Stolen Pixels #248: HI MOM!

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Apr 5, 2011

Filed under: Column 124 comments

I know I’m not the first person to say so, but the Dead Space 2 ad campaign was bathed in the stench of uncreative desperation.

Three days ago I said on Twitter:

Just finished #DeadSpace2. Visceral Games: Guys, love the production values. Call me. I can fix this pacing and atmosphere problem you have.

Visceral Games never called. They probably lost my number. Rather than make them hunt it down, I’ll just post my fixes here:

  1. See how many monsters you have in the game? Take out four fifths of them. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, I realize you think the game will be “less scary”. This is because you have no idea what you’re doing.
  2. Notice how, during the tutorial, you show off all those monsters, walking around in a well-lit room, fully visible? And then later, you’ve got those same monsters playing peek-a-boo with the player in the dark? Those two things are backwards.
  3. I know they’re called “jump scares”, but they’re not really scary. There just startling. And they’re lame. Especially when done often. Very especially when done often on monsters you fight often and which are not otherwise scary.
  4. Fear comes from uncertainty. When monsters announce the beginning of a fight with a roar, and the DJ puts on the slow tunes when the fight ends, it removes all of the uncertainty from the game.
  5. Less blood. Blood is not inherently scary. If it was, Serious Sam would be the most terrifying game ever. Blood can make you feel uneasy when used carefully, when placed somewhere unexpected or alarming. It’s not unexpected or alarming if you use it like paint.
  6. Check out this screenshot, which is completely unedited, aside from scaling it down:

    Do you see what’s wrong with that? No? Neither did I. That little bracket shape at the bottom of the screen is the prompt for me to HIT THE LETTER E TO NOT DIE, which was off to the side and even off the screen for most of the quicktime event. Notice how the pale color makes it easy to miss. I understand that you might not want a great big colorful Skittle shape popping up in the middle of your quick time event, ruining the mood. But too bad. THAT’S WHAT THEY’RE FOR. If you don’t like them, then don’t put them in the game. What you’re doing here is like saying, “I don’t like jumping puzzles in games, so I’ll make the player do the jumps in the dark where they can’t see that they’re doing a jumping puzzle.”

    It might break the mood to have a big colorful prompt, but it’s even worse to die three times because you didn’t see the prompt or understand what you were supposed to do. This goes double for a situation like the one above, where this is the very first button-mash event of the game and the encounter itself exists to teach the player how to do them.

    Did you guys not playtest this?

  7. That scene where a couple of unarmed orderlies grab the protagonist? By the upper arms? That was beyond ridiculous. I’ve been shooting waves of deadly monsters and stomping their limbs off, and now a couple of regular, non-monster guys are going to overpower me? Give me a break. This scene couldn’t be more lame if you put it on crutches and sent it down the stairs.

    I see what you’re trying to do, here. You need this character to say their stuff without me blowing their head off. Fine. Have them trap me in an airlock and talk to me over the intercom or something.

    Also, the resolution to that scene struck me as being overly convenient and gutless. Sure, lots of movies do the same thing, but letting the player respond (or not) would be the better videogame choice.

  8. In general: Less is more. You have the components for a good game here, much like a big bowl of cayenne pepper and salt has the components for a fine bowl of chili.

Thanks for being good sports about this, guys. I’m sure you’ll do better with Dead Space 3. Good luck!


From The Archives:

124 thoughts on “Stolen Pixels #248: HI MOM!

  1. Elilupe says:

    It always gets me a bit annoyed when people talk about how terrifying Dead Space is. I always have to fight the urge to grab them forcefully, bring them to my house, and make them play Silent Hill 2 or Amnesia.

    1. Raygereio says:

      Actually Dead Space 1 did made me quite unsettled at times, though that was probably completely unintentional from the developers: there were several times where my gaming instincts told me “Now a monster will appear and jump at you” and nothing would attack me, those moments really had me on edge.

      Sadly, Dead Space 2 even lacked that as it was just monsters jumping at you all the friggin time.

      1. Jarenth says:

        Actually, I thought the visit to the Ishimura wreck was quite tense. Of course, this was because they withhold monsters from you for a good five minutes while you crawl around creepy, sterilized environments expecting to be jumped at any second.

        1. Varil says:

          This. THIS. The Ishimura was the only really, REALLY good moment of the game for me. I liked it, as a whole, but it plays better if you treat it more like Doom(NOTE : I refer to ye olde anciente Doom, not Doom 3, which I have not played) or some other action game than any horror game.

          1. Jarenth says:

            Yeah, both Dead Space games as a whole are just 3rd person shooters with some especially ugly monsters. That like to jump out at you.

          2. Felblood says:

            Oh, you meant in the second game.

            I didn’t play that one (due to the ending of the first one), so just ignore me.

        2. Tizzy says:

          Haven’t played it. Watched most of a walkthrough. I’d have to say that, and the beginning were good (up to the meeting at the top of the church). The very first sequence looked extra fun and extra scary.

          The walkthrough is wrapping up now, and I’ve got to say that it looks like way to many monsters and guns. I’d probably play it if I can get it cheap and if I have nothing else to do (ha!), but I’m disappointed.

          1. Tizzy says:

            And I share Shamus’s frustration: you *want* the Dead Space guys to succeed, because there *is* an embryo of something in there beyond the pretty (!) graphics.

    2. Irridium says:

      Well there were a couple moments in Dead Space that were scary. The moments when that giant tentacle shot out of the wall and tried to drag you under, and you had to shoot its arm to get free. While trying to aim, the tentacle if flailing everywhere and your body is moving all over the place. Its scary, tense, and the best moments of the game.

      Well, the first 2 times were great, then they got predictable. But still!

      1. ccesarano says:

        This is the one moment that they managed to improve on in the sequel. Well, they didn’t really improve on it, but they managed to recreate the emotion of panic.

        Which isn’t the same as fright, unfortunately. I think that’s the big thing a lot of people confuse. The emotions Dead Space successfully generate are suspense, apprehension, surprise and panic. They never really make the player frightened of going forward, though.

        In truth, Dead Space is just a bit less forgiving than other games. Its normal difficulty more closely resembles the hard mode of another game. That’s not scary, that’s just making the consequences slightly larger. At its core Dead Space 2 in particular is an action game parading itself as survival horror.

  2. Nonesuch says:

    FEAR is scary. Dead space is startling.

    Scary means you put down the game because you can’t stand the invisible ninjas, the creepy girl and the nightmare trips you keep taking.

    Startling, on the other hand, means the game jumps out and says gotcha, and you give a start (jump a little) and then keep going. This scares five year-olds. Maybe.

    Kindly note the difference.

    1. Max says:

      Although I agree that FEAR is a pretty scary game, it often seemed like the replica soldiers were more scared than I was. “We can’t stop him!” “Move up.” “No F***ing way!” “Where should I go?”

      1. SolkaTruesilver says:

        I’d like to see that in a game. Kinda like how Freeman could start being scared of the alien at first, eventually, near the end, you conquer this fear, and it’s the aliens who fear you.

        It’d be one of the most satisfying endgame.

        1. Bret says:

          Check out X-Com UFO Defense some time.

          Sure, no plot in the standard sense, but the gameplay totally conveys that particular story.

          Nothing like seeing “Etherial leader has panicked” to tell you you’re a long way from the days of dusting off at the firstt sign of blood.

          You start with the best Earth can offer and feel like you can hardly slow the enemy down.

          By endgame, you’re going to Mars as the bringer of war.

          1. SolkaTruesilver says:

            I played it, and at some point, I agree..

            but “panicking” is a game mechanic. It’s not a story element. How would you feel if, in Half-Life 2, while stepping on the streets at the end of HL2 Episode 2, you see a city watch patrol coming your way, and then stopping, turning around running, screaming: “Oh shit! It’s Freeman!”

            You’d be at the leisure of going after them to gun them down, or just let them go.

            (hell, if I was a game developper, I’d make that squad potentially relevant later on in the game. Maybe they could be used as a temporary buffer against Zombines)

            1. bucaneer says:

              I’d say game mechanics based approach would be more effective here. If the AI was capable of learning your past actions and acting afraid when you’d gained enough notoriety, it would make for a stronger experience than a scripted event. Sure, a text line in the game log is not much, but it’s a step in the right direction.

              1. SolkaTruesilver says:

                So… how about a “dread” rating you build up during the game? Something that the player never get to see, except for the consequences. A mix between pure cruelty, awesomeness and other feats.

                If you kill a Combine soldier in the middle of nowhere, with no withness, your Dread rating won’t change. If you kill an entire military base, well.. it will increase.

                If you shot the combine soldier’s legs, wait for its backup, kill them all in front of his eyes, and let him live –> increased dread.

                Adding psychological warfare to the video game experience. Hmmm… I like your idea, mate.

                1. Max says:

                  Actually Farcry 2 had something similar to this…Okay it wasn’t really all that similar but the general idea was sort of the same. If you did certain mission you could improve reputation, and higher reputation would change the speech of enemies to make them sound more afraid and also they were more likely to run away.

                  It’s a Far cry from the complex system you’ve described but it’s the closest thing I’ve seen in a game so far.

                2. bucaneer says:

                  Exactly. It might even be expanded: in the cases you described, the increased Dread would eventually make enemies run away from mere sight of you, whereas if single soldiers start disappearing mysteriously and are later found dead in dark alleys, it could make others more paranoid – not really recognizing you, but avoiding dangerous-looking places, more easily startled, etc.

                  But this idea is clearly not as innovative or interesting as cover-based shooter #394 or black-white morality rehash #1062, so there’s no chance of anybody working on it.

                3. SolkaTruesilver says:

                  But this idea is clearly not as innovative or interesting as cover-based shooter #394 or black-white morality rehash #1062, so there's no chance of anybody working on it.

                  HA. Dont make any long bets on your cynism.

                  I already have the business model worked out to promote innovative gaming. I just need a strong 1st project to get started, and a way around my lack of technical expertise.

                  I’m a financial, not a programmer. But it doesn’t mean I’m not a big video-game fan, and love innovation and good gameplay.

                4. Max says:

                  These replies are getting out of hand!

                  Solka Truesilver, your optimism and innovative gameplay ideas are inspiring, and it really makes me want to help you with your game idea.

                  problem 1: We are just two random people on the internet with no real reason to trust each other, so working on a project together could be problematic.

                  problem 2: Still in college, for software engineering actually, so maybe some relevant skills for game development, but still means not much time to work on game development until I graduate, maybe a little time during the summer.

                  problem 3: related to 2, still in college so not really any experience in game development. You’ll probably need someone quite skilled to pull off the complex stuff you’ve described here.

                  Good luck getting your games ideas made.

                5. SolkaTruesilver says:

                  Eh. I won’t throw any money into that kind of project before meeting with my potential partners face to face, so that everybody make sure what are the expectations and the strategy we’re gonna take.

                  I know people who might be interested in financing such project, if I have genuinely researched and I can show I will have a market advantage. And to be honest, that’s my biggest conundrum: market exposure. For small-budget (20K$) games, I have to practically compete with over a thousand games published each year. Even if I sell my game 2$ each, I doubt I’ll be able to top 10,000 sales. If I have to consider sales tax, publisher cut, etc… I’ll need more than a mere 10K sales to make my costs.

                  So for now, that’s where I’m mostly stuck. I’ve had a handful of strategies in my mind so far, but the one most likely to work didn’t worked out so far.

                  Luckily for me, that just means my project are postponed. I know I’ll find the perfect opportunity eventually to start with a realistic “bang”. I was considering leveraging the mod community, but there are other legal problems related to that..

              2. Mari says:

                I really, really, really hate to say this. You have no idea how much it hurts me to bring it up. “Fable” had something to that effect. Granted, in “Fable” it never actually affected the storyline, but NPCs reacted to you differently based on a combination of notoriety and how “scary” your appearance was. Even when you did silly things like farting in public, people would shriek a little and shy away if you were notorious and scary enough. I never understood why Molyneux didn’t make it a more integral part of gameplay. It was one of the few truly innovative things in the stupid game and he treated it like a throw-away novelty.

            2. LintMan says:

              Doesn’t something like this happen a bit in the original Half-Life? After the first few encounters with the soldiers sent to wipe out the base, IIRC, you start seeing some messages on the walls like “Die Freeman!” or something, you hear some radio chatter about yourself, and they set up ambushes waiting for you. Or am I mixing up some of the expansion stuff with Adrian Shepard?

              1. ksleet says:

                Yep, that was in the original game. After you’ve been battling the Marines for a little while you start finding a lot of angry anti-Freeman graffiti on the walls.

        2. ksleet says:

          There’s something like that in Ace Combat 4. It’s purely cosmetic, expressed in the overheard radio chatter from the enemy, but it’s still quite satisfying to hear the enemy troops panic and despair when they see your plane. “That insignia… oh no! It’s the Grim Reaper!”

    2. JPH says:

      Am I the only person on Earth who didn’t really find FEAR scary?

      I mean sure, it was scary at first, and it had a fairly strong atmosphere, but after awhile you feel like Superman with the way you’re wiping out all the waves and waves of baddies. To me it felt more like a shooter that every once in awhile pretended to be a horror game.

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Nope,it was pretty blaze for me.

        Though I loved the ai in that game,and think it should be used in every shooter ever.

        1. Irridium says:

          Yeah, the AI was really, really fun to fight. Every time I came across a squad of clones, I actually got happy and excited at the prospect of fighting them.

          That has never happened to me in a game before, or after that.

          1. SomeUnregPunk says:

            I never got scared with FEAR because I would be more focused on game-play than the events.

            I would be one of the many players that would walk by one of those scare events by either not facing it because I was walking backwards/sideways or I keep at eye for new targets to shoot.

            People like me is the reason why games that use scare tactics today tend to take control out of the player and give it to the game developer. They want us looking at the nifty event they spend time to create and not the weapon/item you are thinking of picking up.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              Or they could make ravenholm.Or shalebridge cradle.No matter how focused you are on gameplay there,those places are creepy.

              1. Alexander The 1st says:

                Or the Shadow Temple of LOZ:OOT. Seriously – no matter how much I try and meta-game that level (I would go get the hover boots, then high-tail it to the Spirit Temple and do that first), that place just flat out creeps me out.

                Then Deadhand. Which, in hindsight, sounds like what SomeUnregPunk mentioned about pulling people out of control of the game, except all it really did was *threaten* the user with a lack of control.

                You have the main part of the boss try and chase you do in a circled room, with no distractions like items/chests; well except for the hands that come out of the ground and threaten to grab you and hold you in one place while the main guy attacked you. Of course, the attacking wasn’t scary, it was the lack of control.

                I go frantic every time I fight him. And probably because it *threatened* (I’ve gotten good enough at the fight that I don’t usually get caught) to take control away from you, but didn’t actually *force* a lack of control away from you. If you cutscene spam, the a lack of control isn’t really scary anymore, because you were going to lose it anyway.

                Of course, if you don’t threaten, you become like the Broodmother of DA:O. I agree with Mumbles that the lead up was scary, but the actual fight was…comedic, at best. You could stay at the far end of the room and pelt it with arrows, while occasionally being attacked by darkspawn, which…made it less scary than Deadhand, the nearest looking enemy.

        2. krellen says:

          You wanted the word “blasé”, Daemian.

          1. Nick says:

            You mean he didn’t think it was on fire?

          2. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Yes,yes I did.Thank you.

      2. kikito says:

        same here. Not scary.

        The only game I’ve found scary until now has been Alone In the Dark. The first one.

        Now I see it and laugh. But at the time it was scary.

      3. GTRichey says:

        F.E.A.R. seemed to be two different games. One where you’re a badass taking out waves of soldiers and another where you’re powerless to really do anything (the visions etc.). The second part was fairly frightening, but I guess they had to throw in the badass part so people didn’t get bored (at least that seems to be the likely thought process behind it). It really has the makings of a good horror game but they crammed it into a typical bland shooter.

        1. ccesarano says:

          I’d say this is the problem facing survival horror games in general. People don’t like to lose, and people don’t like being powerless. At least, most gamers. Resident Evil 5 was an attempt to make the franchise more mainstream, and any sense of puzzles and horror are completely gone. It’s an action game where, most of the time, you’re meant to kill anything that comes your way.

          This means that a player must be capable of defeating the game, and clearly so. If you want people to be scared of the game, enemies must be invincible and encourage the player to do anything but fight. But most players won’t do that, and as THQ has shown even if your game sells 1 million in a week it’s not enough to prevent lay-offs.

          I haven’t played much of Silent Hill 2, only about an hour or so, but it seems that game had the right idea. Well, sort of. You fled Pyramid Head because he carried a gigantic sword and seemed to be up to no good. You fled everything else because the combat in the game is like something that crawled out of a vomitorium.

  3. SolkaTruesilver says:

    Shamus, my offer is still up for video-game project, you know.

    If you aren’t interested in programming, maybe you’d like to do the writing/pacing?

  4. Max says:

    I have yet to play Dead Space 2 but from what I remember from the first one, it was basically resident evil 4, but in space. Slightly better combat, but still not the least bit scary. Good to know the second one is basically the same.

    1. Varewulf says:

      The second one is even less scary, if you can believe that. The first one had some moments where things got a little tense. The sequel had… 2, maybe 3? More monsters and more combat seems to be the recipe they went after.

      1. Max says:

        The only parts of Dead Space I remembered being scary were when the parts with the enemy that regenerated limbs and couldn’t be killed in the normal way(now that I think about it Res evil 4 also had regenerators, and it was also the only part of the game to scare me). I guess it was just unsettling because the normal, shoot enemy until he dies, didn’t work and I had no idea what to do at first.

  5. Brandon says:

    I don’t play a lot of horror games, so Dead Space was kind of scary for the first little while, mostly because I had psyched myself into believing it was scary. Like System Shock 2 perhaps. However, it quickly wore off as you get an awesome arsenal of bitchin’ guns, and the jump scares are introduced with a ramp up in the music well before anything jumps out.

    Honestly, I watched my friend play a live stream of Clock Tower for SNES and it was way scarier, even in its pixellated glory. Actually, Yahtzee’s horror adventure games he made are scarier, too.

    1. Chris B Chikin says:

      Yahtzee’s Chzo Mythos series are some of the most terrifying games I have ever played – and they’re in 8-bit graphics. The man is a genius.

      1. Brandon says:

        Yeah, I played through the first two in an afternoon once, and had nightmares for a week, seriously.

        I couldn’t even get through Trilby’s Notes.

      2. Hal says:

        I’m not aware of these games. More information?

        1. Chris B Chikin says:

          Before he became the game critic we all know and love, Yahtzee made a series of 2D horror adventure games with a storyline heavily influenced by Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. You can download them free from the link. The games you’re wanting are Five Days a Stranger, Seven Days a Sceptic , Trilby’s Notes and Six Days a Sacrifice, in that order.

          Don’t worry if you need walkthroughs to complete them, they’re still amazing. Some of his other games are pretty good too.

  6. Specktre says:

    I’ve not played either Dead Space game; I just watched that video you linked and that whole sequence was annoying.

  7. bucaneer says:

    I’m reminded of the time you ranked X-COM among the scariest games of all time. I’m pretty sure an isometric map of some generic town with a single sprite of a Chryssalid within walking distance to (i.e. in the same town as) one of your operatives would generate more sense of unease than the screenshot in the article.

    But then I’m reminded of Rutskarn’s X-COM shenanigans and realize I’d probably laugh instead. In any case, it’d be more evocative, that’s what I’m trying to say.

    1. Bret says:

      It’s the old rule writ large.

      Tragedy is when I lose my favorite squaddie.

      Comedy is when your entire contact team is wiped out by a blaster bomb in a botched base defense, ensuring the extinction of humanity.

      When it’s your stuff on the line, scary. Someone else’s? Funny.

    2. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Its not really scary when you end your turn seeing chryssalid(s) withing walking distance.Sure,its unnerving to know youre team is on the verge of destruction,but not frightening.No,real fear comes when you end your turn not seeing anything threatening,and then a chryssalid pops out from the fog of war,runs to your soldier and you can just impotently watch as the guy gets zombified in front of your eyes,then turning around and attacking the rest of the squad.After that,youll fear every turn where you end up seeing nothing at the end.

      1. Veloxyll says:

        God damn Cryssalids >: ( Most terrifying enemy in video games, RIGHT THERE. (also the reason people are terrified of zombies)

        1. Felblood says:

          Yeah, the scariest moment in videogames is the first time you blow off a zombie’s face and see the crysalid inside, and realize what’s happening.

          It’s not just that dozens of armored, man-eating monsters are multiplying throughout the level, with every second you waste (some of the best time limit based tension in any game). The monster concept is actually pretty chilling on it’s own.

    3. guy says:

      Fear is Guavamoment’s special scenario for his let’s play. One Chyrissalid in sight? Kind of scary. Twenty? GET TO THE CHOPPER! Also scary is seeing civilian movement in a building and then seeing a Chryssalid enter.

      1. Felblood says:

        See, that’s why I always bring a rocket tank. They’re expensive, but you can get them from the start of the game, and they are a must-have for early terror missions, since they can open up the sides of key buildings, and save you the risk of searching them on foot.

        Hopefully, they are on different floors, and the explosion will destroy the stairwell, but until you have plasma or plenty of lasers, a civilian casualty (even with the X2 penalty for friendly fire) is worth not having to kill another crysalid.

  8. Hehe, nice one Shamus and it does make me wonder if they got blinded by their own erm lights. That stuff should have been caught during playtesting. Or maybe the focus group really liked it this way?

    Oh and remembering that Trainz Spoiler Warning a few days ago I stumbled across this one:

    Kudos for the devs for having a logo with boobs in it.
    And that opening scene with the bridge bending in the wind awesome,
    but then we get to the construction, erm….
    And then we see the “simulation” part, I’ve never seen bridges fall apart like that, maybe because bridges are usually welded and riveted together? These certainly do not look like they are. *laughs*

    Shamus, you and the gang should do these intermissions now and again just to break things up a little, and pick some obscure games and experience whacky stuff. the trains one still have me laughing.

    1. Zukhramm says:

      Oh and about Spoiler Warning: When? I miss it. My life is organized around these 15 minute videos and it’s all wrong without them!

      1. Adam P says:

        I’m more interested in knowing what the next game is going to be. I hope it’s Dead Rising 2, because there’s a pink bonnet. It probably won’t be, considering how much of the game is sandbox mayhem.

    2. David F says:

      That looks pretty much exactly like the West Point Bridge Designer, but with better graphics. I used to mess around with that a bit, but I wouldn’t spend money on it.

    3. Topaz Wolf says:

      Those are some intense requirements for a game that works on a 2D plane.

    4. Cerapa says:

      A free bridge builder made in game maker. Enjoy.

    5. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Bridges can fall down in numerous interesting ways,and for quite unimaginable causes:

  9. eric says:

    I felt the same way about the first Dead Space. The second one is even more action-oriented from what I understand, which is just… I mean, okay, I know shooters are popular, EA. I know you want to be the next Gears of War. This “selling action games as horror games/RPGs/strategy games” thing is getting really, really old, though. I have some advice for you guys, and I’m only going to repeat it once:

    Stop. Letting. Your. Marketing. Team. Get. Too. Involved. In. Making. Your. Games.

    By the way, Shamus, did you know that Dead Space was originally planned as a System Shock reboot by EA? I know I’m certainly thankful they decided to change that…

    1. Raygereio says:

      Actually, Dead space 2 isn’t really more action-oriented then Dead Space 1. When it comes to that they’re more or less the same.
      However Dead Space 2 has way more competent controls (on the PC at least), which does make it appear as such.

      Heck, if anything really frightened you in Dead Space 1 it would be the sluggish controls after all.

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        Wait, you mean I *dont* have to wait half a second for the game to get around to my commands? I’m actually interested now!

    2. psivamp says:

      I felt like Dead Space wanted to be a System Shock reboot. It’s NOT System Shock, but the first one was alright.

      I don’t think I’ll ever play the second one because of the ad campaign. Yes. Their marketing lost them a sale.

  10. CruelCow says:

    Putting in an ‘achievement unlocked’ probably didn’t help the atmosphere either :D

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:








      1. Veloxyll says:

        It’s a requirement of Microsoft for X-box developers to have their 1000 achieve points announce when you get them, thus denying companies the ability to build immersion and suspense (though to be fair, Steam does the same thing)

        1. Otters34 says:

          Actually, you can turn off the announcement for getting achievements in the settings menu for your XBox Live account.

          1. SolkaTruesilver says:

            The fact that showing them is the default setting is probably the dumbest thing they could think of.

            If you want people to know about the achievement done, just have them notified next time they open their game. ’cause in an atmosphere game, you need to grab your audience quickly, and any early immersion-breaking is devastating.

            1. Daemian Lucifer says:

              But this is not an atmosphere game.Sure,its advertised like one,but it is just a third person shooter with some horror aspects to it.

              1. SolkaTruesilver says:

                So it TRIES to be an atmosphere game, but fail miserably.

                You cannot step away from that utter failure by saying that “it’s not an atmosphere game”. When you aim for the triple-20 on the dartboard, but hit the double-19, don’t go around bragging about how you succeeded hitting that.

                1. Daemian Lucifer says:

                  It doesnt try to be that.Thats what it is marketed as.Two very different things.It actually is a quite competent shooter,it has imaginative enemies and weapons,plus a few quite nice zero g puzzles.The thing is that marketing decided to focus on its setting instead of its gameplay.Just like if you were to advertise fallout games like “wilderness survival simulators” because they take place in post apocalyptic wilderness.

  11. Phoenix says:

    Scary and startling is a matter of perception. I wasn’t so scared by FEAR for example (although I liked it anyway). And in Dead Space 2 (which I find both scary and startling) I found startling/disturbing the monsters per se (for their look etc…), not the timing (Dead Space 1 was better with the timing perhaps). Maybe I would have enjoyed with a bit less monsters though. Anyway they’re not necessarily lame, they’re not supposed to be completely unexpected. That’s why they’re noisy. It’s a different approach, may or may not work depending on your tastes. Best way to make you really scared is probably in real life and that’s usually not very desiderable.

    There was this adventure game, Dark Fall, which I found very scary but, probably for the nature of the game (point & click) absolutely not startling. Also Thief 3 in probably the most terrifying moment I had with videogames, because it was really absolutely completely unexpected (and that’s the best startling thingy). It was also scary, but mostly in that level. Hell, even forbidden forest of c64 it’s disturbing somehow. Amnesia too, but I didn’t liked it. At a certain point I wasn’t scared anymore by a certain monster and I felt stupid to run from him, I would have fought him. I haven’t even finished the game. Luckily for me dead space 2 wasn’t like amnesia. Also first time in years that I disagree with a rambling of Shamus about videogames :D

  12. Halceon says:

    Funny. Thinking back, the last game I played that really had me scared for a while was AI War. Your very existence depends on the whims of the AI, whatever you do makes it only angrier, more alert and more aware of you. And then the next “incoming wave” message pops up, promising more enemy ships than your ship cap.

  13. dovius says:

    To put it bluntly, when the only place you’re actually somewhat scared is actually the place from the first game, something went wrong somewhere inbetween.
    Although on the whole the game was pretty good, but the first part on the Ishimura up to the sudden attack of the couple of Brutes did actually unsettle me quite a bit.
    This stopped immediatly when a Brute, a monster the size of a truck, managed to sneak either into or behind a crate slightly smaller than itself, and jump-scare me.
    Bye-bye suspense!

    1. Shamus says:

      I didn’t even play the first game, and I still found the Ishimura to be the best part of DS2. They stopped throwing waves of mooks at you and let you wonder about what was going to happen next. It was short, but nice while it lasted.

      1. Jarenth says:

        It’s especially amusing if you have played Dead Space 1, because the game takes special care to take you through some of the worst places that ship had to offer.

        Example: that door with the ghost tentacle. For the non-Dead Space 1 player (aka ‘for you’), that was probably a cheap jump-scare that didn’t really fit. For people who played Dead Space 1 recently (aka ‘for me’) it was an amusing callback to that game, where that tentacle did actually appear, behind that particular door; I was, in fact, so expecting it to appear again, that when it did, I was a strange combination of startled and vindicated. I was expecting an attack that didn’t really occur, and that increased my tension.

        The first ‘decontamination’ session in that one square room was a similar thing. For me, again, it was waiting for a jump scare that never came.

        1. ccesarano says:

          I was just afraid the attack would come in the decontamination room later, and lo and behold it did. The great thing about the Ishimura was that it broke your expectations. “Oh crap, there was some reeeaaaally bad joo joo here in the first game. I bet they’re just going to wait until I’m…oh, wait, no, nothing. How about…no, nothing there either. GOD DAMMIT YOU ASSHOLES, TRY AND KILL ME!”

          Considering how action oriented the game had been up to that point, it was really effective. Then they went right back to their usual predictable methods and blah blah yack yack good action game. Horror? What horror? Dude, Ravenholm was more horror than Dead Space.

  14. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I stopped considering Dead Space 2 a horror game when the one black dude you meet in the entire game died, from that point on I considered it a straight up action game.

    It was pretty darn competent for an action game, giving you a decent variety of guns and enemies on which to use said guns, making puzzles to break up the action but not making them at all complex so they’re really just breathers, giving us cool set piece moments that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood movie (there’s that one scene, when you’re falling from hundreds of feet up, that felt like it was straight out of a really good Iron Man game, right up to went he landed in the Iron Man pose), hell, compared to most action games I’d played that month it was a game of the year contender in that category.

    But horror, well, they weren’t even trying to make it a horror game, otherwise they wouldn’t have tried so hard to keep the action so heated at all times, they would have made exploring an important part of the game, they would have understood that being scared meant being weak, and you are never, at any point in the entire game, weak.

    1. macil says:

      Heh, agreed 100%.

      Dead Space 1 also had quite a bit of shooting — including several *real* boss battles, which were lacking in Dead Space 2.

      I don’t think I ever saw Dead Space as a “horror game”, so much as an action game in a horror setting. How could this NOT be an action game: 6,512 different weapons, lots of enemies with unique behaviors, and VERY solid combat–with your chunky sounds, punchy recoil on weapons, and reactive hit/death animations.

      Just because the game is atmospheric/tense at times doesn’t mean it has to be Silent Hill or System Shock. And I think to judge the game as something like System Shock is in error. Dead Space, both 1 and 2, is a third-person shooter, through-and-through.

      And, to be honest, I love them as action games. Gratuitous violence and swarms of enemies are a staple of Dead Space since the first one. I’ve beaten both several times. I don’t see anything “wrong” with the design philosophy here (not that the game doesn’t have flaws).

      Shamus, if your notion is that a game can be a shooter *AND* be scary, I agree — I think video games are the ultimate artistic medium. However, I think you would require a very different design philosophy and the result would NOT be Dead Space.

      1. Phoenix says:

        I read somewhere that many users complained that this game had too many jump moments and they were too scared and had trouble playing for long time. Now that I think of it, this ad probably it’s a sorta of answer to that.

        Anyway surely it’s not a survival horror because you don’t even have a choice of killing or not killing necromorphs. There are few moments when you have to run away. You’re killing hundred of necromorphs! However that can be said about a lot of games mentioned (few moments to run away). But I prefer this than running away from monsters that I’m not scared about. I’d say it’s action horror, doesn’t mean that scares everyone (like every horror movie). It’s a lot about dismemberement, dying in a lot of different ways, horribly mutated corpses everywhere and a mad suicidal sect. That doesn’t mean that’s stupid or teeny (acting is good), if you aren’t scared by those things it’s probably natural to complain about too many jump moments. I even didn’t noticed so much the “soundtrack monster radar thingy” because I wasn’t really considering those moment that way.

        So it’s about a choice: fear from horribly mutated corpses everywhere or fear for some monsters that you really haven’t the faintest idea? Or a cross between? I like it this way better, since it makes more sense storywise (those things spread fast) and I like the action. It just doesn’t work for everyone. Probably not a surgeon.

  15. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,what about the exploding babies with upside down heads?You had a lot to say about the ghost children in prey,so how did you perceive these little buggers?

    1. acronix says:

      But that was before playing Fallout 3. Maybe he`s suffering from Little Lamplight Syndrome now!

    2. ccesarano says:

      Wait, they had upside down heads? So aside from being a waste of an enemy (we already have the mobile-red-barrel to try and kamikaze you), they’re a Doom 3 rip-off?

      I guess it was supposed to be creepy. I mean, nothing to get someone freaked out like exploding corpse babies amirite?

  16. David Armstrong says:

    An example of less is more:

    The game where I’ve most cared about the unnamed NPCs was “Homeworld”. I would redo entire levels, repeats hours of content, if it meant saving a half-dozen lost Scouts or an Assault Frigate.

    In that game, you never even see a face. All you hear is voices – and you only hear the voices of 2-3 characters. But there are supposedly hundreds of thousands of civilians at stake – all wrapped up in that one big banana boat.

    And so help me, that game grabbed my emotions and wouldn’t let me go.

    1. guy says:

      The Cataclysm expansion was also pretty good about that, especially in the mission that made it clear this was a horror RTS. The in-game cutscene is about a minute long and the screaming starts at around the halfway mark. Actually, something like half the conversations in the game end with screaming.

    2. Zekiel says:

      I really don’t understand how Homeworld managed to have such an involving plot when it basically had pretty much zero characterisation in the whole game. I think there were perhaps two named characters in the whole game, you never saw them, and they never divulged anything about their personalities of history… and yet I found the whole “last remnants of a civilisation trying to return home” incredibly involving. How did this game make me care about it so much!?

      1. guy says:

        The background music and the voice acting. Also, there were three named characters if you count Fleet Intelligence.

        voice acted characters total to: The Bentusi, the ambassador, the emperor, Fleet Command, Fleet Intelligence, the Khar-Selim, the Kadeshi, that named rebel dude, and maybe a couple I’m forgetting.

    3. ccesarano says:

      There’s a few NPC’s in the beginning of Dead Space 2 that end up biting it, and I wound up being completely disappointed and even removed from the game because I couldn’t save them. I understand these moments were an homage to various horror films where random innocents bite it in gory ways, but usually the protagonist(s) try to help them. I didn’t even have the option to do so.

      It would have been more rewarding if saving them was a possibility, just really difficult. I mean, friggin’ Call of Duty 4 has a moment where I can save an NPC if my reflexes are fast enough, and while people tend to complain about achievements seeing that indicator pop-up after saving someone felt pretty good. It made it feel as if I did something that mattered.

      Too bad the franchise hit its peak with CoD4, and too bad studios like Visceral Games couldn’t catch on to such details as that to help deliver a better experience.

  17. guy says:

    I watched a let’s play of Dead Space. As I recall, it did sometimes manage to be genuinely unsettling, and getting killed by a divider head was downright nightmarish (it replaces Isaac’s head). Also, the initial appearances of the monsters were supposed to give vague impressions of a humanoid figure with flashing blades, but they made it so that you could just walk through a part that is only scary if you run through it.

    There was also one time where, if you used an upgrade bench, the game would forcefully remind you that it didn’t pause during such things by spawning a necromorph and having it step into the camera blades-first. It might have been a cheap jump scare, but it was actually effective even for someone watching an LP. Also, on a few occasions they put an actual necromorph corpse (as opposed to one playing possum) down just to pysch you out and waste ammo. It was hilarious to watch.

    Also, at least the original played combat tunes only when you could see an enemy, so you could turn around and discover a slasher all up in your grille, and only then did the music change.

    1. Jarenth says:

      That did have the amusing effect of me knowing there’s an enemy around the corner, stepping around said corner to see it, and the game freaking out (music-wise) for no reason.

      Also that head-kill animation is quite unsettling, yes.

  18. Neil Polenske says:

    You DO realize this is a SHOOTER right? Not survival horror. People who say that are stupid. Stupid, stupid, people. Cause it’s not survival horror. It’s a shooter. Okay?

    Just want to make that clear. Shooter.

    Not horror.

    Kidding aside, this really does smack of wanting a game (or franchise in this case) to be something it’s very clearly not intended to be. Considering that EVERYTHING mentioned applies to the original Dead Space I played on the PC – easily one of the worst console ports I’ve experienced by the way – I’m guessing they have a specific goal in mind and ‘cerebral horror’ probably isn’t part of the plan. This isn’t meant to cater your taste in horror, any more than a teen slasher movie is. For my part, I enjoyed my run of DS1. Unremarkable, but polished and it moved at a good enough clip. I figure when DS3 comes out and Steam has DS2 on sale for under $10 I’ll prolly feel the same way about it.

    Unless it’s still a shitty port, at which point rage will be expelled in copious amounts.

  19. Piflik says:

    9. Add some randomness to the encounters. Not the number of enemies, but when and where they appear…having monsters jump you at different places each time you play the game would add tons of scaryness on the second (third, etc) playthrough…especially if the player knos it is random…this goes with your point 4.

  20. Chris B Chikin says:

    The only Dead Space game I’ve played was the iPhone version. It’s not about Isaac but I understand the plot runs parallel to Dead Space 2. It had some good moments, but seems to suffered from the sae problems I hear people bringing up with regard to the others.

    In the early stages there were some really scary bits. The first time a body gets dragged into an air vent by a claw made me jump (but not the second, third or fourth times) and another moment where I’m running down a corridor and a grotesque face suddenly looms out of the black to superimpose itself on the screen. I actually had to stop running and wait for it to go away. Again, this didn’t work the second time they tried it. There is also a great moment when you enter a room, which then goes into lockdown. You get a new objective which is just “Escape the room”. I turn around to face the door, only to find it not merely locked, but completely gone. It’s just bare wall. I’m stuck in a darkened room full of bodies and Necromorphs and the only exit has inexplicably disappeared. That was some good horror there.

    The iPhone version did pull off the idea of the main character going insane very well, though I don’t know how this compares to the other two. There’s a point where you suddenly see yourself as a Necromorph, and others where you walk up to a person who looks exactly like you, only to realise at the last minute that you’re hallucinating and it’s another necro. Again, these moments suffered where they were repeated.

    EA have some really good stuff in these games – they just need to stop using it multiple times.

    Now, all that said, my main grievance toward the franchise can be summarised as this:


  21. Jarenth says:

    Shamus, two points.

    About #4: This is so ridiculously true; I started using the music as a general-purpose combat indicator after only a little while. It’s baffling that this passed playtesting.

    About #7: Not only was that scene enraging, it also made no sense. They had one support character who had been bossing you around for a while ‘betray’ you, only to kill her instantly. What, exactly, was the point of this scene? To show me pretty much everyone in the Dead Space universe is a jerk? I figured that out the second time some jackass intentionally made Necromorphs, thanks.

    1. guy says:

      I assume she was meant to be an analog for Kendra. Did they set up the betrayal properly? Admittedly, in the original there wasn’t much time between the reveal and the death, but it made previous events clearer.

      1. ccesarano says:

        Concerning that reference, as soon as this woman betrayed me I started to wonder if Dead Space was being written by misogynists.

        Considering the new Nicole twist at the end of this one, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    2. Zukhramm says:

      You just got to have a traitor characters, because stories usually have them, right?

  22. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Interestingly though,when you do review dead space as a shooter,it becomes much better.It has innovative weapons and enemies,and quite a nice upgrade system.So just disregard everything about it being a survival horror,and it suddenly becomes a much more enjoyable experience.

    1. poiumty says:

      Kind of this. I don’t think survival horror is what they were trying to put out, here. Rather a hybrid action/horror with some cheap scares and more accent on gore and violence than tension and suspense.

      I find it odd to see so many people treating this game as a horror game. More so saying it’s bad because it isn’t horror enough. Guys, it’s not Amnesia, the style is closer to Resident Evil 5.

      1. ccesarano says:

        No, they are going for scary, and because there are a lot of people out there that are either easily frightened or just would literally piss themselves reading a Lovecraft story, well, they think they’re doing a good job.

        The job they are doing is, in fact, terrible. They should feel ashamed, but they instead clap themselves on the back. Hopefully they stick with Dead Space, though, and Visceral can forget all about Dante’s Inferno and trying to make a game out of any other classic literature.

    2. dovius says:

      Pretty much my view of the game after the halfway point, and did indeed make it much more enjoyable.

  23. mike says:

    This post makes a great foundation for another “Reset Button” episode.
    I love those videos, Shamus.
    I know they are a big job, but the results are pretty awesome. I guess they might not be so awesome from your perspective – if they aren’t driving new traffic to the blog… :-/

  24. SpammyV says:

    I mostly echo your sentiments numbered 1, 4, and 8; but for a different series: The Dementium games for the DS.

    They know how to make an engine. They know how to make a shooter. And it seems like only half of them knew how to make a horror game. The first one had respawning enemies but finite ammo and health, so it was more frustrating than tense. And the second one… I can see the horror game, but it’s being weighed down by gameplay. I think their focus on providing a game held back the horror elements. The second and fourth chapters were the most atmospheric, going through a deserted, snowy, Silent Hill-esque town and an abandoned mine. The second chapter was the best in the game, as you follow written notes from your wife, trying to avoid “them,” with a growing sense of desperation with each new note. And the most effective moment of the game was when I walked out of the town to the third chapter with the unsettling feeling that I(the character) just killed my wife and daughter.

    I hope they’re making a third game for the 3DS. And I hope that the people who tried to make the second game more atmospheric and less shooty are in charge. If you want to make a monster-killing shooter, make that. If you want to make a horror game, don’t make a monster-killing shooter.

  25. Blake says:

    “I see what you're trying to do, here. You need this character to say their stuff without me blowing their head off. Fine. Have them trap me in an airlock and talk to me over the intercom or something.”

    I haven’t played this game so I’m working on the assumption he’s there to help explain what’s going on/help out?
    I’d like a ‘scary’ game to actually let me accidentally kill the person trying to help me. He shouts “don’t shoot” as you enter the room and starts talking to you, if you kill him suddenly you’re trapped on your own without knowing what’s going on or how to get out. Scariness += 2.

    1. acronix says:

      That would also summon the “I can`t progress, this game is buggy/sucks!” from a lot of players. That`s the reason there`s so much hand-holding lately, I think.

    2. Shamus says:

      Actually, the person is betraying you in a really, really horrible way. Not just betraying you, but wanting to get their hands on the thing that created the monsters in the first place.

      1. Jarenth says:

        Without prior expanation or characterisation, performing this ‘betrayal’ in the dumbest of possible ways, and the entire subplot gets resolved right there and then anyway, by way of a gunship flying past and killing everyone in the room but you. In unneccesarily gory ways, of course.

        1. dovius says:

          The amusing thing being that Despite the fact that the gunship can fire through the windows of a space station, which have to be quite strong to withstand any fast impact of microscopic space debris (which is strong enough to be a decent concern with space shuttles), yet the women takes a bit to actually have a bullet go completely through her despite being unarmoured, and Isaac is able to use another relatively unarmoured guy, AS A HUMAN SHIELD. The hell?

          1. ccesarano says:

            Bullets through space glass is something I can forgive and suspend my disbelief. Logically, most space stations would likely not even have any windows. I’d imaging cameras that transfer data to large displays imitating windows, sure. But windows in space? Ridiculous. Ones as flimsy as the ones in Dead Space? GOD no.

            But when you shoot that window out, watch them buggers fly into the endless vacuum and have to shoot the emergency “close me” button, well, that’s just awesome (also, if the shootable glass REALLY pisses you off, then having the button required to close the back-up hull/window being RIGHT ON TOP must make your brain pop with rage).

            1. angelofrawr says:

              I’d like to meet the designer for that button.
              “So, I’m putting the emergency switch on top.”
              “You realize no one can reach that?”
              “Meh. What’re the odds they’ll need to anyways?”

              1. dovius says:

                This is the exact reason why I pretty much never shoot the windows.
                Also, if a window breaks, I doubt any random civilian is even gonna have time to react before he gets catapulted into space, let alone push a button…which is also perfectly pushable with a laser-gun

  26. Kale says:

    What is it about spaceship glass having such variable plot-convenient properties? If it’s strong enough to protect you from the vacuum of space and all the particles you’re smacking into at, presumably, several hundred miles an hour, it should work just fine to protect you from bullets when your ship isn’t even moving.

    Come to think of it, there’s a few physics issues I could take up with that scene, unless human ingenuity went to some remarkable places after they made the “good enough” space glass.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Sure,but when you have a weapon designed to fight in space,you arent going to use regular bullets at regular speeds.

      1. Kale says:

        Fair enough, but highly suspicious that said bullets don’t do further scenery damage. I can see not trying to bullet through a ship hull when a window is handy, but those things should be ripping up the floor of that ship if they’re really capable enough for space glass. The real reason is obvious, considering the whole ‘game’ aspect of this physical marvel, but still.

  27. Nick says:

    Maybe these new games are “scary” in this way because the scariest games the younger devs have played is Doom 3 and not System Shock.

  28. Noble Bear says:

    Extra Credits cover this already, but I’m gonna retread it cuz its become a pet beef of mine:

    This isn’t real survival horror, its survival horror for HALO players. the last decent s/h that made me feel something was somewhere between RE3 and Fatal Frame 2. Thing is I can forgive a lot if there’s at least *something* about the character or situation I think is interesting but that never happens.

    The thing that bugs me most about this franchise is it feels on a deep structure level that these guys really and truly did work their ass off doing a bunch of research beforehand, but that they learned all the wrong lessons from it thus making it feel like the worst abuses/cliches from the genre rather than those aspects that really made it tick.

    1. ccesarano says:

      I think Visceral is riding on the original creators of Dead Space, who have since left. There’s a number of hints in the design of the sequel that basically show the studio lost track of why certain things were awesome and are just rolling with it.

      Basically, Dead Space 2 is only as good as it is because the people who built the first one had a good idea of what they were doing most of the time.

  29. Lesquille says:

    “3. I know they're called “jump scares”, but they're not really scary. There just startling.”

    Thank you. Survival horror games (and horror in general, really) need to learn this, and learn it good.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      Not just games,movies as well.

  30. Kdansky says:

    The best Dead Space game is *drumroll* on the Wii. Dead Space Extraction is an awesome rail shooter, with great controls. And no, it’s not a shooter with corridors. It’s a real rail shooter, like House of the Dead. Even the jump scares make perfect sense in such a game! Seriously, if you own a Wii and like the universe, get it!

    Also: Dead Space is not trying to be scary. It’s trying to be childishly gruesome. Even the ad campaigns are clearly designed for 14-year olds and HALO fans. It isn’t a game for grown ups, the media should stop treating it like it was. We don’t rant against My Little Pony having shallow characters either, because that’s a waste of breath. Oh, and they should be official about that, but then that would cost them publicity.

  31. Seth Ghatch says:

    So when is the new series of SW coming out? Is it going to be ike two months like last time? Cuz that’d suck, and my hopes are still on FNV

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