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The Callisto Protocol Interview

We Spoke To The Callisto Protocol’s Director Glen Schofield About His Horror Legacy, Censorship And More

Started with Dead Space now we here

Just before the grisly showcasing for The Callisto Protocol at Geoff Keighley’s Summer Game Fest, I had an opportunity to sit down for a half-hour chat with the game’s visionary, and original lead on the first Dead Space game, Glen Schofield. 

Straight of the bat, Glen flipped what would seem to him the regular script on me, and asked me what my favourite horror movie might be. After professing my adoration for the Tim Curry led It from the early nineties—a fixture of my childhood and perhaps one cause of the deadpan, emotionless husk I present myself as today—Glen confessed that, unlikely as it seems, the team were watching It in the other room.  

Granted, it was the remake. But spooky, still. 

I was fortunate enough to interview Shinji Mikami a few years ago. And I found out that you guys have similar trajectories in the way that you started out with kid’s tie-in games. Like he did Aladdin, you’ve done The Simpsons and Rocky & Bullwinkle. Now you’re both icons of horror. So, where did that affinity for horror come from? I presume it didn’t start with those games.

Glenn Schofield: No, it didn’t. So my first degree’s in art, I’m an artist. I started out as an artist. I was a cartoonist and when I started painting, which are two different talents actually. I started painting science-fiction. I loved science-fiction stuff. So I was painting it, and I just started liking those movies.

When the big sci-fi horror movies came out—Alien, Aliens, The Thing, then there’s Event Horizon—I really gravitated towards those, as well. And I like being scared at the same time. I like the mystery that they had as well.

I loved the imagination. You could do anything and so that’s what I loved about science- fiction. With horror, it just kind of grew on me and I think it was the different emotional responses that you get out of horror, more than you do anything else.

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I read in a recent feature that you like placing a bit of focus on tension. I think it’s a real intelligent form of horror because you can subvert expectation and it’s like scaring someone in a tantric way. There’s a real build-up and then you get that payoff. What ways do you play with tension in The Callisto Protocol?

We use tension all over, a lot in the way that you’re talking about. 

Sometimes you use tension to build up, build up, build up, have you think something’s going to happen, then let you down so that you get that same emotion and then you don’t know when it’s going to turn. Sometimes we’ll let it down and then we’ll hit you with a scare.

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I look at horror as if there’s no pattern, man. As a matter of fact, good horror should include a lack of pattern. You want to surprise, or change up things. Tension can be going upstairs and things that are sort of mundane and regular. In a video game, we can add that tension because that’s going to help the whole atmosphere of the game. 

Tension is really, really important. We’ll use it when we’re outside just using the wind, right? There may not be any music at all, but the wind in a horror game? 

Even the wind itself could be tension.

Outside of horror, what are some of the themes that this game will tackle?

Well the story itself, I’m not gonna get too deep in it, the main character, the player-character, is kind of looking deeper at his life and some of the choices he’s made. 

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Seeking redemption?

I don’t know about that. He will look a bit more introspectively about his life. There’s a couple stories going on, one with the characters and then one with “what the hell happened here?”

So you’re going to have to pay some attention to the details. There are audio logs where you’ll find out more as you go along, we’ve got a lot of hidden stuff. There’s a lot of stories sprinkled throughout if you just look for them.  

Were there any things that you maybe wanted to explore in Dead Space that you maybe weren’t allowed to that you’ve been able to explore with this game with a bit more freedom?

I’ll be honest with you. EA was very good about it. When they saw, at some point, that they had a good game they pretty much left me alone. There were times they communicated that they wished that it was more action-oriented—because they didn’t understand this kind of game—but they were pretty good about it. 

What did I explore more here? We probably went deeper on the gore simply thanks to power. I mean, Dead Space was PlayStation 3, this is PlayStation 5. So we were able to do some pretty awful stuff with the gore system. I mean, you blow chunks off ’em, you can knock off half of their head off and they’re still wandering around. 

I think that we are more gruesome, no doubt about that. So we’ll see what the censors think in certain countries at some point.

I’m a little nervous. 

Oh, you think that that’s going to be tough in Australia?

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Australia is typically a hard sell but I think that it’s mainly due to drug depicition. If it’s gore, we’re probably okay.

Yeah. We didn’t have any trouble with Australia with Dead Space. We did with Germany, but then we told them that Isaac was saving the world and they’re like: “Okay, that’s cool.”

Yeah, you can do anything if you’re saving the world. 

Yeah, yeah. We were also able to do a lot more with audio. I think that when you wear your headphones in this game, you’re really going to wonder where that sound is coming from. That’ll really get players looking around which is something I’m excited for people to experience. 

There are more things that we’re able to do because of the power of the machines themselves. The character, he looks just like the actor [Josh Duhamel] and you should see the world, with the water and the dripping. It looked fantastic with ray-tracing. So I think you’re really going to be immersed more—not that you weren’t in Dead Space—but the more realistic you can get in horror, the more immersed and lost in the world you get.

Just on the ray-tracing that you mentioned, is that just going to be a feature for PC and current consoles? I assume that’s not gonna be something we’ll see on legacy consoles that The Callisto Protocol is still launching on. 

You know what, I doubt it. I can’t really speak to that right now—my tech guy could— but I don’t think so, no.

The Callisto Protocol

It’s been reported that this game entered production a few years ago, which I think in a pandemic situation, has been a pretty quick turnaround. What challenges have you come across working remotely for a part of the production?

Oh yeah, oh man. We started out with about fifty people pre-pandemic, working doing the pre-production and everything. It was, I want to say, six months before the pandemic hit that we started a new studio that was being built. So we eventually move into the studio and two weeks later, the pandemic hit. We had to move out. So, we never got the chance to really enjoy it. 

So, we were about sixty people by the time the pandemic hit, we are 200 people now. 200 plus.

We had to hire all those people during the pandemic. Instead of setting up in one place, we had to set up for 200 individual locations. So it, instead of having ten dev kits that you just spread around the studio, you now have 150 dev kits. And how do you even get your hands on 150 dev kits? It’s really hard. We were banging on Sony’s and Microsoft’s doors everyday. We were getting Krafton, using their Korean connections, to get us that stuff. 

It’s hard to train people. A lot of people had to learn new tools and things like that. It was rough, man. It’s been difficult, but yet I’m really proud of the team because they never stopped working. They never stopped being passionate. It’s pretty amazing. I think so many of them were excited to be on a horror project. There’s not a lot of AAA games being made in the area and not as many as there used to be worldwide. 

So getting on a AAA game, getting on a good team, a lot of people want to work on a new project. A lot of people want to work in a new studio. They want to be part of that. So, there was a lot of excitement, even though we were working at home. 

People just kept cranking.

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Awesome. Obviously, we had the State of Play trailer the other day, which obviously gave us the date. December. Where’s development currently at? Is that a lock?

Um, it’s coming out, but we are going to be working hard for the rest of the summer. No doubt about it. 

Yeah. It’s a hard part of development, you know, we still have a lot of people working at home.

Understandable. I’m sure you’d love to hit the date for mindshare alone, especially with the Dead Space remake coming out. Were you consulted personally for that at all?

For Dead Space? No, not at all. I’m a competitor now and, uh, it is what it is.

What engine is The Callisto Protocol running on?

We’re working on Unreal Engine, um, uh, it’s like 4.27. Something like that. 

We have done a lot of work to it, we’ve really added a lot to it. It’s a good engine to do that to. So, we’ve really brought it along.

There’s obviously a lot of really creative ways that Isaac would die in Dead Space, really brutal ways. You said gore has been a focus. Can we expect a lot of really interesting ways that Jacob Lee gets torn to shreds?

Oh, yes, you can. Look, I guess it’s okay for me to copy my own game. I’m not copying it, but I’m using some of the same ideas here and there. Hey, if I want to kill the character, I’m going to kill him pretty good. 

There’s definitely some really interesting ways. We’ve got this giant character called Big Mouth who just takes his whole mouth, puts it over Jacob’s head and rips it off. You’ll also see stuff where Jacob can be dismembered when the enemies are just ripping them apart.

The Callisto Protocol

Does dismemberment play a big part in the core loop as it did in Dead Space?

No, I mean dismemberment only plays a part if you want to cut off their arms. Well, they’re still going to try and bite you. You cut off their legs, they’re still coming at you, it’s all about the amount of body parts you knock off. 

We have one have one character where you can tear him in half and one half of him is still walking around. So, it’s more about hit points than it is about dismemberment, we’ve got a pretty robust combat system, which is part melee, part shooting, and part what we call grip. Grip is kind of like a gravity gun of sorts.

Using grip, you can pick up the enemies and fling them, and we’ve got stuff all around the world to utilise—you may have seen it in the trailer. You fling ’em into a giant machine, you fling ’em into giant fans and I mean gore’s just coming out. So we’ve got spiked walls and hazards all over the place. Um, and then you can also use the grip system to pick up items and knock pieces off of these guys. And you’re gonna have to. You’re going to have to learn the system because some enemies you don’t want to throw hands because you can’t get up close and personal with some of them. With others, you’re going to have to because you won’t have enough ammo. 

So there’s some very interesting ways to kill. 

Is the game fairly linear or are players going to be able to explore the prison and its outskirts?

Yeah, it’s kind of linear, but we’ve got beta paths all over for you to explore. One of the issues we’re dealing with right now is that people are still getting lost. 

Which is a good thing. I don’t want you to get lost, but I want you to sometimes stumble across the next place to go. We’re not doing a locator system like we did in Dead Space, I think that I want to evolve from that. So I’m trying to do as much as I can with in-game signage, or with lighting, to signpost instead. That’s how I want to get you through. 

So is it linear? Uh, it is but it isn’t, there’s a lot of exploration.

The Callisto Protocol

So, you already referred to the 3D audio you’re outputting. With the marketing push towards PlayStation, what are some other things you’re doing with the Dualsense and the haptics? 

Yeah, we’re doing a lot with the haptics. We’re still working on that kind of stuff, but that’s kind of coming in the end when we’re realizing the mechanics fully. 

So, I can’t speak fully on it but we’re trying to do as much as we can with the haptics. 

But like I said with the ray-tracing, what we’ve done with shaders is really amazing. We have a team of ten renderers. We have a studio in Spain, home to a couple of the best renderers, I think the business is run by a guy named Jorge, who worked with me on Call of Duty. And he was the best of the best. 

So we brought him over, so there are a lot of rendering techniques that we have that a lot of other studios won’t. It looks pretty nice, man. Really does.

Are you able to run us through briefly on the game’s economies and how the upgrading system works for Jacob’s armour and guns?

I can talk a little bit about it. Yes, we have a currency. You can also pick up stuff along the way, you put it into a machine—you’ll see it’s like a 3D printer—and it lets you print different weapons. 

There are skilled trees. All of the weapons are upgradeable—and you’re gonna want to— there’s different types of ammo. There’s quite a bit to upgrade. There’s also quite a bit to find in the world like audio and written logs. You’ll see a column for those in your menu so you can collect them all. 

But you’re not going to be able to upgrade it all on your first pass through the game. And I doubt you’re going to get through all the beta paths. So I think there’s room for replayability, and the same can be said of the horror. You don’t always see the same scares throughout the game. You might be looking one way and miss something. Next time through, you’ll see it.

The Callisto Protocol

So, Josh Duhamel, he’s a pretty big star. You’ve worked with him previously on Call of Duty WWII. Did he have to audition for this one, or was he the guy from the get go?

You know, he was always like first and foremost, but we like that we get to work with Josh again. He has become kind of a friend. I’ve loved working with him, he’s great on the set, he’s just a really good guy. 

But I thought that they don’t really do that in video games; where a director uses the same actor. 

Now I had done it with a couple of like lesser names in Call of Duty, which nobody really picked up on. So we did go out and had a bunch of people rehearse but then at the end of the day—about a month later—I’m like, no, we’re using Josh. 

He’s the guy I want to get.

Where did the PUBG link come from initially? Was it a necessary byproduct to get the game greenlit once pitched to Krafton?

So I came in with this idea. It had a different name, and we talked about opening the studio and the first game. This was the game. 

When we finally started the game, they had a backstory that they’ve been working on with some really big writers to create this world. And they built a timeline out—war and everything. They were like: “Hey, maybe you can sit on this timeline. 300 years, or whatever it is, past PUBG, but you could fit on the timeline.” 

And so at first, we tried to write that in, but as we started getting going and getting deeper into the game and into our own story, it just didn’t make as much sense. So we’re our own story, our own world, our own universe, our characters, and so on. 

It was very brief conversation where I told them it doesn’t make sense anymore. They were cool.

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A lot of people are making presumptions after the State of Play trailer, and the actor himself is being cagey, but is it Sam Witwer narrating that? We’re assuming he perhaps plays the role of the prison’s warden.

Yes, but he’s not the warden. He’s actually the head guard. Another guy plays the warden.

Thanks so much for your time, we’re excited to play the game later this year. 

Thank you, man. I really do appreciate it. We appreciate that anybody takes the time to talk to us.


The Callisto Protocol launches on December 2nd for PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One. The cheapest price is currently $89 on Amazon.