This is the survival-horror game that debuts on Halloween and is EA’s bid to create a cross-platform franchise. EA will be releasing a comic book series, animated TV show and video game based on the same DeadSpace universe.
The blood and gore surprised me. We’re talking a spray of blood shooting out of the alien creatures as you shoot them aboard a gigantic space mining ship. You walk by a bloody and disembowled creature lying on an operating table while another creature is operating on it. It was like a scene out of BioShock, the best-rated game of last year from Take-Two Interactive. And you can die an inglorious death as a creature rips your head off and tears off your limbs. One of the most prominent people in the game industry (who shall remain nameless) was laughing his head off as we watched this scene together.
That’s tame for this mature-rated genre of games and even for movies like “Saw.” But for Electronic Arts, one of the biggest video game companies in the world that built its name on family-friendly fare, it’s quite a departure.
Blood has always been an issue with video games. The Ensemble Studios team had a big debate over the presence of blood in the first “Age of Empires” game published by Microsoft. The big companies have been pulled, kicking and screaming, by game developers who push the edge in order to satisfy the bloodlust of the gaming public. In order to get a teen rating on its “Medal of Honor” games, EA never had blood, or at least had very little of it. That ensured the widest possible audience.
But it’s a new era at EA. The studios under CEO John Riccitiello are operating as independent city states. They get to do what they want, as long as they deliver. Mike Quigley, vice president of marketing for EA’s EA Games Label, which is marketing DeadSpace, talked to me about the dilemma.
EA is in the business of selling lots of games and it doesn’t want to artificially restrict its market with design decisions. He said EA’s corporate side didn’t want to interfere with developers on this game, although he did let the development team know that the game is likely to be banned in Germany.
The pace of the game isn’t a crazy shooter, like the “Doom” series. Rather, it’s slower. It builds fear and anticipation in the gamer about what’s just around the corner, the way a good horror film does. I found it to be relentlessly tense, though some of the aliens did look a little too much like opossums to be entirely scary. Gamers have also spoken. They’re not as happy with the vanilla mainstream games anymore. They want edgy, as the hot sales of Grand Theft Auto IV suggest.
I asked one of the developers about the blood. He said, “This is the reason I stayed at Electronic Arts. This is the game I wanted to make.”
So now you can see the politics of blood. It might offend mainstream gamers, but it appeals to hardcore fans. Hardcore developers really want to make games that have it. But corporations have to walk a tightrope, facing either developer defections or the wrath of parents.
We’ll see how the market receives this one come Halloween. But the game is already a testament to the style of leadership under EA’s new chief executive. And it tells where the game industry, and our own society, are heading.