With Dead Space 3 Confirmed, Let's Talk Mythology

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News Posted: Fri, May 11 2012 2:13 PM
Big news in gaming this week if you're a fan of the survival-horror-meets-FPS series Dead Space; the third game in the series is scheduled to launch within the next 12 months. The original game, Dead Space, centered around deep space repair engineer Isaac Clarke's mission to investigate a mysterious distress call from the USG Ishimura and to reunite with his lover, Nicole Brennan.



In the second game, Clarke, now a prisoner in a government lab, must escape the Saturn moon Titan before the Necromorph infestation that began there destroys the facility and spreads to Earth. The third title will reportedly take gamers to the icy world of Tau Voltantis, feature a series-first co-op mode, and an adaptive storyline that changes depending on whether you're playing with two players or one. Isaac will be able to roll and take cover, a new weapon customization system will augment the game's traditional "Power Nodes", and Isaac will end up facing off against both human and Necromorph opponents.

I criticized several tropes Dead Space relies on in my "Four Gaming Cliches..." article a few weeks back, but that doesn't change the fact that the first two games are great fun. Dead Space 2 is, in my opinion, a rare game that improves upon its predecessor, with better pacing, stronger graphics, and a storyline that doesn't involve quite as much Helper Monkeying from point A to point B.

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

What makes Dead Space fascinating as a series is its treatment of alien life. According to remarks made in-game, humanity has never encountered another intelligent spacefaring species despite several hundred years of space flight. The one exception to this is an alien artifact found on Earth inside the Chicxulub crater. Known as the Black Marker, the artifact is covered in mysterious writing that's later found to represent DNA. It also radiates an EM field that drives humans progressively insane, possibly animates dead tissue, and definitely creates an area around itself that repulses the reanimated bodies of its victim -- thus the title "Dead Space."



This last is unevenly addressed in the game and other media; some storylines state that the Marker drives scientists to create the DNA sequences represented in its structure and grow them to see what happens, others imply that the field itself has an effect on deceased organisms. Regardless of the source, the new DNA is a radical recombinant form of life that turns humans into monstrosities known as "Necromorphs." The goal of new Necromorphs is to create more Necromorphs.

What makes the story fascinating is its parallels with real life.

No, really.



When we launched the Voyager probes in 1977, we sent along "Markers" of our own. No one seriously believed the probes would be found by extra-terrestrial life, but as Carl Sagan noted at the time "the launching of this 'bottle' into the cosmic 'ocean' says something very hopeful about life on this planet."



The records contain images and audio recordings of life on Earth, including spoken language and natural sounds, photos and diagrams, and information on human DNA. Information on how to play the record, Earth's location in the galaxy, the waveforms of the information provided, and the first image to appear once data is properly decoded were all given in simple pictograms using binary notation.

On our earliest space flights, we sent a record. It's not at all difficult to see how a far more advanced species might send an artifact containing DNA data -- particularly if it considered the ability to decode and understand such information a minimal level for intelligence. Intelligent life, in the Dead Space universe, is quite rare.

To date, humans have created two additional markers, reverse engineered from the first. The Red Marker is behind the events of Dead Space, the Site 12 Marker is responsible for the Titan infestation in Dead Space 2. Part of what makes the game's plot interesting is the question of whether or not the Markers are having anything like their intended effects. It's absolutely possible -- even probable -- that the infestation and hallucinations that occur in the presence of the Marker are an unintended side effect. As for why humans keep mucking around with the damn things to begin with, the ability to re-write and alter DNA, as the structure does, has profound implications for human lifespan and longevity.

It's more than just a space-horror shoot-em-up with zombies -- it's a game with a survival horror motif that could turn out to have a surprisingly deep story. I'm hopeful that we'll eventually see a Dead Space 3 that lives up to such aspirations, and sheds light on the true purpose of the artifacts over and above facilitating a great deal of slaughter.
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NBurke replied on Fri, May 11 2012 6:36 PM

Thanks for the head's up on the dead space 3. The first 2 scared the crap out of me

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JDiaz replied on Fri, May 11 2012 7:48 PM

A little clarification, the Marker's EM signal is basically downloading its data to any organic brain within range. The insanity is caused by information overload. Only those of high intelligence can manage it well enough to hold onto their sanity and actually interpret at least some of the data being dumped into their minds.

Thus how the government were able to recreate the marker for second game, taking the data already stored in Isaac Clarke's and Nolan Stross's minds.

Prior to this only the Church of Unitology had access because they're the ones who found the original Marker on Earth centuries ago and they're the ones who created the replica and placed it on Aegis VII in a attempt to better understand it.

The Marker's signal itself essentially serves as a virtual DNA and once a victim is dead then that virtual DNA takes over and recycles the organic matter. The initial process is just slow and of course requires recently dead bodies to work with but the signal usually induces insanity to produce enough suicides and murders to get the process going in short order.

Then once the initial Necromorphs are created, they accelerate the process both by killing for more raw material and also with specialized Necromorphs that directly inject the Marker's DNA into the host body and/or bodies... Since some of the larger Necromorphs are created from multiple bodies.

The process seems to have limits though as only the artificially created Necromorphs, like the Ubermorph, became the Unkillable type and look more alien. Possibly a purified version of the Alien DNA.

So it's pretty much all consistent and explained if you combine all the source material.

The Hive Mind and consistent actions of the Necromorphs with even non-human life pretty much indicates the Marker's actions are not accidental as well.

Definitely a cool game series and it should be interesting what they'll do with the third release...

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Never played the first two but will need to get my hands on them it looks really interesting and a lot of people have said it is the scariest game they ever played.

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Joel H replied on Fri, May 11 2012 9:25 PM

JDiaz,

IIRC, the Black Marker infestation began when the DNA chain the Marker transmits was synthesized and injected into someone's arm. Stross makes mention of a reanimate "field," but it appears there are multiple potential vectors. I'm not sure it's clear how the Necromorph bug got loose at The Sprawl (though I have not played the Wii game, which may explain this).

The question of the madness seems to be highly dependent on not just the intelligence, but also the personality of those involved. Stross went bugnuts extremely quickly, Isaac holds his sanity far longer. There's also the fact that the Site 12 marker continued "communicating" after all signals from it were damped down, as well as the question of whether or not the markers have had different personalities. The Black Marker seemed to warn humanity against itself, the Red Marker wanted to return to the planet -- there was no mention of Isaac having to die. The Site 12 Marker, on the other hand, clearly wanted him dead.

A few of my own guesses:

1) The Marker's ability to communicate with the Sprawl scientists, even after they blocked all signals, is caused by part of it setting up shop in your own brain. There were no signals leaking out -- the call was coming from inside the house, as it were.

2) The madness and dementia may truly be an unanticipated side effect. If the Marker truly landed on Earth in the Chicxulub impact, it could have no knowledge of humanity, no ability to tailor it's message. It's entirely possible that the field was meant to create something else, I'm not saying I think this is a likely twist, but it's certainly an option the mythos would support.

3) I don't think the Markers are truly sentient. If they were, it would be far, far, easier to accomplish their goals through negotiation and strategy. Each time humanity encounters the Markers, they "reproduce" using the equivalent of a giant space caveman club. There's also no explanation for how the Red Marker would continue to have exactly the same effects on the people around it when smashed to shards as it did when perfectly whole.

3A) It's *possible* the the Marker is sentient as a whole but carries on some sort of autonomic function when smashed to bits -- small pieces might be capable of kicking off necromorph invasions, but unable to launch Convergence Events. This leads to #4...

4) Convergence Events appear to happen automatically, once some sort of critical mass is reached. One might assume the result was a Hive Mind, but the Marker on Aegis VII appeared to be restraining the Hive Mind -- an odd situation if the HM is the end result of the Marker's own programmed goal. If the Marker had been responsible for the HM but inadvertently exploited to restrain it, the last thing it would've wanted to do was return to the surface.

5) It's possible that the different personalities of the Markers are explained by a reverse imprint process. "When you stare into the Abyss, the Abyss also stares back into you." If Markers "learn" from their creators, it's entirely possible that their goals are influenced by the very minds that construct them. This could explain why the Black, Red, and Site 12 Markers appear to have acted differently.

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sackyhack replied on Sat, May 12 2012 9:10 AM

I loved the first 2 games, even played the one iPhone. It's not as scary as people say, but maybe I'm just jaded from watching lots of horror movies. The enemy designs are really great and gory, but they rely too much on jump scares. I'm a bit hesitant on this next one though. They really screwed PC players with Dead Space 2. No dlc, late patches, unstable release, all for $60 even for the digital version. As much as I enjoyed the game, that was one of the first times I ever regretted paying full price for a game.

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Joel H replied on Sat, May 12 2012 12:32 PM

Sacky,

I'm surprised to hear you say that. My playthrough of DS2 on PC was *much* smoother than DS1. DS1 had insanely variable mouse sensitivity and sluggish controls. DS2 came off without a hitch and I never had a single crash. Then again, I only played the game months after release.

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rapid1 replied on Sat, May 12 2012 2:54 PM

To tell you the truth I played the original and loved it but have been out of this type of gaming for quite some time (maybe since then really) so I might check out the new one when it gets here or even try to get into beta.

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pwrntspd replied on Sat, May 12 2012 5:50 PM

I played the first two, and i think i was more scared by the first one but the combat felt better in the second one. Cant wait to see whats going to happen in the third one. This is one of the best storyline games ive ever played, they have done a great job building up a mythology.

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JDiaz replied on Sat, May 12 2012 9:39 PM

Yes, the Wii Game went into how the Aegis Breakout occurred when the mining company dug up the Marker and exposed the colony to the signal. Also there was other media releases like a comic mini-series that went into the origins a bit more.

Like how the founder of Unitology never intended it to go that way... Michael Altman was actually a scientist who discovered the original Marker on Earth but when he tried to destroy it others made him the first Martyr and used his image to create the Unitology Church.

The second game DLC used characters from the Wii game to further expand the story and tie it all together.

While the Sprawl's Marker was created from the data stored in Isaac and Stross minds. So essentially they had a direct link to the source code.

Mind our brains are essentially organic computers and unlike the previous games that made them a threat to the Marker's continued existence. In fact that's how Isaac destroyed that Marker by battling it through the link in his mind and it wasn't like Isaac was obtuse in his intentions on stopping the Marker for it to respond and try to protect itself.

On the madness... all Markers have consistently had the same effect on people and all other known life. There are for example Necromorph Fish and plants that behave exactly like the human victims once converted into Necromorphs. So unintentional is too remote a possibility to really be taken seriously at this point. Aside from perhaps terraforming.

For sentients, you're assuming human sentients. Things like negotiation suggest commonality but it's alien intelligence and most likely created by a xenophobic race or it may have been a doomsday weapon.

They're starting to follow a similar plot for Aliens with upcoming Prometheus movie. Life advances to the point of space faring race... race then discovers alien artifact... artifact then kills race... and repeat...

On to the convergence event, considering the Marker acts as the DNA then it's a symbiotic relation. Mind in the second game, when Isaac plays the logs from the repair crew that they stated all the Necromorph's bodies dissolved into basically primordial ooze. So we know without the Marker that the Necromorphs can't continue to exist on their own.

Mind DNA doesn't only provide the blueprints for life but also helps regulate it. Like they kept telling Isaac... "Make us whole!"...

Though I agree that the little differences we've seen are likely due to both the artificial nature of the other Markers and the interaction it's had thus far with our form of life.

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imAcpufan replied on Sat, May 12 2012 11:48 PM

Definitely a couple great games. Played both on PC, and actually played DS2 non stop till I finished. I think the surprise tactics of the necromorphs do grow on you as you play, but still a scary game. Especially with the audio running in 5.1...the sound design is excellent, and every creak and groan puts your nerves on edge. It's a different experience if you have to play with the sound off.

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Thickn31 replied on Sun, May 13 2012 6:50 PM

I know rite.

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ajm531 replied on Mon, May 14 2012 1:54 AM

Wow very interesting information how it compares to today.i Imagine it will better than the last 2 and hope it is.

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Joel H replied on Mon, May 14 2012 10:22 AM

JDiaz,

But it's *not* that far a stretch if you consider two things:

1) Most life on earth is strongly related.

2) Flipping certain genes on and off can have enormous effects if it's the right (or wrong, depending on your POV) genes.

It's possible, for example, that Necromorphs are meant to retain a good deal more intelligence than they seem to, that the transformations were meant to be more subtle (thereby allowing the Necros to infiltrate society far more easily than they do) or that the Marker was meant to do a far *better* job of appearing to promise huge scientific advances while creating an infiltration epidemic. If you step back and think about the problem from a biological perspective, pod people (who look and appear to think like people) are a far more effective invasion than dementia inducing murderbots.

The other thing is that I don't think the Marker was necessarily meant to end up on Earth at all. If the goal was to sterilize life, just using a larger meteor would've worked. Remember, the Marker landed at a time when dinosaurs were the dominant life form -- not exactly sentient threats. It fell to Earth on one of the largest confirmed meteors to ever hit the planet; any species capable of pulling that off, could've just chucked in a few more rocks to finish the job.

What makes this all fascinating is that there's such a lot of material to dig into. ;)

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JDiaz replied on Mon, May 14 2012 6:30 PM

Pod people are only for absorption/assimilation of a target race, not for annihilating it. Besides, it's not like the Necromorphs are easily stoppable. Pretty much every outbreak has resulted in 99%, if not 100%, effectiveness.

While a biological weapon doesn't have to out think it's target to be devastating. The Hive mind makes the Necromorphs act a lot like cooperative insects. Each has it's specific job to do in the collective and there's little arguing with how effective they are...

And all life on the planet may have common elements but they're all also very different. Yet the Necromorphs created from each still act consistently the same.

Mind also that life develops over time, a asteroid or comet is a one time event and life can eventually redevelop. The Marker though can remain and activate again and again as needed to ensure no intelligent life develops very far before it triggers an extinction event.

Besides, it wouldn't be a horror game unless there was a specifically a horrible intent throughout it.

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