Microsoft’s Inside Xbox reveal was supposed to be our first true look at an exciting library of next-gen video games running on Xbox Series X. Instead, excited gamers were subjected to little more than a sizzle reel of game trailers that, while displaying gorgeous next-gen graphics, was a disappointing event for many.
Ljubomir Peklar, game director for Inside Xbox’s most intriguing games, Scorn, agrees that Microsoft had a messaging issue when building expectations for the reveal, something Microsoft themselves admitted.
“Microsoft had some messaging problems,” Peklar told us. “People expected multi-million AAA production games to show off next-gen visuals and, most importantly, gameplay showcases.”
Despite this, Ebb Software’s Scorn immediately captured the intrigue of Inside Xbox viewers. It may not be a AAA title from a big name studio, but that’s what was so impressive about Microsoft’s showcase: indie devs and AA studios are able to create titles that rival even the biggest budget games with next-gen technology.
It would be an understatement to say that Scorn impressed with its fantastically detailed recreation of the late H.R Giger’s nightmarishly sexual psychedelic art style, an artistic focus that requires an intensive amount of time, effort and hardware gusto to get right.
we want our game to be played at 60FPS and that would be close to impossible without big sacrifices.
“[Recreating that style] is something I figured would be one of the biggest challenges from the start, but I couldn’t comprehend how much,” Peklar said. “It really requires a tremendous amount of polishing and attention to detail to look good.”
But while many know of Giger’s work as the designer of Alien’s iconic Xenomorph, Peklar’s love of the artists’ other work is impossible to quell. It’s obvious that this love runs deep, that it’s a vision Peklar believes in and is inspired by.
“When I started discovering art Giger was a big inspiration. His paintings were very close to my own sensibility and ideas,” Peklar gushes. Alien is the reason why most people think Giger’s work is only about, well, aliens, or something alien to us, but this is a very superficial way of looking at it. It’s not about something alien, it’s much more about alienation. It’s a reflection on never ending fusion and devouring of sentient biological entities by technological machinery.
It’s about the processes in our mind that move and frighten us as biological creatures, like our sexual drive or the drive for self-destruction. It’s about the truth of our existence, not some other form’s existence. That’s what people are subconsciously reacting to, not the alien-ness.”
But Giger’s mesmerising visuals are far from the only influence that powers the nature of Scorn. Even when nailed down to the essentials, Peklar provides an impressive list of adorations from the cinematic style of Cronenberg, Argenot and Lynch to the philosophy of Heidegger and Camus to the psychological works of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Becker; there’s almost no end to the inspirations.
Despite how impressive Ebb Software’s horror adventure game looked back in 2017, the version we saw at Inside Xbox has changed completely since the game’s initial reveal. It’s taken time, trial and error and a great deal of reworking to become the game it is today.
“We learned every lesson two times over. It almost feels unreal with how much confidence and how much ignorance we went into all of this. If at the beginning someone could project to your mind how much you don’t know, and would need to learn, you would probably just be too paralysed to start at all. Basically 80% of that part of the game you saw has changed, let alone the rest of the game.”
To perfectly recreate the feeling entrancing of Giger’s visceral style, creating an immersive experience was imperative. Immersion is key to Scorn; from its narrative to its gameplay to its full-body presentation, Peklar and crew want players to be fully engrossed into their ornate nightmares. For console players, this requires high-end visuals and perfect performance that just wasn’t feasible with Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
“If we fail at immersing the players Scorn will simply fall flat. We have various tools at our disposal to immerse the player, from sights to sounds, but we have to make sure we use them properly to elevate and prioritise the psychological component. Next- gen hardware makes it easier because you don’t have to do so much leg work and you can just concentrate on art.”
“We didn’t [want to bring Scorn to current-gen consoles] because we want our game to be played at 60FPS. That would be close to impossible without big sacrifices. Next-gen is about responsiveness, smoothness and a lot less time wasting. The problem with these features is that they are not easy to sell in videos or screenshots.”
With so much focus on Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 revolving around the move from mechanical hard drives to solid state storage, Peklar believes that the biggest change between this generation and the next is on the pure power afforded by the CPU at the heart of Series X.
“Everyone is touting the SSD as the next big thing, and yes SSDs will help a lot with loading and moving assets, but the biggest culprit that is creating problems in the current generation is the CPU,” Peklar explained to us. “That’s where the biggest difference compared to current generation will come from.”
When Scorn releases on Xbox Series X, players will be greeted to a start-to-finish story instead of the game’s originally revealed duology. Despite it’s many influences, Scorn is bound to be one of gaming’s most intriguing and mesmerising experiences yet, one that Peklar wants players to know almost nothing about before they jump in.