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Interview: Dead Space 3 producer on micro-transactions and keeping the horror alive

John Calhoun goes into bat for in-game purchases and 'Asymmetrical Dementia'

It's only a matter of weeks before the world will finally decide whether Dead Space 3 is scary enough. Many feared its devolution into scripted third-person shooter, but as our recent 3 hours hands-on indicated, there's little to fear in that regard.

Still, there are other things: what's this weapon crafting business? Why co-op? And - bloody hell - there are micro-transactions? Yes, these are all odd developments for a series like Dead Space, so we collared Dead Space 3 producer John Calhoun for a chat during a recent preview event.

A bit of background first: Asymmetrical Dementia is a co-op mechanic in Dead Space 3 that provides different events to separate co-op players. That means your co-op partner may see an enemy or phenomenon that you won't, and vice-versa. This will no doubt lead to heated arguments and/or accusations of delirium. Read more about the co-op experience here.


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One of the things with Dead Space, or with any survival horror, is that a lot of the fear is from being caught off guard. How do you continue to create those moments in a third installment? Is it difficult?

It's difficult, but it's a fun challenge that we always enjoy. When we're in pre-production it's all about prototyping, and usually when we're wrapping up a game such as we did with Dead Space 2, the prototyping will start early, and we can use that game's assets and engine to come up with new ideas. In fact, the Asymmetrical Dementia was something that was born out of those early prototypes. Even though we didn't put it in the game early on, we realised that we had something on our hands. Playing over a cubicle wall, where you can talk to each other, people didn't realise they were playing different things when we were doing our internal testing, and it wasn't until we asked them to talk about their experiences that they realised they were seeing different things. It's that social experience of comparing notes and chatting with your friend that reveals the fact that games take place in the imagination more than they do on the screen. So the more that you can appeal to the player's imagination, the more successful you will be.

Another thing we've been doing is reviewing our games and trying to analyse what works, and in our case, one of the things that really works in terms of keeping the tension up, is audio. So for Dead Space 3 we told our audio guys that we were going to lean on them heavily. Come up with something really new. Surprise us, but also keep it Dead Space; don't lose what the fans want. The audio experience is really 50 percent of the game and it's top notch. I have to give them credit.

When the game was unveiled the snow setting immediately recalled John Carpenter's The Thing. What other media - films etc - influence the aesthetic of a Dead Space game?

A lot of influences really. We have a lot of leads who have different backgrounds. One of our art leads actually comes from the film industry, specifically cinematography, so he's really interested in lights and darks and how shadows affect the mood, both to make something bright and cheery, but also to make something somber or tense. We're also all really huge film buffs.

You mentioned The Thing - that was a movie that we watched once or twice as a team, and we all took something away from it. Some people saw it as a monster movie and they were really inspired by a monster that was grotesque and disgusting. Other people took away the fact that the human drama is what's most tense in that movie - not being able to trust people, not knowing who your enemy is. Not being able to trust people is part of the Asymmetrical Dementia moments that we're having in co-op. What our lighting team took away from it, is that a snowy environment can look completely different during the night to what it does in the day. So just taking one source as an example, you can see how so many people were able to take something out of it and put it into our game, giving it our own stamp.

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