Be they indie pixel platformers, mass-market shooters, or Fischer Price match-three wallet-gobblers, most games released these days tend to look the same. But Scorn looks different – very different. Made by Serbian start-up studio Ebb Software, it is wrought out of deliberately disturbing imagery. The late great H. R. Giger is an obvious influence, but there’s something more to it than that. Conceptually (and literally) Scorn has more insidious entities lurking just beneath the surface.
For Ebb Software founder Ljubomir Peklar, this is the culmination of years of planning. “I’ve had the idea for Scorn for a very long time and at one stage in my life an opportunity presented itself to take it further. It was a very small team at first but it grew organically as the project was starting to take shape.”
Peklar’s choice of words is hints at the world he’s created – a deeply unsettling landscape of bio-mechanical abominations. Dark, dank, wind-swept spires of exposed muscle and bone stand silent, and teeming within them are creatures that blur all preconceptions of biology and logic. It’s a bit of a mindfuck, and Peklar isn’t about to spoil the mystery of where or when this all takes place, let alone why.
“You may have already noticed that we don’t want to give an explanation about the game as we are leaving that to the players. It’s not a shooter but a survival horror, similar to old Resident Evil or Silent Hill games. Dasein is a small hint about the game, Google is your friend regarding that.”
Early 20th Century philosophers differ in the exact definition and implications of Dasein, but it can be interpreted as the sense of ‘being there’ – of being absolutely conscious of one’s presence, to live in the moment. It’s closely related to the concept of ‘Existenz’, which film buffs will recognise as the name of a 1999 David Cronenberg movie about a sinister virtual reality simulation where the protagonist fires a gun made of flesh that uses teeth for bullets.
Cronenberg’s eXistenZ is an obvious influence – in Scorn you fire a gun made of flesh that uses teeth for bullets. Only this weapon is even creepier than Cronenberg’s– its breech is a living mouth into which you shove grotesque barrel attachments.
Talk about standing on the shoulders of giants. But what other sources did Peklar draw on? “The old influences question, I try to give a different list (compared to other interviews) every time, just for fun. Your list: Luis Buñuel, Ingmar Bergman, Mario Bava, Andrei Tarkovsky, Philip K Dick, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Paul Sartre, Francis Bacon, Wayne Barlow etc.”
Scorn is set in a living world – literally. A menagerie of blobby abominations will slurm through the flesh funnels and sphinct-doors of a vast and ghastly maze, and players will learn soon enough which are friend, and which are face-hugging foe.
“Creatures can be curious, afraid, hostile, neutral, and anything in between, both towards the players and each other. They will react and adapt to the player’s actions and to change that players bring to the environment. Since all the storytelling happens in-game, with no cut-scenes, having a reactive and living ecosystem was a must for this kind of game. Creatures might not be aggressive at all, in some instances they might even be benevolent.”
But back to the tooth gun – just how will it work in terms of game balance? “Weapons are modular in a way that the weapon system has a common base with different attachments available. Only one attachment (weapon) can be mounted at a time. Different modules (pistol, shotgun, etc) both look and behave very differently and each of them is suited for certain situations. Ammo is limited and since each bullet is ‘expensive’ you’ll have to think twice when to shoot – every bullet counts. Ammo isn’t evenly distributed through the game, so if you have a lot of ammo now, it doesn’t mean you won’t be scraping by in just five minutes. Again, it depends on your approach.”
And the music? “The soundtrack is composed by Bosnian producer Adis Kutkut (Aethek, Billain), it would best fit into dark ambient genre if we really need to define it. Adis also does additional sound design. Music and sound are there to complement the atmosphere and create appropriate feeling.” Its stark accompaniment to the trailers released so far certainly accomplishes this.
While Scorn is built with the same middle-ware used by countless other studios, it certainly doesn’t look it – in no small part due to the emulation of the hellish landscapes of Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński. The specific choice of engine resulted from pure pragmatism.
“As an indie developer you have two choices: Unreal or Unity. We did start off in Unity but at the time Unity was a 32-bit application and couldn’t handle everything we wanted so we switched to Unreal.”
In February 2017 Humble Bundle surprised the world by announcing that it was getting into games publishing; the service renowned for its pay-what-you-want limited-time deals on recently-released indie games had grown to the point where it could publish games in its own right. Amidst the starting line-up of forgettable indie fare, Scorn stood out with its horrifying blobs of viscera. Peklar is grateful for the role Humble Bundle has played. “Humble Bundle helped us out financially when we needed it the most. If it wasn’t for them it would be very hard to keep going.”
As for the unique pros and cons of running a game development studio in Serbia, he didn’t have a lot to say, save that it’s a tad cheaper than running one out of San Francisco. “There are very few advantages, maybe the fact that the budget would be astronomical if we were in some developed western country. The biggest problem is that there are not that many people that work in game development.”
He also didn’t particularly care to comment on the recent explosion of indie content, or the over-saturated market in which Scorn must compete. “The cream will rise to the top, everyone else will be left disillusioned. We’ll see where Ebb Software ends up.”
Peklar has launched a Kickstarter to fund the further polishing of the game ahead of its 2018 launch. While he hopes that this will give players “a new, unique, and interesting experience,” this release will only be Part 1 – and at this stage he isn’t even going to hint at what will be in the sequel. “Why are you concerned with how Part 2 differs from Part 1 when you haven’t even seen, played or know what Part 1 is like?”
To wrap things up, we inquired about what real-world trends concern Peklar, and asked him about what kind of nightmare future we might create for ourselves with our technology. He remarked that we already live in a fusion of 1984 and Brave New World, where the populace is so intoxicated by junk culture that nobody cares that they live in a de facto surveillance state.
“We are currently in some form of Orwellian-Huxleian hybrid timeline. On one hand people are willing to give away their privacy and freedom, all because they don’t want to be bothered and everything has to be so convenient, and the other hand they are constantly bombarded with banal bullshit that makes them complacent. It all boils down to giving away all your privacy to Google or Apple and going out to watch the next shitty Disney movie production or Nicki Minaj concert. What kind of future that will bring us I really don’t know.”
As of this writing, Scorn is within a stone’s throw of meeting its Kickstarter goal, and Part 1 is due to be released in 2018. For more details, visit Scorn-Game.com.