The Callisto Protocol Interview – “There’s certainly moments that we’re hoping to get players to squirm”

jacob lee in space suit in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios

Dexerto sat down with Steve Papoutsis, Chief Development Officer at Striking Distance Studios, to discuss The Callisto Protocol.

The survival-horror stratosphere took on a completely different shape when the original Dead Space launched as it completely reinvented the genre with its minimalist HUD and terrifying space setting. Now, 14 years later, a lot of the team that worked on the original game, are hard at work as Striking Distance Studios as they embark on their newest venture — The Callisto Protocol.

Using a mixture of previous, successful elements and introducing a whole new level of depth and terror, the devs are once again breaking ground in the genre. To celebrate the game’s recent appearance during the June 2022 Sony State of Play show, we were able to speak to Steve Papoutsis, the team’s Chief Development Officer.

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dark hallway with enemy in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios
Dead Space fans will feel right at home in The Callisto Protocol.

The Callisto Project is a breath of fresh, putrid air

It’s hard to avoid comparisons with Dead Space, and that’s something the team at Striking Distance is aware of.

“I think when we set out to make this game we came together with a passion to make a science-fiction horror game and the excitement of creating something all-new and different that allowed us to let our creativity go and play around with different ideas,” said Papoutsis.

“So what we’re hoping is that the combination of new and old people coming together, making a brand new studio, and then just the general passion of our team for horror and science fiction would culminate into an experience that players would really enjoy and be scared while playing”, Papoutsis adds.

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“So, that’s really where our mindset is and then, you know, getting a chance to build out new mechanics and a new take on the way to approach the game itself is just really exciting for us.”

As shown in the latest look at gameplay, there are plenty of parallels to be drawn with previous hero Isaac Clarke, notably with the lack of HUD.

“One of the things that we really wanted to explore and do was continue to have that notion of diegetic UI, you know, in-world UI, so that’s important to us from a design perspective, anything to kind of keep you immersed in the game experience is really important to keep that seat of your pants tension going. In terms of Easter eggs and things like that, I think we’ll let players discover that on their own.”

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The Callisto Protocol is built for the PS5 and Xbox Series S|X, and Papoutsis explains that means the team could aim significantly higher.

“I think one thing’s for certain with the new generation of consoles, we have a lot more ability to do things on the graphical side that we weren’t able to do back in the day. So I think some of the detail and the characters and our lighting model and things like that are going to stand out and definitely be an evolution from previous games we’ve had the opportunity to build.”

“The sound is also going to be enhanced as well as just the general feeling of being connected to the controller. That’s something we’re pretty excited about and just making that immersion be not only visual but also audible and tactile,” he explains.

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bodies hanging from ceiling in the callisto protocolStriking Distance Studios
There’s going to be fear and a sense of dread around every corner and in every room.

The Callisto Protocol is a new IP and the reception to it has already been fantastic with Papoutsis revealing that the team is “very thankful and happy with the way people responded to the trailer that went out,” and also revealed information on some of the game’s darker content to look forward to.

“There are certainly moments that we’re hoping to get players to squirm, in general, our combat, now that we’re not only going to have the ability to have ranged combat, but also pretty engaging melee combat, you know the idea of just being able to like break an arm and dismembering with a melee weapon is definitely something that we feel, or we hope, is going to get players to squirm a bit and just get that much more into the experience.”

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Obviously, Papoutsis was keen to keep some of the game’s details secretive, such as some of the game’s deeper and more complex systems, but he was happy to share a scoop on upcoming weaponry and the game’s melee mechanics.

“You’re definitely going to have the opportunity to upgrade the weapons that you do obtain throughout the experience and I think there should be a mix of things that hopefully players find and enjoy throughout the experience.”

Papoutsis’ excitement is tangible, too, as he tells us “I’ve got my personal favorites and excited to see what players gravitate towards when they’re playing. But one of the things that I will say is even though we have a melee system, the idea is that it’s strategic and it’s also not a gimmie. So there’s not going to be this sense of just mashing the button to progress. A lot of games have had melee but that’s generally like a last resort type of thing.”

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“In our game, we wanted it to be a strategic choice as you engage the various enemies, so certain enemies may be more susceptible to it, while other enemies are going to be better dealt with by keeping them at range, it’s going to be a choice for the players to determine what they enjoy engaging with, but one of our goals is to make sure that the game itself is tense and that the player is trying to survive — so that’s one of our goals.”

He elaborates that in classic survival-horror style there’ll be a “scarcity of resources” and a “variety of difficulties” to test the mettle of all levels of skill.

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josh duhamel as jacob lee in the callisto protocol

Long live single-player gaming

Originally intended as part of the PUBG universe, we asked Papoutsis if there was ever an idea to make The Callisto Protocol a “games as a service title”.

“The goal was always to make a single-player, narrative-driven game and that’s kind of what brought us [Papoutsis and studio founder Glen Schofield] together. That was the passion for making this game and building the studio,” Papoutsis reveals.

“I think it’s awesome for people to have options and different types of experiences. But for us, we were really excited about building this game and doing it as a team and getting back together with a lot of the people that we’ve had fun building games with.”

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That connection was severed, though, with The Callisto Protocol now standing aside from the battle royale franchise.

“When we first sat down, we were thinking, “oh, it’d be interesting to tie this into the PUBG universe” and we went through designing and creating the story and the game and we realized, you know, this isn’t making as much sense as we thought,” Papoutsis explains.

“We started to just kind of go in our own direction and dig into things that made the most sense for creating the best game possible.”

“Krafton was very supportive of that. They don’t want to limit our ability to be creative, so we made a choice to kind of go in a different direction in terms of that connection. There’ll certainly be some little Easter Eggs, I think, in the game that might be a nod, but there is no direct correlation to the PUBG universe.”

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The success of The Callisto Protocol will have a huge say on if we ever get another entry, and Papoutsis offered his two cents on a potential sequel.

jacob lee being attacked by an enemyStriking Distance Studios
Could there end up being a The Callisto Protocol 2?

“I think when we build any new game or try to build a new franchise the goal is to make the very best experience you can make, first and foremost. The success or the appreciation from players absolutely impacts things down the road.”

“You know, really in order to make the best game possible you just have to be focused on making the best game possible and not worry about what comes next so to speak. It’s more about taking advantage of the opportunity that you’re given, trying to create an immersive experience that will resonate with players and hopefully get them to want to engage with future games. But you know, out of the gate, we’re just focused on trying to tell this story and create an experience that, yes, could have the potential to continue, but ultimately earns that opportunity through the enjoyment of our players.”

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The Callisto Protocol launches on December 2, 2022.