Ben Wanat

Dead Space is a third-person shooter video game, the first in a series. It is brutal, horrific, and, in its own way, very Lovecraftian. The story is essentially an expanded, protracted version of Alien: A rescue ship answers the distress call from a gigantic mining ship, a planet-cracker named Ishimura, that is orbiting a newly discovered world. When the rescue crew get on board, they find signs that something horrible has happened. Isaac Clarke, an engineer, gets separated from the rest of the crew during an attack by monsters that bear a faint resemblance to former Ishimura crew members. Using various mining Scan 2 Ben Wanattools as weapons, Isaac must move through the ship, restoring power and correcting errors in the hope that he and his friends will be able to escape the ship. Along the way, he is continually attacked by swarms of these monsters, and the only way to stop any of them is to cut of their limbs.

There are at least a dozen kinds of different creatures on the prowl, and as the story advances, we find that an ancient alien artifact was brought up to the ship by the mining crew. Rumors of its existence have existed for hundreds of years, and a religion, Unitology, has grown up around those rumors. The fundamental belief is that the marker will confer immortality. Well, that’s kind of true. It spreads an intelligent infection that reanimates corpses into Necromorphs. Some become bat-like infectors, others sprout scorpion tails and enormous tusks, still others become huge, fat, wobbly creatures with scythe like arms. Be careful how you kill them, because they are really pregnant; blow open that fat stomach and you’ll be devoured by spawn. My personal favorite for shivers are the guardians, bodies that Scan 6 400x289 Ben Wanathave attached themselves to the walls with large fleshy masses; they expel  missle-shooting flesh-lumps from an opening in their midsections as well as attacking with a long tentacle that snakes out from the same opening. The whole time, the remnants of the human is screaming as if in great agony.

Like movies, video games are the product of a huge number of creative people. Ian Milham the art director, was the guy in charge of wrangling this large crew and keeping the look consistent, and he did a helluva job. All of the design work is first rate, but I want to focus in particularly on the work of Ben Wanat, who, at least according to the book, The Art of Dead Space, did the bulk of the work designing the Necromorphs. I’d love to see more of the actual development of the creatures, as he said in an interview on games radar that some of the creatures went through as many as 20 iterations.(The final designs would, I think, have scared even HPL. All of his trademark concepts are embodied in these monstrosities, whether acknowledged or not.)

Want has worked on a lot of games, including Dead Space 2, the Lord of the Rings games, From Russia with Love and others I’ve never heard of, but from what I’ve seen, he is one of the finest creator of Lovecraftian beasties I’ve ever seen. I’d love to see him art direct del Toro’s At the Mountains of Madness or a full-length version of The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

At any rate, the gallery includes a number of Wanat’s concept paintings and a few pics from the actual game.There are three excellent featurettes here that feature footage from the game as well as interviews with principals from the production team. Unfortunately, Ben Wanat isn’t included.

^ 5 Comments...

  1. Dumb post

    Does one detect a Serpieri influence?

  2. Dr Monkeyface

    Just to chuck another connection in. As part of the story, theres a corpse you come across of an engineer called Howard Phillips in Dead Space 2.

  3. lovecraf

    Gotta look for that! Thanks!

  4. Mike Fang

    I once skimmed over an interview with the game’s creators and in it, they said they drew influence from a number of sources, including the “Aliens” franchise and John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”

    Myself, I’ve played both Dead Space and Dead Space 2. While the games do have a creepy, unsettling atmosphere, I’m not sure I can truly call them scary. As well-known game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw has said, the game(s) relies heavily on jump scares which can become rather predictable. The voiceless nature of Isaac (at least in the first game; in No.2 he gets more of a personality) makes him hard to sympathize with besides the fact that you wouldn’t wish his predicament on anyone (except maybe the people who beat you up in high school, ba dum tish).

    All this isn’t to say that Dead Space or its sequel are -bad- games, in my own opinion. I just don’t think they’re very scary games. Their plots are well developed and detailed, they do have an atmosphere of hostility and make you feel like you’re trying desperately to survive against overwhelming odds and the game mechanics are well done and easy to learn.

    Incidentally, if I could recommend a truly scary game, with a VERY Lovecraftian feel to it, I would have to say “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” For added effect, I highly recommend playing the game with the lights off and wearing headphones. Really, if you want a game that feels like it was written by the Gentleman of Providence himself, get that game. Right now. I mean it. Stop reading this and get it. What are you still doing looking at this message, GO GET IT!

  5. lovecraf

    I suppose it depends on how you define ‘scary.’ I agree that there are lots of those ‘jump out from behind a corner” type scares in Dead Space, butI can say that about most of the games I’ve played, whether survival horror or not, It’s a trope even in most modern horror movies. For that matter, Alien has a lot of moments like that and is none the less a scary movie. I think I respond more to the creepy atmospherics and the decidedly unsettling monster designs. The tension created by the sets and the knowledge that one of these deformed sacks of dead flesh could be waitng around any corner creates a pretty steady sense of tension.And finally, I took Isaac’s total lack of characterization to be a way of letting the player really become the character. I know it worked for me, as I was cussing those squirmy sonabitches at every turn, and my responses to Kendra’s constant refrain of, “Oh. just one more thing…” are printable here. In my short life as a gamer, I see this technique is used often, Master Chief has no personality, nor does Jack in Bioshock. There’s opportunity for more characterization, as 1n Arkham Asylum, ;Batman has a simplistic yet suitable characterization; I get a kick out of Marcus Fenix in Gears of War, but he won’t ever make my list of most memorable characters.

    I went straight to eBay to look for Amnesia and only found a PC version available, I have a Mac and an Xbox and I’m not going to put out for more hardware. But there’s supposed to be a mac version and I will definitely track it down. It sounds terrific. Thanks for tipping me off about it.