Light, shadow, reflections, and terror: How a scary game does scary lighting

Directed by Sean Dacanay. Produced by Justin Wolfson. Edited by Jeremy Smolnik, with Billy Ward. Click here for transcript.

A couple of weeks back, we joined up with Glen Schofield of Striking Distance Studios to have him walk us through some behind-the-scenes previews of his studio’s upcoming game, The Callisto Protocol.

In our series so far, we’ve explored Callisto’s gameplay and its audio design, and this week we’re continuing our sneak peek with a look at the look of the game–the lighting and visuals. Humans are primarily visual creatures, and clever game designers take advantage of that by using a game’s visuals as not just a way to show the player what’s happening, but also as an opportunity to extend and express the game’s style–games, like so many other forms of art, can communicate themes and emotions to a player through constrained use of color or through the emphasis of specific imagery or through the use of light and shadow to emphasize and hide aspects of a scene. And Glen and his crew at Striking Distance–folks like art director Demetrius Leal and lighting director and Dead Space veteran Atsushi Seo–are definitely clever game designers.

During the preproduction phase of the game, the team deluged Glen with images showing both visual examples of how they wanted the game’s architecture and monsters to look, and also of interesting and effective lighting techniques. Combined with Glen’s horror-filled imagination and artistic skill, the designers came out of preproduction with an extremely detailed art bible, which was the guiding force behind the game’s visuals. These were realized in 2020-era photorealisticity through the Unreal Engine, which at this point can create truly complex and beautiful lighting on PCs and consoles.

And the results are scary indeed.

We’ll be back next week for the final piece in this four-part series, where we’ll be looking at motion capture and wrapping things up.

Stay tuned!