Welcome to Black Iron Prison, a maximum-security penitentiary located on the desolate surface of Jupiter’s moon, Callisto. Let’s dive into how The Callisto Protocol’s atmospheric environments, compelling characters and monstrous creatures make the fight to survive the horrors of Jupiter’s dead moon a terrifyingly immersive experience.
A Futuristic that feels familiar
One of the most important aspects of any survival horror game is the setting – the place or places players either survive or die. The Callisto Protocol is full of fear-inducing locales, like Below, a series of long abandoned tunnels ‘below’ the prison that once serviced Arcas, the Callisto’s first human colony. For Aasim Zubair, director of environment art, the core concept started with a straightforward design philosophy: “make it dark, wet, and creepy.”
Below is an incredible showcase of our lighting and gave our environment team a fun challenge to design a unique location that was still thematically similar to the Prison above, and offered environmental clues to its creation and the original Callisto colony.
And it certainly is. However, Below’s environment stands out in the sci-fi survival horror game thanks to its grounded inspiration.
“[Below is unique] because the majority of it is based off real-world materials and shapes,” says Zubair. “Instead of the rugged sci-fi design cues that dominate many of the game’s other environments, Below allows the player to feel grounded in something familiar and relatable while also letting them look into the past of humanity’s first attempt to colonize the dead moon.”
In addition to grounding players in a recognizable environment, Zubair’s favorite part of the environment is the mood and storytelling. “Below provides a great opportunity for exploration, hidden areas, creepiness and a chance to use the space for compelling environmental storytelling,” he says.
If you dare to explore the dark recesses of Below there’s plenty of secrets to discover and maybe even a glimpse of the original colony’s dark past.
A terrifying human story in a pioneering future
Like Below’s environmental storytelling, Lead Writer R. Eric Lieb crafted a compelling story and complex characters to heighten players’ sense of dread and fear in The Callisto Protocol. “Complex characters are important because their actions and choices they make are what ultimately drive the plot,” says Lieb. “However, the horror genre serves as a unique crucible for characters where their actions and choices are often literally a matter of life and death.”
The connection between the game’s protagonist, Jacob Lee, and his jailer, Captain Leon Ferris, is another compelling narrative hook. “In developing Leon we often described him as the ‘dark mirror’ of Jacob,” says Lieb. “Thematically both begin in a similar place, either oblivious about (or willingly blind to) the consequences of their actions.”
“Their meeting shatters both of their comfortable worlds,” says Lieb. “How each reacts to what is happening within Black Iron – as well as who, exactly, is to blame – forms the core of their relationship [as well as] the player’s understanding of the world that is presented to them throughou