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The making of Dead Space

The story behind EA's giant leap into the unknown

"Oh, we had to cut tons." Chuck Beaver, Dead Space's producer and the man with the world's coolest name, is a refreshingly honest speaker, and after a cagey interview earlier in the day it's good to speak with somebody prepared to chat openly about the game's production. "It's f**king great to finally talk about this - I've had to keep quiet for three years!" he laughs as we're introduced.

He's grinning from ear to ear and it's obvious to see why. Dead Space has been 2008's most startling surprise, appearing from deep within EA's internal studios with relatively little fanfare to worldwide praise. Born out of an idea for an Escape From Butcher Bay-style game, the project soon transformed into a Resident Evil 4 clone which became the spearhead of EA's drive for new game series'. "Rather than presenting the board with concept ideas we kept making vertical slices and they kept giving us the green light. From there the comic and movie just felt like a natural extension - we wrote a huge story and the game only covered a small part of it."

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Piecing together an engine to rival Resi 5's is no easy task, but neither is it as tough as you might think. "It's been around for years," explains Chuck. "Since before The Godfather, even. For Dead Space our tech guys really went all out on the lighting and the rendering, although really we've just combined all the separate technologies we were working on at Redwood Shores so that our different teams can work with the same platform."

But it's technology that's staying at the Californian development studios, contrary to recent reports suggesting otherwise. "Glen (Schofield, executive producer) was some-what misquoted about the licensing of the engine. We've secured it for our people to work with on future projects, but there are no plans to license it out (to anyone else)."

A great engine alone isn't enough to guarantee a great game, however, something you need only look at the gulf in class between Gears of War 2 and the multitude of other Unreal 3 powered games on the 360 to see. The key to Dead Space's success was not just the engine but to evolve each of the game's many elements by an iterative procedure. "We'd just playtest until it was spot on," quips senior producer Steve Papoutsis. "Everything was prototyped and prototyped. Take Zero G; we went through a few different control options until we found the right one."

Time for Chuck to reveal the details: "We had this system when your weapons would emit a pulse. You could propel yourself around, and even stop mid-air if you did it right. There was a proper third-person camera too, although we never designed a jet pack style motion where you were 'flying' around. In the end we needed to make it more accessible though; the player needed to focus less on the movement and more on the strategy of just where to go. We got to a point where we had to consider all the animations for the other camera angle. Separate animations were required for your different speeds and weapons and so in the end we opted for the 'point and shoot' style instead."

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The enemies list didn't survive the production unscathed, either. Extra bosses and multi-limbed creatures were given the chop, along with flying necromorphs and a couple of extra weapons to take them all down with. But one of the biggest issues wasn't with the mining tools but Isaac's other powers, namely stasis and kinesis.

"The player could break the game," chuckles senior gameplay designer Wright Bagwell as we mention the 'S' word. "Stasis had no cost, but our designers went in and decided it had to be a commodity or else you'd use it on every enemy to waltz through the game." But whereas focus groups highlighted the need to curb stasis usage, the opposite was true for kinesis. "There was never a detriment to using kinesis all of the time. Plus the ability to pick up and throw things when you ran out of ammo was a key feature, and we never wanted to make you feel completely helpless by removing that."

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