Ebb Software‘s Scorn is the very antithesis of videogame banality. A visceral descent into the underworld at the heart of interactive art, this opus transcends the norm to submerge us in a universe of darkness and strangeness.
The environment into which the player is immediately plunged is grotesque, hopeless and painful. Scorn offers no real escape from these feelings, and instead expects the player to push valiantly through every obscure, agonizing and intriguing concept to progress through the story. The details of the game are certainly worth analyzing, and much of the scenario and underlying themes are wide open to interpretation. The initial reception was a mixture of fascination and bewilderment.
What’s particularly striking about Scorn is its art direction. The influence of Hans Ruedi Giger can be felt in every pixel of this universe, in keeping with the themes dear to the father of the biomechanical movement. But the creator of the xenomorph is not the only inspiration for this game. Even if it feels like we’re walking through the Swiss artist’s concept art, we’ll also feel themes specific to the work of David Cronenberg, Zdzisław Beksiński and the surrealist current more generally.
Graphiic style and Aesthetics
Biomechanical and Organic Aesthetics
Diving into Scorn‘s aesthetic, we discover a disturbing blend of the biological and the mechanical. Landscapes are not mere backdrops, but living organs and infernal machines. Every corner, every twisting corridor, evokes a Dantesque vision where flesh rots alongside gears in perpetual motion. The doors are a striking example, organic-looking portals with throbbing veins and undulating walls. They breathe life yet are pure mechanical objects. This unnatural marriage of organic and artificial elements defies the laws of biology and technology. The player finds himself in contact with life and death in an absolutely unprecedented way, bringing flesh and mechanics into contact. At times, we feel the same morbid fascination as we do when confronted with the horrific beauty of an autopsy.
Geometric and repetitive shapes
The omnipresence of geometry in Scorn is no accident. The angular shapes, repeated ad infinitum, create a suffocating atmosphere. Every right angle seems to conceal a secret, and every repeated motif invites obsessive exploration, a frantic quest for meaning in this apparent labyrinth of chaotic regularities. For example, the narrow, labyrinthine corridors that wind through the game, with their walls lined with recurring motifs, evoke a feeling of constant oppression. It’s as if you’re trapped in a relentless mechanical structure, a machine with compelling cogs, where every component is an essential part of a sinister whole. This aesthetic of obsession evokes the style of artists like M.C. Escher, whose works manipulate geometry to provoke reflection on perception and reality.
The aesthetic of obsession that permeates Scorn finds echoes in the work of Escher, where the constant search for meaning in a seemingly chaotic world reflects the artist’s quest for understanding and significance. The game’s tangled corridors and repeated geometric patterns are visual riddles, challenges to the player’s perception, just as Escher’s etchings have mystified curious minds for decades.
Creatures of the Odd
The creatures that populate the Scorn universe transcend their simple status as in-game enemies to embody strangeness, escaping all conventional categorization. Their disconcerting appearance engenders an unhealthy fascination, an almost perverse attraction, stemming directly from the horror they arouse.
Among these abominations, one creature in particular stands out: the four-armed one, reminiscent of a gigantic fetus. This entity lies at the crossroads of the grotesque and the intriguing, repulsive and hypnotic at the same time. Its deformed anatomical structure insinuates a disturbing duality between life and death, birth and decomposition, projecting nightmarish visions of a monstrous maternity. The excellent Lunos video focuses on this particular aspect of Scorn.
The more one observes the creatures of Scorn‘s universe, the more one senses his inspiration in Lovecraftian horror, in homage to the writer H.P. Lovecraft. In the universe depicted by the man from Providence, horror is literally unspeakable, inconceivable and elusive. The vertigo of this conception becomes apparent when we realize that our understanding of reality is insufficient to apprehend the cosmic forces that surround us. Similarly, Scorn‘s creatures evoke ineffable terror. Their strange, inhuman appearance defies logic and rational explanation, plunging players into an abyss of uncertainty.
These creations also evoke Gothic art, where the gargoyles adorning medieval cathedrals arouse a paradoxical fascination. Historically, gargoyles were used to protect the church from diabolical forces. Their presence illustrates the duality inherent in Gothic art, where horror and attraction coexist to create a profound and unsettling aesthetic experience. Similarly, Scorn‘s creatures combine repulsion and captivation, inviting us to reflect on our own fascination with horror and the unknown.
H.R. Giger’s influence
Convergence of Darkness
H.R. Giger’s work viscerally communicates an atmosphere of sexuality and misshapen physical forms, a general sense of unease and confusion that resonates with the way he saw the world for most of his life. His images offer meditative spaces that are far more cerebral and in tune with his feelings about the world than the more simplistic utility, gore for gore’s sake, to which Hollywood has often reduced him. Although Scorn isn’t for everyone, it manages to reflect Giger’s art by refusing to bow to the expectations of “AAA” productions in terms of ease of play and comprehension.
When Scorn delves into his artistic inspirations, he follows a familiar path blazed by H.R. Giger. The dark, fantastical themes that infuse both universes with an oppressive atmosphere. Just as Alien portrays a hostile, enigmatic cosmos, Scorn presents a strange, inhospitable world where the unknown reigns supreme. Both creations indulge in the subversion of expectations, creating a constant sense of unease where horror mingles closely with fascination.
The influence of Giger’s biomechanical aesthetic on Scorn is more than palpable. The game’s creatures and environments seem to have emerged straight from his artistic nightmares. Degenerate organic forms blend harmoniously with tortured mechanical elements, creating an aesthetic of hybridization that is typical of Giger’s work. The duality between the biological and the mechanical, so dear to Giger, is a constant in Scorn.
Striking similarities with Giger’s work become apparent when you look at Scorn‘s creatures and environments. The twisted, grotesque hybrid creatures are reminiscent of the Swiss artist’s iconic monsters, such as the Alien from the eponymous film franchise. The very architecture of Scorn seems to be taken from Giger’s canvases, where dripping, biomechanical structures defy spatial logic, creating a disturbing alternate reality.
Sons of Surrealism and Horror
Scorn‘s universe immerses the player in a living tableau of surrealism, seeking to defy reality by exploring the depths of the unconscious. The game’s environments are a kaleidoscope of fantasized elements, where rational logic gives way to dream and distortion.
The repeated geometric shapes that dot the set embody the surrealist obsession with transforming reality. Each right angle, each recurring motif invites us to a deeper exploration, an insatiable quest for meaning in apparent chaos. These motifs defy coherence, creating an oppressive atmosphere where order and disorder mingle, reminiscent of the works of René Magritte, who played with the observer’s expectations by confronting incompatible elements.
Scorn is deeply rooted in the currents of fantasy and horror art, inheriting the visual legacy of 19th-century artists such as Gustave Doré and Francisco Goya. The game’s distorted landscapes evoke the infernal visions of Dante’s Inferno, where damnation takes unexpected and twisted forms. Scorn’s environments are a videogame transposition of these artists’ imaginations, where horror emerges from every dark corner and landscapes become nightmares incarnate.
The influence of horrific art is just as pervasive. Scorn‘s creatures recall the grotesque horrors and infernal abominations immortalized by Hieronymus Bosch. The game plunges players into a macabre dance of extravagance and horror. Each creature is an invitation to reflect on our own fascination with monstrosity, a theme that has long haunted horrific art.
At the heart of Scorn’s artbook
The official Scorn artbook is a comprehensive look at the game’s development through the exploration of its concept art. Over 192 pages, the team behind this atmospheric horror title give an insight into the game’s unique graphics and talk about their admiration for H.R. Giger. They also give some interesting information on the lore, but not enough to fully elucidate the game’s cryptic narrative.
Scorn makes a commendable effort to tell a dystopian story without a single word of dialogue. Instead, you’ll discover the story and themes as you wander around the ruined planet and dip your hands into bizarre alien interfaces.
Fortunately, the artbook contains a detailed list of the context and exact functions of these organic machines. They have been designed in the image of the human body, and many ostensibly resemble sexual organs, recalling Giger’s themes.
The Scorn artbook reveals that Ebb Software originally had bigger plans for the Homunculi. These synthetic experiments were highly intelligent engineers capable of constructing cyborgs from organic waste and junk. Because of their reduced and deformed structure, they needed these machines to move and function.
The Homunculi had the dangerous ambition of taking over Polis, the citadel that looms at the end of the game. But two factions split up and went to war; one building cyborgs from bodies, the other making militarized robotic exosuits. Unfortunately, our only encounter with these intelligent creatures in the game is to juice them in a hydraulic press.
Due to Scorn‘s ambitious scope, the team had to scale back some of its ideas and levels. The first location to be removed was the Blasted Labyrinth, which was intended as a transition zone between the Crater and the Tower (another location eventually removed). The Blasted Labyrinth served as a battleground for the two warring homunculus factions. At the time of the game, the area must have been littered with thousands of decomposing bodies and broken cyborgs. The remnants of a bitter war would have painted Scorn‘s history in blood and tragedy.
Scorn highlights the idea of collective consciousness in the final act of the game. The artbook reveals that the team played with the concept of consciousness transfer, both for the players and the world’s inhabitants. Concept artist Filip Acovic wrote that he had been thinking about how players could experience the world as different physical entities. Entities could even crawl inside hollow shells to merge their consciousness into empty bodies. The process would usually result in a kaleidoscopic, almost psychedelic explosion of patterns and colors. The only vestige of this idea is the passage from one humanoid to another to complete a rudimentary puzzle.
The Tower is the game’s second deleted location; it was supposed to be an imposing reddish skyscraper just after venturing into the Blasted Labyrinth. In the artbook, the Tower is in near-perfect condition compared to its arid, hostile surroundings. As you’d expect from Scorn, the Tower undeniably resembles a phallus. Its zenith imprisons a gigantic creature screaming in pain as it grows ever larger. The artbook mentions that players will have to crush parts of the beast to progress through the zone.
The enormous creature at the top of the Tower is forced to create offspring, as is the Crater Queen attached to the great Polis elevator. The Tower’s mastodon is covered in a thick organic mastic that is constantly fed by multiple grinders. The substance is discharged through valves and pipes scattered throughout the structure. However, this mastic accumulates and mutates into deformed creatures at the base of the pipes, curling up like toothpaste and forming caricatures of suffering. The Scorn artbook suggests that they would have been as numerous as an army around the Tower.
In the artbook’s weapons section, Ebb Software considered dropping the use of all parasite-derived weapons. Instead, you could have installed a mechanical sword arm that fires from a cannon hidden behind the wrist. Filip Acovic explains that we could have used the technology to modify and transform our avatar into a kind of cyborg. The most interesting thing is that there was a plot idea that wasn’t pursued, which was to remove the parasite.
Expressing the duality between organic and mechanical
The Body Horror of David Cronenberg
David Cronenberg is a director who has left his mark on the 7th art with his unique explorations of the human body and technology. In films such as Videodrome and eXistenZ, the man considered the father of body horror plunges his characters into worlds where technological advances merge disturbingly and brutally with the human body. This fusion creates a duality, where the boundary between the organic and the mechanical becomes abstract. Scorn draws inspiration from these cinematic explorations, designing biomechanical creatures and landscapes that reflect this same duality.
In Ebb Software’s game, this exploration manifests itself through the game’s creatures, whose anatomy is distorted by a complex combination of organic and mechanical elements. The bodies of these creatures appear to be the product of a nightmarish fusion of flesh and machine, evoking Cronenberg’s central theme of hybridity. This fusion creates a disquieting aesthetic in which organic and mechanical elements merge inseparably, prompting players to question the nature of these entities and the meaning of their existence.
Cronenberg’s films are often characterized by their psychological and psychedelic implications. The viewer will often reflect on reality and perception through complex visual and narrative elements. Scorn transposes these elements into its gaming experience, creating a world where the boundary between reality and nightmare is constantly challenged.
In the game, the psychedelic dimension manifests itself through distorted environments, complex visual puzzles and an atmosphere that evokes a fever dream. The game’s artistic choices encourage players to immerse themselves in a state of unhealthy fascination, where reality seems elastic and perception becomes a key element of the experience. This psychological involvement reinforces the sense of immersion in a nightmarish world, while evoking Cronenberg’s cinematic experiments on reality and the human psyche.
Zdzisław Beksiński: horrific surrealism from Poland
Zdzisław Beksiński is a Polish artist who has left his mark on the art world with his unique paintings and sculptures, symbolized by a macabre aesthetic and a dreamlike imagination that is as terrifying as it is mesmerizing.
One of the most striking aspects of his style is the use of dark colors and detailed textures to create enigmatic, evocative images. His paintings are often dominated by strange, distorted creatures, apocalyptic landscapes and tortured human figures. Beksiński mainly used oil painting and drawing techniques to bring his dark visions to life.
Zdzisław Beksiński’s influence on the Scorn video game is palpable, particularly in its aesthetics and atmosphere. The game impressively captures the essence of Beksiński’s work and transposes it into an interactive environment. The game’s landscapes are imbued with this gloomy, decadent ambience, with settings that evoke the apocalyptic worlds that Beksiński so often depicted. The dark colors and meticulous details are reminiscent of the Polish artist’s canvases.
The creatures that populate Scorn often resemble the abominations that Beksiński immortalized in his paintings. The game explores the same fascination with the grotesque and bizarre, with hybrid creatures that defy classification. Their appearance evokes the tortured monsters the artist so frequently depicted. Like Beksiński’s works, Scorn creates an enigmatic and unsettling atmosphere. The game’s environments seem straight out of a disturbed dream, and this atmosphere perfectly evokes Beksiński’s visual universe.
Indirect pictorial influences
Diving into Scorn feels like a plunge into a nightmarish canvas, reminiscent of H.R. Giger or Zdzisław Beksiński. This eerie world is crafted from grotesque, organic materials, luring you into exploring disturbing orifices and dismembered limbs. It’s an unsettling paradox; instinct tells you to steer clear of these macabre creations, yet the bizarre beauty and strange satisfaction of this grotesquery pull you in.
In this interactive reality, we are much more than mere spectators; we become actors in artistic expression. It’s an invitation to follow in the footsteps of artists such as H.R. Giger and Zdzisław Beksiński, through the worlds they have imagined. We become explorers of these worlds, navigating through the landscapes of their minds, while bringing our own interpretation into these visual and narrative universes.
This journey offers a unique opportunity to revisit and reinvent horror in new ways. Where cinema has established well-defined conventions and expectations, video games allow us to take risks, to explore unexpected horizons. They plunge us into the abyss of cosmic terror, a literary sub-genre that explores the mysteries of the cosmos and the inconceivable, and which is finally finding its full flowering in the 10th art.
What’s more, this medium continues to tap into a well of inspiration formed by artists long ago. Abstract pulp stories, imbued with fantasy and horror, come to life through the immersive approach of video games. The landscapes of desolation and nihilism deeply rooted in 19th-century literature become palpable settings we can explore. Similarly, the fantastical visions of the Middle Ages, fashioned by a cohort of artists, find new life in these digital universes, adding a layer of authenticity to these tales and creating experiences that resemble time travel.
Hieronimus Bosch, a visionary painter of the 1400s, has left us a fascinating artistic legacy, including masterpieces such as The Garden of Earthly Delights. His pictorial approach was bold enough to defy the conventions of his time. His aim was not to depict the Middle Ages in concrete terms, but rather to weave a surreal canvas in which characters with distorted contours came to life within a disconcerting world. This garden was populated by figures seemingly fashioned from ceramics, transformed into houses or extravagant ornamentation, where naked revelers lounged.
Bosch’s viewers were thus confronted with a landscape where the extraordinary was alongside with the absurd. Vats of black glue, anthropomorphic instruments with oversized hands, giant ears on aerial creatures reminiscent of spitfires, and fish-men enjoying their meal alongside rabbit-men. An echo of the world of Alice in Wonderland can be discerned, but charged with a more palpable anxiety. The decorative heads stood out for their empty eyes, into which rats slid furtively.
In the world of Scorn, Bosch’s imprint is undeniable. The game embraces a similar world, filled with intertwining entrails and organic flesh, evoking disturbing parallels with the surrealist fantasies of the Flemish master. Imagine a game that immerses itself entirely in Bosch’s work, a journey into the festive life of our ancestors and an exploration of the paranoia of our primal instincts. It would be a dizzying plunge into a universe where the extraordinary meets the grotesque, creating a most striking artistic experience. A tribute to Bosch’s iconoclastic vision that would fascinate art and video game fans alike, while reminding us of the importance of exploring new creative frontiers that only this medium could offer in such an immersive way.
The Black Paintings are one of the most striking art collections in existence. This is a distinctive gallery by Francisco Goya from the early 1800s, which is a far cry from his other works. It is much darker, with demonic creatures devouring children and human faces that, on closer inspection, begin to disintegrate and lose their structure, with only vague features remaining, lending an air of familiarity. This makes them incredibly unsettling, as if you were looking at someone out of the corner of your eye, but could never make out the image.
This collection is a classic, with a muted color palette that reflects the truly bleak nature of our world, and perfectly illustrates Goya’s waning hope. Goya suffered from two near-fatal illnesses, so some believe his art is an insight into his worsening state of mind. The possibility of experiencing this progressive loss more personally, and providing a contemporary commentary on his pessimism, would be a rich world worth exploring.
With these different artists, it’s interesting to note the extent to which Scorn has been able to appropriate various pictorial influences in its own way, to offer a work that goes beyond simply copying the general look of Giger’s style. Above all, it’s fascinating to imagine other games based on the work of these artists.
Scorn is a game deeply rooted in the artistic currents of surrealism and horror, influenced by artists such as H.R. Giger, Zdzisław Beksiński, M.C. Escher, and the cinematic achievements of David Cronenberg. Through its unique graphic style and tone, Scorn plunges us into a world where the organic and the mechanical merge into a tenebrous experience, where repetitive geometric shapes create an oppressive atmosphere, and where creatures of the uncanny evoke an almost Lovecraftian horror.
Ebb Software’s game stands out as an interactive work of art that transcends the boundaries between video games and artistic expression. Its exploration of dark and fantastical themes, its fusion of living fabric and metal, and its homage to great artists and directors make it a captivating experience.
Pellet Matthew, SCORN : THE ART OF THE GAME, Titan Books, 2023
Andreas J. Hirsch, HR Giger, Taschen, 2022
Article – internet
Curious Archive, The Biomechanical Nightmare of ‘Scorn’, 2022, 20 min 25, URL : https://youtu.be/YGzeYfwVa5U?si=rLtf_Zqa7ddCsNwQ
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