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Occasionally while surfing the interwebs, you’ll stumble upon a Cool Thing from a few years back that you absolutely missed in the moment, but is both fascinating and painfully applicable now. I failed to notice that this post I love is from 2014, so while some of the examples are slightly dated, playing the associated game is still a frustrating experiment in awareness.
So let’s play Male Protagonist Bingo.
Ah, Dead Space. A few flaws aside, Visceral’s grand tribute to sci-fi horror tropes was a rock solid little game that, nearly a decade later still holds up very well, especially in terms of visuals. Two parts Resident Evil 4, one part System Shock and with a twist of Event Horizon to taste, it’s a stern blend that still has what it takes to mix it up and leave players feeling a little shaken.
As part of their continuing On The House range, EA are giving away the first in the series completely free, so long as you buy it via their own storefront, Origin. Once you’ve tagged the game, it’s yours to keep forever, and it should be available for the next month or so if you’re not feeling too quick on the draw. Still, best to click that button sooner rather than later.
Dead Space, EA's 2008 game of weed-whacking in space, is really good, but the PC version is a little wonky, specifically with regard to the mouse control. Disabling vsync and futzing around with the sensitivity can dramatically improve things, but out of the box it often suffers mouse lag, weird sensitivity, and other issues that can make it feel anywhere from "off" to nigh-unplayable. Keep that in mind when you snag it from Origin, where it is currently yours for the taking, for free.
Developed by the sadly now defunct Visceral Games, Dead Space tells the tale of Isaac Clarke, a heavy-handed sci-fi reference and engineer aboard the USG Ishimura, a massive "Planet Cracker" spaceship that falls foul of the Marker, a mysterious relic of Unitology—basically the Scientology of the future.
Trouble is that the Marker actually has power: It turns people into ravenous, hideously-deformed zombie-type creatures called Necromorphs, which of course doesn't keep the brainiacs in charge from bringing the thing aboard the sealed environment of the ship.
Things go predictably sideways, and it falls to ol' IC—who by the way is also suffering from hallucinations and appears to be in the midst of a total psychological breakdown—to clean things up, with nothing more at his disposal than a futuristic Black and Decker set.
It sounds silly, but it really is good stuff —and you can't beat the price right now. As with all of Origin's 'On the House' offerings, it will be free until it's not (it will eventually go back to $20 but EA doesn't say when On the House freebies expire) and if you grab it during the giveaway, it's your to keep forever.
EA's classic sci-fi horror game Dead Space is currently free on PC via Origin.
For those poor souls unfamiliar with Dead Space (no judgement - it did come out ten years ago, after all), it's an honest-to-goodness big-budget, single-player horror yarn - the kind that pretty much never gets made any more. It follows the exploits of unfortunate space engineer Isaac Clarke on the stricken USG Ishimura - a vessel with a rather serious... infestation.
What transpires is a genuinely nerve-wracking third-person horror escapade, which tonally lands somewhere between the straight-up terror of Ridley Scott's Alien and the gleefully gruesome haunted-house-in-space hijinks of Event Horizon.
Dead Space 2 sees you reprise your role as Systems Engineer Isaac Clarke three years after the horrific events on the USG Ishimura. Expect more of same atmospheric horror and monster-stomping action, only this time around, Clarke's a little less taciturn when he encounters more of those murderous Necromorphs.
If you've never explored the original game, you can add that to your library for cheap, too. The Dead Space bundle—which boasts the tense prequel, too—is available for just £3.74, a whopping 81 percent off its usual retail price.
Last month EA closed Visceral Games, the studio behind Dead Space and Battlefield Hardline. Electronic Arts' vice president Patrick Soderlund confirmed the closure and confirmed that the design direction of Visceral's Star Wars project will undergo a "significant change."
In the words of one plucky commenter on the Dead Space 2 customer reviews page, "Don't be sad that it's over, be happy that it happened."
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The environments of massive open-world games, particularly in recent years, have been rightly praised for their representation, scale and design accuracy. However, there are some gems at the other end of the spectrum - environments that make you feel cramped, tense and desperate for a break. This is an approach to environment design utilised in our real-world, from gardens to architecture, and is mirrored excellently in some game environments, creating areas that trap us in cramped, claustrophobic conditions.
The underground tunnel network of the Metro series, adapted for human life but traversed with trepidation and tension, nailed its own post-apocalyptic look and feel, and had claustrophobia, discomfort and fear oozing from its design. These spaces successfully evoke real-world design principles of landscape mazes and labyrinths, such as dead ends, twists and turns to cause doubling back and elevate desperation, fluctuating size and scale of spaces, and a continuous and monotonal finish (a symphony of grey in Metro's case) that makes every surface and area look the same, but also makes for an unrelenting and repressive aesthetic.
Often, the spaces are not only characteristic of uncomfortable mazes and tunnels, but their disrepair and crumbling structure means they have a constant feeling of pressure and weight about them: the feeling that, at any moment, the space could collapse on top of Artyom's head. The tunnels are also powerful spaces as they are a believable and familiar environment to us; adapting a real-world, recognisably claustrophobic environment makes for a powerfully uncomfortable virtual space.
Electronic Arts closed the doors on Visceral Games yesterday, bringing to a close the studio whose (relatively) recent work includes Dante's Inferno, Army of Two: The Devil's Cartel, Battlefield Hardline, and the Dead Space series. Following the announcement, Zach Wilson, who worked briefly at the studio as a designer on Hardline, took to Twitter to offer some thoughts about where it all went wrong.
Wilson's opening tweets say it all:
In follow-ups, Wilson said that he's "back of the napkinning" the numbers, but added that they're close to the real thing. "I don't know the exact marketing budget but they're frequently close to the dev cost (I have heard this anecdotally)," he wrote.
Sky-high budgets are also why developers are launching their own digital storefronts, rather than simply relying on the simpler and far more ubiquitous Steam.
"Do you hate uplay? Well, the pub gets 90% of the $$$," he tweeted. "EA makes $30 per copy after retailers and console makers take their cut. Then consider that a chunk of the game was sold on sale ... Through Origin they get 90%"
Wilson's tweets don't directly address the reasons for Visceral's closure, but they do paint a very grim portrait of the state of the business, and the extent to which major publisher releases are either big hits, or big busts. If a mid-tier game like Dead Space 2 can knock out four million copies and still be considered underperforming (and keep in mind that EA reported two years after its release that the original Dead Space had sold roughly half that number), then the bar is incredibly high. Any new project that looks like it won't be a huge hit, or won't have a long tail via microtransactions and DLC, suddenly starts to look like a risk from that perspective.
And if, on top of that, the game in question appears to be in trouble, as Kotaku suggested in its report of Visceral's closure yesterday, then risk-averse publishers (which is to say, all of them) aren't likely to wait too long before they take action.
EA have just announced that they’ll be “ramping down and closing” Visceral, the studio behind the Dead Space trilogy. Visceral have been working on an untitled Star Wars project, described as an “action-adventure”, and Amy Hennig, formerly of Naughty Dog and Crystal Dynamics, moved to the studio in 2014 to work on that project as senior creative director. EA’s statement regarding Visceral’s closure suggests that they’re unhappy with the status of that game and they plan to “pivot the design” to fit “fundamental shifts in the marketplace”. Full statement and thoughts below.