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Introduction and Mission
After playing through both Dead Space 1 and 2 for Xbox 360, I have a developing idea of what the series is missing. These are complete opinions based on the whole of my experience, a list and description of elements I think would make the game superior in nature. I use my history with Aliens, The Thing, Bioshock, and Resident Evil to help define my wishes for the next installment.
- Upon seeing the descriptions of Dead Space 2, I started seeing parallels between Dead Space and the Aliens series. The first game was entirely about the suspense and the horror factor, similar to Dead Space 1. Dead Space 2, now that the antagonists had been detailed and fleshed out, proved to be more action oriented. I started conceiving of a grand affair, of Isaac being present during the outbreak and attempting to stem the tide of Necromorphs with remaining survivors.
Dead Space 2 wasn't what I imagined, but I wasn't disappointed. I was a little perplexed, but only in terms of the murky details that were left unrevealed (I'm confident that this is intentional). But I did notice where the first game was too similar to the first game, some staples that were getting stale and tired.
What I want to See in 3
- Environmental Size:
- This was the first problem I noticed. The corridors of Titan Station felt very close to the corridors of the Ishimura, to the point where I could have simply been exploring parts of the Ishimura not shown in the first game. This is a reflection of the first game as well, since the Ishimura never felt that it was large enough for a crew of over a thousand. Now, Titan Station feels larger than the Ishimura, but since the station supposedly has more than one million residence, it doesn't feel 1,000 X as large.
Let's exlore why this is:
- A. The tight corridors, which make sense from a distanced engineering perspective, create a sense of claustrophobia and small scales.
- B. The repetition of rooms. Lots of rooms geometry was reused with multiple palletes. This creates a feeling of familiarity, which reduces the overall feeling of size since the environments repeat. To compound the issue, there isn't much visibility between areas, for whatever reason. This contributes to each room's modularity, and the feeling that you have been there before.
- In terms of the encounter design, I knew every time there was a large room with crates in it, I would fight Stalkers. That isn't a good sign, because after the first room with crates, I would always expect to fight them. And I was proven right, through to the end of the game. Since the large room with crates was only used to hold the Stalker encounters, it became easy to associate those environments with those enemies, which reduced their impact and the intrigue of the combat. The church fight and the industrial fight against the stalkers were my favorites, because they didn't take place in those standard rooms with crates.
- C. The lack of transparency. Bioshock has incredibly vast environments, which are communicated to the player with a large amount of glass panelling throughout Rapture. Titan Station has several expansive vistas, but they are rarely placed in a location where the player needs to look out them, only being able to see the rather limited view by going out of the game path's way to look. A way to fix the cramped nature of the station, and increase the scale, is to have larger amounts of transparent space. Ceilings, floors, walls. All of those could use more transparency, to expand what the player can experience, and therefore, increase the sense of scale.
- A perfect example of a missed opportunity are the elevators. Since the elevators track across multiple levels of the station, having transparent faces on them would give the player an appreciable idea of the scale of the structure they were inhabiting. Without those, the elevator may as well just be an arilock room that doesn't move, a portal to the next portion of the level.
- And there are other creative ways to use transparency, either by having blood spatter make it only partially transparent, or to distinguish separate themed areas of the station. Engineering, industrial, and mining locations would logically have less transparency, while the commercial and residential sectors would have much more.
- Environments should be truer to scale.
- If Isaac is on a station with a million plus people, make the environment feel that way. In Dead Space 2, there wasn't even enough area visible (outside of the solar array) to house that many people, let alone have them live in the space. Convince me that I'm in what used to be a functioning community, not just a path built to house a narrative.
- Varied Environments.
- I'm not satisfied with pallete swaps when it comes to varied environments. I want full on theme shifts between areas, similar to Rapture in Bioshock. Each area should have its own identity, even it's own style. This would give each area a unique signature, so that a player can identify their progress from one area to another. And by having areas themed, players get a larger sense of scale due to the differences. That could be reinforced, like it was in Dead Space 2, with different skins for the enemies encountered, based on who would be working in that area.
- The differences should be structurally visible, in that you can distinguish which area you are in by it's thematic trappings. Loading up a random level, I should be able to distinguish whether I'm in an industrial sector, a star craft, commercial, residential, medical, etc. on first glance.
- Dead Space 2 did a good job of reminding us that we were near Saturn, with the occasional vistas. Keep that in place, no matter the new location to give a grounding sense of location.
- Tone is very important for the survival horror aspect of the game. There is a significant difference between DS1 and DS2 in tone, though they still strike a similar note. Lots of people mention how DS2 was less scary, but I take that into account because we have played DS1, which was the first time a lot of this material was exposed to us. First impressions make a difference, so it won't be the same in the sequels.
- With that said, Visceral should try to inspire new types of emotion, by applying new techniques and removing some of the telltale signs of Dead Space Tropes. For example, there seems to be a rule: If there is a big room, there is a big enemy inside who is tough. Predictability reduces the emotional impact, whatever it is.
- A shift towards more action and comraderie between survivors would be appreciated, similar to the back and forth between Ellie and Isaac. Now that there are at least two experienced survivors, in addition to the EarthGov forces that are aware of the Necromorphs, acknowledging that in the story would be a welcome change.
- The lack of optional backtracking reminds me that i'm playing a video game, that is on a linear path. Hiding special items, power nodes, logs, and ammunition rooms really increases both the replay value, and increases the reward for exploring the rich Dead Space universe.
- By going back into areas that you already explored, you could use new abilities to reach new areas, similar to games like Metroid. That would allow you to put in character progression, outside of weapon and RIG upgrading. Since there is such a robust weapon upgrade system, adding abilities and upgrading those mounted on the RIG feels like the next step.
- Another way to include upgrading and backtracking is to show items to a player, that can't be accessed when first detected. Let's say Isaac walks by a security station, with a window. The armory can be seen through the window, with a pulse rifle grenade launcher inside. Making weapon's alternate fire an item that needs to be recovered in addition to having a schematic to purchase it would give the player more reasons other than story to backtrack.
- So if weapons consisted of a Primary Fire, a secondary fire module or a secondary fire schematic, and ammunition schematics and modules, you could divy up the resources and allow the player to trade backtracking and time for credits which could be used for other items. Separating the alternate fire into a module that can be accessed either from finding a schematic and purchasing it, or as a module that is inserted into a weapon at a bench, gives level designers more options and lets players invest how they see fit. It also increases the gap between the initial weapon, and the upgraded weapon for the endgame.
- Dead Space 1 and 2 do a great job of weapon progression, keeping the initial weapons useful for the later enemies of the game. Where this falls short is in regards to the player's other abilities. The best example I have right now, is upgrading Isaac's RIG from the zero g jump in Dead Space to the independent thrusters in Dead Space 2. That could combine with the Backtracking element mentioned before, to create areas of interest that are only accessible once you upgrade your suit so that you can maneuver to places that you can't jump to using the Dead Space 1 method.
- Another example is the flashlight that is attached to your weapons. When playing through Dead Space 2 in the Ishimura, I noticed how effective it was to use kinesis to pick up the spotlights scattered around the corridors. I really liked the expanded functionality that the spotlights gave inside the large, dimly lit areas inside the Ishimura to help in my search for audio logs.
- It would be great if you could upgrade the flashlight's range, brightness, and area of effect. Also upgrading it so that you had a shoulder lamp, similar to the one in Aliens as a part of the Marine's harness. That would allow a player to have a lamp on while sprinting or maneuvering while not aiming, at the cost of power nodes.
- Also giving the same kind of progression to Stasis and Kinesis. Since the addition of the TK impale, making that a progression upgrade would give a difference between kinesis at the start of the game, and it's potential at the end of the game or the second playthrough.
- Stasis has a good progression system (which could use some projectile speed increase as an upgrade), but Kinesis doesn't have any progression. Adding the Impale effect, on top of range and impulse increase, would add a lot of depth to the tool.
- Separating the weapon's secondary fire into a module that you could find as a schematic or as a special power node in game would be excellent, as stated in backtracking.
Priority 1: BRING BACK THE TORMENTOR!
- It is my favorite enemy of the game, full of character and intensity. Bringing him back, or a few of them back, would be greatly appreciated in Dead Space 3. Especially if you made an Uber Tormentor, who had limited regeneration.
- Let the slashers that pretend to be dead have more variety when they attack you. It is scary the first few times, but it isn't hard to defend against because they trigger as soon as you come within a meter or so of them. Adding in a delay, similar to how the Stalkers rarely charged from the direction you are looking, would be a nice new trick and reward corpse awareness. And expand that ability to more necromorph types, like Stalkers, Pukers, Tripods (!), etc. And make it so that some of the "possums" are slightly damaged, instead of every one being a fully intact necromorph body mysteriously on the floor.
- Allowing enemies to go possum during combat, after you deal a certain amount of damage would help bring all of this together, and make the mass encounters a lot more interesting while reinforcing the need to ensure that they are dead. It won't be effective in one on one encounters, but keep it in mind for the large groups in rooms at the same time.
- As stated before, some encounters can be predicted by the locations they are held in (Stalkers) or by the environment (Tripods). Reducing this, or mixing in new elements into established procedures, would keep everything nice and terrifying.
- Dead Space 2 does a good job of this, now that I remember. Each time you fight the Tripods, it is in a different setting or with different details. The first time the Tripod is a good miniboss, with stasis chargers around the perimeter and no other enemies. The second time, as a quicktime event with a new enemy added to the encounter, the Pack. The third time you are in the elevator ascending to the solar array, and they keep reaching in through the glass on all sides to murder you. Finally, you disrupt their nest and they swarm out of the woodwork in multiples to crush you.
- KEEP DOING THAT, but with all the enemies, large and small.
- Add an Infector to a mini boss battle in a room full of corpses, put pukers in a room with Stalkers, mix and match! All categories should be available for selection, like Leapers + The Nest + Lurkers and a tripod! now that would be an intense encounter. Keeping it fresh and challenging while reducing the predictability will keep the game interesting.
- The enemies in Dead Space have fantastic properties, which have only gotten more in depth in DS2. Specifically the Stalkers were done exceptionally well. What I would like to see is some interchangability between the enemies for properties, like a Puking Tripod. Or an Exploding Tripod. Something to give slight variety while keeping within the algorithyms for necromorph creation behind the scenes. And bring in the enemies cut from the other games and films, because those are incredibly interesting like the Grabber.
I want to see players control more of the narrative order in the next Dead Space game. Let's take Dead Space 2 as an example: There are four threads of happenings going on during the game.
- Daina is in the Church, trying to capture Isaac to create markers.
- Stross is being crazy, running around while slowly going insane while knowing more about the situation than Isaac.
- Ellie and Co. are trying to make it to the Government sector for reasons unknown, fighting their way up from the mines.
- Tiedmann is trying to capture/kill Isaac to prevent him from destroying the marker.
Chart of Thread Length:
All of that is occurring during the game. However, we only get to see, as players, one set of those elements as they come together:
Isaac finds Daina (she dies), then finds Ellie (now alone), then finds stross (through ellie), then finds Tiedmann.
I want to have a branching experience that differs based on the initial, and then subsequent choices I make as a player to take me through the narrative of the game. It requires adding more material to the campaign to flesh out events that occurred "off camera", but that enriches the universe while adding replay value and time to the game's campaign.
So let's adjust Dead Space 2 to fit my model:
Isaac is freed by the scientist, and escapes the medical bay. He receives a message from stross, daina, and finds a security guard's corpse on the ground with a connection to Tiedman's orders. That shows us three potential threads to folow, which would be:
- Find Stross. Fighting your way through the habitation complexes, you find Stross and work with him to get at the marker.
- Find Daina (the one in the game) move away from Stross, towards the Unitology Church for the cure to your delusions.
- Take the dead guard's communicator, and find the marker and additional information through that network.
Let's say we decide to find Stross, being struck by some comraderie influenced by him being another patient subjected to the Treatment. You find him by choosing a physical path, going a certain direction to where he is located on the sprawl. Encounters would be built around that path, in addition to standard encounters.
I reach Stross, and he starts filling me in on how things have been working. He isn't armed, so you can either find him a weapon, or if you don't trust him, just promise to protect him.
That branches into three micro threads right there:
1) Protect him successfully: he continues feeding you information about Titan Station, his necormorph experience, and the experiments you two have undergone.
2) Give him his own weapon: he gives you information, but less than if you keep him unarmed. Some different information, and he starts unhinging faster due to the weapon in his hands.
3) fail to protect him, he loses all trust and sanity, and disappears into the Sprawl.
The termination of the Stross storyline is that he snaps, and goes after Ellie's eye and then is killed by Isaac.
Each of those options you take leads into these options.
- Find Tiedman
- Find Daina
- Find Ellie
You pick up either the first comm unit you find at the beginning of the game, or another comm unit found later on. Using that module, you learn more about the Earthgov's role in the events taking place on the sprawl, and learn that you need to take a tram or a shuttle to get to the government sector.
Highlights include finding a PSEC team, and helping them to the tram, evacuating civilians, and things like that. The end of the arc involves trying to get Tiedman to help you destroy the marker, pointing out all of the destruction and death. It would end with either Tiedman siding with you and being Ubermorph'd, or resisting Isaac and getting killed.
This is how Dead Space 2 plays now. You follow her instructions, find her, and then her team is destroyed by the gunship while you learn a tremendous amount about the Unitologist church. I can say the least about this one, because it was the most detailed in the current game.
Through a broadcast (intro and stross storyline) or the comm module (tiedman storyline) or an audio stream from a saboteur (daina storyline) you find out about Ellie's teams. They get cut down quickly, but if you pick her storyline first you rush down there to lend a hand and you can potentially save a band of survivors and continue her storyline as in the first game, but with more characters. They can be saved/killed based on your character's performance, as well as used to increase the drama of certain boss battles (Tripod Nest). Her story ends with her in the Gunship in the government sector with any other survivors. This storyline would tell you about the infection on the ground, how it started, what happened, potentially where Stalkers come from and some more general background.
Visceral has shown their expertise in doing scary and creepy. What I want to see them tackle next time, is making a coop experience while maintaining a scary atmosphere with tension and despair. I know it will be hard, because the established path for scary horror is to isolate the player. But Visceral has strayed from the beaten path before, with superb results.
I am confident that with effort and focus, Dead Space 3 could deliver a uniquely terrifying Coop experience, which will also separate Dead Space 3 from the other games in the series.