Dead Space 3 interview: "Our biggest challenge is keeping things fresh"

Visceral chief on horror, co-op and AAAA standards

This article originally appeared in Xbox World magazine.

Recently, we had the good fortune to sit down with Steve Papoutsis, executive producer on gruesome alien-ripper Dead Space 3 and general manager of developer Visceral Games.


What are the key challenges in keeping players terrified?

One of the biggest challenges for us is to continue to keep things fresh. We're at the third instalment, and the sheer shock value of seeing the dismemberment, and some of those things that have become staples of the franchise, aren't going to continue to scare people the way they have done. I'd say our biggest challenge is keeping it fresh, mixing it up so it doesn't become predictable. There's no obvious cadence to when we're gonna scare you.

Your background is in sound production. Have you pulled any tricks with the audio?

One of the big things we're trying to do with the audioscape in general is bring in more thematic tones. If we look at the music as a continuum all the way from Dead Space 1 to Dead Space 3, the first game was very discordant to really punctuate and accentuate scare moments. Two started to blend more melodic sound into the game. With three we're really looking to continue development of those ideas, with musical cues and character themes that crop up throughout the game. We want to excel. We want to deliver a game that's Quad-A, that's beyond what we've done before.

Wait, Quad-A?

Yeah, a lot of people say "Triple A" and that's kind of become the norm, with all the "big triple A games" yadda yadda. No. We want to go beyond Triple A. We want to push to the next level. We've taken up just saying "Quad A" all day.

How are you making snow worlds as scary as corridors?

We asked ourselves: "what's everything going towards?" - and it was going towards a big showdown, towards getting answers for the questions that have been laid out. And with that concept, we needed to go to Tau Volantis.
The snow planet immediately gave us ideas, like fear of the cold. But I think other ways that we can continue to scare people are triggered around the visibility. You can't see in the middle of a snowstorm. You can't see what's up ahead. You never know what's gonna come shambling out of the mists towards you. That's one way we get some tension and fear in. The crunching of the snow, and the breaking of the ice - those sounds are scary. I think that can reinforce it.

So the elements are going to be integral to gameplay?

It's one of those types of mechanics that when used to the right effect can be great. I think when you start having to babysit certain elements of the game, it becomes less fun.

Have you used the co-op mode to reinforce the fear?

We want a true co-operative experience that feels different when you play it with a friend. In terms of horror, we're hoping that when friends are playing they'll be communicating with one another. Those types of interactions are going to help elicit some different feelings with players; whether it's excitement, thrills, tension - I think that's going to come from the unique interactions between the players as they're talking.


There are human enemies in DS3. Isn't using strategic dismemberment combat on them pretty sick?

I think, again, we bring this all back to the story. Through the iterations of the franchise, The Unitologists have been up to some pretty nefarious deeds. Fans of the franchise will immediately have a level of dislike for them, and will be hoping to get an opportunity to take it out on them, because they've definitely been messing with Isaac for a while.