Welcome to the Black Iron Prison, a maximum security prison located on the desert surface of Callisto, Jupiter’s moon. Let’s dive into how the Callisto Protocol’s atmospheric environments, compelling characters and monstrous creatures turn the fight to survive in the horrors of Jupiter’s dead moon into a chillingly immersive experience.
Futuristic that seems familiar
One of the most important aspects of any survival horror game is the setting – the place or places where players either survive or die. Callisto’s protocol is full of fear-inducing places, such as Below, a series of long, abandoned tunnels “underneath” the prison that once served Arkas, Callisto’s first human colony. For Aasim Zubair, director of environmental art, the core concept began with a simple design philosophy: “Make it dark, wet and creepy.”
Shown below is an incredible demo of our lighting, and our environment team had the fun challenge of designing a unique location that was still thematically similar to the prison above and offered environmental clues to its creation and the original Callisto colony.
And this is certainly true. However, the Below environment stands out in a sci-fi survival horror game thanks to its well-founded inspiration.
“[Below is unique] because most of them are based on real materials and shapes,” says Zubair. “Instead of the crude sci-fi design that dominates many of the game’s other environments, Below allows the player to feel grounded in something familiar and intimate, while also allowing them to glimpse into the past of humanity’s first attempt to colonize a dead moon.”
Besides landing players in a recognizable environment, Zubair’s favorite part of the environment is the mood and storytelling. “Below provides a great opportunity for exploration, hidden areas, creepiness, and the ability to use space to tell compelling stories about the environment,” he says.
If you dare to explore the dark corners of the Underdark, there are many secrets to uncover and perhaps even a glimpse into the dark past of the original colony.
A scary human story in a groundbreaking future
As with the environmental storytelling in Below, lead writer R. Eric Lieb created a compelling story and complex characters to heighten the players’ sense of dread and fear in The Callisto Protocol. “Complex characters are important because their actions and the choices they make ultimately determine the story,” Lieb says. “However, the horror genre serves as a unique crucible for characters, where their actions and choices are often literally a matter of life and death.”
The connection between the game’s protagonist, Jacob Lee, and his jailer, Captain Leon Ferris, is another compelling narrative hook. “When designing Leon, we often described him as Jacob’s ‘dark mirror’,” Lieb says. “Thematically, both start in the same place, either unaware (or consciously unaware) of the consequences of their actions.”
“Their meeting destroys the comfortable worlds of both,” Lieb says. “The way everyone reacts to what happens inside Black Iron, as well as who exactly is at fault, forms the core of their relationship. [as well as] the player’s understanding of the world as presented to them throughout the game.”
Sam Witwer’s voice acting and acting bring the irresistible character of Captain Farris to life. One of the things that made him stand out during the auditions was his approach to the character. Right from the start, he gave Leon a subtle menace, like a coiled snake that might or might not strike, that just keeps you on your toes. Sam is an actor who wants to understand everything about the character and his role in the story, so when we cast him as Leon it was a lot of collaboration as we continued to develop the character.
While reading, for example, Witwer always asked insightful questions or offered suggestions that resonated with either the logical or emotional motives of the scene. And he was always on top. No spoilers, but there is one particular scene in which Sam suggested during filming that Striking Distance Studios had joined the flow. Sam Witwer has incredible flair and a fantastic understanding of how history works.
Biophages and the descent into enormity
Character director Glauco Longhi and the creature designers at Striking Distance Studios also recognize the importance of amplifying fear by creating creatures that are related and down to earth.
“We started with the idea of infected people so that some of the fear associated with what happened to them could happen to you,” says Longi. But it’s not just that biophages have a humanoid form, they have poses based on distinctly human emotions, reminiscent of pain, fear and rage.
The Callisto Protocol contains a variety of enemies to intimidate and scare players, but Grunts are most human-like. “[Grunts] bridge the gap between humans and more monstrous creatures, [their] silhouettes, proportions and anatomy are somewhat close to human,” says Longi.
Rusher is another corrupted enemy that walks on walls, runs, and jumps at players. “[Rushers] there is this acrobatic, twisted movement with twisted joints and limbs,” Longhi says.
Discover even more terrifying monsters, compelling characters, exciting plot twists and terrifying locations when The Callisto Protocol releases on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on December 2, 2022.