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Dead Space 2 producer reflects on the changes and challenges of the sequel


First on the agenda for my meeting with Dead Space 2 executive producer Steve Papoutsis at Comic-Con was an earnest request: better tutorials, please. After all, I had played through the entire first game without realizing that I could press a button to use a medkit -- that I didn't have to open up the onscreen inventory, while being attacked, to heal. "You're not alone," Papoutsis said laughing. "We're currently focus testing some of our tutorials, and believe you me, we've got two that remind you to do that, because you're not alone."

"That was a feature that we were in hot debate over," Papoutsis added, "and many of us, myself included, really pushed for it." Similar discussions have carried over into the development of the sequel, as Visceral Games continues to refine the gameplay. "We're taking it a step further," Papoutsis said of Dead Space 2, "so now, when you're not in combat or aim mode, you'll use one of your stasis recharge items. We've got health and stasis mapped" to a button.

Gallery: Dead Space 2 (7/21/10) | 4 Photos

In the sequel, "Isaac is more responsive, a little bit quicker," according to Papoutsis, plus "animations look better -- everything's just smoother." Additional gameplay tweaks include the ability to reload at any time with a single button press (previously, you had to be out of combat to do so) and the retuning of the kinesis power to be more functional in non-combat situations.

"It's our responsibility to try and do better than what we did the first time."- Steve Papoutsis, producer

Another notable change is the introduction of free movement in zero gravity. In the first game, the player could only jump in a straight line during the zero gravity sections, but in Dead Space 2, jets on Isaac's suit allow you to rotate and move anywhere in dead space. "That's actually an idea from the first game that got cut for production time," Papoutsis explained, so the team made its implementation a priority for the sequel. "What you get out of it is more freedom, clearly, but we also have more interesting setups, where we can send the player through navigation puzzles that are a little bit more dangerous or scary because of that. Also, it gives you the opportunity to shoot while moving, which you couldn't do with the previous one."

Of course, there are also more explicit differences between the first game and Dead Space 2. Most obvious, the setting has changed from the Ishimura mining ship to the Sprawl, which Papoutsis described as "a full, thriving space city" -- where "you're going to encounter the locations that you might see in our world." These experiences with the familiar will be used as setups for big thrills. "If you watch any good horror movie, chances are they're tapping into some sort of instinct you have about a location," like a church or a dark hallway. "And in our case," Papotusis added, "the game makers are able to actually play on that and create tension and scares."

Papoutsis is well aware of the pressure on Visceral to exceed the accomplishments of the first Dead Space. As an original IP, that game succeeded, in part, because critics and consumers had few expectations. Now, as the Dead Space franchise has grown to encompass the Extraction spinoff and a host of transmedia projects, there's an established fan base that is hoping for a new highpoint in the series. "What we've done is special, people are very passionate about it, and it's our responsibility to try and do better than what we did the first time."

"We're measuring ourselves against the last game," Papoutsis summed up, "and if it's not better than that, we need to go back and work with it until it is."

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