Interview / Dead Space and No Known Survivors

When you talk with most marketing people about a game, or really anything for that matter, they do a good job of feigning excitement over the product, but most of the time you can tell they’re just doing their job. However when it comes to Andrew Green and Ben Swanson, the Online Marketing Manager and Community Manager (respectively) for Dead Space, it’s quite obvious to see that they have an actual passion for the game itself. Not only were they as excited as a toddler with a new toy when they were showing us everything at the Dead Space Community Day, but they’ve gone ahead and created an entire interactive, web-based story for Dead Space over at NoKnownSurvivors.com. If you haven’t heard of it you can fill yourself in here.

We got a chance to talk with Andrew about the site and how it’s bringing new ideas and technology to web-based storytelling along with filling out even more of Dead Space‘s already expansive world. Ben unfortunately couldn’t join us for the chat, but his influences are all over the site too as both guys poured a serious amount of effort into making No Known Survivors one of the scariest experiences on the web. Oh, and in case that isn’t enough to get you over there, Andrew has informed us that starting with the second story, everyone who signs up via the aptitude test will be getting $5 off their purchase of the game at the EA store. Read on for possibly more than you ever wanted to know about Dead Space, storytelling via the web and why the game’s release was moved forward two weeks.

Matthew Razak (TVGB): How did No Known Survivors come about?

Andrew Green (AG): Ben and I came to EA, and the dev team was really passionate about the game and I come from marketing horror stuff anyway. I used to do Miramax J-horror stuff anyway and we are just really passionate about horror, and really wanted to do something that gives back and gets people into the world of Dead Space. We knew the dev team was really into fleshing out the world with the comic book and the animated film and we decided to take it another step further.

When you’re coming out with a new IP, we didn’t know if it was going to catch on so early. We had all this great story stuff we were working on and then the game got so hyped at E3 that we questioned if we need to do it anymore. But what we realized is that as long as you’re doing something of value, people get really into learning more about the side stories of the crew. Mostly it was because we wanted to do something really rich in narrative. We hadn’t seen that done really well. Once we knew we had that capability to do that stuff in 3D, we decided to go for it.

TVGB: You’ve pushed this as a somewhat revolutionary form of web based storytelling. How so?

AG: Most early web-based storytelling has been done through text. It was either all text-based, which is pretty linear, just like a book – so that isn’t very revolutionary. Then the next step was flash animation, and we know where that went. And then when video got big, people were doing webisodes in video. It’s all still linear and expository. And then you have an ARG, which I thought was a bit revolutionary, so you have a storytelling mechanism that isn’t linear and immerses people in the world, but the problem with it is there is a huge barrier for the entry. So it really only targets a real die hard fan and internet person. What makes what we’re doing revolutionary, though that’s a strong word, is that we tried to bridge the gap between living in fiction and making more of an old adventure game like Myst. It’s a lot more accessible and you don’t have to go from one place to another to figure it out. There still is a barrier, so people aren’t sure how to jump right in unless you know the point and click stuff, but it’s way easier than an ARG.

TVGB: What about the technology behind it? The Papervision 3D technology?

AG: We’re using a new technology with Papervision that is rendering something that’s real. We’re taking the game assets themselves and putting them in flash and people can interact with them on the web. There’s a big learning curve for it and I think we’re learning a lot with it. I think what we did isn’t accessible enough and eventually we’ll be able to make it more accessible. The fun part is that it is truly interactive story telling.

TVGB: The story going on right now is pretty interesting and definitely creepy. Did you guys come up with it or was there a lot of input from the dev team?

AG: Ben and I came up with an original set of stories and they were totally different than this. One was about going to this art gallery and you were going to click on paintings and you’d see the timeline of Earth’s destruction, and we were going to do one that was more directly in line with the animated feature that was the relation between the captain of the Ishimura and his wife. The thing that Ben really liked was the relation between the wife and the captain and how it morphed. And then we had another one about how do you create a mining ship and it would go into a presentation.

All this sort of weird stuff and I’m actually glad the dev team came in and said, “We like these aspects but these are the things that we really want to touch on.” We went through about ten iterations before we got the two stories we have now. The first story was all pretty much Ben, and then I added some color to it and then we had our agency, called Deep Focus, came up with a lot of the little content pieces and add in depth. Anthony Johnston, the guy who did the comics, actually fleshed out all of the treatments.

TVGB: So we have a series of comic books, an animated film and two web-based stories. Why do you think Dead Space has such a large amount of background where other games usually have almost none.

AG: There is this belief of mine that any world can be fleshed out if you’re passionate about it. A good example is Gears of War, there could have been a lot to flesh out but they didn’t go that far into it, and then in the game itself they really didn’t flesh it out. There’s all this stuff that you don’t know about and they don’t answer. The reason we could do this with Dead Space is that the developers delivered to us a back story document and that had 500 years of history that they took months to develop. They took all of that time to flesh out the world beforehand themselves.

You learn a lot about the history from something like that. Like in episode 1.3 you learn about the Earth falling about. I’ve never worked with a dev team that’s been so passionate. And for us, I work in online marketing, and it’s usually difficult to get excited about stuff, but you can, and we got really passionate about creating something with this game. It’s all driven from passion and the fact that there was already a place to start from. The last thing I would say is, if you look at any world that has passionate people interested in it, you can always go deeper into it. Look at Star Wars. That was three movies and everyone jumped in and created a universe.

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