Notes on DS3

NOTES on Dead Space 3. October 2013

I am about 65 percent through Dead Space 3. That’s taken 30 hours. I hated the new auto-save feature for the first 6 hours. Some of the checkpoints are also a bit mean. An example is the shuttle refueling sequence. The engines start up and Isaac has to escape from the launch area. There are fires, a ladder, 3 lifts and a herd of necromorphs – including two of those ones that regenerate. If killed at any stage of this sequence, Isaac is sent back to the beginning. Once he clears the launch area he rides a lift up to a different room. Now he has to blow some explosive barrels out of the blast doors using a laser canon while necromorphs drop from the ceiling. I tried this a few times, Isaac died, but it is fun blowing things up with a laser cannon so I didn’t mind (much better than the asteroid game in the earlier DS). Then it was time to quit out of the game. So I did. When I reloaded it later, the game took me right back to the start of the rocket refueling/escape the launch sequence. That’s just cruel. This was not the first time that the auto-save had caused problems.  Dead Space 3 and I nearly parted company at this point.

Continued under the COMMENTS section of this post.

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One Response to “Notes on DS3”

  1. playhouse Says:

    But I’m glad that I kept going because am really enjoying the middle/later section of DS3. Game FAQ and DS forum are filled with complaints about the auto-save. Once you get used to it, its OK. Perhaps the designers wanted to control tension, pacing or the level of challenge – but it feels more like it was to allow for the co-play option (because it does not add anything to solo play). There are stories on the internet that the co-play option was added half way through production, and that things like having generic rather than weapon specific ammunition was a late decision imposed on the designers (and that the production process was fraught).

    The auto-save and the co-play feature both have implications for analysis. Isaac can team up with another character (in the guise of Carver), so the question is: how well can I know the game, if I’ve not played it through in co-play option? Not tempted at all – part of Isaac’s fate is that he always ends up alone. There are several points when the non-player characters (Ellie, Jennifer Santos, Robert Norton, John Carver) arrange to meet up with Isaac. When Isaac does catch up with them, the terrain implodes (bridges are blown up, monsters erupt out of the ice, ladders fall down) and Isaac is dumped elsewhere and alone again. He usually yells out something like ‘no, I’m fine, you go on, I’ll catch you up’. He’s game. I like the dialogue and characterization in DS3 so far. When Isaac finds out that he is going to have to enter the guts of a frozen necromorph to use a device, he just says ‘oh. Good’. So he is better company than he was in DS2. Also his problems are more external now (he is not being messed with from the inside as well as the outside). Actually this time around he gets to invade the monster. He has gone into monster guts twice so far.

    So the biggest hurdle initially was getting used to the auto-save. It made managing the inventory more difficult – plus it felt as if someone was turning the pages of a book that I was trying to read.
    Another problem is that it saves all game progress to a single slot. You can’t save different chapters to different blocks or slots in order to re-play specific sections. After playing a game through once or twice I would usually pick a section for close work and replay it. I am not sure that is an option with DS3, although I’ve now noticed that there is a chapter unlock option in the load screen, so that might offer a work-around (depending on how/where it saves – hopefully not over the saved game slot…)

    I will worry about that later. But the way that DS3 saves has raised questions about analysis and method and this raises other questions about just how long it takes to know a game thoroughly. At my current rate it looks like it will take me 50 hours to play DS3 through a first time. I am having a good time. I only repeat sections when I have to (when Isaac is fried, frozen or decapitated). But I have been wondering about the practical side of analysis and how different analysts manage the scale of games. This ties to other questions about game selection in the context of research – because I’ve played other games through over the past few months that I am not interested in writing about (Resident Evil 6) or that I was not even interested in playing for more than an hour (Binary Domain). Plus I’ve played other games that I really like – Walking Dead (Telltale’s version) but I’m not sure they fit the project. It just feels that there is more to say about Dead Space, and Dead Space 2 (gaze, eyes, perception, grief, altered states) and perhaps Dead Space 3 (landscapes, science fiction). I really enjoyed Resident Evil 4 (and wrote about it) but have no interest in trying to write about RE5 or RE6. Is that a problem? Would it be more ‘scientific’ to design some kind of sample and then subject each game in the sample to a specified procedure? I guess it depends on what you were proposing to investigate.

    I played RE4 on consoles but I also played the PC version to make screenshots for presentations, etc. I can’t replay DS3 for another 30 hours to get to the sections I’m playing now in order to make screenshots, and so I am taking photographs. This is weirdly enjoyable and pleasantly weird – like I am on holiday with Isaac and every so often I’m asking him to pose in front of a particularly striking view. This is how I found out that if Isaac is left standing for a few minutes, he has a little set of poses that he runs through.

    So Isaac has been posing in front of giant frozen Necromorphs and alien sky-scapes. In DS3 Isaac goes outside! There are fabulous scenes on the planet that reference mid century science fiction illustration (lurid double suns, etc.) that would be nice to discuss in relation to Sobchack’s sections on inner and outer space and alien landscapes in chapter 2 of Screening Space (the ‘geography’ of science fiction, 1993 p 94), including the sections where she discusses science fiction as a play between the wondrous and the mundane (from page 88) – which she describes as ‘a visual tension unique to science fiction’ (p 89). DS3 does pair bright alien snow-scapes, with dark rusting interiors and crusty dormitories. Also, she speaks about the ways that SF film manages or domesticates awe (p 104) ‘The first way is through repetition of the alien image so that it becomes familiar (and unfortunately contemptible)’. Which would seem to apply to the monstrous in DS3. The hydra-boss-beast (giant spider) that is ground shuddering, huge and horrible during the first encounter makes repeat appearances – downgrading itself to a pest in the process. It turns up for a boss encounter 3 times. During the first 2 battles, it needs to have its 3 big tentacles and then its little mandible tentacles blown off 3 times before it runs away (so there a lot of repetition). When it shows up for a 3rd time its tentacles have grown back – again – but you also get to tear it apart using a harpoon cannon. That is very, very satisfying.

    The landscapes (and the other SF references) in DS3 also recalled the sections in Roz Kaveney’s From Alien to the Matrix (2005) where she talks about the ‘collegiality’ of science fiction – that mid 20th century science fiction literature involved lots of debate (between authors, within the literature). She writes ‘One of the determining traits of Anglo-American, commercial, genre SF is this tendency to echo earlier texts in order to have an argument with them’ (p 110) so it is about dialogue rather than or as well as reference or citation. She builds her case discussing the Star Wars franchise – which features many ‘cheerful renditions of stock material from SF illustration’ (114). For Kaveney, the problem with Star Wars is not that the archives are plundered, but that there’s a failure to ‘engage with the material […] in a any very serious way’ (p 113). I’ve not finished DS3 so while I know that images in the game cite previous science fictions, I don’t know if it is engaged discussion, tribute or plunder – but (probably because I like the game) I think it is the former. It is too early to say, for instance, how the giant moons made up of meat (?!) evolved and how they are sustained. There is a reference to them being ‘hungry’ and on ‘on their way’ but really you’d think there’d not be much point in giant meat sucking moons hunting together over a sparsely populated ice planet. Unless they are going to eat each other… The questions raised about the meat moon’s appetites recalls Kaveney’s accounts of the debates about the origins of the alien in the Alien franchise – As Kaveney puts it ‘the creature’s partial artificiality makes considerably more sense in SF terms than the alternative – because an evolved creature needs a regular habitat and a prey that has evolved along with it, whereas a creature that is in large part the produce of design is more plausibly a universal devourer that can wait for aeons and eat what comes its way’ (p 139).

    Bits of DS3 are very The Thing – at one point a 200 year old text log states that a vehicle and crew have gone missing in a storm and are assumed dead. The crew do turn up again later, but something is ‘off’ about them and they are put in quarantine. The alien takes over, mutates and incorporates a host. Plus there’s all the snow. John Carpenter has apparently expressed an interest in making a film version of DS (the internet says so).

    Thinking about DS3 and earlier games – in DS3 the suit animation changes. In DS1 the sequence was more like Isaac stepping into something safe, and a sense of reward or empowerment.
    In DS3, the suit machine is much more aggressive, it seems to grab him and gobble him up. The last moment you see of Isaac is a metal garrote snapping round his neck. Then the machine spits him out and Isaac looks dazed and rueful. Also, the melodramatic aspects of the series get more obvious over time. Each game begins with something like the end of a romantic relationship. There’s a section in DS3 where in a short period of time, Isaac battles with a monstrous boss monster (nexus), holds it off several times while dodging its minions, only to be eventually grabbed by a giant tentacle and swallowed – there’s a cut scene of Isaac sliding down its gullet and into its stomach (I guess it is a stomach). Once he is floating inside the monster, three nodules pop out of the wall and start lobbing torpedoes at Isaac. He must shoot three heads off each of the three nodules. Then he gets spat back out. He collapses back onto the frozen ground in time to have his ex-girlfriend’s current lover attempt his murder. Isaac has to shoot him (or the game ends). Then Isaac has to explain it to his ex-girlfriend and she yells at him about being hopeless over the radio (while he is trekking along up a mountainside, alone). She does forgive him but – at this stage anyway – it really does not look like they are going to be happily shacking up together by game’s end.

    To jump to romance in a different game for a second – there’s a bit during one of the final boss fights in Deus Ex: HR when one of the heavily augmented male antagonists says to Adam Jensen something like ‘what do you think is going to happen? That she’s going to take you back and love you? That doesn’t happen to men like us’. What does he mean – ‘men like us’?

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