Recently I had some hands-on time with The Callisto Protocol, the upcoming sci-fi horror game from Dead Space creator Glen Schofield. Aside from the obvious Dead Space similarities and impressive presentation, the thing that struck me the most was the surprising level of difficulty. In almost every situation death was only one wrong move away. But an unexpected benefit of my regular missteps was being able to witness the huge variety of gory death animations that developer Striking Distance Studios has created.
From being violently sucked into industrial fans to having half my head bitten off in a single chomp, I was taken aback – but also extremely entertained – by the incredible levels of brutality. Much like recent Mortal Kombat games, the violence always felt the right amount of slapstick, and was extremely tongue-in-cheek (or tongue hanging out of cheek, in this case). The violence was extreme, but never in a way that encouraged you to look away. I became enthralled by what grisly fate could be next, so much so that I began allowing my character to die over and over, just to see what I’d get next time.
After my play session, I sat down with director Glen Schofield and, perhaps to his surprise, I had only one thing on my mind: I wanted to find out about the process of creating those horrifying scenes.
“[The design philosophy] was can we make death a feature?’” explained Schofield. “When you see the same death a thousand times in games, it’s not a feature, it’s just the conclusion of that. We wanted to try and make something entertaining.”Glen’s take on death in video games spoke to me. I often find myself tired of witnessing the same animations in-game, particularly when a section can be pretty challenging. Sometimes it can even have a negative effect on the scene, which at first might feel spectacular but quickly spirals into repetition and pulls you out of the moment. Take for example the notoriously poorly designed sliding sections in 2019’s Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. What begins as an exciting set piece quickly spirals into repetition when you unceremoniously fall to your death in the exact same way for the 7th time.
But from what I’ve seen so far, The Callisto Protocol doesn’t have that problem. Whether you’re literally sliced in half or your head explodes after point-blank execution, these animations never fail to keep you enthralled with their unprecedented levels of brutality.
“As far as like, ‘Oh let’s do the most devastating, horrible thing.’ It wasn’t like that,” said Scholfield. “It was just trying to do something different and in your face, but it wasn’t trying to achieve anything other than people going, ‘Oh, that was cool!’”
Despite only playing for just over an hour, I saw at least nine different death animations, each more gnarly than the last. “Gnarly, I love that!” enthused Schofield as I asked how many death animations there are in total. “I don’t know [how many] actually, because we still have a couple more that [the developers] want to add. They wrote to me yesterday and said, ‘We’ve got three more, can we add them in?’ I’m like, ‘Ah, I don’t think so.’ But we’ll look into it. So there are quite a few but I don’t know the number off hand.”
Clearly, the developers at Striking Distance Studios have a passion for creating these monstrosities. Despite leading the charge, Schofield shared that the vision for these animations was certainly a team effort.
“The truth is that we open it up to a few people,” he said, “The animators love to come up with them because in a lot of ways they know what they can do with the character. I’ll throw out some ideas, but I got to give props to my chief creative officer [Christopher Stone] who’s been with me since before Dead Space.”
The combination of unrestricted violence mixed with disgustingly effective sound design had to have its limits though, especially without jumping into the over-the-top, parody-like Mortal Kombat fatalities deep end. I asked Schofield if his encouragement for animators to express brutality had ever gone too far.
“No.” said Scholfield, empathically with a cheeky smile across his face. He stated that the only limitations have been technical ones. “Some of them are too complex for the rigging, so we’d have to recreate the rigging, which is tough. But we learned for next time. We’re like, ‘Okay, we got to remember to keep the rigs open for that kind of thing.’”
So where does the inspiration come from? How do these ideas for entertaining-yet-gnarly death animations manifest? “A few of them just came natural,” said Schofield. “We have a big mouth, let’s bite off his head. But the cool thing was we only bit off half his head.” Schofield then went on to share how movies, not games, have become more of an inspiration recently. “There’s been a lot of influences and changes in movies over the last few years where they’ve gotten more brutal and more in-your-face, more personal. I just said I want to make a game like where the movies are going.”
“[Take] ripping the jaw, I saw them do it against dinosaurs in King Kong. It’s like, “Okay, let’s get that in here.”
Apart from the gaming savants out there, it’s likely you’re going to die a reasonable amount in The Callisto Protocol. But Glen Schofield and the creative team at Striking Distance Studios are hopeful that every disgusting end you meet will have just as much impact as the last. And, if what I’ve seen so far is an indicator of the gore to come, then it’s a very good sign.
Source: IGN Video Games All