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Scorn Interview – Xbox Series X Is a ‘Very Balanced System’; Trailer Was Running on an RTX 2080Ti

May 29, 2020
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Scorn, the atmospheric first-person horror game inspired by H.P. Giger's works, reappeared with a brand new trailer that aired during the latest Inside Xbox episode. That's because Microsoft has secured console exclusivity rights for Scorn, which will launch on the Xbox Series X and Windows PC (Steam) while targeting 4K and 60 frames per second.

Originally funded on Kickstarter years ago, Scorn seems to be finally well on its way towards release thanks to the help of the Xbox platform holder. We thought it'd be a good time to catch up with Ebb Software's Game Director Ljubomir Peklar and dive into the indie studio's development hurdles as well as their first impressions on the next-generation Xbox console, due for release this Holiday season.

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How many developers do you currently have at Ebb Software?

Our team is currently of 40+ people.

What was the primary reason for the much longer development of phase of Scorn, compared to your original plans? Is Scorn still going to be split into two parts? How long do you reckon the final game will be?

These two questions are connected. It is a long period of time but people are only looking at it from that time component. The number of people that worked on the game at any given moment is not proportional. It's not as if in 2014 a 40 people team started on the game and has been working on it at that capacity till now. In 2014 there were basically only 4 of us, in 2015 it was double that, in 2017 it was 20, and now we have 40 employees. That's what creates confusion in people's minds
regarding why it's taking so long.

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Splitting the game into two parts because of limited resources and then bringing it back to the whole experience is also a reason for added confusion. Part 1 was supposed to come out in 2018, not the whole game. The only reason you heard about the game in 2014, 2016, and 2017 was because we were running out of resources so we had to show it and gather interest so we could convince people to invest in the studio. It's not as if we were horsing around, and blown some big budget, and then had to do this. When it comes to resources in those first few years we never had anything more than the mere necessity for this kind of enthusiast project to survive. I said it quite a few times, if I had all the resources needed to develop the game without the public knowing
about it I most certainly would. You would be probably hearing about the game for
the first time now and thinking it's a new game.

The horror games scene has changed quite a bit since you began working on Scorn. Did you take some cues or notes from any of the recently successful horror games or are you just sticking with your own vision?

We don't care about reactive design, so we are just sticking to our original design goals.

You've said that Microsoft grabbed console exclusivity rights for Scorn. Are those timed, so that PlayStation fans may still hope to get the game later on, or lifetime exclusive rights?

I can't discuss this kind of information.

As an Xbox Series X developer, which aspect of the new Velocity Architecture impressed you the most? Will Scorn feature any loading screen between the zones, and do you expect differences in this regard between Xbox Series X and PC?

Series X as a platform has been available to us for only two months, so we are still figuring out everything that is at our disposal. I think that the Series X is a very balanced system. The SSD solution is an incredible improvement when it comes to loading assets, and as it stands now it seems that there will be complete parity between PC and Series X versions of the game. We
will try to minimize loading as much as possible.

In a horror game like Scorn, the audio component is as important as the visuals. Did you already look into what's going to be possible with the Project Acoustics engine built into the Xbox Series X?

We will still continue to use the audio solution that we've been using up to this point. Changing audio set-up mid-development would create too many unnecessary problems. We will certainly explore Project Acoustics in the future.

Xbox Series X also features support for DirectML. Are you planning to use the Machine Learning API in some ways for Scorn?

DirectML and NVIDIA's DLSS 2.0 are very interesting solutions when the game is not hitting the desired performance and it feels like these solutions could help players with weaker systems quite substantially. A lot of these new features have been at our disposal for a very limited amount of time. We will try our best to give players as many options as possible.

Given that Scorn is powered by Unreal Engine technology, we cannot fail to ask you some thoughts on the stunning new UE5 demo. Also, do you plan to upgrade to UE5 in order to take advantage of those new features (Nanite and Lumen) for Scorn?

That demo looked very impressive. Even more so on the development side, if all that was said is true without some major caveats. It looks like all three platforms will be able to use the engine quite well. For those that are worried that the engine is built around the fastest SSD with custom I/O, look at it this way. Even if Epic for some reason wanted to create an engine only for that system I doubt that they would design it to be primarily focused on the system’s slowest part (compared to
other parts in that system). Theoretically, If I had to choose I would rather take an average speed SSD (an even slower than the one in Series X) and have more memory. Now since that kind of system would be obviously too expensive, these SSDs with custom I/O solutions are the best option.
UE5 isn't even available yet, and even if it was available today moving the game now to what seems like a completely different pipeline would result in a failure of great proportions.

Scorn does not use ray tracing, at least according to the official tags listed on the Xbox website. Furthermore, the UE5 demo showcased an impressive Lumen real-time GI solution that does not rely on ray tracing. Does that mean ray tracing will remain an optional technique rather than a baseline one for next-generation games as some had assumed?

As you saw with that demo there are other ways to get that GI equivalent. Developers have been using Ray Tracing to create static GI for years. Real-time Ray Tracing is certainly a breakthrough. It will be a much more useful tool for the developers in the future than a mind-blowingly obvious feature for players to notice. You looked at the tag to see if it was there. Through the years developers have developed many different techniques to fake aspects of what Ray Tracing
can accomplish, from reflections to shadows and AO.

These 'fakes' have some limitations. Presentation is more static, effects at certain angles break the illusion, but for the most part, it looks pretty good. Sometimes when the new technology becomes available some developers start overusing it just to show it off, without thinking about the context in which it's getting used. That is why you are starting to see games that have rooms with all reflective surfaces or inappropriate lighting conditions just to show off the technology. Technology should be in service of what you are trying to accomplish, not the other way around. So yes, Real-time Ray Tracing will undoubtedly be a complete solution in the future, but in the nearest future developers will use it on case to case basis.

Are you going to support the other DirectX 12 Ultimate features, such as VRS, Mesh Shading and Sampler Feedback, on both Xbox Series X and PC?

Again, we are currently exploring everything that is available to us, but all these features are brand new and to give you some concrete answers would require some additional time with all these tools.

Why are you targeting 60FPS for Scorn? Does that mean there'll be a lot of combat in the game, thus requiring smooth controls?

For PC players with keyboard and mouse 60FPS is simply a necessity. We also feel that responsiveness should be as important on consoles. It's the players direct communication with the game. Even if you are just talking about graphical fidelity, when a game runs at 30FPS you start losing the established details once the camera starts moving.

The trailer was labeled as 'in-engine footage representative of expected Xbox Series X visual quality', which usually means it was running on PC. If so, can you share the specs used?

Now, this is a tricky question as for some reason a lot of people feel that it should be quite easy to get 4K 60FPS on the PC even with this graphical fidelity, and that really isn't the case. For the showcase we used 2080Ti and a Ryzen processor just because there was no reason not to use it, but a 2070 Super with a mixture of settings is adequate to run the game at 4K 60FPS.

Are the system requirements listed on Steam still valid? They seem a bit low considering the level of visuals seen in the new Scorn trailer.

Yes, system requirements are old and will go up a bit for PC.

Thank you for your time.

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