The Callisto Protocol is a return to sci-fi horror from Dead Space creators

When the former executive producer of Dead Space, Visceral Games’ beloved sci-fi survival horror series, went to the people who make PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, he had a simple plan.

“I went to them and said, ‘I’ll give you a game studio,’” Striking Distance founder and CEO Glen Schofield told Polygon in an interview this week. “‘And here’s the game I’d like to make.’”

He envisioned “the most terrifying game on next-gen platforms” when he made his pitch for The Callisto Protocol last year. Schofield said PUBG Corp., now known as Krafton, gave him the OK, and they’ve largely left him alone over the past 18 months to create that studio and develop its debut game.

The Callisto Protocol got revealed at The Game Awards last Thursday. It’s as close to a Dead Space spiritual successor as you can get without a raised eyebrow from Electronic Arts’ legal team, and it’s a return to the sci-fi horror genre that Schofield says he loves unequivocally.

“I love horror. And I love sci-fi,” Schofield said. “I’ll watch any horror movie no matter how bad … and with sci-fi, they can get pretty bad. […] When I get to see a good one, it’s just gravy for me. I spent the last 10 years making Call of Duty, which has been really good to me. I really loved making Advanced Warfare because it was a little in the future. But it was time to get back to something that I just really love. And sci-fi horror is where it’s at for me.”

A shot of the moon Callisto’s surface from The Callisto Protocol’s cinematic trailer. Image: Striking Distance/Krafton

The Callisto Protocol is set on the second-largest moon of Jupiter, Callisto, and in a space prison where something has gone horribly wrong. Players will take on the role of an inmate at Black Iron Prison who, over the course of the game, unravels a mystery about the prison and the people behind it, the United Jupiter Company.

Schofield said he wanted to ground The Callisto Protocol in some semblance of reality. That’s why his studio’s third-person survival horror game is set on Callisto, and will use the moon’s real-life properties to ground the fiction. Schofield noted that Callisto is a far-off location that man could conceivably colonize one day, and mentioned the moon’s subsurface ocean of water — not quite a hint about the game’s story, but what creator could resist the horrors of a space ocean hidden 100 kilometers beneath the surface of an alien world?

(Curiously, The Callisto Protocol is also set in the far-off future of the PUBG universe — specifically, the year 2320 — according to a news release from Striking Distance owner Krafton.)

Joining Schofield on the mission to develop The Callisto Protocol are a number of Dead Space and Visceral Games veterans. That includes Steve Papoutsis, former Dead Space executive producer, who took over the franchise when Schofield left Visceral in 2009; Scott Whitney, the creative director of Striking Distance and former Dead Space designer; and Christopher Stone, the animation director on Dead Space and Call of Duty, among others. Schofield said some 25 to 30 people he’s worked with before at Visceral and Sledgehammer Games have joined Striking Distance over the past two years.

A prisoner faces a drooling monster in a still from The Callisto Protocol’s cinematic trailer Image: Striking Distance/Krafton

Schofield said he was excited about the technical capabilities that new consoles are bringing to Striking Distance’s new game, ranging from haptics on the PlayStation 5 DualSense controller to advancements in 3D sound to pure visual dazzle. Schofield praised the visual fidelity that his studio is working into The Callisto Protocol, saying “there were times when I’m saying [to them], ‘Dial back the detail.’”

While Schofield wouldn’t expand much on how The Callisto Protocol will actually play when it’s released in 2022, he did draw the occasional comparison to Dead Space during our chat, and how his next game will both honor it and stand apart from it.

“You know, [I] have a particular style,” he said. “And I can’t get away from my style. My style has grown and maybe matured a little bit, but it is my style. I’m sure there’ll be some familiar vibes within the game. It’s hard for me to step back and go, ‘Oh, I’ve got to make this different than that idea on Dead Space, and make this different and this different.’ […] I’m just going to make a game [with 10 more years of experience]. What have I learned? What am I doing different? You know, it has to just be natural.”