Welcome to Black Iron Prison, a maximum security penitentiary located on the desolate surface of Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. Let’s dive into how the atmospheric environments, fascinating characters, and monstrous creatures of Callisto Protocol make the struggle to survive the horrors of Jupiter’s dead moon a terrifying and immersive experience.
A futurist that looks familiar
One of the most important aspects of any survival horror game is the setting – the place or places where players survive or die. Callisto Protocol is full of spooky locations, like Below, a series of long-abandoned tunnels “beneath” the prison that once served Arcas, Callisto’s first human colony. For Aasim Zubair, Director of Environmental Art, the basic concept started with a simple design philosophy: “make it dark, damp and spooky”.
Below is an amazing showcase of our lighting and gave our environment team a fun challenge to design a unique location that was again thematically similar to the prison above, and offered environmental clues to its creation and the original Callisto Colony.
And it certainly is. However, Below’s setting stands out in the sci-fi survival horror game thanks to its grounded inspiration.
“[Below is unique] because the majority of them are based on real-world materials and shapes,” says Zubair. “Instead of the heavy-duty sci-fi design elements that dominate many other game environments, Below allows the player to feel grounded in something familiar and relatable while letting them look back on the first’s past. humanity’s attempt to colonize the dead moon.”
Besides grounding players in a recognizable environment, Zubair’s favorite part of the environment is the ambiance and storytelling. “Below offers a great opportunity for exploration, hidden areas, creepiness, and a chance to use the space for compelling environmental storytelling,” he says.
If you dare to explore the dark recesses of Below, there are plenty of secrets to uncover and perhaps even a glimpse of the original colony’s dark past.
A terrifying human story in a future pioneer
Like Below’s environmental storytelling, lead writer R. Eric Lieb crafted an engaging story and complex characters to heighten the sense of dread and fear for players in The Callisto Protocol. “Complex characters are important because their actions and the choices they make are what ultimately drive the plot,” Lieb explains. “However, the horror genre serves as a unique melting pot 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. “In developing Leon, we often described him as Jacob’s ‘black mirror’,” says Lieb. “Thematically, both start in a similar place, either oblivious (or willfully blind) to the consequences of their actions.”
“Meeting them shatters their two comfortable worlds,” Lieb says. “How each reacts to what happens within Black Iron – as well as who, exactly, is to blame – is the core of their relationship. [as well as] the player’s understanding of the world presented to them throughout the game.”
Sam Witwer’s voice work and acting bring the compelling character of Captain Farris to life. One of the things that made him stand out in the auditions was his approach to the character. From the start, he imbued Leon with a subtle menace, like a coiled serpent that may or may not strike, that just keeps you at bay. Sam is an actor who wants to understand everything about the character and his role in the story, so once we cast him as Leon, it was really a collaboration as we continued to develop the character.
During the readings, for example, Witwer would always ask insightful questions or offer suggestions that resonated with the logical or emotional motivations of that scene. And he was always there. No spoilers, but there is a specific scene where Sam suggested during filming that Striking Distance Studios got into the flow. Sam Witwer has incredible instincts and a fantastic understanding of what makes a story work.
Biophages and the descent into monstrosity
Character director Glauco Longhi and creature designers at Striking Distance Studios also recognize the importance of heightening fear by creating creatures that are relatable and grounded.
“We started with the idea of infected humans so that part of the fear was that what happened to them could also happen to you,” says Longhi. But it’s not just that biophages have humanoid forms, they have postures based on distinctly human emotions resembling pain, fear, and rage.
The Callisto Protocol contains many enemies to intimidate and terrify players, but the Grunts are the most humane. “[Grunts] bridging the gap between humans and more monstrous creatures, [their] the silhouettes, proportions and anatomy are somewhat close to human,” says Longhi.
The Rusher is another deformed enemy that walks on walls, sprints and jumps at players. “[Rushers] having this kind of contortionist, twisted movement with twisted joints and limbs,” says Longhi.
Discover more terrifying monsters, fascinating characters, thrilling storylines and horrific environments when The Callisto Protocol releases on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 on December 2, 2022.