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“We are a Dead Space Game”: DS3 Senior Producer David Woldman Talks Story, Game Mechanics and The Future

January 22, 2013 Written by Chandler Wood

CW: I noticed that the inventory and upgrade system works very similar to a game like Borderlands, where you can use your same profile and retain the same inventory and upgrades on co-op and in other chapters via chapter select.

DW: The way that we designed co-op is that we don’t ever want players to feel like they’ve lost progress, that they’ve wasted their time, that they don’t get to continually make an investment in their character. I think it’s really fundamental in gamers these days that they can build something over time, that they can create ‘their guy’. We didn’t want to have to sacrifice that if you wanted to jump around in modes. What we’ve done is separated the player’s persistence and inventory from the world persistence and inventory. If you’re halfway through the game and [you’re buddy] just started, you can start a game with him halfway through. He can give you a bunch of guns that he’s accrued, a bunch of resources. You can make a bunch of weaponry. Essentially your partner can level you up to relatively the difficulty of the game and you guys can keep going. It does have a fundamental change though that means if you decide to go back and play chapter one on that profile, you have the same inventory and stuff that you had later in the game, which could inherently imbalance things, but you made the choice yourself to do that, and if you wanted to not do that, you create a new game save from scratch.

DB: You’re not in the business of telling people ‘no, you can’t do that’.

DW: It’s just not productive. People are going to play the way that they want to play.  We just don’t want to make an experience that either punishes someone too much for jumping into a friend’s game, or makes the game too easy. That’s another option: up the difficulty. The other thing with the weapon crafting that is crucial to that is that I really believe that there are no bad guns and there is no one specific uber ‘I win’ gun anymore. We spent a lot of time making sure that all the combinations of guns are balanced against each other. There is no feeling of making a bad choice at a bench. The benches are ten minutes apart. Try something for that ten minutes, if you don’t like it, swap it out with something else and keep going.

CW: I noticed that certain weapons don’t work the same against different enemies. I was using the force gun and knocking necromorphs down…

DW: That’s one of the best guns in the game.

CW: Just run over and stomp on them or shoot them. But then there are the enemies that crawl along the ground and the force gun really doesn’t affect them at all.

DW: The force gun is an interesting one. A lot of people don’t use it after a time because it doesn’t do a whole lot of damage, but when you’re surrounded by enemies there’s no better gun to have. It gives you that time. Even in co-op, putting those combinations of weapons together: ‘You do crowd control, I’ll do long range, you do short range with flame and I’ll take strategic mines’ and you can really customize the way you play if you talk. You feel empowered and like you’re making those choices.

DB: I wasn’t sure if the crafting system was going to work when you first unveiled it.

DW: Sure, skepticism is natural.

DB: The Dead Space weapons are always so creative and fun to use. I [thought], ‘I don’t know if I can do a better job than the guys who make the game’. It’s fun though, the military engine was more accurate on a heavy frame, but when I put it on my plasma cutter frame it became like an uzi, and that was a lot of fun. 

DW: And it could become a shotgun at some point, a sniper rifle. It adds a level of familiarity and a level of understanding. Most players know what to do with a shotgun when they get it. You’re not going to try to snipe someone’s head from across the room. They know that on Dead Space, you try to focus on two arms, two legs and a head, let’s try to knock that off and keep going. Whereas with something like a projected ripper, maybe you don’t know what to do with it. So it has an added comfort for gamers who just want to run around with an AK47 because they know just what that means: long range, spread, high damage. It’s still a dismemberment game, so what happens when you pair that up with a Tesla beam? You have a line gun with a shotgun? You have a very different gameplay experience that you made yourself.

CW: It also allows you to use weapons that you would never normally otherwise use, the force gun for example. I felt that the combination of the line gun and the force gun was really effective at knocking them down and taking them out.

DW: My real hope is that people try to play with it. There is also something that we put in the front end of the game called the weapon crafting white box, essentially it’s a playground. With your profile with all your inventory, you can load up a single room that we have in there and just play with all your components and spawn a bunch of monsters to see how it plays and go back into the game and keep going. We’re really trying to encourage user choice and user experimentation. A lot of people get the plasma cutter and then never want to drop it because they didn’t want to try the force gun or the detonator, because they made an investment. What I’m hoping is that they realize that investment is really light this time around. It’s all about trying different things for different setups and just having a lot more fun.

DB: And the upgrades are removable? Once you commit that node it doesn’t stay there, you can take it off and put it on a different gun?

DW: Yup! This might be sort of a team opinion, but there were a lot of guns, in my opinion, that were a heck of a lot more fun to play certain setups with than the plasma cutter. Big area of effect weapons, big strategic ones, and a lot of people were deprived of that joy because they wanted to invest in a single gun.

DB: Or there was an achievement/trophy for only using that gun.

DW: We did a little bit of seeding, so there’s a blueprint system in the bench where we put together really expensive stuff that out of the box you can’t afford to construct or to craft. Just to show and highlight some of the interesting combinations that we as dev team members have come to build. We all have our favorites that we started to gravitate towards, because after playing the game for as long as we have in production there are ones that are sort of close to our hearts that we believe provide a different level of joy and gameplay that you might not have decided to do on your own. There’s a lot of stuff that, without a little willingness to experiment, people are going to miss. We tried to do everything that we can to make the system very accessible and very welcoming and not penalizing in any way. You never really lose anything and you can just keep playing around and trying different combinations as you go.

CW: I know that there are a lot of people who are worried about this game being ‘Resident Evil-ed’…

DW: Wow, you turned that into a verb!

CW: …with overdoing the action, and they’re worried about the cover system and the rolling/dodging. Now having experienced it myself, I can say that it still feels like playing Dead Space. It doesn’t feel like a stereotypical shooter. How did you evolve the system with Isaac obviously being more experienced in combat but still making it feel like Dead Space?

DW: What we’ve tried to do is create a combat and controls system that is right for Dead Space. We are a Dead Space game, there is an expectation when anyone plays that and what it means. Whether it’s rolling or the crouch/cover stuff that we are doing, I would be curious how many people even knew that was in the game when they played today. You don’t NEED it to play the game. What we do is we introduce those elements because there is a segment of audience that wants to have parity with what you see your enemies do. If you see a guy coming at you with a gun who is hiding behind a crate, some people are going to say ‘why can’t I do that?’. I don’t believe that there is any setup in our game that forces you to have to do that to be successful. It changes things around and makes things feel different, but it does it in a way that is unique to Dead Space. I might be hiding behind a crate, but what the hell is that going to do if a necromorph runs up and tries to melee me from the side? So we can’t make you a button sticky, all we can do is make the players feel like they are noticing their surroundings and behaving in a way that would be reasonable for the characters. That’s our goal is to put you in a place where you feel like you can succeed but then give you the choice of how you want to use it.

CW: In some of the menus I noticed that it talked about weapon packs and suit packs coming as DLC, which I figure are a given at this point.

DW: Sure.

CW: Can you say anything regarding story based DLC or the future of the Dead Space franchise in general beyond Dead Space 3?

DW: Apart from what you saw in the game, that really should be the limit of where I go with that. We are a very customer and fan driven business. If fans are asking for that, we’re going to deliver it. If they want story content after we ship and enough of them say they want it, we’ll do it. Likewise with the future of the franchise. It’s really up to people like you guys that say ‘it’s a great game, we want to know more, we want to see more’, we’ll build another one. It’s solely dependent on fan response and how many people buy the game. If there is a demand then we will absolutely fill that demand. You just kind of have to do that in the game market that we’re in right now. Why make something that nobody wants? So if enough people, and I don’t know what ‘enough’ means, say they want another Dead Space, I’d love to make one. 

DB: What was the response to [Dead Space 2 DLC] Severed? I really enjoyed it.

DW: A lot of people really liked it.

DB: But it seemed like it didn’t make much of a splash, is that not true?

DW: We had a very high download rate for Severed, more than a lot of post-ship, episodic kind of content for games do. Our fans really like it, because our fans really like our story, because it is consistent and unified. Weller was from Extraction, we kept him pure to who he was, evolved his storyline some. Our fans, especially the ones who are driven by the fiction, really loved Severed. I would suspect that if we get that asked this time around, we’d be happy to do something like that again. 

DB: This makes me want to go home and read the novels and watch the animated features again.

DW: We’ve thought about releasing some sort of a master fiction doc. We have something internally that we do to keep track of it and it’s like that big [measures out about a foot]. That’s not literally the transcribed novel in there. That’s just the high level overviews of the sequence of events and who’s done what and the timeline. It’s been a great franchise to be associated with. She’s five plus years old. To your point about anything after DS3, that’s really up to you guys. I’d love to make another one if I could. 

CW: Again, digging through the menus, I noticed that there were [additional new game plus] modes like Classic, Pure Survival, Hard Core, etc. So it looks like there are lots of replayability options?

DW: Co-op is a replayability option as well.

DB: You can take co-op into new game plus?

DW: Some. Classic mode, for example, is classic Dead Space 1. So one gun, solo campaign, plasma cutter, just in-world aiming, we changed our aiming system in Dead Space 2. So sort of a traditional mode. That one is not co-op centric, but Pure Survival is.

CW: Classic mode won’t have the weapon crafting? 

DW: It will have the benches, but you will only be able to build/upgrade the Dead Space 1 weapons. 

DB: I can’t wait to see what ********** is.  *[Hard Core mode completion reward, edited out to maintain secrecy.]

DW: That one’s going to be a hard one to get…

CW: You say that cryptically, so I assume that Hard Core probably isn’t the exact same thing as Dead Space 2’s where it’s 3 saves only and back to your last save if you die?

DW: No, with the save system we put in place with [Dead Space 3], it’s an autosaving game.

CW: That’s true, I didn’t notice that there were no save points.

DW: So Hard Core…. if you die, you’re done. 

DB: Oh man…

[all laughing]

DW: You can save anytime and stop, but if you die at any point, you’re done.

CW: And it will autosave that as being done and you gotta go back to the beginning and start over?

DW: As soon as you die, your progress is gone. Not your player progress, your world progress, remember that they are separate. 

CW: You don’t necessarily have to do the three to four hour chunks that you did in Dead Space 2, you just…

DW: … have to be perfect. I can tell you it’s winnable. I manage the production team, I make sure that every mode is winnable, all my team play them. They’re all very big. Pure Survival is going to be a Dead Space 1 enthusiast’s dream.  There are no parts or anything, it’s all resources. There’s no health packs, there’s no ammo. It’s all resources and crafting your stuff as you go. You have to find enough gel to craft a health pack for your inventory. Because these are New Game Plus modes, there’s going to be a level of strategy that has to go in. You’re going to remember ‘Ooh, there’s a long gap between benches, and I have that gnarly setup with the feeder coming up, I had better make sure that I’m equipped for that’ because otherwise, you’re stuck. We try to keep you guys on your toes and do some new creative things in the space that we built. We try to also ensure that there is enough value on the disc. Times are maybe getting better, but they’re still tough on people’s incomes.

DB: People have to make choices. 

DW: Dead Space 3, just in the single campaign, by itself, is conservatively twice as long as Dead Space 1 or 2. 

CW: I noticed… 19 chapters, if I’m correct?

DW: You were mining the chapter select! We introduced chapter select so that you could jump around and that has multiple value to players because you could be playing in a mode where you want to craft a bunch of stuff so you can go back to a spot just to grind if you want, or to replay something in co-op and see it different. There’s a lot of ways to play Dead Space 3. Yes, 19 chapters. 

CW: Awesome! Thank you very much.

DB: Thank you, good talk!

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