Slide To Play Q and A: Dead Space

With Dead Space buzz reaching a fever pitch as the release date nears for Dead Space 2 and Dead Space for iOS, we caught up with the lead designer of the iOS version, Jarrad Trudgen, to discuss the upcoming game. He wanted to keep our discussion of the storyline as spoiler-free as possible, but he elaborated on everything from weapons and upgrades to what devices you’ll be able to play the game on when it comes out on January 25. Read on for the gory details.

We understand that Dead Space for iPhone and iPad takes place between the console versions of Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Can you talk a little about the game’s story, and how it connects those two games?

Jarrad: I can’t give too much away about the story, but probably a more accurate description would be that Dead Space iOS shows the events directly before the events in Dead Space 2. So you’ll actually play through the events that lead right up to the opening of Dead Space 2, and there’s a little crossover there. But like I said, I can’t go too much into the plot, exactly. You’re setting the scene for the events of Dead Space 2.

In our hands-on preview, we mentioned that the main character is called Vandal. Can you shed any light on whether this is Isaac Clarke from the original game?

Jarrad: I’m going to have to disappoint you there as well! You start off the game in the same location as that of Dead Space 2, which is the Sprawl, a city space station. But your identity is secret, and your mission is secret as well. You play through, and everything gets revealed.

We mentioned in our preview that the controls may take a little getting used to because there’s no D-pad. Can you talk about the first-person shooter controls that you put onto the game?

Jarrad: I was surprised how well some of those guys did playing through the preview build, because they were just dropped into a fairly high action part of the game with no sort of tutorial to set them up or teach them or anything. So I was impressed they didn’t just all die straight away. I see that as testament to how intuitive the controls are.

But if you actually play through from the beginning, we’ve spent a lot of time on the tutorials. We focus-tested the opening section of the game quite a lot, just to make sure that the controls were perfectly clear, because they’re a little different from what people might be used to in an iPhone action game. But the reason they’re different is because we’re trying to improve that interface, and make it more accessible to people.

We understand that you’ll be able to buy upgrades for your weapons and armor in two different ways: By spending credits from in the game that you pick up as you play, and also you’ll be able to upgrade through in-app purchase. Can you talk a little about that?

Jarrad: Yeah, we have some DLC. You can buy additional power nodes, used to upgrade your weapons and your RIG, which is your suit in the game. You’ll find power nodes through a normal playthrough, but if you want to accelerate how quickly you upgrade, then you’re free to do so by going to the store in the game. The DLC is all integrated into the in-game store, so you don’t pop in and out of the game while you’re playing.

And there’s also some modules that you can buy– there’s a weapon output module which increases your offensive power for every weapon, and a defensive one that increases your armor. We also have a loot module, which increases the credits that you pick up.

About how long do you expect one playthrough of the game to take?

Jarrad: It’s always sort of tricky to decide this, because obviously it will depend on your skill to a degree, and how familiar you are with these sorts of games. But it’s big– it’s a pretty big experience. So I’d estimate 4-5 hours for a first-time playthrough.

After you’ve completed it, we have additional content as well. We have easy or normal, so less experienced players can still jump in on easy and experience the whole game. I really want people to see as much of it as they can. I really want everyone to finish it.

So after completing it on easy or normal, you unlock hard mode, which is a very challenging way to experience the game, and really increases those survival horror elements. So you’ll be finding ammo is a lot more scarce, you’ll really need to be strategic about how you take on the enemies. And we also unlock new game+ mode, so you can replay the campaign, keeping all of your upgrades. It’s just a fun way to experience the game again, and kick ass.

We also have a lot of achievements in there as well. There’s about 40 achievements, and a lot of them are quite significant, requiring a full playthrough to achieve, like finishing the game with only a plasma cutter, there’s a speed run achievement, things like taking out a brute with only a plasma saw.

Are those achievements through Game Center, or through another mobile platform?

Jarrad: Because we actually tie our achievements to unlocking our own content, we have our own achivement system. So as you earn achievements you’ll also unlock concept art from the studio, showing the evolution of our suit designs, because there’s a new suit in this game, a couple of new weapons, the plasma saw and the core extractor. And we have concept art for the evolution of our boss design as well. And these are all unlocked as you earn achievements.

We asked some of our Twitter followers to send in questions. Something they wanted to know is: Since the game looks so good in the screenshots, what iPhone or iPod models did you test it on, or will it only run on the most recent hardware?

Jarrad: I’m really pleased to say that it actually runs on every device. Obviously, you’re going to get the best experience on an iPhone 4 or an iPad. But our engineers have gone through a lot of effort to optimize everything without sacrificing any features for the earlier generation.

The experience is basically the same on earlier things, we haven’t cut anything out. There’s nothing you can’t do in the earlier generations versions that you can in the later ones. I’m really happy that we managed to do that and still keep it looking as good as it does.

This is going to be available as two separate apps, for the iPhone and iPad?

Jarrad: I believe so, yes.

Do you have any idea of what kind of pricing those will be?

Jarrad: I don’t know exact prices, but they will be in the premium range of pricing. Like we touched on a bit earlier, they’re big games, there’s incredible value there, even at a premium price point.

One other question we got through Twitter is: Will Dead Space on iOS still have the same chill factor as the original? So if you play it in the dark with headphones, will you end up totally terrified?

Jarrad: Yeah, I would totally recommend doing it up right– turning out the lights, putting headphones on. We put a lot of effort into the sound design of the game. We used the F-Mod toolkit, which is a very powerful sound tool, that is used on a lot of blockbuster console games. So this enabled us to do a whole bunch of stuff with music, changing dynamically to go from the quiet moments in the game to the more frenetic combat, and back down again.

We feel quite strongly about people using headphones, so we’ve added in a splash screen at the start of the game, just reminding you to put your headphones on. Obviously, that’s the way to get the best experience out of it.

We do a lot of the cool stuff to try to maintain the horror feeling throughout the game, so we use a lot of misdirection, we try and mess with players’ expectations a lot. There’s some great scripted scares in there, we have some hallucination sequences. We’ve really tried to keep it fresh for the whole playthrough. I think I mentioned earlier, I’d really love for everyone to play it right to the end, because we keep new things coming the whole way through.

Is there anything else you want to add about the game?

Jarrad: We worked quite closely with Visceral on this product, particularly coming up with the ideas for the story, and the script, the characters involved, the settings. We worked with a writer from the original Dead Space, so it really does have that cohesive feel as a canon part of the Dead Space universe.

Another cool feature that we have is that once you purchase Dead Space on the iOS, you can register it by signing into your EA account, and when you sign into your Dead Space 2 game, there’s an unlock in there for you.

Can you give us any hint as to what you unlock in the console version?

Jarrad: No, that’s a bit of a secret too.