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The Callisto Protocol marks Glen Schofield's return to survival horror, but it's so much more than just a next-gen Dead Space

The Callisto Protocol
(Image credit: Striking Distance)

Glen Schofield is one of those names that you might not recognise, but has likely appeared on the credits of something you've enjoyed over the last three generations of gaming. The industry veteran has been at the forefront of game development for two decades, shaping everything from cult classics such as Legacy of Kain to medium-defining franchises like Dead Space and Call of Duty. After leaving his studio Sledgehammer Games in 2018, Schofield has already co-founded another, Striking Distance, which is owned by none other than PUBG Corp – the team dedicated to supporting PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds.

Striking Distance lifted the lid on its first project, The Callisto Protocol, at The Game Awards last year, the cinematic trailer confirming Schofield's return to sci-fi survival horror with a game set in a maximum-security prison on Jupiter's frozen moon. Interestingly enough, The Callisto Protocol takes place in the same universe as PUBG, despite being set 300 years in the future and several million miles away from planet Earth. You can't help but wonder whether having that connection was a mandatory clause within PUBG Corp's publishing deal, but Schofield assures us that the company has given him "carte blanche" to tell his own story. 

"We're helping PUBG Corp right now as a team of writers, working on the lore for PUBG and its universe," he explains. "They have a timeline, and we fit on that timeline now. It's not going to be really deep, but there will be little connections here and there. We'll probably be referencing one another from time to time… It will make more sense once the game comes out!"

Shooting for the moon

The Callisto Protocol

(Image credit: Striking Distance)

The Callisto Protocol's trailer is a good example of revealing everything and nothing about a game in under two minutes. There's a man stuck in a prison cell, waking to find his robot guards reduced to spasmodic husks, before being dispatched by a Lovecraftian monstrosity as we cut to an ominous figure watching the chaos unfold from a control room. The overt allusions to Alien, from shot-for-shot homages right down to the way the title screen slowly morphs into view, are hard to miss, but the trailer stops short of anything beyond scene-setting.

"Mystery is part of the importance of a game like this," says Schofield. "What's around the next corner? What's behind that door? I think it was a good mix of showing enough, and then keeping some things like our mechanics and our characters and our story – a lot of the story – still hidden away so that we can tell a little bit more as the game develops, you know? We've got to leave some stuff up to the audience to figure out."

Of course, given that The Callisto Protocol is set on a moon that mankind has never set foot on, Striking Distance has a fair amount of creative leeway when it comes to depicting its icy milieu, though that's not to say it hasn't done its research. In fact, talk to Schofield about Callisto, and he starts to sound less like a studio head and more like a professional astronomer.

"It's covered in ice, but it does have what they believe is an ocean below that ice," he tells me, "so obviously there's water there. They do believe that one day man could colonise it, but the atmosphere is 200 degrees below zero in Fahrenheit, so it's pretty darn cold!"

The Callisto Protocol

(Image credit: Striking Distance)
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"We've been studying Antarctica a bit, and other cold places on Earth, to get a sense of how we could survive there. And then coming up with the rest takes a lot of imagination. And that's what I like about it! People can't really tell you that you're wrong! You try and use the science that you've learned, and the imagination that you have, and you kind of put the two together, and come up with something that actually makes sense."

Striking Distance has pitched The Callisto Protocol as a next-generation take on survival horror, which is no small claim. Granted, Dead Space proved it was still possible to make a commercially successful new IP within the genre that didn't just blithely follow convention, but that was over a decade ago. We've had hundreds of survival horror titles follow in its wake, many good and many not-so-good, but it begs the question; are players still capable of being truly terrified? Schofield is confident that The Callisto Protocol can do it. 

"I'll admit, it's a challenge, but it's always been a challenge, right? On Dead Space, it was a challenge. And so I think we can still scare people, that's for sure. We already know because we have people testing it, and playing it, and going, 'Man, you've got me. You've got me on that one!'"

Dead Space

(Image credit: EA)

"You can use old tried-and-true methods, and then, you know, we're trying new stuff for how we can get them. But it's not just about the jump scares. It's also about creating tension. As long as you can keep players tense like that for a while, then the jump scares come easier. Making a game like this is a lot of timing, and also letting the player know everyone once in a while that it's OK not to be scared here. It can't be 12 hours of just pure terror."

As for how The Callisto Protocol will utilise the next-gen technology of the PS5 and Xbox Series X respectively, Schofield points to sight and sound specifically as two areas that could elevate survival horror to new heights. 

"You can put everything that's in my room here into a room in a video game now. I mean, pencils and paper and every little detail you could possibly think of. And we're trying to do that. We're trying to get every kind of nuance in there. And then you've got the 3D sound. Audio, in general, is integral to creating a survival horror game, so the idea that you can now hear something, and it sounds like it's behind your back, or it's just above you… it's insane."

Breaking protocol

The Callisto Protocol

(Image credit: Striking Distance)

Having grown to a team of around 150 people since opening its doors last year, Striking Distance has officially entered full production on The Callisto Protocol, with a targeted 2022 release date for the game on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X.  

Schofield tells me that Striking Distance had just opened a brand new, state of the art studio in San Ramon, California two weeks before lockdown hit ("It's so sad, man. There's an ice cream machine just sitting there, waiting to be used!"), but the team has comfortably settled into remote working for the time being. 

One thing's for clear; the sheer breadth of experience, knowledge, and connections that Schofield brings to production as The Callisto Protocol's creative lead is a huge boon for the project. As we turn to look back on his long and storied career, I wonder whether any particular franchises taught him specific lessons that he's already been able to apply at Striking Distance. 

"Dead Space taught me how to sell a franchise, because that one I had to sell to EA. That was not an easy thing to do. And then I had to try and sell the idea of Sledgehammer Games to Activision. I also went back a number of years ago and got myself an MBA, and that has helped me put together the business plan that I can do in selling the studio and making a game at the same time."

PUBG

(Image credit: PUBG Corporation )

"Dead Space taught me how to sell a franchise"

Schofield started life in the industry as an artist; his first credited project is 1991's Barbie: Game Girl for the Nintendo Game Boy. The Callisto Protocol is a long way from the silicon suburbias of that blonde icon of popular culture, but which of Schofield's design principles have remained key to his approach to game-making ever since?

"I've always believed that the best ideas can come from anywhere," he tells me. "It's not just my ideas. Everybody's a game-maker. Everybody on the team – they may be an engineer, or they may be an artist or an animator, but they're all game-makers. So I try to always listen to other people's ideas. I look at my job as to not always come up with ideas, but it's to try and find the very best ones that people are giving you. I've never changed that philosophy."

For more, check out the best adventure games to escape into right now, or watch our review of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla in the video below.

Alex Avard

I'm GamesRadar's Features Writer, which makes me responsible for gracing the internet with as many of my words as possible, including reviews, previews, interviews, and more. Lucky internet!