Honouring and improving a beloved classic: We talk Dead Space Remake with EA Motive
We sat down with creative director Roman Campos-Oriola and art director Mike Yazijian to learn more about what makes this remake special.
Recently, we had the chance to spend some time with the upcoming Dead Space Remake, an opportunity where we went to EA's London offices to play through the first three chapters of the game. While you can read our impressions of the game right here, we also had a chance to talk with developer EA Motive's creative director Roman Campos-Oriola, and art director Mike Yazijian, to learn even more about this exciting survival horror title and how they've approached authentically and meaningfully improving it in this remake.
Gamereactor: Why remake Dead Space now?
Campos-Oriola: One of the first reasons is when you look at the evolution of the technology, it's not how much has it evolved since PS3, but the places where it has evolved compared to the pillars of Dead Space, there's a really interesting fit, in terms of lighting, speed of the SSDs, those kinds of things. That makes it really relevant looking back at the original Dead Space, going like "oh, yeah, that experience was awesome but imagine that with these lights and VFX."
So, there's that element, but also that's just the way it is, in the sense of at the moment horror is becoming bigger. Today, a lot of horror movies are blockbusters, the same thing with TV series, and it's the same thing in video games. There is that sort of revival of the survival horror genre at the moment, which if you're a fan of survival horror it's really interesting.
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The combination of those two things for me made the remake really relevant, also I'm a big fan of Dead Space.
Yazijian: It was a fantastic opportunity because years ago I was part of Dead Space 2, on the Montreal team, and we had a blast working on it, and we loved it. And then many years later coming back to EA Motive, it was like a dream come true when I heard that we were thinking about making the remake. I was like, "no way... is this for real?" And that's how it is, our team is super passionate, we're all fans, we've all worked on it, we love it, and it was great to come back to it, and then just really honour the roots of Dead Space.
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Other than visuals and performance, how have you looked to take the 2008 original and improve on it?
Campos-Oriola: The first, like I said, is that we want to be true to the original. What that means is that it needs to play and look like Dead Space, but not exactly like the original. It needs to play and look like you remember the original, that glorified memory, that's why it's a bit tricky. That's why we are discussing with people in the community, or why we did livestreams to really test that with a broader audience.
An example is how we changed the sound of the guns, and then we do a livestream about audio, and [the community] might say, "that works really well, but the Plasma Cutter, not sure about the sound you are doing guys". So we go, "oh wait really" and we change that and we republish it and see if it's better.
Those elements were really interesting to nail that glorified memory, but also in terms of gameplay, we were looking like, ok Dead Space is a survival horror, but in the survival horror genre it's more leaning towards a shooter. It's a shooter where you have to be a little bit smarter and there are multiple elements that you have to play with, but it has that shooter roots. So we were discussing what do we improve? Maybe add a quick turn to Dead Space? Or like not so much. That's the kind of thing that we should not do, because it's changing the DNA of the game. The whole game is about preventing the monster from coming close to you, well if it's easy to just turn around and put 10 metres in between you and the monster then to start again, well, not saying it would create a bad experience but it would not be the Dead Space experience, at least the one you remember.
We were really careful with those kinds of things. That's why, for example, we're like Dead Space, it's big on immersion, it's one of the first games that came with the whole no HUD thing and everything is diegetic, clearly immersion is a big pillar of Dead Space. Well, how can we push that element further? Dead Space was big in immersion, but it was also completely poor at it, because of the loading, because of the going back to the tram, etc. We're like, "ok, maybe there's something to improve there," and also if you think of the setting of Dead Space, the Ishimura, it's a character by itself. It's really iconic and has specific designs and that kind of thing. If we were improving that character, give it a life for itself... now it's fully interconnected from end-to-end, and also without any interruptions and loading, now we're also improving on the immersion from that sense.
Depending on the pillar or the feature, we took a different approach to figure out what we want to enhance or what we want to recreate as you remember it.
How did you go about designing the Dead Space audio system to make it really terrifying?
Campos-Oriola: Clearly, audio was really important, and in Dead Space it was so well done. The improvement we did to the audio system, it's multiple things, but mainly two elements that stand out. First, it's the way the sound physically works in the engine. We tried to simulate the way sound bounced and the reverberation of the sound and how that would work in a physical way.
A good example is in Chapter 2, the sequence in the corridor with the guy banging his head on the wall*. If you remember in the original when you were entering that corridor, you would start to hear that guy, but you would hear him on the other side of the wall. Whereas for us, now in the remake because we have an approach where the sound has real physics to it, well you hear it towards the end of the corridor. The way the sound bounces in the room in the corridor, it's much more realistic now. When you are in a space where people spawn behind you, because they come from the walls, the vents, etc., it really reinforces the ambience and the scares.
*Can be seen in gameplay below from 8:15
The other element was to do with Isaac, like the way Isaac was treated in the original was really immersive. How can we do even more on that? And that's where the quality of life system is coming from. It's the idea of what if we try to really simulate the reaction of Isaac, the way he breathes, the way his heart beats, and it's not anymore just an enemy spawns so trigger heartbeat or whatever, but there's an actual curve and we track that and depending on how fast you run, how long you run, how many events are triggered etc., it can have an impact on the actual breathing and heartbeat and those kinds of things. And then of course, we did a lot of modern retakes on all the sounds, the squish, because we needed new ways to make it sound better. But the real two main innovations are around the way Isaac acts and the way the sound actually moves.
How have you redesigned and rebuilt the Necromorphs to fit the more reactive damage gameplay systems?
Yazijian: There's two components to it: visual and then gameplay. Talking about the visual aspect of it, for us it was really important to keep the iconic design of the Necromorphs. We revisited all of the designs, but always made sure that as a player you could easily recognise that character. But, we redesigned it from the ground up. We went in and we said how much of it do we want to dismember, and this is where the peeling system came in, and then once we figured that out, we thought visually how are we going to do that. And then we just did it from the ground up. Literally. Skeleton, the whole muscle fibres, all of the tissues, all of the fat, ligaments, all of that nasty stuff, it's all been done so that when you do dismember them, you'll get that really satisfying sense that you are actually tearing these creatures apart, piece by piece, it's not just a chunk that flies off, you get like dangling bits.
That's what it was, just making sure that you actually get to see that stuff, you see the reaction, you see the impact that you're having on those creatures.
Campos-Oriola: From a gameplay perspective... not only was it about reinforcing the gore and the visual feedback, but also it was creating some interesting weapon synergies. Every now when you cut a limb you get to remove the muscle, the skin, all that stuff before getting to the bone and being able to cut the limb, you can have weapons that are really good at actually peeling the enemies, like the flamethrower or the pulse rifle. That's why it was interesting for us because it was the reinforcing of a pillar of Dead Space while being a little bit smart about how we combine weapons.
How does leaving PS4 and Xbox One behind allow you to make the Remake better than if it included last-gen systems?
Yazijian: We have a much greater visual toolkit we can bring with us. There's so many things we wanted to do back in the day that we can finally do now. We can have dynamic lights, we can have volumetric lights, we can have volumetric VFX to really make it feel immersive because one of the pillars of the game is immersion, so we can have a lot more atmosphere that way. When you're playing the game, it looks really creepy, you're going in and there's tons of steam, vents, fog, all of those effects, you can finally do that. You don't have to fake it, it's not 2D, it's actual volume.
Campos-Oriola: It's also the interactivity around that. That's one of the things that being [PS5 and Xbox Series] only and PC allows us, it's not only to have that ambience but to have that ambience be interactive. So with the volumetric light, with the fire, most of the lights are dynamic. So now we give some control to the player over the lights of the level but also the intensity directory is something that it can control. Sometimes revisiting a corridor, you might think, "I remember that place. Why is it fucking pitch black now?" And then the lights start to blink... Having that dynamic element in the lights or the fog - like the way we have that 3D volumetric fog that you can actually hide enemies in and you can see them or the way they break the fog - those are elements we are able to do because we're [on PS5 and Xbox Series].
What are you most excited for fans to see for themselves in the Dead Space Remake?
Campos-Oriola: There are multiple things. There is one thing around the changes we did with zero-G, in the sense that in the original, you were walking on walls and then jumping from wall-to-wall and then starting from Dead Space 2, you were able to fly around, which is more immersive and more the way you think about zero-G. That's something we brought back but inside Dead Space 1. It allows the player to revisit some of the rooms and the areas in Dead Space 1 but with a different lens, and also it was a neat tool for us to create new areas, because we have the interconnected ship, so we had to think about how the player will access from one area to the other and how the story unfolds when we unlock different areas. Allowing the players to fly around the Ishimura, it's something really interesting because it adds some new elements that can surprise a returning player but it also allows you to have a different perspective on the Ishimura.
The other element is that Dead Space is all about dismemberment and peeling, so I can't wait to see players having fun with that system and see people get a bit creative with it.
Campos-Oriola: Concerned? No. I'm excited to play it, definitely. Like I was saying at the beginning, what's interesting to me is that there are a lot of survival horrors, and also in the mainstream you get a lot more horror stories. So am I concerned about it? Not so much. Am I hopeful for it because it means that there is a real market for horror and survival horror? Yes, definitely, and I can't wait to play it also.
Yazijian: We're thrilled. We can't wait. We're fans of the genre, so all of those space horror games are a big thumbs up.
Campos-Oriola: So, if I answer you [the PR manager] is going to shoot me in the face [laughter erupts]. But hey, like I said, we're a big fan of Dead Space.
A huge thanks to EA Motive, Roman Campos-Oriola, and Mike Yazijian for speaking with us. Be sure to check out the Dead Space Remake for yourself when it debuts on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series consoles on January 27, 2023.