Dead Space 2 – a chat with Shereif Fattouh

I scare easily, but I’ve admired the Dead Space games from a respectful distance since the first one popped up in 2008. Since then, we’ve seen two prequels – Extraction and Ignition, and the terrifying new sequel is due out next week.

Shereif Fattouh has been with the franchise since the beginning, and is currently Gameplay Producer on Dead Space 2. We caught up with Shereif, in a well-lit room, and asked him a few questions about the frights that are in store with the game, which is set three years after the events of the original Dead Space.

Isaac wakes up and finds himself in The Sprawl, a massive space station outside of the moons of Jupiter. Predictably, he’s not alone in – both the government and the Unitologists are after him, and to further complicate things, there’s a plot to rebuild the Marker, which caused so many problems in the first game.

As the story progresses, Shereif explains, Isaac (and anyone playing the game) will piece together just what happened in those three years.

They definitely have some sort of sinister experiments going on and Isaac wasn’t fully conscious the entire time!

[img_big]center,1560,2010-11-17/ds2_09.jpg,There’s something behind you![/img_big]

With all of the updates, tweaks and redesigns that have happened in the nearly-three years since the original game was released, I wanted to know what improvement Shereif and his team at Visceral Games were most happy with. He explained that whenever the team was working on changing anything from the original game, the core fans, and the franchise’s horror pacing were kept in mind.

Some of the mechanics that everybody seems to know and love – like our zero-G, the telekinesis, the stasis – we didn’t want to lose those things, but we also wanted to expand upon them and find a way to generally improve them.

For me, one of my most favourite improvements is the zero-G mechanic. In the original Dead Space, you have this “point-to-point” jumping that took place for zero-G. That was cool, it simulated the vibe that you’re floating in space – but we really started from the ground up for Dead Space 2, working on how we could improve that mechanic.

We now have a whole 360 degree range of motion in zero-G, and so Isaac’s able to manouvre in all 360 degrees! There’s new enemies that were designed specifically with that in mind, so he’s able to strafe and dodge, and you can boost… and that’s something that i feel is very true to the dead Space feeling.

It’s reassuring to see how much attention the developers paid to the game’s “vibe”, the sci-fi thriller elements and the genuine frights that were thrown in. Shereif explained that “the mood and the atmosphere” were definitely key focus points when it came to Dead Space 2, building on how well the scare-factor of the original game was received.

We put a lot of thought into the “horror” versus the “terror”, and the differences between the two. One of them is the anticipation of what’s to come, and the other is just seeing what’s there.

We play on those themes and try to make sure that the player’s never really fully comfortable at any point in time.

Part of the original game’s terrifying atmosphere came from Jason Graves’ amazing soundtrack, and the composer returns for the sequel. Shereif worked closely with Jason on Dead Space, as Producer of the audio team, and he’s very happy to have worked on another project together.

I think that we were both mutually excited about another opportunity to do this again!

Our audio director – Andrew Boyd – he worked with Jason on the compositions and the design and implementations of the game, all the other creature sounds and the atmosphere. All those elements melded really well together, so we’re very happy with how that turned out. The sound is a very important part of dead space as well, obviously!

Another important element of Dead Space 2 is that it is the first time we’ll get to experience multiplayer in the Dead Space universe. Feedback from the game’s multiplayer beta has been “very positive”, Shereif says. He and the rest of the team have been watching the game’s message boards and really paying attention to gamer feedback to find out what worked well, what didn’t, and what they can improve upon.

Reflecting the level of work and attention to detail that’s been lavished upon the game, it should be no surprise that a lot of thought went into the multiplayer mode at the development stage.

When we created multiplayer, we didn’t want it to feel like just an add-on to the single-player experience. Dead Space is obviously a very story-based game, and very atmospheric, but we felt that there could be a cool way to introduce multiplayer into the franchise and not have it feel tacked on, but to feel like it belonged in the Dead Space universe.

That’s where that whole idea of “strategically dismember your friends” came into play, and being able to control humans and also the necromorphs, and have a team-based combat with them. I think that really connected with the fans – and that’s what we were hoping for, rather than just a mindless deathmatch thing, like any kind of typical first-person-shooter. Those are great, but didn’t really fit with what we were trying to do.

Instead, the development team opted for an objective-based gameplay model, where one team plays as humans trying to disarm a bomb, or blow up the Marker, while the other team, as necromorphs, tries to fend them off. According to beta feedback so far, Shereif says, people seem to like the idea.

When the game is realeased next week, the development team at Visceral will be paying attention to how you feel about it. Shereif promises that the whole team are very interested in your opinions. They’re gamers themselves, he explains – of “great games” but particularly those with a sci-fi element, so they’ve tried to create the sort of game that they want to play.

I’m really interested in hearing what some of [gamers’] thoughts are about some of the changes that we made, and some of the things that stay the same. Did they feel that the gameplay does justice to what their expectations were?

I’m really looking forward to hearing their feedback – positive and negative! – seeing what things we could potentially improve, what things are really well received, what didn’t work out so well. To me – that’s an exciting part about when the game actually comes out.

He chuckles and adds that being able to play with everybody online will be fantastic, too.
[img_big]center,1560,2010-11-17/ds2_e32010_13_tga_jpgcopy.jpg,E3 2010[/img_big]

We also chatted for a while about patches, and whether or not we could expect one for Dead Space 2 on Day One, like so many other games in recent times, and in his closing comment, Shereif offered a glimmer of hope for fans of DLC.

I can’t think of any patches that are coming out right now, but I think that as you continue on, there’s always potential for future add-ons, things like that.

Definitely stay tuned for further announcements on downloadable content, that sort of thing might come out too!

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