There are a number of interesting games coming to Xbox Series X, and one of them happened to be Ebb Software's upcoming Scorn.
Inspired by the works of H.R. Giger and artists of his ilk, Scorn is an intriguing first-person shooter and horror game that looks to buck genre convention. Players control a strange, humanoid character that explores a world armed with organic weapons, all the while unraveling new aspects of the game world by exploring the environment.
The game isn't new by any means. It's been in the works since before November 2014, when the first pre-alpha footage debuted following an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign. It chugged along for a planned two-part release, but we hadn't heard much of it until now.
Intrigued by the latest look at the game we got in early May, I had quite a few questions for game director Ljubomir Peklar. You can see the entirety of my interview below, as well as a few follow-up answers from Peklar for clarification. There's still no release date for Scorn just yet, but it sounds like it could be one of the Xbox Series X's most unique titles.
Shacknews: I noticed a distinct lack of mention of H.R. Giger or even Zdzislaw Beksinski in Scorn's press release, but saw a mention on Xbox Wire, so just making sure that is one of the selling points for the game here (as it should be!) I'm fairly certain I've seen tableaus just like the one in my Necronomicon coffee table book of Giger's works. Can you shed some light on the homage here, or what the intent was with the unique art style? It would be fair to say people might buy into the game believing it has an Alien connection, and it looks like a fantastic "continuation" of works Giger might have made had he lived on.
Ljubomir Peklar, Scorn game director: The art style was not chosen to be a mere homage to H.R.Giger. It was chosen because it can adequately encapsulate themes that the game deals with - the themes of ever intertwining world of man and technology exalted by erotic desire that Giger so adamantly explored. You will find same potent structures in the words of J.G.Ballard for example. Giger is a too big of an artistic force to be labeled as only the creator of Xenomorph, but most people know him for that creation, so to many that's all he'll ever be known for. Scorn has nothing to do with Alien. Conceptually it's a completely different approach. More surreal, absurd, and dare I say it existential.
Shacknews: The trailer, while very cool and atmospheric, gave little indication about what people can expect from Scorn. Can you explain a bit about what an "atmospheric first-person horror adventure game" entails, as the Kickstarter page originally listed?
Peklar: At its core it's a traditional survival horror game, but what's layered on top of that survival horror skeleton is what makes it atmospheric. Explaining the atmosphere in a meaningful way is a pretty futile endeavor. If we do most things right you will hopefully experience it properly once you start playing. We hope you can feel glimpses of the concept in the trailers already.
Shacknews: Scorn has been in the works for five years, but we've yet to see any true gameplay beyond a few glimpses here and there. Is there any way we'll see even a sliver of that now that we know it's headed to Xbox Series X?
Peklar: As we are getting closer to release we'll start showing more things organically. It just has to be set up in the right way for a maximum impact.
Shacknews: You mention things needing to be set up the right way for "maximum impact" in terms of showing more gameplay. It seems that after five years, now could be the time for maximum impact, especially given your pending Xbox Series X debut. Are you planning on releasing closer to the system's launch as well to get that double whammy of promotion with the new console?
Peklar: I really can't disclose these plans.
Shacknews: Is Scorn still meant to incorporate shooter elements (referencing the pistol and shotgun from earlier information released about the game) or has it moved more toward first-person exploration with puzzle elements?
Peklar: It's pretty much 50% gunplay, 50% puzzle solving and exploration. As I said it's a survival horror formula at its core.
Shacknews: What are you doing with Scorn to differentiate it from all the other first-person horror games out there? There are dozens we could rattle off at a moment's notice. Beyond the art style, what makes Scorn unique?
Peklar: Most importantly we do not rely on cheap jump scares. It's all about immersing players into the world and creating the feeling of dread by experiencing this world's mood and atmosphere. Most horror games nowadays, like most horror movies, are very trivial in their pursuit to scare the audience. Loud sounds and spooky ghost children is all they have to offer. We will try to get under your skin very slowly, and build on it even slower, hoping that once the feeling of anxiety emerges it will stay with you for some time.
Shacknews: You note that most horror movies are "very trivial" when it comes to scaring audiences, citing "loud sounds and spooky children" as their means of terrifying viewers. I agree that it's contrived, and it isn't scary to me personally, but for many audiences, that's all it takes. To counter, early gameplay footage doesn't play up the feeling of anxiety you mention and seems to rely on solely surreal imagery, at least from what I've seen so far. What do you say to people who believe "weird-looking structures and organic weapons" are all you have to offer with Scorn?
Peklar: Like the best of nightmares that surreal imagery will start playing with your psyche the more you play the game. When you wake up from a nightmare it's really hard to define what you dreamt, only snippets remain, and the feeling of anxiety. That is something we are trying to recreate. If looking at Giger's or Beksinski's paintings all you see is weird organic structures then that's what you will get out of Scorn as well. There is lot of untapped substance dormant in our subconsciousness and most won’t be able to ignore it. Think of the opening in the original Suspiria. It's a montage of sights and sounds that creates the uneasy feeling. Nothing is set up story-wise and nothing truly graphic is happening. It just is.
Shacknews: You've mentioned that you want the environment itself to be a "character" in previous statements. Can you elaborate on that?
Peklar: Environment as a character is a bit PR talk, but there still might be something to it. The environment you and I inhabit at this moment, or every other environment we ever inhabited at some moment has elements that could be defined as character-like. It has its own particular mood, the way light moves through it, the texture of objects and various other elements. In Scorn we try to amplify specific shapes, light, colors and sound until the environment starts to resonate, as if it's alive, through your senses and into your subconsciousness, or something to similar effect.
Shacknews: The previous glimpses at the weapons found them being made of organic material. Is this a nod to movies like Videodrome or eXistenZ?
Peklar: Videodrome is one of my all-time favorite moves, but again it's not just about lifting ideas from David. It's more about a similar thought process. Once you go in a certain direction you will start noticing similarities in thinking patterns and construction of ideas. Once you are in that mindset you will come up with similar stuff without referencing known content, or coming up with similar ideas and later finding out someone else had them too. Sometimes it could be just your subconscious mind pulling out random regurgitated thoughts and ideas as it's cleaning house.
Shacknews: The original Kickstarter page promised VR support. Obviously that isn't going to happen on Xbox Series X, but is that still a possibility for PC in the future?
Peklar: That is something I can't discuss at the moment.
Shacknews: You mentioned that "people just want it to be weird for the sake of weird," but that's not what the team is doing. I think it's important that players understand this about creations like yours that it isn't simply made to "shock" or feel like the creators are "wacky", or what have you. There's very much a need for real art and games like Scorn that opt to think outside of the box, design-wise. How would you best describe the world of Scorn in terms of an art installation and not just a game?
Peklar: There is much more thought put into every part of the world, its shapes and how it's constructed. It's about trying to give objects and their underlying anatomy what feels like some form of meaning. On the other hand it's also about letting go and reacting to shapes and moods viscerally, letting your instincts guide your course of action. It's not about working mechanically in tried and tested patterns, not expressing anything substantial in that repetition, like a robot arm on a production line.
Shacknews: In 2017, Ebb Software boasted over 20 developers. How has the team grown since then?
Peklar: We have more than 40 full time employees right now. One thing I feel I need to point out is that the team didn't work at this capacity for 6 years. It grew from year to year. It started with 4 people, then 8 a year later and then 12 the year after that and so on. People are surprised the game is taking so long. It's because we haven't been developing it with a team even close to this capacity for most of the development. Having to go through all the growing pains of a new indie studio in the process was also a substantial hurdle.
Shacknews: Are you still leaning into the no cutscenes rule mentioned in 2017? Is environmental storytelling still an important aspect of Scorn?
Peklar: The game is designed that way - we couldn't change it now even if we wanted to, and we certainly don't. Since there is no conventional plot, or even language, environmental storytelling is pretty much essential.
Shacknews: How adult do you plan on making Scorn? It seems obvious to me from marketing materials that there's a lot of visuals and set pieces that are sexual in nature (like a male and nude female form embracing on the website as well as phallic structures oozing fluid). It's refreshing to see an unabashed embrace of these surreal visuals with sexual overtones because too often, games are afraid to push these boundaries. Can we expect to see more of these visuals in-game?
Peklar: It's just your mind projecting when it comes to the trailers. I can assure you everything else in the game is no more sexual than what you would see in a Mario game.
Shacknews: If the clearly sexual imagery was unintended for the Scorn trailer and there won't be much of that in the actual game, can you clarify what you mean about the rest of it not being more sexual than what we'd see in a Mario title?
Peklar: I was just joking around with that question. Everything is intended with us, even much more than anybody will ever really pick up on. Of course parts of the game will have similar imagery when appropriate. The point is that the whole game is not like that in the same way that Basic Instinct doesn't only have erotic scenes.
Shacknews: Can you elaborate on your comment about "projecting" in regard to the Scorn trailer's sexual nature? The trailer does include a clear image of nude humanoid beings or structures embracing, a phallic-shaped object that appears to be ejaculating, a scene including penetration, and something that resembles a vaginal opening. Is this not what you intended to invoke, through the lens of "erotic desire" you mentioned in your earlier comments about Giger "adamantly exploring?" When compared to the pre-alpha footage of Scorn released in 2014, which had little or no footage of a similar nature beyond perhaps a brief glimpse at passageway exploration and a bizarre creature at the end.
Peklar: The footage from 2014 is not that relevant even though that level still exists in the game. What I meant with projecting is that only "nude humanoid beings or structures embracing" is something you can confidently assert to be exactly that. Everything else might or might not be seen that way, it depends on the person. Some will pick up on these things, some won't.
Shacknews: At what point during development did the team decide that it was going to be a next-generation (PS5/Xbox Series X) game?
Peklar: It's only Series X. It was when we realized we can make it on par with the PC release. We didn't want to make a technically subpar game. 60fps is imperative for us as developers.
Shacknews: Is the nearly 8-minute gameplay trailer from 2017 still indicative of what the game will be like, or has Scorn changed so dramatically over the past three years that we should perhaps disregard said footage?
Peklar: Very little. First of all, puzzles and some additional elements have been taken out of that demo because they were spoilers. Second, right now that part of the game looks and plays about 80% different than in that Alpha. We created that demo to show backers we can develop a proper game and an overall potential of what it could be. If we hadn’t received additional resources and had to release only part one, it would probably be more similar to that demo. Right now it's not a very good representation of the final release.
Be sure to check back at Shacknews for additional news regarding Scorn, it's potential future release date, and interesting tidbits from its developers. We'll be following the game closely to see how things shake out.
Brittany Vincent posted a new article, Scorn game director Ljubomir Peklar talks sexual imagery & "weird organic structures"
I’ve actually been pretty dubious about this one since the beginning. Sure, everyone loves Giger. Not exactly loving a straight ripoff of his style that they started on the minute he was dead.
Also the gameplay we’ve seen over the years looked all over the place.
I won’t pay full price to support this project. :(
I dig how well they've pulled off the aesthetic, but I still can't tell what the actual gameplay is going to be like.
The fact that they're not willing to get into it right now is a little concerning.
The previous gameplay was wandering around, shooting the occasional little critter with a biomechanoid Flesh Gun hand.
The current trailer is wandering around putting things in things.
I think it’ll be “get stoned to the point you can barely handle a controller and just look at the pretty pictures”.
That's basically what I fear.
The fear is real.