EA bucks convention with preview of extremely unfinished Dead Space remake
Thirteen years after EA first scared players senseless with Dead Space, the publisher confirmed plans for a stem-to-stern remake of the sci-fi survival horror classic. The brief, cinematic sizzle reel of brooding tracking shots and environmental gore from July’s EA Play event was followed this week by a behind-the-scenes look, full of clearly unfinished content, rudimentary “gray boxes,” and a glimmer of hope that EA’s attitude behind this retelling might be the right one.
The 40-minute broadcast with Motive’s senior producer Philippe Ducharme and creative director Roman Campos-Oriola was, much like Dead Space‘s working-class protagonist Isaac Clarke, fairly lean and utilitarian. Right now, what we still don’t know about the remake could fill a haunted derelict infested with ravenous space zombies—and that’s intentional.
Out of the gate, Ducharme and Campos-Oriola stressed that the preproduction build they had running on the Frostbite engine was nowhere near representative of final gameplay. Instead, they offered only the slightest indication of how the developer behind Star Wars Squadrons plans on tackling a faithful—yet more gruesome—reimagining of the 2008 original for modern hardware. What we saw were a few work-in-progress environments for the decrepit mining freighter USG Ishimura, a rough in-game model of Clarke’s engineering suit, and a lesson in destructible necromorph biology inside an entirely unfinished framework. The reason for this unusually candid approach was to provide a sounding board so that the Dead Space team can get as much feedback as early as possible from the game’s fans.
Ducharme and Campos-Oriola spent most of the stream telling rather than showing in a loose Q&A format. Discussing the team’s wider vision, they touched upon several familiar-sounding highlights: Motive’s desire to maintain the authenticity and honor the legacy of the original game; how the series and the game industry have evolved over the past 13 years, paving the way for new gameplay opportunities; and how the oppressive, stressful atmosphere of the Ishimura remains a pillar of the remake’s design principles.
To reintroduce the planet-scavenging Ishimura, the developers showed a series of slides detailing how the art team went back to Dead Space ’08’s legacy assets as a baseline to spruce up an Alien-esque passage with greater environmental detail—adding material shaders, lighting, and volumetric VFX—before transitioning to Clarke moving through the finished L-shaped room.
While clearly representing only a first visual pass, Clarke’s trademark cumbersome suit and the ship interior looked the part, though seemingly without any of the next-gen bells and whistles like ray tracing that Motive has planned for the final product. With less than a full year of work on the game under the team’s belt, it’s safe to say that the basic visuals should see improvements as development continues.
Peel off their limbs?
Motive also demonstrated its so-called “dismemberment gym,” an incomplete, gray-box testing room where the developers could press a button to spawn a low-level necromorph for limb-shooting target practice. The difference from the original game is in the “peeling system,” a gross term for a new bodily destruction system that will allow players to separate the skin (and, in turn, the gooey bits underneath) from a monster’s body.
To give a basic idea, Ducharme and Campos-Oriola demoed a small X-ray gore tool visually “cutting” through a T-posed necromorph. In clinical, tech-demo fashion, the tool cut through the top dermal layer to reveal the musculature and skeleton underneath. The developers gushed about the potential for peeling the fleshy layers off Dead Space‘s cast of beasties and promised bold upgrades to the game’s infamous dismemberment damage modeling. Motive hopes to make disturbingly realistic wounds, down to hyperspecific bullet-entry locations and physics. This includes even graphic scenarios like ripped-open ligaments leading to dangling limbs.
The remake will host some modern design tweaks as well, replacing the surface-to-surface superman jump of the original with the full 360-degree zero-G movement suite of Dead Space 2 and 3. Ducharme and Campos-Oriola indicated this change will offer some fresh, interactive ways to probe the dark spaces on the Ishimura that were previously only cinematic. In a nice narrative tie to Dead Space‘s sequels, Gunner Wright, whose gravelly voice gave Clarke life in Dead Space 2 and 3, will be playing the engineer in the remake. This change does away with the original’s mostly silent protagonist—with the caveat that he will only speak when there’s a good narrative reason to.
A more transparent EA
Realistic guts and stomach-churning fear are great benchmarks to shoot for, but what’s really fascinating here is that EA allowed Motive to show anything from the remake this soon. After years of being dogged by fans for scandals over microtransactions, Star Wars Battlefront II‘s loot-box debacle (and a generally botched rollout for the IP until 2019’s Jedi: Fallen Order), and indifference to its consumer base, maybe the publisher has finally wised up to the merits of being open and honest from the start. We were enamored with the original game on its release, describing it as an experience that “takes all the best parts of the genre and makes them better, while avoiding almost every pit similar titles fall into.”
While it remains to be seen whether Motive will keep up this degree of transparency throughout the remake’s development, even this first bare-bones glimpse seems to be on the right track.
Listing image by EA