Exclusive Interview with Dead Space 2 producer Steve Papoutsis

We recently had the chance to sit down with Dead Space 2 producer Steve Papoutsis for an interview on the Dead Space universe aswell as some Dead Space 2 related questions.

A few interesting facts have been revealed so be sure to read on below:

Rely on Horror: How did you get started in the games industry?

Steve Papoutsis: I’ve enjoyed playing games going all the way back to Pong.  I got started working in games 15 years ago.  Prior to working in Video Games I was a musician / audio engineer / producer.  When it was time to move on from Music I decided I would work on my other favorite thing video games.  I wound up working at Crystal Dynamics, my first job, was as a tester on Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain on PS1.  Shortly after starting that assignment the company asked me to move into the sound department so I did that for a while eventually working as the Audio Director for the studio prior to changing over into Production.  After a few years in a Production role, I moved over to EA and have been here for 10 years.

ROH: Out of all of the work that you have done in the industry, what would you say is the most memorable experience?

SP: Wow, that’s really hard to say.  I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of really great games.  At EA I had a chance to working on Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, that was really fun, getting to work on an academy award winning movie game was pretty cool.  I really love LOTR so that was excellent, but I also really enjoyed working on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003.  That was a change of pace and I’m really proud of the game we made, it’s one of the highest rated PC games I think EA has ever done.  Dead Space was of course super rad, getting to do something so different and new and being part of what created Visceral is probably the most memorable one out of them all though.

ROH: Rely on Horror is a games website specifically covering survival horror games.  This is a genre that no-doubt sees a lot of releases.  Given the number of titles that are out there in the survival horror genre, do you find that it’s difficult to come up with ideas, or designs, or settings that haven’t already been done in some other game, in some fashion?

SP: Ideas are something the Dead Space team is never short on.  The team is full of very creative people so there is always some cool concept floating around.  The biggest challenge though is making sure it makes sense with our fiction and that it connects with the player in a meaningful and scary way.  One of the big things the team strives for is believability.  The idea is that if people find something familiar then there is a chance that it can be used to create tension and terror in the player.

ROH: During the development of Dead Space, did you draw any inspiration from external sources to make the horror content in the game?  Watch movies, play atmospheric music, work in the dark, or just discuss what kind of stuff is scary?  Did you draw any inspiration for Dead Space 2 that way?

SP: The team is full of avid horror movie fans, so much so that we have a fairly extensive library of movies at work with us.  Many of us spend our free time watching horror movies, reading horror related books, listening to twisted and creepy sound tracks to help inspire us and keep us sharp.  As far as inspiration for Dead Space 2 there is no one clear source we pull from, it’s really a combination of various things the team is into and of course it all needs to make sense in our universe.  We can’t go throwing just anything into a Dead Space game it needs to fit our world and story.

ROH: When the first Dead Space hit the scene, it was accompanied by comics and the animated movie, which really fleshed out a lot of the story that wasn’t included in the game.  Can we expect something similar with Dead Space 2?

SP: We have some neat stuff in store for fans of the Dead Space universe, I can’t really say more than that right now.  Keep your eyes / ears peeled for some cool stuff down the road.

ROH: We’d like to take a moment to discuss Dead Space: Extraction, the 2009 Nintendo Wii title.  Looking back at Extraction, was there anything that you personally would have changed about the title?  Maybe an idea or location that didn’t make it into the final game, but looking back, you think might have done well in it?  Or even in original Dead Space?

SP: As with any game I’ve had a chance to work on there is always something you wish you could have added to the game.  One of the big lessons I’ve learned over the years making games is that it’s better to do less things better.  What I mean by this is that having fewer features, locations, and mechanics at an extremely high polish level is better than having a ton of stuff that is not as polished or clean. To answer your question though, on Extraction I wish we could have done one of the bosses we had planned, who knows though that design may resurface in another game down the road.

ROH: Extraction saw a bit of an expanded storyline over the first Dead Space title.  It really displayed some of the characters’ chemistry with some interesting developments.  Isaac’s getting some layers added to his personality, if you will.  Are gamers going to see this happen with other characters of the series?

SP: The back story for Dead Space is really, really big, one of our goals is to deliver as much of it to players as we can, provided it’s not forced on them.  That is one of the things I think we did a good job of on Dead Space.  Instead of forcing people to hear all of the back story elements we let them collect and enjoy it if they wanted to.  I know as a gamer I prefer the option of diving into a story when I want to and I think our inventory / log stuff really did a nice job with that.

ROH: Something that has really come to the forefront of gaming in the last couple of years is multiplayer—in Extraction, you introduced a bit of multiplayer.  Do you have any plans to continue and expand that in future installments?

SP: Dead Space 2 will have multiplayer.  The only thing I can really say about it at this time is that players will be able to dismember their friends.  I’d be happy to go into more details the next time we get to sync up.

ROH: What exactly do you feel is the series’ greatest feature?  What do you feel is its’ greatest weakness?

SP: I really think our main character Isaac is pretty unique.  Instead of a typical Space marine or solider we have an Engineer as our main character.  By doing this we have opened up a lot of interesting and unique things for Isaac to do, from his weapons to the puzzles he encounters we really want the player to feel like the things they are doing make sense for an engineer.   I’m also very proud of our Dismemberment gameplay, it’s a tweak on the conventional shooting you see in most games which add a whole new layer of strategy to our combat, plus it looks really cool.   As far as a weakness, nothing really jumps out.  I’m proud of the games we have done so far and look forward to being a part of an even better one when we finish Dead Space 2.

ROH: A question that carries with it—a lot of speculation amongst the fans—at the end of Dead Space Extraction, the main character loses their hand while outside of the ship.  Could this possibly be the same hand seen on the original Dead Space cover?

SP: Good catch….  J  That was one idea we played with, but I think that mystery needs to remain open.

ROH: Everyone is wanting to know about Dead Space 2, a bit of information has come up about it just recently, and I can tell you that everyone at ROH is really excited about it.   So first—multiplayer is something we’ve previously mentioned, can you let us in on a little information on how this is going to work in Dead Space 2?

SP: I can’t really go into more detail on MP today.  I’d be happy to in the future if you guys are up for it then.  I’d be interested to hear what you think when we start talking more about it.

ROH: How do you plan to continue and build upon the concept of audio logs?  Will they play as big of a role in DS2?

Yep, audio logs will be back in Dead Space 2.  Now that Isaac talks there will be an even greater importance on them and how they move the story forward.

ROH: Where will DS2 take place?  Aside from in space that is.  If you’re bringing us somewhere new, how will the game deliver that same sense of fear and dread as the first two titles dished out?

SP: Dead Space 2 takes place on one of the moons of Saturn called Titan.  On Titan there is a mining facility that over the years has been built up into a large space city, we call it “The Sprawl”.  On the Sprawl there are many different locations that Isaac will get to visit and each of them will provide plenty of opportunities to scare the shit out of players.  I mentioned earlier that we are always looking to create spaces and situations that are grounded in reality as those tend to connect with players better.  The more real a space feels the more chance we have of playing on a players fear and dread.  When you put a player in a totally random super fantasy place they don’t always know what to expect, but when they are in a location that has similarities to our real world, that gets them thinking and guessing, then we can hit them with some good horror.

ROH: Will Dead Space 2 build upon the dismemberment principle?  Cutting off the Necromorph’s limbs in gruesome fashion?

SP: Dead Space 2 will most certainly build on our dismemberment gameplay.  This time out one of the new tweaks we have added lets players use Slasher blades against the enemies.  In the original dead space you could pick the blades up and fire them at enemies, but this time you will be able to do some serious damage and impale enemies with them.  Imagine you are down to your last shot and you quickly use kinesis to grab a severed blade, you then fire it off at an enemy, they fly back and are nailed to a wall.  That’s the type of thing we are going for.  So far it’s really fun and can lead to some intense combat.

ROH: It’s been brought up that Dead Space was going to ‘up-the-action’ if you will. Now some say this is because the original game was just too scary, or hard.  We acknowledge that Dead Space was, and still is, pretty scary—but that’s what keeps websites like ROH in business and is a big part of the game’s appeal.   What made you want to have a bigger focus on action?  Is there anything that you can say to the players out there who might be worried that the series might be losing its roots?

SP: Thanks for asking this question.  Dead Space 2 is going to be just as scary, gruesome, and tense as the original game.  The action comments are often misunderstood.  What we are trying to do is augment the tense sections with moments where Isaac feels more capable or like he has the upper hand for a change.  Remember Isaac has dealt with the Necromorphs before, he has learned some things, and so we want to give the player a chance to experience the upper hand.  That does not mean it changes the rest of the game.  These situations will still be scary and tense the only real difference is that they will also be a bit faster paced than the rest of the combat you might experience in the game.  We want to create peaks and valleys in the game, one moment you’re backed into a corner down to you last shot forced to use Melee, Stasis, or Kinesis to get enough distance to finish off your foe and the next you get the drop on the Necromorphs and can really kick the shit out of them.

The other part of the action we want to bring to the game revolves around specific sequences that are big moments of the game, I can’t really go into too much detail without giving out any spoilers but these moments are sometimes scary and sometimes epic, what we are going for is an “Oh Shit” reaction from players.

ROH: Is there anything else that you would like to share with the fan base?  A comment, advice, anecdote, correction or criticism?

SP: On behalf of the Dead Space team I want to say thank you to all the gamers who have supported our games.  It’s super awesome to know that people enjoy the work you do and it is highly motivating for the Team and I to know people are supportive and excited about Dead Space 2.  Please keep in touch with us on Twitter and Facebook.  We are trying to do a lot of stuff with both of those things in order to stay in touch with the people who support Dead Space.  Thanks for the interview.

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