Feature / The art and design of Dead Space

One of the most interesting things to see with a game that has taken almost three years to develop is how it has evolved from its original conception to the game it is now. One of the best ways to see this change is through the concept art of a game. So when we all went in for a presentation by Ian Milham and Ben Wanat during the community day EA held recently, the Art Director and VFX/Creature Designer for Dead Space, respectively, I was ready to see something that was a bit different from the final product. However, the first images Milham showed us weren’t just a bit different, they looked like an almost completely different game, especially noting that scary Japanese eight-year-old girls were being tossed around when the two artists first came on the game. Thank god they scrapped that idea quickly.

Early designs for the game showed a huge city with neon lights and bright colors. The scheme of the entire game looked open and almost welcoming. Think Blade Runner, but with a slightly more colorful edge. As Milham pointed out, it just wasn’t scary, weird or creepy. After showing us the really early concept art we got the chance to see the evolution of the game’s design from its evolving color scheme to its gothic architectural design influences. You can see several examples of this in the concept art in our gallery here. One of the main goals for the design team was keeping everything realistic, so that people could believe they were actually walking around in this world. Thus there are plenty of supports and actual architectural designs that make the game world look like it could actually exist. Also, the inclusion of fire extinguishers that look like fire extinguishers help to ground the player in reality, which I called BS on until I remembered that I had a mental note of there being fire extinguishers when I was playing the game earlier.

The art for the monsters on the other hand went the exact opposite way, in that I really hope I never see any of these things in the real world. Originally, the design started around just basic, nasty looking creatures, but as the concept for the game started to develop, the idea that the creatures are horribly mutated human bodies became far more prevalent. There is some really cool artwork for the creatures, many of which didn’t get into the game, and it’s pretty disturbing. Even more disturbing though was Wanat’s claim that some of the smaller creatures, which still looked like balls of pulsating flesh, we’re actually kind of cute. I guess it takes a certain kind of mind to develop a monster whose stomach is ripped open and arms are coming out of it, and that kind of mind finds baby fetus monsters cute.

You’ll also notice that there are plenty of detailed mock-ups of the guns and other technology in the game. The designers went to some pretty great lengths to flesh out almost every part of every weapon. We even got to look over the blueprints for the USG Ishimura, the spaceship most of the game takes place on. The guys at EA Redwood wanted to make sure that all the guns were designed well down to the last detail. I don’t know if it truly makes a difference but I can tell you that most of the weapons in the game don’t function or look like anything I’ve ever seen. Of course that’s because they’re all mining tools, right? Yea, that’s the reason a mechanic has them on him. It makes total sense.