The original Dead Space is a video game classic and horror story fondly remembered by many. The story of an engineer who struggles to survive in the gloomy, corpse-filled corridors of a dead mining ship left an indelible mark, and for this reason, when making the remake, the development studio EA Motive has been careful about how to approach the narrative.
But there are some changes. Just like the look of the new version, the script is also different. This is because all the teams that worked on Dead Space had the same goal.
“Overall, it was about giving the narrative the same kind of polish that everything else had,” says Jo Berry, lead writer on Dead Space. “As a player, you generally want to get that same feeling back, to feel like you’re playing for the first time. So part of the task was to see how we would tell this story to newcomers to the series. […] But for veteran players we wanted to give them a little surprise, something like, “Oh, this is a little different.” If you change direction slightly, you can arrive at a very different place. So it was kind of a dichotomy between making sure newcomers felt welcome, but also making sure veteran players were kept off guard, because if you’re not off guard, you’re not scared.”
The first significant change you will notice is that Isaac Clarke can now speak. The once silent protagonist now has a complete script, and will converse both with other characters and with himself. To make sure Isaac’s new dialogue was as authentic as possible, EA Motive looked at other games in the series where the character speaks.
“We paid a lot of attention to Dead Space 2,” says Berry, “and to the key scenes. How do you react in that moment? What is your sense of humor? How do you react verbally under pressure? How is your way of speaking? ” […] And it was just trying to get the personality right. Trying to make him feel like Isaac, not feel like another character. You always want to have a character that you want to be, so Isaac is a very smart and smart guy who empathizes with the people around him. He has graceful language and it’s quite fun to write.”
Our goal was to give the narrative the same kind of shine that everything else had.
Rewrite the Dead Space script offered the writers the opportunity to improve the narrative of the original. One of the items the team wanted to highlight was the Unitology church, which is introduced relatively late in the original game. In the remake, the characters start talking about the church much earlier, which sets the stage for their important role later in the story.
“What I didn’t want was to write a Dead Space where Isaac says, ‘What is Unitology church? I’ll go with them, I’ll trust them,'” says Berry. “Because all the veteran players are screaming that unitologists are not to be trusted. So at the end Isaac says, ‘Yeah, I hate the Church of Unitology.’ And then people who are new to the series might say, ‘Okay, what is Unitology? It’s interesting.’ Old-timers would say, “Why do you hate Unitology right now? Because it’s obvious that later he has reasons, but why does he hate unitology at this moment? And then unraveling that mystery of why he has that relationship with the Church, and what his kind of philosophy is, and why he’s so hostile to the idea. He personalizes it, and I think that was the theme of the script: to make everything personal.”
The effort to make everything personal has meant that some scenarios from the original game have been expanded in new, more emotional arguments. Chen, previously a mere NPC who was killed at the start of the game, is now a more important character that demonstrates the true horror of necromorphs.
“Chen’s transformation makes the transition to Necromorph very personal for the crew,” explains Berry. “It means that the Necromorph is very personal to Hammond. […] This is all in the original game, but it’s about finding those moments and polishing them, bringing them out a bit more. And that’s really all it is, because again, all these seeds are there, we just help them blossom.”
Dead Space’s script isn’t the only thing that moves the narrative forward. The environment is just as importantwhich is why the corridors, rooms and decks of the Ishimura spaceship were designed to tell a story.
“A lot of the original game design took a lot of themes from gothic motifs, gothic architecture, as well as a lot of repeating structure,” reveals Dead Space environment artist Taylor Kingston. “So that’s where you see the elements repeated throughout the set. The intention was to evoke the feeling of being inside a creature, a skeleton.” Ishimura himself is frequently referred to as a living entity, as if he were a being inside of which you are, and that the Ishimura is sick, and dying, and you are partly there to try to help.”
Our challenge was ‘how can we bring more life to these environments?
In the remake, the power of today’s consoles and PCs has allowed EA Motive to improve upon the excellent environmental narrative of the original game.
“We went back and looked at all the sets and designed them,” explains Art Director Mike Yazijian. “And our challenge was: ‘How can we bring a lot more life to these environments? How can we give the feeling that the team that lived there had made it their everyday space?’
“If you look at Nicole’s office, for example, there’s a lot more props and things that talk a little more than she does,” she continues. “If you go into the medical zones, it looks more like an actual medical deck than a generic space, for example. Other areas like hydroponics add a lot more life, more vegetation plants.”
Due to its realistic and industrial nature, the Ishimura is littered with all manner of signage. And, thanks to high-definition graphics, each one is a new opportunity to inject even more history into every hallway and crevice.
“Dead Space had a lot of banners, billboards, and signs,” says Kingston. “A lot of the stuff in the original game was so low resolution that you couldn’t read what was on it. And now that’s the kind of thing you have to be aware of, if you put a warning label on the wall, you can get closer to her and read all the individual steps.”
“At one point I worked with our artists, who were saying, ‘We’ve got all these papers and they can’t be read in the original because they’re so low-res right now. What text do you want here?” Berry recalls. “And it’s trying to think about that because people have 4K monitors and high-resolution stuff, they can read all this stuff. So I was trying to make sure that when there was text that could be read, it made sense and was there.”
On your journey through the Ishimura you will find a large variety of diaries and audio logsmany of which you may recognize from your original journey through the ship.
“Quite a few of them are very close or literal,” says Berry. “We have some new ones for various reasons. […] But some of them have moved into augmented reality scenes. For example, in the original game, when you go into medicine there is a video log that you can pick up from Nicole. When we looked at him, he seemed like an ideal candidate for an augmented reality scene where we see Nicole trying to save a patient and recording a message that reads: “Controller won’t help us, we’re overwhelmed. We need help. This guy is getting out.” dying. I need someone to help me.’ And again, just customizing it and bringing it to that moment. And also creating this atmosphere, it’s almost ghostly to see these AR figures around the ship.”
Unlike the Final Fantasy VII remake, Dead Space is not trying to completely reinvent itself. EA Motive’s approach to the story is much more like the one Capcom took for Resident Evil 2; is an updated and polished version of a story players know and love. And, from what we’ve seen so far, it promises to improve this horror classic.
Here you can take a look at the first 18 minutes of gameplay of the Dead Space remake exclusively.