It was many years ago that Ebb Software first revealed their first person horror game, Scorn, which, with its fascinating visual style influenced by the works of H.R. Giger and its promise of slow, palpable horror immediately caught the attention of many. And though the game’s development period has seen some ups and downs, audiences have remained curious to see how it will turn out. Recently, Ebb Software brought the game back into the limelight with a new trailer, while also announcing that it’ll be releasing on Xbox Series X as well. To learn more about Scorn, how its development is going, and how the developers are approaching the development of various aspects of the experience, we recently sent across some of our most burning questions about the game to Ebb Software. You can read our interview with the game’s director Ljubomir Peklar below.
“The response was pretty good, but it is just a trailer. The response to an actual game is what we would like to have labeled as let’s not say positive, but engaging.”
It’s been a few years since you first unveiled Scorn, with not a lot of updates on the game over the last few years. How does it feel to bring the game back into the limelight, and to have people respond to it in such a positive manner?
The opportunity to present the game on Inside Xbox happened on very short notice but we still figured it was something we shouldn’t miss. We were actually planning to show a more elaborate trailer at an even later date (to the horror of many). The response was pretty good, but it is just a trailer. The response to an actual game is what we would like to have labeled as let’s not say positive, but engaging.
How much has the game changed in the time that it has been in development?
A basic structure is still there, but if you were to play builds of the game now compared to the builds from few years ago it sometimes feels like a completely different game.
Do you have plans to show more of the game – more specifically, its gameplay – in the coming months?
We have a few different routes for presenting the game at our disposal, but we can’t disclose any info at the moment.
What can you tell us about the central narrative premise of Scorn, and when you’ll be revealing more about its world and setting?
This may seem like an odd answer but nothing. You won’t know anything pretty much about the premise until the game releases. We feel that this approach will have the best impact.
What sort of an approach does Scorn take to storytelling? Given its atmosphere and Giger-inspired imagery, it seems like it could work well with both direct and indirect approaches.
It’s so indirect in its approach that it may end up its own special category.
“The experience revolves around similarity in subject matter. Subject matter that Giger explored in his work. It’s not similar to his work for similarity’s sake. And no, it’s not about aliens.”
H.R. Giger’s work needs no introduction, and also has a special place in the history of horror media. You’ve said that Scorn is inspired by that same line of work, but how much of the experience revolves around that?
The experience revolves around similarity in subject matter. Subject matter that Giger explored in his work. It’s not similar to his work for similarity’s sake. And no, it’s not about aliens.
It definitely seems like everything in Scorn – from the weapons to the enemies to the world itself – is taking a lot of cues from Giger’s work. Does that, in a way, also allow you to let your imagination run wild as designers and developers when it comes to creating things like the sort of weapons players will be using, and the enemies we’ll be running into?
It’s not about taking cues from his work. It’s about developing ideas and concepts you want to explore and then making it work in a context of the world. Doing it any other way would be just surface deep, without any substance.
Audio is often an overlooked but extremely important part of any game, and that stands doubly true for horror titles. With Scorn coming to Xbox Series X, how has the console’s hardware allowed you to elevate that particular aspect of the experience?
For horror titles audio is about 50% of the experience. Technology should be in the service of the art, not the other way around. Once certain technology reaches its intended potential, and that happened with audio a long time ago, it becomes much more about skill and ideas than about the newest technology available. The technology just goes to the background. Let me put it this way. I would rather hear sound design by Walter Murch done on a 4 track tape deck and running in stereo on the original Xbox, than an average sound designer’s Dolby whatever work on new state of the art equipment implemented with the newest Xbox Series X all immersive audio engine.
When it comes to the horror genre, different games go about the act of scaring their audiences differently. Some choose to do it with more immediate scares, while others prefer slower, palpable dread through atmosphere. What category would you say Scorn falls into?
The latter to a ridiculous degree.
What can you tell us about how Scorn is structured from a level design perspective? Is it an open-ended experience, or is it more of a scripted, guided one?
It’s open-ended. Think of it as any old survival horror game. You can explore the environment, but obstacles and specific game design will naturally push you in the proper direction.
Can you talk about why you’ve decided to launch Scorn as a console exclusive for the Xbox Series X? Is there a chance that the game eventually ends up coming to the PS5 as well?
It’s very simple, good performance of the game is important to us. Series X is very capable hardware that enables parity with the PC version of the game. We can’t discuss any info regarding PlayStation.
“It’s open-ended. Think of it as any old survival horror game. You can explore the environment, but obstacles and specific game design will naturally push you in the proper direction.”
What sort of length are you targeting for an average playthrough of Scorn?
For an average player, 8-10 hours.
What resolution and frame rate are you targeting on the Xbox Series X?
4K at 60FPS.
Since the reveal of the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s specs, a lot of comparisons have been made between the GPU speeds of the two consoles’ GPUs, with the PS5 at 10.28 TFLOPS and the Xbox Series X at 12 TFLOPS- but how much of an impact on development do you think that difference will have?
Graphics scale quite well, so while there will be some differences you will have to watch Digital Foundry videos to notice them. If it’s important to you that your preferred hardware wins then the differences will be huge, if you want to play games then not that much.
The PS5 features an incredibly fast SSD with 5.5GB/s read bandwidth. This is faster than anything that is available out there. How can developers can take advantage of this and what will it result to, and how does this compare to Series X’s 2.4GB/s SSD read bandwidth?
For a system to take the full advantage of the next gen CPU/GPUs the amount of data needed to be streamed in and out of memory is pretty big. That’s the main reason why both console manufactures went with the SSDs and a specialized I/O approach. This approach was pretty much a necessity. You could for example get similar results with average SSD speeds and more memory. You would have to preload more game data into memory, but on the other hand your SSD wouldn’t need to fetch that much data every second. When next gen engines start to incorporate these kinds of workflows, some new possibilities will open up in theory. Like having an open world game with high fidelity assets found in smaller scale games, or as they said in the Unreal 5 tech demo, movie quality assets.
There are two reason why this is not possible on current gen. One is hardware. Mechanical drives simply can’t keep up with the amount of data, not enough memory, current CPU/GPU would struggle to compute it all adequately etc. Second is the amount of work/time needed for developers to create all these very high-quality assets, for any game size, let alone for a large open world game. I feel that this second problem will stand as a decent obstacle, even with Unreal 5 automatically helping with optimization. And if developers foolishly decide to go for even bigger size maps, and they will, because bigger is always better in their minds, then these open world games will look beautiful at first glance but end up even more copy-pasted and padded with samey content than they are now. And it’s already a sad affair in that regard.
I’m positive that down the road developers will find a way to create experiences that would be impossible to realize on current gen, but that journey starts with interesting concepts that will be organically realized by having these technologies available. You shouldn’t design solely from the perspective of technology, as you could end up having peculiar things like a game with all reflective surfaces just so you could show off Ray Tracing.
As for differences between the two solutions I feel that it will end up a matter of diminishing returns.
There is a difference in Zen 2 CPU. The Xbox series X features 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.8GHz, whereas the PS5 features 8x Zen 2 Cores at 3.5GHz. Your thoughts on this difference?
The most important thing is that we are done with those Jaguar CPUs from current gen. If we are talking direct comparison it will be a minuscule difference.
“It’s very simple, good performance of the game is important to us. Series X is very capable hardware that enables parity with the PC version of the game.”
What are your thoughts on the Xbox One X’s Velocity architecture and how will it make development easier on it? Additionally, some reports have suggested that the Xbox Series X’s BCPack Texture Compression technique is better than the PS5’s Kraken. What are your thoughts on all this?
People tend to look only at the raw speed numbers of SSDs but that doesn’t tell you the whole story. Let’s say you have an SSD with a real-life performance of 2GB/s. Does that mean that 10GB of game data would be loaded in 5 sec? No, it doesn’t. Getting files off the SSD is only one part of loading the game, there are other process that need to happen as well. That’s where these special hardware and software techniques come in, to speed up all these processes as much as possible. What combination of features and techniques will come on top and by how much is hard to say at the moment.
So, there is a power difference between the two new consoles, there is no doubt about that. But do you think that power advantage of Xbox Series X will matter because of Microsoft’s cross gen policy?
If developers decide to build the game only for the new hardware then it will have certain advantages compared to being cross gen. Scaling can go quite far, but not indefinitely, before it starts performing poorly on the lowest hardware and limiting what can be done on the highest hardware. On the other hand, your shiny new graphics will once again probably come at a cost of frame rate. It depends on what you prefer. If cross gen games go for 60FPS on next-gen I would find that favorable. If they just opt for more graphical fidelity and 30FPS, then you would get better results if the game was built from ground up for the new hardware. Ideally you would want a 60FPS game build for next gen, but that seems like least likely option.
Do you think the Xbox Series X will out-power most gaming PCs for years to come?
If you are talking about enthusiast gaming PCs, then no. If you are talking about any gaming PCs, then yes.
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