Scanner Sombre, the newest game from Prison Architect developer Introversion Software, takes place in a world you can’t see. The game drops you into a dark cavern where you can only glimpse the world around you by using a scanner that produces a colorful outline of your surroundings. It’s a dark, claustrophobic feeling — one that only heightens as you explore further and the game takes on more of a horror vibe.
Introversion first showed off Scanner Sombre as a prototype last year, and today the studio is announcing that not only is the idea being turned into a full-fledged game, it’s also launching very soon. Scanner Sombre will be launching on PC this Wednesday.
According to lead designer Chris Delay, the idea for Scanner Sombre started forming in 2008 — and it began with a look. That year Radiohead released a video for “House of Cards,” and while Delay wasn’t a fan of the song, he was struck by the video, which utilized LIDAR data — a surveying technique that creates 3D objects from dots of light — to depict everything from people to cityscapes. “I just thought it looked amazing,” he says. “It was really atmospheric, and inhuman and technical looking. It lacked any warmth.” After that, what Delay needed was a setting, and he eventually settled on a deep, damp cave, a place where players couldn’t see anything without the help of a LIDAR scanner.
The idea stuck with him until years later, when he needed a break. Prison Architect launched in alpha in 2012, and its ongoing success meant that Delay stuck with the project for years, fine-tuning the experience and adding new content. “I’d got up to six years on one game, straight,” he says. “It was an amazing project, so I’m not going to say that I hated in the end, because I didn’t. But I was definitely quite tired.” At one point Delay and a few other members of the team took a month off to build two prototypes. One was a bomb defusing game called Wrong Wire, the other Scanner Sombre.
Within the studio, the belief was that Wrong Wire was the idea to follow up on. It looked more like a traditional game, and — with its technical premise — it also felt more in keeping with Introversion’s past work, which includes everything from a hacking game to a prison management simulator. For Delay, that difference was what made Scanner Sombre so much more appealing. “Everything about it is very different from Introversion’s previous games,” he explains. “And that to me was really important… Scanner Sombre is just the other side of the universe really.”
Scanner Sombre is a relatively short experience, lasting 4-5 hours, and it’s reminiscent of story-driven games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Firewatch, where much of the time you’re simply walking around an area. But its striking visuals and tense, cramped setting give it a distinct flavor — one that’s as uncomfortable as it is intriguing. For Delay, it was a chance to try something new, and put himself in a very different mindset. And he’s hoping it will have a somewhat similar impact on players.
“It evokes a strange feeling in people,” he says. “Because you can kind of see what’s all around you. As you move, you can see the depth all around you, and then you can hear the sound and the footsteps. But you can’t see any of it, so it puts your brain into a very strange space.”
Scanner Sombre will be available on Steam, GOG, and the Humble store on Wednesday April 26th.