Johnston & Templesmith Talk "Dead Space: Extraction"

For a brand new IP, EA's "Dead Space" certainly made a lot of noise last year. The critically acclaimed video game was the centerpiece of a multimedia strategy that included a comic book series as well as an animated feature, both of which were also very well received. This fall, the "Dead Space" universe is expanding to the Nintendo Wii, when "Dead Space: Extraction" hits store shelves on September 29th. As with the first game, Image will be releasing a comic of the same name, a one-shot that was previewed at Comic-Con International and arrived in stores earlier this month.

Fans of the original "Dead Space" will recognize some familiar names attached to the latest projects. Antony Johnston, who wrote the original comic series and also worked on the game, is penning the story for both the video game and the comic this time around. Antony re-teamed with artist Ben Templesmith for the comic, who provided the visuals for last year's series. CBR recently talked to Antony about his work on the second installment of the franchise, and also got some thoughts from Ben about his work on the comic.

CBR: Antony, how did you end up getting involved with "Dead Space: Extraction," and what was it like getting to revisit the franchise again?

Antony Johnston: We started talking about it before the original "Dead Space" was even finished; EA had decided they were going to do a new game for the Wii, rather than a port, and asked if I was interested in writing the new script, as everyone was very happy with how "Dead Space" itself turned out.

It was fun, especially revisiting the colony and making it all fit in with the comic storylines. Plus, while the main characters are all new, they all have a very different perspective to the characters we've already seen.

What can you tell us about the story you've created for the game?

AJ: I can't really talk too much about the story; despite all the sneak peeks people have had, it's still very much under wraps.

All I can say is that "Extraction" starts on the Aegis VII colony shortly before the infection, and then follows a band of survivors up to the Ishimura, where they think they'll be safe... only to find, of course, that it's no better on the ship than it was on the planet. And in the process of trying to get off the Ishimura, they realise that there's more to the situation than meets the eye...

You wrote a "Dead Space" comic series that served as somewhat of a prequel to the first game. How does the story in "Dead Space: Extraction" relate to that comic series?

AJ: The first part of the game, on the colony, takes place alongside the comics. It's literally happening at the same time as the story we already saw, but in different parts of the Aegis VII facility.

Will we get to see any of the characters from the original comic appear in "Dead Space: Extraction?"

AJ: One or two, sure, but blink and you'll miss them. This is a whole new story, not an attempt to turn the comic into a game.

Were there things you couldn't do in the original "Dead Space" comic that you've been able to explore in "Dead Space: Extraction?"

AJ: Well, the comic didn't deal with anything that happened on the Ishimura, of course. But there's also a group dynamic here that we didn't have; although the comic was an ensemble piece, each character was more or less individual. The only real 'team' we saw was Bram and Marla, at the end.

In "Extraction", though, we have team companions for the player pretty much from the start and then right the way through. So that was very different, writing everything for a group rather than an isolated character. It allowed me to amp up the relationship dynamics quite a bit.

Bringing a franchise like "Dead Space" to the Wii seems to evoke skepticism in some gaming circles that the experience will be a watered down version of what can be achieved on the Xbox 360 and PS3. Was there extra motivation among the creative team to prove any doubters wrong?

AJ: I think so, yes. The thing is, that skepticism would be warranted if "Extraction" was just a straight port of the original game. So I think doing a whole new game instead, and designing it to take advantage of the Wii's strengths, is much more sensible.

Honestly, I think a lot of people will be surprised. The game is visually amazing, it features good, interesting characters, has a solid story, and the gameplay is a lot of fun.

How closely did you get to work with the developers on the project? Were you still iterating on the story during development?

AJ: The story was pretty locked down when I started writing, although I did stay informed throughout the process, and as usual made a few interjections of my own. But for the most part it was already in place; it had to be, because of the nature of this game. When you're guiding the player through the levels, you have to know pretty far in advance what they're going to face and when.

That's not to say the developers didn't give me as much support as I needed, because they did, and I had many conversations with them during the process. Mostly late at night, with matchsticks to prop up my eyelids.

Do you approach writing the game in a similar manner to a comic, where you're providing the artists with direction in the same way you'd describe a panel for a comic artist?

AJ: Not really, they're two very different disciplines. In a comic, everything starts with me; I choose who's in a scene, who does what, where the action is, and so on. In a game, most of those decisions are made by the development team according to resources and game design. So it's my job to take a bare bones situation like, "Joe needs to go here and tell Fred that the veeblefetzer's broken" and turn it into an interesting scene.

You could say I provide direction for the voice artists, in a way - how the scene plays out will determine their performance, and I was fortunate enough to actually be on site for most of the "Extraction" voice recording - but really, my job is to take a skeleton and put some tasty meat on the bones.

Speaking of artists, let's bring Ben Templesmith in and talk a bit about the one-shot comic that you wrote for "Dead Space: Extraction." How was it getting back together with Ben on "Dead Space" again, and how does the story tie into the game?

AJ: The "Dead Space: Extraction" comic focuses on Nicole Brennan, who is of course Isaac's girlfriend in "Dead Space". Nicole is on the Ishimura during the initial breakout, and the comic follows her story from hopeful start to tragic finish, including her encounter with the main characters from "Extraction."

And it was great getting back together with Ben. He's a class act, and it's nice to think that there's a corner of the "Dead Space" universe that we've made recognisably our own.

Ben, you and Antony have worked together previously on the first "Dead Space" mini, "Wasteland" and even an old web comic ("After Days of Passion"). Has the collaboration process between you two evolved since your earliest work together?

Screenshots from "Dead Space: Extraction"

Ben Templesmith: Heh, don't think it really has. Each project is different in nature anyway but generally with me, the writer writes and then I try to interpret. Simple as that. I'm not really one to get into big discussions on the work. I'll just make changes once it's done and I hear feedback.

You've illustrated many a monster in your time as an artist, Ben. What do you find compelling about the Necromorphs over other creatures you've drawn in the past?

BT: Well, the great thing about Necromorphs is they're not human. Don't necessarily even have to be human shaped. They literally use human bodies, human tissue as building blocks to create something a little more horrific than the average vampire, werewolf or zombie which I usually get to draw. For me it's just a bit refreshing.

As horror fans yourselves, are there iconic stories or moments from some of your favorite movies that you tried to include in "Dead Space: Extraction?"

AJ: Oh, probably. Nothing specific comes to mind, but I often pay homage to my influences and inspirations in my work, so it wouldn't surprise me if something made its way into "Extraction" without me even consciously realising it.

BT: "Event Horizon" (I don't care what anyone says about it) is one of my all-time favorites, but I've also drawn a lot of inspiration for a bunch of projects from John Carpenter's "The Thing."

Finally, what are some other elements of the "Dead Space" universe you'd like to explore if given the chance in the future?

AJ: The Church of Unitology, naturally; there's so much to that aspect of the universe that's ripe for stories. Life back on Earth, and also on the Mars colonies; we haven't seen any of that yet, and it would be great to see how the world's changed, both physically and politically. And, of course, there's Isaac. What happened to him after "Dead Space?" Is he alive, dead, what? We just don't know.

BT: A sympathetic comic from the Necromorphs' point of view. It could work!

CBR would like to thank Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith for talking with us about "Dead Space: Extraction." Information about the game can be found on the official website at www.deadspacegame.com. For more on the "Extraction" comic, head over to www.imagecomics.com.

Tags: image comics, ben templesmith, antony johnston, ea games, dead space: extraction

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