In space no one can hear you scream, especially if you are stuck in a 1997 polygonal environment. In the last few years, demakes have been all the rage, with developers from all over the world taking complex recent console games and transporting them back a few generations. We have caught up with the developer of the Dead Space PS1 demake, and asked him all the right questions to know where all these demakes are coming from and where are they going.
Fraser Brumley is an Australian developer who has been working on his own indie projects for several years now. He mentions the 2020 pandemic as being a great catalyst for creativity, where he started a project where he could get himself to finish one game a month. But there was a catch. “I'm really bad at marketing, I don't know how to make a game and tell anyone” he tells us.
That’s how it all came together on the Dead Space Demake - as a way to develop something that could be more easily noticeable. “A friend had made a horror game and it managed to stay on the front page of Itch for a while. It seemed like that kind of horror really markets itself. So I asked myself ‘what kind of horror game can I do that'd be as easy as possible for me to market?’”
Apparently, the answer came easily in 2020 after Brumley’s laptop broke down, which forced him to stop doing the one game per month as he planned. “The only thing I had to play with was an Xbox 360 so, being a fan of action horror games but having never played Dead Space, I decided I would have a go. I loved it! Especially how each weapon lends itself to address a specific enemy weakness, and all of the limb based attacks.” His love for the Electronic Arts franchise ended up coming together on his new project.
So was the marketing any easier than in the past? “Well, I haven’t done much of that honestly. I just posted a little video on Twitter, which is still a great platform for us indie devs. I wanted to work on something that would catch people's attention, as opposed to the weird indie games I had been working on before. Honestly, those past games would get people’s attention, they would say ‘hey cool!’ But in the end, few would actually download them”.
How much time did the Dead Space demake take as a sort of fleshed-out demo? Basically two years, Brumley says, which was more than he planned. “Once I was about a year in, I started doing important work but it was kinda slow. I noticed the remake had gotten a release announcement and I wanted to put it out around then, so I set myself a deadline. I ended up taking a break, as I wanted to take advantage of a funding opportunity run by Vic Screen, in early February. I got back to it in March, putting the last bits of polish. Having a deadline was a good idea and something I learned while doing my game a month thing”.
The project was a chance for Brumley to experiment, along with learning how to use Unreal Engine since he had only worked with Unity before. “To be honest, any time I work on the interface, I do end up regretting a bit having switched from Unity, but overall I'm quite happy having learned a new engine.”
Speaking of the success of the PSX style, specifically of the so-called “Haunted PS1” style, Fraser mentions it’s all about figuring out what a particular generation liked as kids. “There's a part of the industry that values a lot of graphic realism and fidelity, but as a developer - especially an indie one - there is only so much time and effort you can put into making something as realistic as possible. It also makes it a bit boring”.
The developer mentions how the Haunted PS1 artstyle has a big effect on people, while It used to look ugly that was also where its charm came from. “If you're going for realism in horror the bar is very high, if anything doesn't look realistic then it ends up looking quite corny. By using lower fidelity graphics, the player stops questioning how things look, and they start taking it all in a more abstract way.”
Will we also start seeing PS2 horror games soon? “Perhaps,” he says. “But first we have to agree on what exactly Ps2 graphics mean, which I’m sure we’ll get to in a few years.” How successful has the Dead Space demake been? I ask Brumley to give me the download numbers. “My most successful indie title was Heist Game, which got downloaded 2k times, the Dead Space demake is ten times that, basically”.
So, after the success of this little horror experiment, what’s next for the developer? He mentions how it was a bit of a prototype for his future idea, an action horror project. But, Fraser also mentions having burned out himself a bit on the action horror genre. “I wanna make something in a similar style to the Dead Space demake, still using the same low poly art style and similar weapons mechanics. I'm looking for funding and also keeping a Patreon going”.
One thing is for sure, that little Sony console is going to remain haunted for quite some time. Be careful next time you hear that ominous PSX chime, as it might mean a space demon is out to get you.
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