April 16, 2013 at 2:44 PM ET
"Dead Space," with all of its allusions to sci-fi horror classics like "Alien" and "Event Horizon," is one of those video games that seems perfectly suited for the big screen. Since it was released in 2008, after all, the game that popularized the term "strategic dismemberment" has been adapted for comic books, animated films, and two direct sequels. But one aspiring filmmaker and avid "Dead Space" fan wanted to do the game one better.
That's what lead to Eric Zargoza, a 28-year-old graduate from Full Sail University, to spend almost two years working on "Chase to Death," a live-action adaptation of EA and Visceral Games' monster-ridden third-person shooter that he hopes will serve as a "calling card" for future work in the game industry.
Zargoza, who describes himself as a "starving artist" that "just wants to make more sci-fi movies," told NBC News that the original "Dead Space" was one of the rare horror games he found legitimately horrifying.
"'Dead Space One' actually scared me," Zargoza said. "The way that Visceral built the third person camera to always be facing forward, I remember jumping constantly to see if there was a necromorph behind me."
"Chase to Death" was produced with a team of over twenty fellow filmmakers and horror buffs using a recycled set from Joss Whedon's short-lived sci-fi series "Firefly." Zargoza wouldn't say much about the budget for the film except to note that it was "way under $50,000."
He first connected with Electronic Arts, the publisher of all the "Dead Space" video games, during a trip to Comic Con in 2011 where he went to seek out approval for just these kinds of live-action adaptations.
"I said: 'I'm not asking for money, just don't sue me,'" Zargoza recalled. Eventually, EA was "one of the first companies to give me the light of day," albeit with the stipulation that he couldn't "degrade the image" of the "Dead Space" franchise, and made some strangely specific requirements like where blood could splatter on the set and how fully the necromorphs could be displayed.
"I'm learning a lot about corporate," he joked.
Zargoza was convinced that he could make a "Dead Space" movie in the first place when he was given a model of Isaac Clarke's iconic plasma cutter as a sort of going away present from a special effects studio in Florida when he graduated from Full Sail.
“I told them: 'I want the plasma cutter, but it has to rotate,'” he recalled. Nobody had built a satisfactory one at the time "except one guy in Japan," but they finally realized after a bit of tinkering that the gun's mechanic could be recreated with the gears from a door handle.
"That's essentially what it is on steroids, pretty much," he said.
Zargoza hopes that "Chase to Death" will bring him more work producing live-action trailers for video games, saying that he admires the work of creative studios like Bungie that have begun using film to extend the storyline of games beyond the console itself and reach a broader audience.
But despite their intensely visual nature, video games have rarely (if ever) proved to be fertile ground for film adaptations, a problem that Zargoza thinks is caused by many filmmakers trying to simply recreate a shot-for-shot rendition of actual gameplay. Instead, he tried to "recreate the feeling" of actually being in the world of "Dead Space" — emphasizing the mounting tension that protagonist Isaac Clarke feels as he walks through the "floating haunted house" of a monster-infested space ship.
He remembered feeling particularly frightened playing "Dead Space" whenever he would walk up to a necromorph's body lying on the ground, not sure if it was going to leap up and dismember him at the last moment.
"Those moments inspire me to make a live-action,” Zargoza said. "I want to be able to connect with people that don't really connect with games and CGI."
I feel sad for people who just dismiss video games," he added a moment later. "They just miss all these stories. "