The Callisto Protocol director on his return to horror: ‘I don’t know what’s too scary’

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The Callisto Protocol director on his return to horror: 'I don't know what's too scary'

When Glen Schofield left call of Duty Developer Sledgehammer Games in 2018 he needed a break. The game designer best known as the creator of the groundbreaking sci-fi horror series Empty room, decided to head to the Arizona desert for some R&R – which meant developing lots of new game concepts for him. “I would go out there and draw,” he says. “And as I was drawing, ideas would come to me.” He came back with a 40-page book that would ultimately become his return to the survival horror genre: a game called The Callisto Protocol.

The game – which is being developed by Striking Distance Studios, a new team under the umbrella of PUBG Company Krafton – was first announced in 2020, and a gruesome new trailer was unveiled at last week’s Summer Game Fest. (It’s been affectionately dubbed the “Schofield cut.”) Schofield says he’s had a desire to return to horror for some time, and the urge grew while he was working on the Zombies mode for call of Duty.

“I just wanted to tell a different story,” he says. “I see it a bit like Ridley Scott; he has extraterrestrial and then came back to do Prometheus. It’s something you enjoy doing. I don’t see many movies that are sci-fi horror because they’re so expensive to make. And it’s probably my favorite genre. So I was like, ‘Let’s see if we can bring it back.'”

The Callisto Protocol takes place in the year 2320 in a prison colony on one of Jupiter’s moons, from which players must escape while the other inmates turn into strange alien monsters. (The setting was originally intended to be a distant part of the PUBG Universe, although that is no longer the case. “The story went in a different direction,” Schofield says of the change.) That premise, along with a bunch of other features – like gameplay that involves dismembering enemies and a diegetic interface that includes a health bar that acts as a prison barcode tattoo — immediately attracted comparisons Empty room. And that’s what Schofield has come to terms with over the course of the game’s development.

“In the beginning I would say, ‘Oh no, that is Empty room,'” he explains. “But after a while I’m like: I don’t want a HUD, so that’s the copying Empty room? I want him to stomp – is that copying? Empty room? Maybe. But it’s also my DNA. I didn’t want to just cut everything out. The further we got into development, the more open I became to the idea.”

The big difference this time, he says, is the technology, although it hasn’t changed all. “We’re already 3D, so it’s not like it’s going to suddenly change the gameplay,” says Schofield. Instead, the current state of consoles and PC means his team can create a more believable world – something that’s particularly important in horror. These include more believable alien monsters, more immersive sound design, and the ability to throw a lot more visual effects onto the screen. But one of the most important things is how much more detail they can bring into the world.

“The realism helps the sci-fi side, which people often don’t believe in,” says Schofield. “But nowadays you can let it rust or drip water out of things and the player is like, ‘I have no idea what that thing is, but man, does it look legit.’ It grounds the sci-fi.”

The Callisto Protocol.
Image: Striking Distance Studios

However, one of the challenges is making sure the game is scary enough. As a self-confessed horror fan, Schofield is far more desensitized than average. (The same goes for many other members of the Callisto protocol Team.) “Sometimes we don’t know if it’s scary or not,” he says. It doesn’t help that Schofield sees the game’s scenarios in multiple phases, from white box prototypes to fully fleshed out interactive gameplay. That can take away some of their clout. So, getting the level of spooky right requires a lot of testing and tweaking based on player feedback.

Inspiration now comes from many places, including film. “I see a lot of horror,” says Schofield. “And a lot of that doesn’t affect me. But there are a few that really got me… and I’m like, ‘Whoa, man.’ If they affect me, you know they will affect the players.” (At one point during our conversation, Schofield mentions having lunch with horror director Eli Roth, where in the first, the two were discussing the sound effects made when severing the optic nerve of an eyeball with a scissors occur hostel Film.) But film aside, Schofield notes, “much of it springs from the imagination of our chief creative officer, Chris Stone. Sometimes I say to him: “I need two more [deaths]’ or I’ll say, ‘I want the head taken off.'”

One thing they don’t test, however, is whether a kill or scare goes too far the other way. “The scarier the better,” he explains. “I don’t know what’s too scary.”

The Callisto Protocol is set to launch on December 2nd, and it comes at a time when there seems to be a resurgence in sci-fi horror games. There is Fort SolisThe return of routinea new Foreigner Expansion and even a remaster of the original Empty room. Schofield is aware there will be many comparisons, but he also seems confident that his latest horror project will stand on its own. “You can go in like, ‘Hey, that’s it dead space 4,'” he says, “but I think when you come out, you’re going to be like, ‘No, that’s it Callisto protocol.'”

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