It was back in Singapore earlier this year that we first met Rich Briggs, as part of EA's media event for Asia-Pacific.
After eight years marketing a wide variety of video games, Rich joined the Dead Space team last year and has been part of its development ever since.
As the "Producer in Charge of Scripted Events and Other Story Elements for Dead Space" (no, we're not sure how that fits on his business card either), he watches people play Dead Space and discusses it with them as part of his weekly focus group work. He then analyses the data and creates a report with proposed action items for various departments, making him the perfect person to give us inside information on what makes a game like this tick.
GP: We saw a bit of Dead Space in Singapore at the start of the year, and our readers particularly liked the clever suit displays that replace a HUD. Was this done specifically to make the player feel more immersed in the game, or simply because it made so much sense?
Rich Briggs: We definitely approached the “no-HUD” as a means of delivering the most immersive experience possible. There’s nothing to clutter the screen, nothing reminding you that this is “just a game” and thus decreasing a tension filled moment. A few side benefits are that the RIG and its projections are futuristic, fit credibly within our fiction, gave us an innovative way to convey story elements, and look pretty damn cool.
GP: There’s a huge amount of environmental interaction, seemingly built from the ability to have zero-gravity areas and of course a massive space ship to explore. How have you managed to keep the story contained? It must have been a challenge to ensure that the player moves down a certain corridor, or opens a certain door at the right time?
Rich Briggs: When you enter a new level, more often than not you have free reign to accomplish objectives and explore the deck in any order you desire. This posed a challenge when it came to delivering the story, but we have very talented level designers and engineers who utilized many tools such as line of sight triggers, subtle directed camera movements, movement triggers, etc. We rarely know exactly where a player is going to view a scripted event from, so a lot of work went into making sure each one was effective from multiple angles. We also had to ensure that the story could be conveyed slightly out of order if necessary, yet still make sense.
GP: What did you find was the best way to actively increase the fear factor for the player?
Rich Briggs: There are three primary ways we build the tension. First is the environment, such as with disturbing images, lighting, and creepy audio. Each room has its own story to tell, even if nothing actually happens to you when you are in that room. Second is the obvious “boo” moment where something jumps out at you, or grabs you, or goes to big bloody pieces in front of you. We tried to avoid overusing this method as it’s the easiest way to desensitize you. The third is the resource management and controls, because you never have quite enough bullets, and you don’t run quite as fast as you might like.
This third method was constantly tuned and balanced so it provided a tense, but not frustrating experience.
GP: We’ve all seen the CGI modelling done with gaming titles involving human protagonists, but how do you manage to get those multi-limbed aliens looking so realistic? Even when you’ve shot half their limbs off?
Rich Briggs: Our enemy design is the result of an incredibly talented, and I’ll wager incredibly scary, person named Ben Wanat. His approach was to illustrate what the human form would look like if it was ravaged by a violent transformation that literally ripped it inside out. The fact that you can still see a shred of humanity in our enemies makes them even more disturbing. In addition, I once looked over the shoulder of an artist as she sorted through real-life medical images to use as reference for some of her work. I didn’t eat lunch that day.
GP: There’s invariably a bunch of sci-fi nerds who are just waiting to rip apart any space game. Did you consult with any physicists regarding how things should move, and how sound should be treated in the vacuum of space?
Rich Briggs: We spent days researching how objects and physics would behave in space to determine some elements, such as how blood and body parts would behave in space. We wanted almost everything to be grounded in reality, and thus relatable, but at the end of the day we had a vision we wanted to deliver. Staying true to that vision and delivering a compelling experience meant that we took a few liberties, such as with how sound would transfer in a vacuum. Our sound sounds like sound should sound if you want to actually hear the sound.
GP: What element of the game would you say you’ve spent the most time perfecting?
Rich Briggs: Timing. Everything is about timing when you are trying to scare someone. From the timing of a scary moment, to the amount of time between combat, to the number of times you can use a tactic before you have to move on. Everything was iterated on until we had the timing as close to perfect as possible.
GP: Is the PC version optimized well for the mouse and keyboard users amongst us, or is Dead Space really something that only suits the controller crowd?
Rich Briggs: We spent a lot of time making sure the PC version had the best control scheme possible. We tested various configurations and implemented what we felt worked best for the mouse and keyboard. In addition, the keyboard controls are able to be remapped by the player.
GP: Will we ever get to see the real Isaac Clarke underneath the mask?
Rich Briggs: Yes, you will see Isaac’s face. I’m not going to say when, or why, or for how long, but we aren’t going with the faceless protagonist.
GP: Is Dead Space: Downfall the precursor to a proper Hollywood version of the video game?
Rich Briggs: What an awesome idea.
GP: You’ve put so much effort into establishing this IP, it’d be unimaginable to not see a proper franchise come out of it. Have there been any serious talks about a sequel, or will all that come after the release?
Rich Briggs: We’re obviously focused on delivering Dead Space right now, but we definitely feel that we have built a great universe. As evidenced by the comic, Dead Space: Downfall, and our web campaign, there is a ton of material to work with. We think Dead Space has what it takes to become a powerful new franchise for EA.
Our thanks to Electronic Arts New Zealand for making this interview possible. We've got a bunch of Dead Space trailers available at GP Downloads if you'd like to see more, and if you haven't done so already check out our preview from Singapore earlier this year. Dead Space will be available for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on 24th October.