The original Dead Space, released in 2008, is considered one of the greatest video games of its era. But it’s fair to say that accolade wasn’t matched by its sales performance.
At the time, publisher EA considered the game to be a commercial disappointment, but one worth persevering with considering its critical acclaim.
In an attempt to make the series appeal to a broader audience, subsequent entries focused more on action – and later, co-op – but following 2013’s Dead Space 3, the franchise was shelved for almost a decade.
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Today, it feels as though a horror game like Dead Space has more chance to resonate with a mass-market audience. Notably Capcom has seen major success with its Resident Evil remakes, which have comfortably outsold their original versions, with 2019’s Resident Evil 2 shifting nearly 10 million units – blockbuster numbers.
Could Dead Space enjoy a similar renaissance? Creative director Roman Campos-Oriola sounds cautiously optimistic.
“Is it a good time? We’ll see!” he told VGC in a recent interview. “I feel like right now there is a new golden era of horror. If you look at film, you don’t have to go to one specific theatre to see a horror movie, because most get a national release. In television, we could argue whether or not Stranger Things is horror, but it definitely has inspirations from that genre and there are a lot of shows like that.
“And in video games, Resident Evil has never performed better and there is a lot of survival horror coming into the market. There are also games that take a lot of inspiration from horror like The Last of Us. So I feel like in the market people are appealed to play more types of horror game.”
VGC recently spoke to Campos-Oriola at a hands-on preview event in London. Read on for our full conversation, and scroll up to the video embed above for 10 minutes of exclusive gameplay.
It must have been a unique experience approaching a fondly remembered game and looking for ways you could improve the experience. What were the most obvious changes you decided to make?
What was important to us was… yeah, there were a lot of improvements that we could’ve done, but it’s probably just as important to consider the ones we didn’t do in order to keep the original feeling of Dead Space. We made a lot of improvements to the reactivity of the controls, to the camera, and to bring those up to today’s standards.
We also added a lot of details to the character such as how you obtain weapons. In the original you didn’t pick up weapons, it was blueprints that you then needed to bring to the store, and then you had to buy that weapon. We changed that to weapon pickup, because we felt it was important for players to be able to more easily test weapons.
Because of the changes we made to dismemberment, some weapons are now really good at dismemberment, or removing skin, or cutting, so we felt it was important to give players easier access so they could decide if they liked it and wanted to keep it, or if they wanted to place it in the safe.
Another thing that was important to me was the changes we made to zero-g. It’s not that it wasn’t good in the original, but in terms of authenticity we preferred the kind of zero-g that existed in Dead Space 2 and 3. It fits more with the fantasy of being in zero-g and floating and flying around. What was also interesting to us was that since we were recreating the Ishimura, changing zero-g allowed players to explore some spaces that already existed in a different way to the original.
Remakes and remasters are becoming increasingly prolific as the games medium matures. How do you define a remake versus a remaster? Clearly you’ve rebuilt Dead Space from the ground up, but at the same time its design is incredibly faithful to the original… it’s not a reimagining of the concept.
For us, a remaster is what was done with the Mass Effect trilogy, they stuck to the same engine and improved some assets… it’s better, but it’s the same game. There are multiple definitions of what a remake is, but for me it’s about moving to a new engine and completely rebuilding the game.
Beyond that, depending on how much you remake from the original game, it can no longer be a remake and become a reboot. That would be more about sticking to the foundation, genre and story. A good example would be the recent Resident Evil 2 remake, which even though they changed the perspective, it’s still horror and for most of it it’s the same story.
I feel that’s similar to us where we changed some things, recreated everything in a new engine, but overall we kept the same story and setting.
While the original game enjoyed critical acclaim, it perhaps didn’t sell as well as hoped and subsequent entries focused more on action. Why do you now feel able to return to the series’ survival horror roots?
Is it a good time? We’ll see! (Laughs) I feel like right now there is a new golden era of horror. If you look at film, you don’t have to go to one specific theatre to see a horror movie, because most get a national release. In television, we could argue whether or not Stranger Things is horror, but it definitely has inspirations from that genre and there are a lot of shows like that.
And in video games, Resident Evil has never performed better and there is a lot of survival horror coming into the market. There are also games that take a lot of inspiration from horror like The Last of Us. So I feel like in the market people are appealed to play more types of horror game.
“For us, a remaster is what was done with the Mass Effect trilogy, they stuck to the same engine and improved some assets… it’s better, but it’s the same game.”
So maybe the original was released a little before its time?
Maybe. Something you see a lot in video games is that one day a genre is considered niche, at some point they become more mainstream, and then maybe they go back to being niche. Survival horror at one point was really mainstream, then it became niche, but it looks like it’s becoming more mainstream at the moment. We’ll see.
Why do you think sci-fi horror specifically is so popular right now? It feels like every other game announced this year was a sci-fi horror game.
I don’t know. Maybe lots of people had the same idea!
For us it felt like the type of technology improvements that we’ve seen recently fits really well with that type of game, because it’s about lighting, audio and immersion. That’s why for us, it felt like a good moment to revisit Dead Space.
And of course, one of those other sci-fi horror games is The Callisto Protocol by the original Dead Space leads Glen Schofield and Steve Papoutsis, which releases weeks before your game. That must feel weird as a creator that you’re going to go head-to-head with them?
For me, any time you release a game you will have challenges and other games in the genre coming out. Yes, you have The Callisto Protocol coming in December and Resident Evil 4 is coming in March. What is interesting to me is going back to your question about the market.
Personally, I’m really excited to play that game. But the fact that there a lot of survival horror games coming out means that, in terms of player expectation, maybe there is something there. Or maybe we’ve all had the same bad idea! (Laughs) No, for me it’s really encouraging because it suggests that maybe there’s room for that and people want to play these types of game.
Have you spoken at all with Glen and Steve about the Dead Space remake? Did you get any feedback from them on the kinds of things they think you should do?
I don’t know if EA reached out, but not to my knowledge. We’ve not had any feedback or contact with them.
Would you welcome that?
Oh yeah, for sure. It would be really interesting to know what they think about it.
Motive recently announced that it will be working on a Marvel Iron Man game. Presumably, Iron Man will require a lot of the studio’s resources. What does that mean for the future of Dead Space? Is this it? If the remake is a huge hit, does that give you a problem?
For me, what I like is that it gives us a lot of traction moving forwards, in terms of finishing that game. Personally, I’m a big fan of Dead Space, but as for the future, I don’t know.
Dead Space 2 is my favourite. Considering your commitments to Iron Man, does that rule out you maybe giving that the same treatment one day? Or not necessarily?
(Points to PR) Do you want him to shoot me in the face? (Laughs)
What can you tell us about how Dead Space fits in with Iron Man from a recruitment or technology point of view? I imagine this is a useful project to be working on as prep for another game about a man in a suit with a jetpack.
I cannot speak for the other project, but what I can say is that it’s not uncommon to have studios with multiple projects. Especially in big companies like EA. The thing in terms of recruitment, and again I’m speaking only about Dead Space, is that I joined to work on this game and we have a lot of people here like that. That brand, as a developer, has a lot of appeal.