“The bloodiest, sickest game from EA”

On Wednesday we hung out at Electronic Arts all day long getting to know the team of Dead Space, a new horror survival shooter-style game that has already won a bunch of awards at industry conferences (it won best new action/adventure game at the recent E3 conference).

I recorded a couple of videos with my cell phone, but the really good stuff will come in about two weeks (we’ll be headed out to New York next week to meet with FastCompany team members). Unfortunately getting a cell phone video out of EA was very hard, I hear Qik.com has a new version coming soon that’ll fix the problems when you are in a low-bit-rate situation like I was on Wednesday.

Here’s a talk with team members while they watch the first group test the game (there were a bunch of game industry journalists and bloggers there to play the game for the first time). Love it when they say “this is the bloodiest, sickest game from EA.”

When one of the key technologies is a “dismemberment algorithm” you know this is a scary game.

This tester, a gaming journalist for GamingBits.com, said that the audio is “just scary.” You get to see him play a little bit of the game in this video, where he died for the seventh time in a row in the same spot.

Some things I learned.

1. Artist Ben Wanat is one demented dude. I wonder what his nightmares are like. Cause the drawings he was showing us were pretty damn scary! (He did a lot of the original art that turned into what you see on screen). In this video Ben comes on and gives you some of his thinking behind the art. Sorry it’s so poor quality video, but I only had my cell phone ready for this and only had an 80 kbps connection to get video out.

2. They have a new lighting engine that lets them have many more light sources than any other game they’ve done. The technology behind that is pretty interesting. One thing I learned: the average movie has six hours PER FRAME of computer time to render a movie, but in a video game they have about 30 milliseconds to render a frame.

3. The process of making a game, getting it sold to executives, and built out is an interesting one. First a small team of artists and creative people get together and build the concept of the game. Draw out a ton of art to show what the feel and look of the game will be. Then they build a prototype for a small slice of the game to give executives a sense of what the game will do and the market it’ll go after. Only then do they get a green light to build the game out totally and take it to market.

4. This is a big game with about 100 people working on it. They wouldn’t give me investment figures, but when I worked at Microsoft I heard that a game of this calibre could cost about $10 million or more to produce.

5. This is the first game that I’ve seen where humans are starting to look good in the game. They said they spent a lot of time in image capture (where an actor wears a suit that digitizes movement) to get that part right.

6. Dead Space is aimed at an older crowd, not a game for young kids. It is very scary and lots of Alien-style creatures.

7. They say that a game of this calibre can only be done in a few places in the world because they need a combination of both entertainment expertise as well as geeks who can build the technology underneath the game.

8. I asked several EA employees about working conditions (and even got rid of the PR people to have some good conversations) and they say that the attitude of management toward work hours has dramatically improved but still could be improved more. For those who don’t know, an anonymous blogger called EA Spouse, wrote that she never saw her husband because he was asked to work so many hours. That led to a lawsuit and changes inside the company. I even heard that the test team has a bet with the dev team that they won’t be forced to pull an all-nighter to get the game out. Nice to see that a little attention out here on the blogs led to what seems to be major changes internally. I also really appreciate being able to hang out for more than a day with all sorts of employees without having PR accompanying us everywhere, that’s a testament to how things are going too.

Anyway, looking forward to showing you more when we get our editing done.