Against the background of the news about the release of the game Calisto Protocol and the development of the remaster, we suggest to remember why players liked the first part of Dead Space so much. The team of Visceral Games under the leadership of Glen Scofield did the almost impossible – managed to scare gamers who dared to touch the cosmic darkness, empty corridors, and terrible deadly creatures nicknamed “necromorphs”. The combination of horror, an interesting plot, and science fiction did its job. Thousands of people shuddered in terror and passed through the crowds of enemies on the blood-spattered compartments of the USG Ishimura ship…
“The overall feeling I wanted you to have with Isaac is that he was an everyday person. This guy wasn’t a warrior, he wasn’t a fighter, he was an engineer. And I really wanted to give him individuality, put him in situations that he himself would never want to get into,” says Glen Schofield, an American game designer, ex-director of the Visceral Games and Sledgehammer Games studios, and, of course, the author and producer of Dead Space.
And really, what do we see looking at our main character? We see an ordinary spaceship engineer, albeit a rather clever one. Throughout the game, Isaac is visibly hunched over and runs rather clumsily, suggesting to us that he’s just a worker who’s stuck in the middle of nowhere and has to do his best to survive.
In Dead Space, Isaac Clarke doesn’t say a single word for the entire game, which, in my opinion, does the plota favor. In this way, we can immerse ourselves in the plot and compare ourselves with the character. It is up to you to decide how the character would react to this or that event.
“You can’t imagine how many times we wanted him to talk, because it changed the way that you create a dialogue. You had to try and make a character that didn’t talk not look like he was always just taking orders, like he was a person on himself. That came from Half Life 2. We were all huge fans of that,” explains Glen Schofield.
Isaac has extensive knowledge of the use of high-tech tools of various profiles, which helps him in battle. Perhaps the most famous and iconic of all is the plasma cutter that the main character finds at the very beginning of the game. An ordinary work tool quickly turns into a weapon for self-defense against the transformed inhabitants of the spaceship.
Our main character is not just in a closed house or a mental hospital. He is inside the spaceship. Isn’t this a claustrophobic person’s worst nightmare? The designers of Visceral Games took advantage of this. Narrow corridors, flickering light, tightly closed doors, lack of large rooms and a feeling of loneliness – all this was realized at the highest level. Every detail of the ship is drawn in detail, every cabin is thought out to perfection. So the designers built a lot of potential.
You can even say that the ship is a separate game character that changes during the game along with Isaac. Returning to familiar cabins and locations from time to time, we can see the transformation of the ship, it suffers just like our main character. Metal, the grinding of mechanisms, the hissing of pistons – all this played a great role in the atmosphere. The groans of the slowly dying ship echoed through its compartments, making Isaac Clarke scared of every sound.
At USG Ishimura, almost nowhere is safe. Dense ventilation systems force Isaac to constantly look back and be alert, because the necromorphs spread like viral cells throughout the body of the spaceship.
“We didn’t want enemies to pounce on you when you opened the door. I wanted to add randomness to each playthrough. This feature set us apart from other games. That’s how the vent system appeared, from which opponents can jump out at you,” says Glen Schofield.
“We thought for a long time what to call them. There were options with “zombies” (zombie aliens) and “walking dead”. We had the “xeno” part of “xenomorph”. And “necro” is just a prefix that means death. We put “necro” and “morph” together, which led to “necromorphs”. Now we thought it was just gonna be sort of an internal thing and we would use it once in a while, but it ended up being something that not only did we use it all the time but then it became just what they were called,” explains the author of the game.
Mutilated, transformed people. Each of them was brought to the USG Ishimura by their own fate, but the story of the end is the same for everyone on this ship. In addition to the opponents in the form of adults, Visceral Games was not afraid to use images of children, which in my opinion causes undisguised horror and disgust at the same time.
The designers, together with Glen Scofield, reviewed thousands of photos of car crashes, explosions of houses and gas stations, and medical films to make the horror a reality. Human features are clearly visible in necromorphs. The realization that it used to be a person increases the disgust many times over. That is why necromorphs cause such disgust and such fear.
Dead Space interface
“We tried to present the story through video logs, notes, etc. As for interactive moments, we don’t have cutscenes. Interactive scenes are interesting, but difficult to develop,” says Glen Schofield.
One of the most notable and well-known elements of the game is the so-called diegetic interface completely integrated into the gameplay itself. Dialogues, the amount of HP, oxygen, all this is shown on the costume of the main character.
It should be noted that the game does not pause when watching videos or text messages, viewing inventory, and operations near the store, which benefits immersion in the story, because enemies can appear at any time from the ventilation system. The game has almost no cutscenes, all actions are interactive. Even when upgrading an engineer suit to the next level, the player can see the suit improvement animation.
What can we say about the main feature of the game – dismemberment.
“It’s hard to calculate how many resources were spent, but the whole game was built on it. This is reflected in the appearance of the opponents – with a cursory look at them, it should be immediately clear that they (necromorphs) can be dismembered,” Schofield notes.
And indeed, the dismemberment of necromorphs is not only a visual component of the game, but also a technical one. If you cut off the limbs of opponents, you can quickly immobilize the enemy or kill them completely. In addition, there are few supplies on the spaceship and it is pointless to waste them, shooting at the enemy’s body is an expensive pleasure.
During the development of Dead Space, Glen Schofield and Visceral Games were inspired by games such as Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill. So I advise you to also familiarize yourself with these masterpieces of the gaming industry. The atmosphere of Dead Space was also influenced by films such as Alien (1979, directed by Ridley Scott), It (1982, directed by John Carpenter), Through the Horizon (1997, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson).
If you haven’t played Dead Space yet, I advise you to definitely try it. The emotions of feeling for the main character and the fear of loneliness on a predatory ship cannot be expressed in words.
Quotations for the material are taken from an interview with Glen Schofield, which can be found here: