artofdeadspace The Art of Dead Space

Dead Space 3 may have just shipped to shelves recently, but I think we can all agree that the first time we encountered a Necromorph armed with only a construction tool we all got a little panicked.  The game was a perfect blend of survival horror, a shockingly good soundtrack, and a truly terrifying atmosphere.  Players felt constricted by the tight quarters of the USG Ishimura, forcing them to watch every corner and somehow conserve their limited ammunition during the shrill panic moments that presented without warning.  We’ve seen monster games before, but the twisted world of Dead Space was so well defined from the very beginning that it was clear a lot of love went into creating poor Isaac’s personal version of Hell.  The largest part of this came courtesy of the incredible art team at Visceral Games.

When I purchase Collector’s Editions of games it typically isn’t for the in-game items or some token perk, it’s for the artwork and the soundtrack.  Sometimes publishers ship tiny little leaflets of art, and sometimes you get something pretty substantial, but it isn’t often that it could be described as ‘expansive’.  The team at Titan Books has teamed up with Martin Robinson to bring us an in-depth look at the artwork of all three Dead Space titles.  Today we take a look at “The Art of Dead Space” – an incredible walk through the process of creating one of the best survival horror franchises of all time.

First and most noticeable is that this hardback book has some heft to it.  Sporting a gorgeous glossy slipcover, the book measures approximately 11”x8” and sports 192 pages of over 300 full-color images and concept art from the three games as well as the graphic novels that have also been released recently.  Divided into 11 sections, the book gives us a look behind the creative curtain of 23 artists (one with the last name of Nishimura – coincidence?  Doubtful.) that have worked on the various Dead Space mediums.

Before we take a look at the sections themselves, I want to call out the rock-solid introduction by Eurogamer contributor Martin Robinson.  The writing is carefully crafted throughout but this introduction really paints a picture in my head – the very purpose of such a thing.  I do a ton of reading in my personal and professional life, and few intros have pulled me into the world as well.  Excellent work!

The sections headings cover Isaac, the Ishimura, Markers, Necromorph, and the world of the third title, Tau Volantis, just to spot a handful.  Each section gives a short backstory behind the pieces contained therein, but the section for Isaac was the most interesting for me.  Isaac’s “working man” background as an Engineer look didn’t emerge until the 38th attempt (more info from the book!), but the early concepts for him were vastly different than the end result.  From generic combat suits with energy blades to “Adaptive-Mesh Biosuits”, Isaac even looked like the spiky-haired protagonist from other Unreal-powered shooters at some points.  It wasn’t until Isaac began to sport the ribcage-like RIG armor with it’s signature health bar spinal column that things began to come together.  Reflected across the entire game, from the look of the weapons to the rib-like look of the Ishimura and the twisted Markers themselves, this visual concept became one of the hallmarks of the title.  

Isaac running around the Ishimura doing repairs would make for a pretty dull title – the Necromorphs do a pretty good job of livening up that process.  The section that covers the Necromorphs and how they evolved into their final disgustingly awesome forms is a walk through the wet and slimy guts of what makes this series so good.  Distorted faces with too many teeth, hunched backs with sharp edges, and viscera cast in all directions, these creatures embody the death beyond death that has evolved over the series.  Artist Brett Marling admits to scanning in cuts of meat from the grocery store to use as some of his inspiration references.  I bet he doesn’t look at steak the same any more.

Having just played through Dead Space 3 myself (you can read my review right here), the final few chapters were amazing as I recognized places I had just spent hours exploring come to life.  Titan Books, EA, and Visceral really pulled together something special here.  While it is certainly not every scrap of art that hit the floor, it does give us an amazing cross section of artwork that shaped the series, as well as some of the artists insights on how their concepts came to life.  During certain sections you can clearly see that we could have been playing a very different game had the team zigged instead of zagged.  Very few companies are putting out art books of this quality these days – my hat is off to Titan for making a book worth owning.  It is an amazing peek behind the curtain – if the game is too creepy for you, now you can see exactly how it got that way.

The Art of Dead Space is available from Amazon for $20.55 and is worth picking it up at twice the price.