The Evil Genius of Dead Space Design

Everyone knows Dead Space, and I think the recent bad news has raised the franchise’s attention more than ever.

Which reminds me of some really really shining points from the game. How Visceral developed this space horror survival is really a talented process.

First maybe we can simply start from the whole theme of Dead Space.

If you look at any other 3A survival horror games out there, you won’t find many “space” related. Most of the time, to produce an unnerving, nerve-tingling atmosphere, you will need the collaboration of both sound and visuals. Sound, is indeed a big part while dealing with thrills, horror emotions.

However, in Dead Space 1, the almost suffocated environment is created almost without any sound. The horror of silence. Is another form of horror that most horror products overlook. Inserting many screams, following with uneasy music or sound effects, do produce a good vibes of horror. But sometimes, as human, we perceive things much more closely and concentrated while we are in silence.

Space has provided the best environment for this. Vacuum has given people a suffocating cold silence, and would force players to highly concentrate on their vicinities. Thus, any sound made in the environment would have a high chance spook the player, and typically the distorted and high pitch noises from monsters.

Visceral has invested many resources on creating a very surreal and dreadful sound environment. They hired a music studio specially on doing the creepy high pitch sounds from monsters. Each type of monsters has their own discomforting voice, which makes them incredibly conspicuous when players encounter them.

Moving to DS2 and DS3. Visceral has added much atmosphere music while players encounter monsters. Running away from monsters, those uneasy music specifically just to make you feel uncomfortable. Pressing you into a more intense mood than you wandering on a plain room.

However, the silence of vacuum still is the big horror element in Dead Space. Visceral not only kept it, and even magnified it. The sound of vacuum. Theoretically, any sound made in vacuum couldn’t be heard, however, the space environment in Dead Space can make you feel like you’re in vacuum. Sometimes, our ears just work this way, we can still hear something, not completely silence, but the sound of silence. That wooing vibration like sound swooping across your ears.

The very talented sound work from Visceral has brought Dead Space to life, a real suffocating experience dwelled in the deep space. Next stop, is how Visceral has excellently integrated UI into part of the environment, making the game even more realistic and horrid experience.


Everyone knows how Issac fights his torments in the dark space, and whenever his health is low, you know where to check.

The spine. Exactly. Most of the games today, even till now, UI is a complete separate part from the game itself. You will see the numbers, the interface, like a HUD, preventing you from truly immersing into the game world.

Dead Space
As you can see, the status of player is clearly displayed at the back of Issac.
As you can see from F.E.A.R., the UI has never been a part of the game.
Alien Isolation
Alien: Isolation has well adapted the “no UI” design, everything in the game is a part of the game.

Many horror games have done this, UIs are always there, not making any creative progress.

However, Dead Space has solved the problem creatively. Visceral has combined UI into the game, stopping whenever players check on their health bar, or energy consumption, UI would pull them out of the world.

The iconic health bar and stasis energy design on the back of Issac Clark is well received by many. I personally really love how they design the spine, the idea of the spine representing health is pretty cool. Spine is human’s third most important part behind brain and heart, and spine has many vital functions that deal with one’s nerve system and reflexes and provides protection.

In Dead Space, the camera is always behind Issac’s back when we are aiming, and if we put down, we can freely rotate the camera. This makes the game even more immersive. The UI functions while you’re engaging, and drops while you’re not. It can hide and can appear. Comparing to other permanent UI designs, this design is most definitely an evil genius one.

Other than health bar and energy bar, Dead Space also integrated UIs into many many world objects. For example, the UIs on the control panels of ships or stations, the UIs on doors, and the Inventory UI can be opened from Issac’s hologram device. Nothing in Dead Space is really an outside part of the world, they are all inside.

These are the fundamental elements that made Dead Space so immersive.


And at last, I still wish to see a Dead Space 4. Even though Visceral is no more, and linear design almost killed the series. But Dead Space is really an inspiring title for all the horror games in the following generations.

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