State of the Art: The Visceral Style Of Scorn

When the Scorn trailer came out a couple of weeks back I was fascinated by its aesthetic. It has that potent mixture of architecture and biology which skims so close to revulsion but is also incredibly beautiful. It reminded me of conversations about abjection from art history, of ideas about transgressing bodily boundaries, of monstrous organs, dripping fluids…

But I wanted to know what Scorn‘s developers thought. What led game and level designer Ljubomir Peklar and his colleagues to these spaces for their game? Here are their answers and some of the wonderful artwork they’ve shared. You can click on each image for a larger version if you want to examine the fine details!

Pip: Tell me about your influences for the game – other artists, places, movies and so on…

Ljubomir Peklar: A person is influenced by many things and different artists throughout his life. Sometimes their art defines your taste and sometimes you naturally gravitate towards concepts you have an affinity for. Your view on life, your thoughts and ideas will push you towards similar minded artists.

Scorn’s influences are based on ideas and concepts I wanted to explore. When it comes to visual influences just looking at any comment section for Scorn you will notice two names are constantly mentioned: H.R. Giger (who appears to be a household name now) and the much less well known polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski. They are certainly the two main visual influences but their work was not chosen because it looks cool but because different aspects of their work relate to various themes and ideas in Scorn. We also tried to create our own style.

As for other influences it’s quite a big list. If we are talking movies it’s directors like Cronenberg, Argento, Lynch, Carpenter and Jodorowsky just to name a few. Writers of different genres from Horror and SF to philosophy like Lovecraft, Barker, Thomas Ligotti, J.G. Ballard, Stanislaw Lem, Kafka, Albert Camus, Heidegger and so on. Games like Silent Hill, Resident Evil or Metroid Prime.

Pip: How did the look of the game change from initial sketches to the final style?

Peklar: Not that much, surprisingly. The biggest problem was finding the right concept artist that could realize all the details of the world. Our concept designer Filip Acovic, went through my ideas rather quickly but what was crucial is a good communication. Once Filip understood what I wanted we had a flood of interesting concepts. We knew from the start what was visually the right choice for Scorn; we just needed to figure out how to get there. Filip paints quickly so he didn’t do many standard sketches. It’s really important to get the feel for the world you are creating as soon as possible, especially if it’s as unorthodox as this one.

Pip: Which parts did you work on first?

Peklar: We designed the main character first, as he is the centerpiece of the game, so we concentrated on the ideas that we wanted to express through him. There is a feature, that we haven’t shown yet, that was really important to get exactly right, both in the concept art and later in the game.

Sometimes you have to try out crazy and even ridiculous ideas to realize what works and what doesn’t (image below).

Design change at the later stage (image below).

We also needed to conceptualize some early environments so we could see our main character present in that space.

Pip: Which parts did you have to work hardest on to get them to look right?

Peklar: The hardest part is not creating noise or clutter. If something is oversaturated with detail it becomes noise, or if it has none it becomes flat. It’s really strange how much a simple line or form can mutate one concept into another and go stylistically in the wrong direction creating a standard SF or gothic aesthetic. Balance is everything.

Pip: How has the game changed over time? Have you had to accommodate that with the artwork in any particular ways?

Peklar: The biggest problem comes from the fact that not all the ideas on paper work in a fully realized 3D world so you have to change them, balance them out or completely cut them and come up with something new. All that has to be done in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes the most basic thing can create the biggest problems.

Our workflow is set up on an iterative building block principle. First we do some concepts, then we implement them in the game, see what works and what doesn’t, and then redesign the things that were not right. We’re still doing it to an extent. It simply wouldn’t work any other way. One of the challenges is certainly the number of things that need to be designed. With a concept like this you have to design every possible object inside the world and that takes a lot of time.

The reloading of the gun and some other features had to be changed because it didn’t work in the game. Sometimes you come up with better ideas when things don’t work as intended.

Old design:

New design:

Pip: I assume you used medical imagery for some of the reference points – can you tell me a bit more about that?

Peklar: Our existence as a living organism is at the core of the game and human anatomy is the primary subject. Therefore we referenced many different parts of it as a starting point, then we morph, combine and exaggerate them, change the shapes until we get something visually appealing. It’s not always about functionality but interesting forms that make sense for what we are trying to express.

Human beings are conditioned to like the external beauty of their bodies and see the internal organs, bones and tissue as something repulsive. It’s a reflex. It’s something most people want to forget. Most of the time you are not aware of your body but when you get ill or old your body turns against you.

Whether you are comfortable with parts of our exterior and interior being a living organism is a crucial part of your existence. We studied human structure but also the building blocks of various creatures on this planet. Nature has created an incredible variety of biological machinery. We have built ourselves a big library of references from many sources, from medical to nature documentaries.

Pip: Which assets or visual effects are you proudest of?

Peklar: Since we still have a way to go our proudest moment is yet to come, but right now we are proud of the monumental structures that you see in the trailer. They convey the sense of big desolate spaces very well. The inhabitants need much more improvement.

Pip: Thank you for your time!


  1. SableKeech says:

    Fantastic article! More please :)

  2. Premium User Badge

    Earl-Grey says:

    It’s fine, not like I needed to eat any more today anyway.
    Needles to say, I’ll be giving this a wide berth, to each their own.

  3. CartonofMilk says:

    its cool but it’s like a straight ripoff of Giger. Like so much so he should be asking for a pay for basically doing the artwork…..

    • SableKeech says:

      If he wasn’t dead.

    • vahnn says:

      Giger’s been dead a few years, dude. RIP

    • Jokerme says:

      You should show some respect to the artists who created these. Giger created his own art. These are different creations. Style doesn’t define art or its quality.

      • Juan Carlo says:

        It does make it less eye catching, though, when the style of something has been done to death. Giger has been done to death at this point. That doesn’t make the efforts of the artists any less valid, but it does mean that I’m not going to be as enthused about this when I see it on steam.

        Of course, the upside of that is that as a famous artist, Giger has tons of fans. So they might be more inclined to go for this style than others.

        • Razumen says:

          What games have done Giger to death? I could probably count them on my finger.

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      In art as in game design: do something first, you’re a genius; do something for the hundredth time, you’re working in a well-loved genre; do something for the second time, you’re a dirty ripoff artist.

      Remember when every game inspired by Minecraft was dubbed a ripoff? Imagine if every platformer was dismissed as a Super Mario ripoff. Imagine if every Impressionist artist was ripping off Monet. What kind of world would that be?

      • All is Well says:

        Are you implying that that maxim is unreasonable, or contradictory?

    • Razumen says:

      Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

  4. Reetgeist says:

    Is it just me, or is nearly all of this art phallic/yonic?

  5. DailyFrankPeter says:

    Yup, to looks totally as disturbed as H.R. Giger. Someone must have been studying him/also locked up for years in catholic school.

  6. AceJohnny says:

    I really like most of the art here, but I hope they manage to dodge the more cliché penis/vagina-analogues. The one illustrated right after “Balance is everything” above caused a bit of an eye-roll for me. See also Prey’s sphincter-doors.

    But overall, really excited by this :)

  7. GWOP says:

    If it comes with VR support, can we scream, “Death to the new flesh, long live videodrome?”

    • SableKeech says:

      Love me some James Woods.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      You can scream that, but I’ll be screaming “Death to the demoness, Allegra Geller!”

  8. Alien says:

    Why is it that artworks (sketches) are always looking so much better than the final result (in games or in movies)?

    • Raoul Duke says:

      I think a few reasons. It’s a lot easier to make one still frame look awesome then the tens of thousands required for a movie or the infinite number required for a game. Also, computer imagery is good but not yet good enough to have no rough edges. E.g. above, you can clearly see some of the effects of still having to use a relatively limited number of 3D points to render the artist’s vision. Finally, I’d argue paintings/drawings are assessed as such, whereas films and games are expected to look ‘real’.

      • unacom says:

        I think there is yet another cause. Pictures are fixed compositions. They are meant to be looked at in a certain way, from a certain position, whereas sculptures (3d-objects) can be looked at from different angles.
        While a spectator may not knowingly decide to look at an object from an unfavorable angle, they will certainly become irritated by (up to even noticing) slight imperfections.
        Therefore they require much more work in order become convincing.

  9. unacom says:

    Oh, our main influences were [rattles off a list of pretty much every household name science-fiction, (fantasy-)art, directing and philosophy have washed up on the shores of nerd consciousness] -wait! Where´s Sartre? Why not put him in, paint everything black and get over with it?

    You give us those names (too many of them), a trailer that suggests a Gigered Myst with way too many german words and cysts in it and really expect us not to take off running?

    • Premium User Badge

      Phasma Felis says:

      Is it rough being that cynical? It seems like you must have a hard time ever enjoying things.

    • Razumen says:

      I take it you also only watch movies and play games no one’s heard about yet, right?

    • gmillar says:

      If those are “pretty much all” the names you know in sci-fi and fantasy art, you should probably get out more. Let me guess, you’re only into media that isn’t inspired by anything? You make it sound like it’s bad to have cool influences. Like a ton of people wouldn’t play a Myst type game in the style of Geiger? That sounds awesome.

      • All is Well says:

        That’s not at all what they said, though. There is quite a difference between “pretty much every household name science-fiction, (fantasy-)art, directing and philosophy have washed up on the shores of nerd consciousness” (what unacom said) and “‘pretty much all’ the names [I] know in sci-fi and fantasy art” (which is what you believe unacom said). Nor do they seem to be implying that they don’t enjoy art with inspirations, and I think the point they’re trying to make is specifically that the influences of Scorn aren’t cool, but rather pedestrian.

    • Premium User Badge

      john_silence says:

      Guys, it is a disappointingly predictable list. There’s nothing wrong with any of those names, but if I had to compile a digest of horror games’ essential influences, as in, Horror Gaming for Dummies, it would match to a T.

      The game itself still looks like its own thing, though. Maybe because of the weird, slow pacing of the trailer. I would love to experience the finished game set to that off rhythm, it would seem to suit the otherworldly aesthetics.

    • unacom says:

      All is well and john_silence have nailed a good part of what I think is wrong with this trailer/concept.

      I really like it when games evoke visceral feelings. I enjoy games that reflect on space, it´s relation to the protagonist and architecture.

      I´m disappointed that, given such good inspirations, the developers don´t seem to manage to make me think about what I see in the game versus what I see in my everyday life. They don´t even manage to make me curious.

      The art is good. But how should it irritate me more than Gigers´ works already do? Or this one by Max Ernst? Or the sculptures of Patricia Piccinini? How does it make me WANT to go there?
      Architectural situations that try to evoke disgust, revulsion, loneliness, the uncanny
      We see them every day. They encourage curiosity and the tentative wish to go there and be there (da sein).
      This collage does not.

      Maybe what I´m rambling about is this:
      I expect more, from things less Alien.

  10. ukpanik says:

    Hopefully it’s not all others style and no substance.

    • gmillar says:

      Hi there, I’d like to introduce you to this new thing called “art,” where style is substance.

      • Ser Crumbsalot says:

        Hi there, I’d like to introduce you to this new thing called “not using patronizing/belittling phrasing”, where you can get your point across without underhandedly insulting people! But that’s beside the point.

        While you may have a point, video games are a complex form of media that can’t life on graphical presentation alone, especially considering the genre they’re going for. And while the artwork may look pretty, this won’t save the game if gameplay, plot & auditory components turn out to be comparable to the product of explosive diarrhea.

        • All is Well says:

          To add to this, I think ukpanik was simply making a joke about the similarity to Giger/Beksinski by splicing the word “others” into “all style and no substance”.

  11. vorador says:

    Cool, it’s not like i needed to sleep today. Or tomorrow.

    Hopefully they can make a good game behind all this. At least it will drip style.

  12. wishinghand says:

    While this is very reminiscent of Giger, it also reminds me of World Without End, a really weird biopunk story by Jamie Delano for DC Comics.

  13. Kelvin says:

    Just read up on Beksinski; he says that his works were meant to portray an optimistic theme. I could see a few ways how, but unfortunately he seems to have died without leaving much in the way of explanation. It seems my private musings are as close to really understanding his art as I’m likely to get.

    As for the game, I’m wondering. Is the player character Human or not?

    It could be a “Human”, warped and mutated into an unfamiliar figure; but it could just as easily be a bioroid or alien that just so happens to have that bipedal figure that’s so popular among humans these days.

    Both paths lead to questions: the human path to ethical and moral questions, the alien path to bio-mechanics and engineering. It’d be nice if they brought up some character development in the future.

    • vorador says:

      He said that, but he lived a quite miserable life, with several personal losses in his life, and was killed in his apartment by a robber.

      I say anybody who looks at Beksinski’s work and describes it as optimistic is lacking quite a few screws.

      In the matter of the supposedly main character of the game…who knows. His body structure is vaguely human, but there’s enough differences both in artwork and the teaser models to be anything. He could be either an alien, a heavily bioengineered human or anything in between. My personal guess is that solving that question will be part of the plot.

      • Kelvin says:

        link to

        Maybe my screws are loose, but I can’t help but sense a theme of “endurance in adversity” in many of his works. The above in particular has a very Psalm 23:4 feel to it.

        The hugging skeletons, the campfires on the mesas, to me they say “No matter how much you go through, you just have to keep on going.” Certainly Beksinski had enough experience with misery to properly convey such themes; and since most sources peg him as a friendly up-beat guy in spite of it, I’m guessing the “optimism” in his paintings would follow a similar vein.

  14. thelastpointer says:

    Two types of comments here:
    “Hey! I recognize this art style! :D”
    “Hey! I recognize this art style! D:”

    I think it’s more Beksinski than Giger, and it’s more of a celebration of their art than a ripoff in my opinion. Also, it’s a rather rare art style in the world of gaming.