Dead Space, the beloved modern horror franchise, is back from the dead, as EA has officially announced a remake of the 2008 classic. Originally developed by the now-shuttered Visceral Games, EA Motive, the studio behind Star Wars Squadrons, will be tackling a from-the-ground-up remake for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.
While EA has only revealed a brief teaser trailer of in-engine footage conveying the mood and tone of Motive’s remake, I spoke with Senior Producer Philippe Ducharme and Creative Director Roman Campos-Oriola about their team’s vision for the remake, including how they’re approaching staying faithful to the original while modernizing it. We also dove into the team’s approach to using some of the latest next-gen tech to bring the USG Ishimura to life like never before, the early involvement of fan feedback in the development process, and more.
Using Next-Gen Tech to Bring Dead Space to Life on PS5, Xbox Series
In speaking with the EA Motive leads, the duo made it clear that this is not just a polished up version of the original Dead Space – though they’re obviously referencing the original game, and working with a hefty amount of development data, they’re completely rebuilding and remaking the game in EA’s Frostbite engine.
But Campos-Oriola explained how the team is able to reference all the original assets of Dead Space, and not just what shipped on disc.
“We started with the original level design of the original Dead Space. What’s funny is that you can see some of the iterations that were made prior to ship by the team. In the first chapter, you can see some corridors that they wanted to do first in a certain way, and then you can understand why they changed it for technical constraints or [some other reason].
“Then in terms of visuals, sound, gameplay, everything, we are rebuilding all of these assets. We are not porting them, it’s not uprezzing the texture or adding more polygons to the model. It’s really rebuilding all these elements, shooting all the animations, et cetera.”
And while the team is rebuilding the adventure, it’s getting to do so with specifically an eye toward PC and the latest consoles, PS5 and Xbox Series X|S. While development is still early, Motive is already thinking about the many ways it can take advantage of the latest tech to improve the Dead Space experience that was already so immersive during the Xbox 360/PS3 era.
“We want to make that immersion even deeper with a fully interactive experience, from the start screen to the end credits. We don’t want anything to pull you out of the experience and we don’t want any cuts,” Campos Oriola said. [The faster SSDs of new consoles mean] there’s not going to be any loading. There’s not going to be any moment where we’re going to cut your experience, where we’re going to cut your camera. You can play it from the start screen to the end credits seamlessly.”
“You can play it from the start screen to the end credits seamlessly.”
“As an objective that we gave early on to everyone, what we’re trying to achieve is an immersion where you never want to put your controller down,” Ducharme said. “Dead Space is not a 60 – 100 hour game. Ideal scenario, you don’t actually want to get up to go to the bathroom because you’re so immersed within the universe and you want to play it through in one sit-down.”
A key facet of Dead Space’s immersion was how in-universe it kept almost every facet of Isaac’s adventure, from his health bar to the inventory and more. EA Motive is aiming to maintain what was already there and enhance the diegetic UI and ability of Dead Space to keep you focused on its world, but couldn’t speak to any specifics just yet.
The latest technology, of course, also means enhancements to the visuals and sound, and Ducharme and Campos-Oriola explained how the trailer served as an “atmospheric benchmark” for the team to strive for, to use all this new technology while ensuring they were doing so in service of capturing the mood of Dead Space.
“What was really important was to be able to capture the unique look of Dead Space. That unique sci-fi look, but it’s gritty and dirty and you feel that everything has been used for a long time,” Campos-Oriola said. “Capturing that dirty, industrial look, but with the level of detail that we can afford now, was something important during the production of that atmospheric benchmark.”
“It started off from the original game’s asset, actually,” Ducharme said, explaining how the team referenced all the concept art and original designs they could while starting the remake to build this trailer. “[We wanted to] make sure that the improvements we were making were inside the DNA of what Dead Space is, and not just, ‘Oh, we can add more texture res and more polygons, let’s just throw them at it.’ We really wanted to convey that feeling of Dead Space. The addition of volumetric effects and the dynamic lighting inside these scenes add a huge element to the atmosphere that we’re trying to convey.”
“[We wanted to] make sure that the improvements we were making were inside the DNA of what Dead Space is…”
That methodology – not just throwing more at the remake for the sake of it, but making sure the increased fidelity authentically revived the Ishimura – applies to the audio design as well.
“We wanted to use the sounds you’re used to as well and improve those sounds, and improve this immersion so the sounds of the door that you’re hearing, the sound of the health bar, the sound of the creatures… we’re building on top of the original and recreating it, but [we] make sure it is true to the original and that we are honoring the legacy of the original game,” Ducharme said, while also discussing how the addition of 3D audio could add to the experience.
“3D audio [will also add the] understanding of where the sound comes from, having the right propagation, in the corridors, making it come from the vents above you, or behind you. These are all things that we’ll be able to expand on to increase the level of immersion.”
The Future Informing the Past
The two developers made it clear they’re very focused on remaking the original Dead Space. And while they’re endeavoring to lay out the story told in the original, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking at what came after, both in terms of gameplay and story, to flesh out concepts in the first game.
“For us, the foundation is the Dead Space 1 story. So, by default, that’s what is canon. But then there are some improvements that we want to make to that story,” Campos-Oriola said. “And not necessarily improvements because those things were not really working in the original, more improvements because of what came after, and we’re like, ‘Aw man, that’s interesting if we could reference that, or if we could make a link to that,” he continued, noting he and the team were looking at everything from what immediately happened in Dead Space 2 to ancillary media like animated films and more.
“We’re doing it from a narrative standpoint, but we’re also looking at it from a feature standpoint in the improvements and some of the content that evolved throughout the franchise,” Ducharme said. So we’re looking at what can be taken and reinjected within the first game from a future standpoint.
“We’re also learning from mistakes such as microtransactions, which we will not have, for instance, in our game,” he continued, confirming that the team “never” has plans to introduce microtransactions in any way to the remake.
This follows a bit of a recent trend of EA trying to make up for some of the controversial additions of microtransactions in its games of years’ past, like Dead Space 3’s microtransaction inclusion and, more recently, the infamous options that were in and then removed from Star Wars Battlefront II. EA Chief Studios Officer Laura Miele explained to IGN about how the company is currently aiming to offer as wide a swath of experiences as possible, and that means choosing different business models for the right games.
“We want to make games that deliver the experiences our players are looking for. Sometimes that is a single-player story-focused experience, where players can immerse themselves in another world,” Miele said. “Other players want us to show up every day with new content and events in our live services like Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, The Sims, Apex, and FIFA to name a few. We want players to choose an EA game or experience, and that means we need to make the type of games they want to play. Focusing on just one genre or model limits the number of players we can reach. We want to meet the players where they play and commit ourselves to impressing our fans with games that continue to surprise or delight them.”
While gameplay specifics are not quite yet revealed, the duo did offer some examples of the team’s thinking in maintaining but refining the original’s gameplay. They pointed to a few examples, like looking to Dead Space 2’s advancements to zero gravity segments and how that could be applied to the first game.
Campos-Oriola also said they’re looking to evolve the famed dismemberment mechanics, which allowed Dead Space players to individually splice off the limbs of the various, gruesome enemies Isaac faced. He said they’re not just looking to make it gorier, but teased that they hope to evolve this core pillar of the combat, alongside other advancements to let more players experience the game.
“Something that is also really important for us that was not there 12 years ago… is all those options or different ways to play the game if you need it. All those elements of accessibility will definitely be something important for us in terms of opening the Dead Space experience to a broader set of people that didn’t necessarily have the opportunity or could play the game when it came out,” he said.
Involving Dead Space Fans
Both Ducharme and Campos-Oriola attested to being longtime Dead Space fans, and said that sentiment was echoed throughout the team. In fact, it’s due to the passion of Motive’s Patrick Klaus that the studio is tackling the project.
“It was Motive and specifically Patrick Klaus’s passion for Dead Space. He actually began pitching us the idea on a trip to our headquarters a couple of years ago,” Miele said. “The studio had other short term priorities but it was always something we wanted to make happen. Motive did a fantastic job with Star Wars: Squadrons last year- and their general expertise in the action genre made it the right studio for this project.”
But Motive isn’t just composed of fans within its development team – it’s bringing in fans from the Dead Space community to actively help guide the development process, similarly to Command and Conquer Remastered and, as evidenced by its latest teaser, the new skate.
“We don’t want to be in siloed and create our own bubble of the game we’re making. So from the conception, we’ve reached out to members of the community to create a community council to be a sounding board for what we were making. Making sure that if we’re deciding to make a change, we want to be able to explain it and get told if, ‘No, what are you doing? What were you thinking? You’re actually breaking the game, why are you changing this,’” Ducharme explained.
“And we’ve received some extremely valid feedback from that group. We’re trying to meet with them on a two, three week basis to show them content and have that ongoing discussion. And they’ve had access, unfiltered access, to what we’re making from a very early point in production,” he continued, noting that the goal of this community council is to really stay true to the spirit of what fans have loved from the franchise since it started 13 years ago.
“Usually, when we receive feedback, the game is almost shipped or done and you’re like, ‘Aw, I wish I knew that. I could have fixed this, what they’re saying, that it’s not good,’” Ducharme said.
“There’s always that element of being a little scared of showing [your work], but like Phil said, what’s really cool is you discover a thing that otherwise you might have discovered reading Reddit two weeks after launching the game,” Campos-Oriola said. “But also it’s really energizing for the team… because when you show something and you get feedback and good reactions on what you’re doing, it gives you that energy to go, “’Okay, that’s cool. Let’s keep pushing that.’”
That fan feedback is something more EA games are integrating at large, Miele explained.
“When you are talking about an IP with such a strong fanbase, it’s particularly important we incorporate their voices. The community has such a strong understanding of the story and the characters, and the experience they want to have,” Miele said. “Another great example in addition to Command and Conquer and Skate was Mass Effect Legendary Edition. We took the time to act on the community feedback. That was an investment in service of our players- making sure we were making the game they wanted to play.”
The fan feedback is designed to, well, feed back into the core spirit of the project the team is developing with – bringing forward a beloved horror experience, one that will be equally fun for returning fans and enticing for new players.
“What we are remaking is we are remaking a survival horror classic game. And that’s something that is really important for us and that’s also why we’re working with the community on this one,” Campos-Oriola said. “I’ve never had before the opportunity to work on a survival horror game, and when I had a discussion with the people at Motive, they had me at two words: Dead Space.”
It’s really a love letter to fans that we want to write with this game, and we’re part of those fans,” Ducharme said. “So the passion that we have in making it, I hope it translates into the results of what we’re seeing now and all the things that we’ll be showing in the future.”
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s Senior Features Editor and host of Podcast Beyond! Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.