The Callisto Protocol devs didn’t design the game to be “Dead Space 4”

By Lee Brady,

The Callisto Protocol devs Striking Distance Studios didn't design the game "to be Dead Space 4," but according to CTO Mark James, the studio is "not at all" afraid of Dead Space comparisons.

In fact, according to the Striking Distance Studios CTO Mark James, The Callisto Protocol even intends to improve on Dead Space in one key way — the game's "humanity" and how its characters connect to the audience. In our interview with James, we discussed The Callisto Protocol's connection to Dead Space and how it was never intended to be Dead Space 4.

callistoCrossing paths again.

The remnants of Dead Space in The Callisto Protocol's UI

At Gamescom 2022, we talked to James about The Callisto Protocol's DLC prospects, its brutal environment hazards, and the slim prospects of the game coming to PS Plus anytime soon. Throughout these conversations, we touched upon the game's tangible connection to EA's Dead Space only in no more than fleeting references. That was until the discussion turned to the game's UI and presentation, in which case it became nigh impossible to avoid comparisons.

"You actually call it the diegetic UI — a UI that exists in the 3D world," said James, after we failed to describe the representation of health and ammo in the game world in any broader terms beyond "the Dead Space UI." James didn't seem phased about the open reference, referring to the health meter on the back of lead character Jacob's suit as "a remnant of Dead Space," explaining: "we wanted everything to be clean — the best place to represent a health bar is where it's always visible to the player, so we put it on the back of the player."
It's no real surprise to see James unphased by any reference to Dead Space — the first Callisto Protocol trailer dropped with a "Schofield Cut" after all, referencing the game's director and the co-creator of the Dead Space series, Glen Schofield. Since then, it's surely been Dead Space all day, every day for the devs, drumming up the kind of buzz that seems even to overshadow the Dead Space remake for PS5 apparently on the periphery — albeit, a remake lacking in Schofield's involvement.

In the presence of such comparisons, James simply carried on touting the decisions that went into The Callisto Protocol's carrying on the work of Dead Space's UI: "In terms of a gameplay guide, the diegetic UI is perfect for removing all that clutter, removing that fake helmet space and those kinds of units over the top that make no sense. We asked 'what does that technology look like 300 years in the future?' Okay, you're not going to have an instrument panel anymore — you’re just going to have an interactive diegetic UI."

callistoThe inescapable comparisons to Dead Space.

"The best example is in our lifts," James continues, momentarily pausing to thank our being from the UK so that he doesn't have to say elevator instead of lift. "When you want it to move, you just push up or down the amount of floors you want to go — it all depends on your hand direction which way you want to move. Why would you have buttons in lifts, when you can just use your hand gestation to decide what floor you want to go to?"

The Callisto Protocol isn't Dead Space 4 and doesn't want to be

James' coolness in the face of Dead Space comparisons rather surprised us — we had expected perhaps at least a quiet exhaustion from having to deal with people talking about Dead Space so much when the game he's making is called The Callisto Protocol. So, we asked him directly whether he was concerned about the Dead Space comparisons, and whether he thought it might affect people's perception of The Callisto Protocol in some way.

callistoWading through the waves of Dead Space comparisons.

"Not at all," said James, jovially. "We've got great respect for Dead Space. I think as Glen [Schofield] has said in previous interviews, 'if I'm going to steal from anybody I’ll steal from myself.' I think it's a great way of thinking about it because he came up with all these things." That said, James was far from shy in admitting that the Dead Space franchise did loom heavy on the game's early production: "we actually started the game doing completely the opposite, we were so fearful of including elements that were Dead Space elements that we designed around them.

"The most obvious one is the stomp. Then we were thinking — 'what's the best way of killing something that's crawling towards you? Maybe we can, like, aim down?' But no, you know the best thing is to stomp on it, and we almost reluctantly went back and put the stomp in because we were so worried about that comparison."

The Callisto Protocol will be one bloody fun time!Yeah, when this guy comes crawling your way, you'll be glad to see they stuck with the stomp action.

"We didn't design The Callisto Protocol to be Dead Space 4. We designed this to be a new IP science fiction horror game that utilises some of the elements that have been successful in that franchise but have been successful in other games as well. Plenty of other games have stomp; plenty of other games have diegetic UI; plenty of other games have gravity-based weapons. Dead Space was just one of the first few titles to use them."

Iterating on Dead Space's Issac Clarke

The way in which James described it, it seemed that he saw great benefit in Striking Distance Studios being free to pick and choose the parts of Dead Space's game mechanics and designs that they felt best suited The Callisto Protocol. It had us wondering: was there any particular area of Dead Space's design that the studio felt they could iterate upon, and perhaps even improve?
"Yes," said James, with the confidence of a man who had clearly done plenty of thinking in this particular field. "One of the big things, and Glen admits this himself: you always felt so disconnected from Isaac." Here, James is referring to Issac Clarke, a DLC guest fighter in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale alongside Gravity Rush's Kat, God of War's Zeus, and Starhawk's Emmett Graves. Also, Isaac is the lead protagonist of Dead Space 1, 2, and 3.

"Isaac was just a big walking machine tank," James continued, "and so it was hard to give him any humanity. They tried later in the series to do that but once he was established as this kind of tank it was really hard to adjust that. We said we want to start this game by having an approachable human, having a recognisable actor and having him flawed in a way."

The Callisto ProtocolThe friendly face of the game's main protagonist, Jacob Lee.

"Even in the way he moves the stun bat, it's got this huge sweeping motion — if someone's trained using a sword they wouldn’t use a sword like that! But we wanted him to feel like [he’s thinking] 'oh my god, I'm just trying to get through this! I'm going to utilise everything around me and I'm not trained in using these things!' We want this kind of everyman in terms of player feel."

"I think that's something that looking back [on Dead Space] and what we wanted to do differently, we wanted to inject so much more of that connected player into the story, and also tell a story that’s fully voiced and acted — and for that, we’ve got actors Josh Duhamel (Transformers, Call of Duty WWII) and Karen Fukuhara (The Boys), and you feel very connected to them and the environment."

The Callisto ProtocolAverage 'The Boys' fan's smile right now.

Whether we do feel connected to Jacob Lee's nightmare prison adventure by the end of The Callisto Protocol or not will depend mightily on the writing, we imagine, but it's a confident enough statement to make one wonder whether EA thought to invest in some star power before that Dead Space remake release date rolls around. Let us know in the comments whether you think The Callisto Protocol's focus on characters here will make an impression, and check out our other conversations with James on the games PS5 audio and trophy list.
Lee Brady
Written by Lee Brady
Staff Writer Lee keeps one eye on the future (Shadow x Sonic Generations), one eye on the past (PS Plus Premium games), and his secret third eye on junk he really likes (Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts games). Then he uses his big mouth to blurt out long-winded opinions about video games.
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