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Dead Space 3 interview: Visceral Games explains why co-op makes sense

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Leaked screenshots of 'Dead Space 3'
Dead Space 3's biggest new feature is the introduction of co-operative play, which developer Visceral Games is keen to stress is an "additive" feature that doesn't interfere with the classic solo experience we love from the series.

We spoke to executive producer Steve Papoutsis about why co-operative play makes sense for this particular Dead Space game, the impact two players have on cutscenes, why competitive multiplayer was dropped and about the recent introduction of Kinect voice commands.

Why not add co-op sooner?
"I like that question! Why not? Actually, funny story - Dead Space 1, we turned on co-op at the end, we were running around at the very end of development just to see if we could do it. We could do it, but it was way too in development, it didn't make sense with the story, we weren't ready to it but it was something that we thought about."

So why not do it in Dead Space 2 if you attempted it in the first game?
"Do we want to try and deliver the story of the people on the Sprawl so the multiplayer in Dead Space 2 was focused on the security guys and the Necromorphs, and if you play Dead Space 2 you remember that it was a space station city and the idea was as Isaac and Ellie and everyone was going through they were running through the aftermath of the outbreak, and the outbreak was what you were doing in Dead Space 2 multiplayer, so it made sense story-wise. In this game it made lot of sense for the story to actually introduce co-op this time."

'Dead Space 3' screenshot

© Visceral Games



What does the addition of an extra character allow you to do?
"It opens up a lot of different opportunities for us. The biggest one is kind of what we've been showing with some of the additional content. We look at co-op as an additive experience.

"When you're playing co-op and you have Carver with you, you'll able to see those additional missions that show up. So we're able to play a little bit with the dementia for Carver, then we thought how do we bring that into the game, so when the two players are sitting at home playing the game they're experiencing something very weird.

"It let us do the circumstances where Carver's having a dementia moment and Isaac's like, 'Hey what are you doing man, come on, we're going to die here fighting these Necromorphs!' And you've got to protect him while Carver's going through his dementia. And what we thought was interesting, funny and cool was the players, when that's happening, are probably like 'Hey, what are you doing?' and reacting like the characters.

"We thought that was really cool and we weren't able to do that before because we didn't have co-op and that's something that was new. It also gave us an opportunity to have conversations. We had some conversations in the previous game, in Dead Space 2 with Isaac and Ellie with audio transmission but now when the characters are actually walking and interacting in co-op, there is additional story elements and conversations that happen that get you to see more about the personalities of both Carver and Isaac so that's something that gets introduced with co-op."

Leaked screenshots of 'Dead Space 3'


Those almost fourth-wall breaking elements where the player is mimicking the character in co-op, was that something anticipated or did it come as a surprise?
"When we came up with the idea to do it we definitely thought that it would work that way but it took us a while to come to that idea."

If you're playing solo, can you experience the dementia elements of the co-op character or is that strictly for that second player when you're playing two-player?
"No, so if you're playing solo, those particular dementia moments you get in the co-op are centred around Carver so you don't see those."

Hmm, so if you're playing solo it seems like you're missing out on expanded content.
"That's definitely something that we were conscious of, that people would feel like they're missing content. Kind of the way we look at is, is the A to Z story, the overarching of what happens in act one, act two, act three, the finale, those are all the same, that does not change.

"What you're missing is some of the additional flavor about the co-op character. The people that are like, 'I don't want to play co-op', well, OK, don't play co-op, you'll get Isaac's story like you've got in Dead Space and Dead Space 2, but you're not going to get the extra details of Carver's story.

"Carver's in the story in single-player, he's there, there's scenes where Isaac and Carver are having a conversation or Carver and other characters are doing something, that's there, it's just any extra little bits like those missions and side adventures that you get to go on that you don't see. So you will see part of Carver's journey through the single-player story, it's just the more context around his particular backstory, kind of the dementia that he's dealing with, you don't get that detail when you play single-player."

'Dead Space 3' screenshot

© EA



Obviously your cutscenes are different in two-player, but I think the natural side-effect of having a friend watching cutscenes with you is that you don't take it as seriously. Or you think 'I wish this would hurry up'. Did you approach the cutscenes differently because of an extra person there in that regard?
"Well, we definitely approached it differently in the sense that when we were in co-op or even when you were in single-player, the scenes need to make sense. So if you're in single-player and the scene ended and Carver didn't continue on with you, the scene needed to resolve in a way that made sense. So, OK Carver's not walking with me here, something happened that separated us.

"When you're in co-op the scenes need to include the second player so the second player doesn't become detached or not care. I think we've all played games where you're playing a co-op game and all the scenes are about player one, and player two just feels like a tag-along and think, 'Ah man, I've gotta watch your story thing, that sucks'. We were very conscious of that and wanted to make sure when you got to those story moments they were cool for both players."

How did moment-to-moment combat change with two people? Is it a case of simply changing encounters for two people?
"The second-to-second combat is different, the tuning of the game changes on the fly when you add another character to keep the balance and difficulty there. At times we do it through number of enemies, at times we do it for types of enemies."

'Dead Space 3' screenshot

© EA



People have been saying whether Dead Space adding co-op is the right direction, but Resident Evil has done it for two games now. Would you say that co-op in horror games is an expected step or evolution for horror games?
"That's an interesting question. For us, co-op was an evolution in terms of where the story was going and who we were introducing and what we were going to do with the story. I don't know it's necessarily an evolution for horror games.

"I think it's just... For us, we had a bunch of characters in this particular game, we wanted to develop more interesting characters throughout the Dead Space universe and it was a great opportunity for us to do that. But we needed to do it in a way that was true to what Dead Space was all about and as I mentioned back in Dead Space 1 that we had tried it because we liked co-op.

"That's kind of what motivated us to it. I can't really comment on what other teams do but that's kind of how we got there."

Competitive multiplayer isn't in this game. Why was that?
"Again as I've mentioned, in Dead Space 2 the competitive multiplayer was really focused on the security forces of the Sprawl and the outbreak. It happened right at the time when Isaac started his adventure so it made sense in terms of the story.

"And if you've played Dead Space 2 multiplayer you would see there are story-related moments there, so that's why we did it there, and with Dead Space 3 we wanted to focus on elements we hadn't done, which are co-operative play, the weapon crafting, the fact that we're doing epic moments that can work with two players and all the other challenges and different locations that we've created."

Leaked screenshots of 'Dead Space 3'


Looking back now, what sort of lessons have you learned from trying competitive multiplayer?
"The number one lesson we learnt from competitive multiplayer is they're really hard games to make. And the next thing is we just learned what it takes to test them and prepare them to go live and how you maintain them after they go live and the tuning that goes into it.

"It was a very informative process and it actually gave us a good foundation, I think our engineers did an outstanding job on Dead Space 2 multiplayer and I think they've done an outstanding job on co-op and the multiplayer for Dead Space 2 was the foundation we built off of for the co-op."

You've announced Kinect functionality with co-operative play. Why introduce it?
"Well, we played around with a bunch of different stuff throughout the years for Dead Space. We had Dead Space Extraction which was focused on motion control on the Wii, and then we did it on the PlayStation 3 which was also with the Move.

"So we had done motion control, that made sense. But we had never tried Kinect. So Kinect gave us the opportunity to do something different, which was voice commands, and so we decided, you know what, it would be cool if I'm online and I'm playing with somebody it would be great if I could say, "Help m"' and the other player would get some kind of prompt to let them know that I was in need of help.

"Or, if I was panicked because I'm being overwhelmed by Necromorphs, I could just say, "Use Stasis" and I could actually fire off Stasis so it just made a lot of sense. Also it's interesting for us to continue to understand the different technologies and experiment and play with them.

"But the thing that's most important for us is when we commit ourselves to doing something like co-op or Kinect that we do the very best job we possibly do in embracing that technology and try to innovate within the perimeters that we're given for the various devices or features that we make."

Leaked screenshots of 'Dead Space 3'


You can issue commands through voice and things like that, but did you think about tracking involuntary things, whether it be movements or a scream or something like that?
"Yeah actually, one of the things I was kind of hopeful with originally w as that we could use it in a way like you might see in an amusement park, where you get to a scary part and it takes a picture of you reacting to something. That was something that we weren't able to nail to the degree that we wanted, at the quality level that we were happy with, so we decided not to try that."

Have you looked at a Wii U version at all?
"No. Dead Space proper has been an Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC game and that's where it's going to stay. When we went and tried Dead Space Extraction that was a game built from the ground up for the Wii, so again like our approach to Kinect and anything we do with the franchise, it's about taking that platform, that device, that feature very, very seriously and making sure that whatever we do on it is really leveraging the strengths of that particular thing.

"So Wii U, I think Nintendo's doing a great job, continuing to innovate and move our industry forward with interesting consoles and interesting ideas, and I'm sure it's going to be really successful for them but at this point with the Dead Space franchise, where it's at today, we don't have plans for Wii U."

> Read our hands-on preview of Dead Space 3

Dead Space 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC from February 5 in North America and February 8 in Europe.

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