Striking Distance Studios wants the Callisto protocol to look so realistic that even the characters’ eyeballs will ensnare you in the game’s body horror.
Speaking to GadgetMasti Gaming at Gamescom 2022, Chief Technical Officer Mark James said the Callisto protocol was developed with maximum realism in mind. The team made it a priority to create the most compelling characters by trying to portray them in an unparalleled level of detail.
“Our characters are the most realistic characters you’ll see in a game,” says James. “So much so that when we first showed our game, everyone thought it was a pre-rendering. We were like, ‘No, that’s what our character looks like. This is how Josh [Duhamel, the actor behind the game’s main character] sees’.
‘We have a full scan, even down to the ray-traced reflections for the eyeballs. So if you look at the [character’s] eyes in our game, you can see their reflected optics. It’s a very small detail, but it’s those little details that are so important to our game.”
Go for the eyes
To create such precise optical detail, the team meticulously modeled the light reflections at every angle. By spinning lights around the game’s character models, they were able to accurately mimic those bounce properties in the character’s eyes, even taking into account changes in direction and type of light source.
“Our render man, Jorge Jiminez, always sent around pictures of Josh and the digital render [of the game’s main character]and he would make people guess [which was which]. If people thought there was any difference, he worked in that area. It’s so important to us that that realism is in our game.”
The meticulous rendering of character eyeballs served a greater purpose than just supporting each character’s graphical fidelity. James thinks that creating convincing faces is essential to selling the realism of the wider world of the Callisto Protocol.
“It brings a connection to the player that you don’t normally get,” he said. “So much of our brains are associated with seeing faces more than the rest of the world around us because we have to read faces every day.
“If realism doesn’t exist in the faces, you don’t start to believe the realism in the rest of the world. We really wanted to focus on where you spend the most brain power when reviewing an image.”
Convincing character faces are also key to underpinning the horror at the heart of The Callisto Protocol. Every enemy in the game is a grotesquely mutated human, and James says players have to recognize that—see the remnants of humanity that exist within them—to truly fear them.
“You can still see a face in our enemies,” he said. “You can still see that they are incoherent; mutated in a way that is natural.”
“We want to base all our mutations and our physical horror on this grounded reality – what would happen if an arm doubled in size, or a chest opened up.
“Our enemies are not the undead, they are not aliens, they are mutated humans. So we want to show that grounding — they’re still recognizable as humans — and that connection too, so you don’t just forgo these things that used to be human. They’re your fellow inmates and guards.’
The Callisto protocol will be released on December 2. It’s coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.