The Callisto Protocol interview: “there are no rules” with horror

The next big horror game from the creators of Dead Space arrives in December, and developer Striking Distance Studios hopes The Callisto Protocol will become “the start of a franchise.” However, there are still plenty of questions about the old PUBG spin-off that remain, so PCGamesN spoke to Striking Distance to get some answers.

After impressive gameplay demos at PlayStation State of Play and Summer Game Fest, including the reveal of the awesome gravity gun, anyone eager for The Callisto Protocol will no doubt want to know more about the terrifying space game. PCGamesN spoke with Striking Distance creative director Chris Stone, who was the animation director on Dead Space, about the team’s inspirations, why they ditched the PUBG connection, and how The Callisto Protocol improves Dead Space.

PCGamesN: Are the developers worried about too big a crossover with the upcoming Dead Space remake?

Chris Stone: I have shipped almost 30 titles in my career and we have always had competition. You can’t worry about that. We just put ourselves in the player’s shoes and make the best game we can.

A lot of us work on Dead Space: the game’s creator, Glen Schofield, our development director, Steve Papoutsis, and myself. Our art director, lighting director, audio director, and design director also worked on Dead Space. So naturally, our creative fingerprints are all over The Callisto Protocol, and here’s some great news: all those ideas we had years ago in Dead Space that we couldn’t do because the hardware couldn’t keep up? Now we can make them, and it’s amazing!

PCGamesN: Comparisons between the two are understandably easy to draw: how does the game drive the genre and differ?

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CS: We’ve all grown and evolved a lot as game creators and artists over the last ten or fifteen years, and The Callisto Protocol reflects that. There are a million details that set this game apart, but the most important things that I think players will notice are the combat system, the story, and the visuals.

We’ve built a deep combat system that combines up close and personal melee action and long-range gunplay with a gravity weapon called GRP (‘Grip’) that allows players to seamlessly switch between weapons. Low ammo? Grab an enemy and pull them close for a devastating blow with the stun baton. Being harassed? Throw an enemy across the room and shoot their legs out to give yourself some breathing room. And of course, if you see an environmental hazard, grab the enemy and throw them for an instant kill.

We also go from a silent protagonist to a deep story with complex characters and incredible performances from Josh Duhamel and Karen Fukuhara. We think players will have a blast uncovering the dark secrets of the United Jupiter Company as they fight to survive the horrors of Black Iron Prison.

PCGamesN: Is the game inspired by any other sources that the developers would like to highlight, including external games?

CS: Games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil are obvious influences, but we also take a lot of inspiration from movies like The Thing and Event Horizon. And more recently we have been watching a lot of foreign horror movies. There are some really crazy things that are pushing the genre to scary places. The French and Koreans in particular are really stepping up their game in the horror genre. On top of that, we’ve found ourselves seeing plenty of real-life examples of horror and gore. While this was far less fun to research, it was some of the most memorable and valuable content when it came to creating realistic images and experiences.

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PCGamesN: What kind of balance are you hoping to strike between exploration, horror/atmosphere, and combat?

CS: When it comes to making horror games, the only rule is that there are no rules. It’s about following your instinct. That’s why we think of “horror engineering,” which means mixing and matching many different aspects of what it takes to scare people: atmosphere, tension, brutality, humanity, and helplessness. We mix and match these details to keep players guessing so they never know what’s next. With that said, we expect the game to offer a satisfying mix of exploration, atmosphere, and combat.

PCGamesN: What led to the decision to drop partnerships with the wider PUBG universe?

CS: When we started working on the game, the story was part of the PUBG Universe timeline. But games change throughout development. As we worked on the story, it got bigger and bigger until it became clear that it was its own thing. We love PUBG and there will still be surprises for fans of the franchise, but The Callisto Protocol is its own story, with its own characters, in its own universe.

PCGamesN: What kind of level design can we expect? Is it linear, linear with back and fork paths, or something more open?

CS: We’re a story-driven survival horror game, so the level design will be familiar to fans of games like Resident Evil, but we’re creating plenty of opportunities for players to go off the beaten path and discover new surprises.

PCGamesN: Will Calisto Protocol make use of PC-specific features like Nvidia DLSS/Reflex or AMD FSR? Will it have ray tracing and, if so, what type?

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CS: We’ll have more to share on PC-specific specs and features as we get closer to launch, but overall yes, we’re looking to support future PC technologies that support game image quality.

PCGamesN: Do the developers envision this as the start of a franchise, and if so, do they already have ideas about where they’d like to take a sequel?

CS: We’d love for The Callisto Protocol to be the start of a franchise, and we’re not short of ideas. But right now, we’re 100 percent focused on making The Callisto Protocol the best game it can be.

PCGamesN: Summer Game Fest showcased several other new entrants to the sci-fi horror space – trends come and go, but this one seems especially sudden and pronounced. Do the developers have any ideas about the cause of this resurgence?

As a huge fan of sci-fi and horror, I am personally very excited about all the new games being announced. Trends just come and go, whether it’s in games, movies, TV, shows, or music. We’re just focused on making the game we’re passionate about making. If it’s part of a current trend, all the better!

The Callisto Protocol will be released on December 2, 2022.

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