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Meet Dead SpaceThe Dead Space franchise is a renowned series of survival horror video games that take players on a terrifying journey through deep space. The protagonist Isaac Clarke confronts a nightmarish threat known as the Necromorphs. These grotesque creatures are reanimated corpses controlled by an alien artifact called the Marker. The Marker's influence brings about madness and transformation, turning human corpses into deadly monstrosities.
Dead Space features an atmospheric setting, with scenes taking place in abandoned spaceships, mining colonies, and derelict space stations. The game explores the psychological toll on the protagonists as they confront their fears, unravel mysteries, and uncover the truth behind the Marker and the Necromorphs.
Dead Space's roots go deep, back to two major movie inspirations: Alien and The Thing. The themes of isolation, madness, and an industrial aesthetic are pervasive throughout both movies and key to what makes Deep Space so much fun. For sci-fi role-playing games, it's instructive on how it borrows from these movies.
Industrial EnvironmentsDead Space takes place in gritty and industrial settings, such as spaceships and mining colonies. These locations are characterized by malfunctioning machinery, cramped corridors, and a general sense of dilapidation. The environments are often dimly lit, claustrophobic, and filled with decaying structures. In Alien, the ship Nostromo tows a massive automated refinery between Thedus and Earth, processing the cargo of mineral ore on its long journey through deep space. In The Thing, the crew is sequestered at a research station in Antarctica. Neither groups are soldiers or action heroes (those would come later).
In a RPG campaign, incorporating industrial environments can provide opportunities for unique challenges and encounters, including navigating malfunctioning traps, facing off against hostile constructs, or exploring abandoned factories overrun by monsters.
Working Class FolksThe protagonists in Dead Space are often portrayed as ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. They are engineers, soldiers, or medical personnel with practical skills. In Alien, the crew are pilots and engineers. Ripley, the main character, is a warrant officer. In The Thing, the crew are researchers. Macready, the main protagonist, is a helicopter pilot.
This emphasis on working-class characters facing overwhelming odds can be reflected in a RPG campaign by allowing players to embody scrappy characters from humble backgrounds, showcasing their resilience in the face of otherworldly threats.
Who's the Monster?Dead Space embeds the necromorphs in everything. Knowing any corpse can serve as the body of a future enemy heightens the tension and transforms the dead into raw materials for future enemies. A torso, a head, or a pair of legs can all spring to life with flailing tentacles and attack at any moment. In Alien, the question of who is infected with the xenomorph is a key moment in the films. The Thing takes this a step further, with the Thing infecting multiple characters and impersonating them, such that it's not clear if even the Things know they are infected.
RPGs all like to emulate the idea of chestbursters and shapeshifters but in practice the concept is difficult to pull off with players who are vigilant. In Dungeons & Dragons, slaad and doppelgangers fill these roles respectively.
Hostile EnvironmentsThe Dead Space franchise is known for its hostile environments, whether it's the vast emptiness of space or inhospitable locations like icy planets. As the movie for the Alien trailer famously quipped, "In space, no one can hear you scream." In The Thing, the freezing temperatures of the Antarctic ensure there is nowhere to run. In short, characters are trapped with the monster.
These environments pose additional challenges beyond the creatures or enemies encountered, including extreme temperatures, lack of resources, or hazardous atmospheric conditions. In a RPG campaign, incorporating hostile environments (e.g., underwater, on an elemental or abyssal plane) can add an extra layer of danger, forcing players to carefully manage their resources, face harsh weather conditions, or find creative solutions to survive.
Get Ready to Scream!Dead Space has some amazing raw material to work with. By using the movies as inspiration, you can recreate some of the iconic scenes and hopefully ratchet up the tension for sci-fi and horror games.
Your Turn: What elements do you borrow from your favorite horror sci-fi movies?