Protocol developer Callisto explains the technology behind the gory details of the game

When it comes to creating a new game, a significant development choice is deciding whether to use an in-house proprietary engine or one of the well-established and well-supported game development platforms. In the case of Striking Distance Studios and its upcoming game The Callisto Protocol, the team chose the latter, specifically Unreal Engine version 4.27.

I had a chance to speak with Mark James, the Chief Technical Officer of Striking Distance Studios, to discuss the commercial and development side of creating a new game, why and how Unreal has helped, and some of the bespoke improvements the team has made. made to the engine.

IGN: With the immense challenge of creating a new studio and team, how has the use of Unreal Engine been an enabling factor in your three-year program?

Mark James, CTO, Striking Distance Studios: Starting with an engine that has delivered hundreds of games is a big plus. The workflows and tools are widely known, and experience using a trading engine makes hiring easier. There are always some changes you want to make to the base engine based on the needs of the product and at an early stage we decided on the key areas we wanted to improve. Not that we did this in isolation, we communicated regularly with Epic about these changes to facilitate integration. When you start a project, you want to continue taking engine breaks throughout the development cycle and consult with Epic on the best way to make their changes much easier for later integrations.

You use Unreal’s Simple Demolitions System and have customized it for the Callisto protocol. What are some of these customizations and does it extend to the dismemberment system in the game?

This was an area we created from scratch. We knew we wanted a gore system that would affect all the components of a great horror game. Our Gore system combines blood splatter, part making and dismemberment to create the most realistic system possible. We wanted Gore to be a diegetic health bar for each enemy that represented realistic wounds of flesh, muscle and skeleton. Not only was it used on enemies, but we also used it to represent the gory deaths of players. In Callisto’s Protocol, even losing is a visual pleasure!

The game uses ray tracing for some of its visual elements. Can you share if these are light and shadow based elements of Unreal Engine 5 or have you gone in another direction?

It was important for us to get a physically consistent lighting and shadow pattern in the game. Contrast and occlusion are terrifying.

Using our corridor-based scale of about 20 meters, we found that about eight lights could affect a surface of the room. Unfortunately, we found that the UE4 was limited to four shadow-generating lights, so we first worked on modifying the engine so that we could support more lights at a lower cost per light.

We looked at the UE4 ray tracing solution at that time and found that for the number of shadows we wanted to create, we had to create our own solution. So instead, we created a Hybrid Ray Traced Shadows solution that applies ray traced shadow detail to areas of the screen that matter to the overall quality of the scene.

UE5 took a very different approach to lighting with Lumen not fitting the interior corridor model we wanted for the game, but so far I have been very impressed with the quality of UE5’s demos.

The Callisto Protocol – Official Progress Screens 2022

With this being an intergenerational game, how did the team find the transition to PS5, Series X and S based on the previous generation?

We created TCP with the next generation of consoles in mind. We wanted to focus on the advanced hardware features these consoles provide. We’ve adopted technologies like positional audio, ultra-fast storage, and of course, GPUs that can track rays as part of the design.

That said, we’ve always maintained a scalable approach to content generation to ensure we can deliver great looking and sounding game no matter which generation you play.

Did the previous generation versions present any key obstacles to overcome?

The biggest change to the new consoles was the speed of the storage device. With the SSD in these new consoles we could have a seamless loading in the game.

Putting it back into the slower HDD of the previous generation was the biggest design challenge. We needed to figure out where to place the load volumes and in some cases the load screens where we didn’t need them on the current build.

Plan to extend the Console and / or PC versions with other technical improvements in addition to ray tracing, loading and possibly framerate. For example, do you have denser or similar geometry for current generation machines?

As a team, we want to get the most out of any hardware specification that is provided to us. We have represented far more material details, geometry density and lighting interactions than any of our previous designs. One of the goals we had at the beginning of the project was “every step was different”. We wanted to represent a world where he lived and showed the practical design of a space prison. This meant investing in kit-based geometry and a complex system of materials to represent diversity.

You mentioned that you incorporated elements of Unreal Engine 5 into your custom UE 4.27 spur. Can you share some details on these please?

As we worked on completing TCP on UE4, we looked at areas of UE5 that we found useful for both the development iteration and the new console features. Epic even helped us bring some of these features back into our custom version of the engine. There are no big components that stand out, but a lot of small optimizations and workflow improvements that have helped over the past few months.

The character models, post effects, and overall visual rendering of the characters, faces, and movements are above almost every other game I’ve seen, with main character Jacob (Josh Duhamel) really looking like in some places. a live actor. What are some of the key technical improvements that are providing this?

The goal of photorealistic characters begins with the acquisition of models and materials with the correct response to light. We have invested heavily in a capture validation system that allows us to switch between photo settings for easy review of technology and creation status. Using this approach we concentrated the technological investments in areas that differed from the photographic reference and the rendering of the character. For example, one of the key areas of technology investment for us was the correct rendering of translucency. This is shown in simple areas such as how light is represented behind a character’s ear, but also in our enemies which make the membranes translucent on the skin.

The horror and tension in the demos really come out. How much has your sound team worked with gameplay and rendering technology to improve this and are they using new techniques with new hardware, such as Tempest 3D Audio?

Audio is such an important part of horror production that we wanted to give this technological development as much as rendering. We think of audio as if it were a game feature.

Our goal was a physics-based audio model that represented both directional audio and audio interactions with geometry and materials. Traditionally these models have been too CPU intensive to be able to run games in real time quickly. With the new dedicated audio hardware in the new consoles, we now have the power to do so.

Sound alone gives us a tremendous sense of space even without a visual component. Getting this right creates greater immersion in the game. We use sound to create fear and tension whenever possible.

What is a key area of ​​the game that you are most proud of, be it gameplay, technology or otherwise?

There’s so much I’m proud of in the game we’ve delivered. Whether it’s our lighting techniques, immersive audio, or our combat gameplay, it’s hard to pick a favorite. The team is what I’m most proud of. We have built a study and a new IP in a global pandemic, all without compromising on quality. It takes real passion.

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