of vogue, and creepier indie hits like Amnesia and Outlast were redefining the genre. These games had a new-found dedication to immersion via their first-person perspectives, which dialed up the intensity of the scares. Third-person horror became a sort of antiquated thing of the past, to the point that even Resident Evil itself eventually 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 seemingly higher than it’s ever been.
“Why do I think [survival horror is] coming back? It’s because it’s not only coming back in gaming, it’s coming back in the broader entertainment industry,” theorizes Campos-Oriola. It’s been a while since it [came] back in the broader entertainment industry. If you remember when the original Dead Space [was released], or even before that, if you wanted to go and see a horror movie, you had to find one theater in town that was playing horror movies. Nowadays, most horror movies get a national release.”
Yazijian agrees. “I love how it’s making a comeback,” he says. But what I love about it now is that it’s becoming almost mainstream, right? There’s so many games coming out, there’s so many movies that are coming out also that are popular and people are watching the horror genre more than ever.”
While the popularity of survival horror right now certainly makes 2023 an ideal time for Dead Space to return, the biggest benefit is the advancement of technology. “We have more tricks and tools as developers,” Campos-Oriola explains. And so we were able to go back to the original inspirations of Dead Space – The Thing, Alien, Event Horizon, these types of movies – and look for elements in those movies that either were tried and did not succeed that much in the original. because technological constraints, or were not even tried because we [could not] do that. Today, now we can do those things.”
Dead Space Graphic Comparison – Remake vs Original
“If you think about the original Alien, when they enter that big room with all the eggs hidden in the fog, the fog is more than ambience, it’s part of hiding,” he continues. Well now, we have real dynamic physical fog. So yeah, we could hide creatures in them. You could actually lose an enemy inside the fog. You could follow his path and how he splits open the fog and how the fog closes behind him.”
The new technology available in the Frostbite engine means that the team at EA Motive are able to improve on the very core of Dead Space: a fully immersive experience.
“I think for me the most important thing is the atmosphere, right?” says Yazijian. Because looking at the main three pillars of Dead Space, from an art direction point of view, […] the number one was horror. […] So we wanted to come back to that horror. And we go, ‘What’s the thing that’s the scariest in a horror movie?’ It’s the sense of lighting, light and dark, the play between the two. So when you play the game now, it’s darker. […] So as the player is moving through the environment, the enemies are moving. You can see the play of light and dark in the environment.”
In the quest to push the immersion further, the Ishimura has been transformed from a series of separate levels into a complete, interconnected space ship. You can walk the entire length of it and freely backtrack, a feature that makes it feel more like a genuine place rather than a set of video game missions. But that transformation meant more work than just crafting areas that linked the original game’s maps.
“If you’ve got this one ship, then you’ve sort of created another problem where you need to fill it,” explains 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 spawner. It creates moments for you to freak out and that’s the whole point of it. And it follows you through an intended intensity curve that the level designers place in their levels and modulates it based on where you’re at within your mission briefs.”
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 calm for too long. Robillard says that there are “close to 400 events that we can spawn,” and dropping enemies into the map is just the start of it.
“It’s got more than just AI,” he reveals. “It’s got sound bites, it’s got animations, it’s got environmental triggers. So you’ll have a fan that’ll start up, you’ll have creaking from the ship, you’ll have lights flickering, you’ll have lights turning off, you’ll have psychosis events happening. So, everything that happens in the script can happen with the Intensity Director and that’s how we manage to make sure that the lines are blurred and you’re never really sure what is scripted and what isn’t.”
Immersive horror was the core of the original Dead Space. And now, with the popularity of horror at an all-time high, it’s the perfect time for it to return and use modern technology to push that immersion to the next level. New VFX tech allows the environments to replicate the original game’s cinematic influences, and the Intensity Director ensures that immersion aids gameplay as well as atmosphere. To see what else the Dead Space remake is improving, take a look at how the EA Motive team created a new version of the necromorph transformation scene, and how the story was re-written.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.