‘Scanner Sombre’ arms you with lidar for a gorgeous, creepy explore-’em-up

Something about the polychromatic pointillism of lidar imagery has always intrigued me, but as a writer I can’t say I have many opportunities to use the technology. That’s why I’m excited about a lovely looking new game from the creators of Prison Architect in which you are exploring a pitch-black cave with nothing but lidar.

“Scanner Sombre” was announced today, and the general idea is that you find yourself in a cave in complete darkness, armed with just a lidar scanner and headset. By scanning your surroundings you can navigate and soon find that the cave is more than just a cave. And you may not be the only one in it…

It’s one of those situations where the technology in itself creates a look and feel that’s powerful and strange.

I was curious about the team’s inspiration for using such a unique look. Turns out Chris Delay, Introversion Software’s creative director, was inspired by Radiohead’s lidar-powered music video for “House of Cards.”

“I really wanted to recreate that visual style from the Radiohead video quite closely, complete with the rainbow colors and the eerie, static point cloud that just looks totally alien, and totally devoid of life,” Delay said in response to my emailed query.

It’s rather a different challenge technically, as well; normally first-person games rely on complex polygonal structures and texture maps to create scenes, but Scanner Sombre imitates the lidar style of point clouds very closely.

“It was probably the biggest technical challenge of the project to support such a huge number of points — it can easily be millions by the end of the game,” Delay continued. “We did consider other simpler rendering methods but ultimately, going with such an usual style of point cloud rendering gives the game a pretty unique look, and also provides our core game mechanic. Despite working on it for the best part of a year, it still takes my breath away when I look at the fully scanned world.”

I get the feeling I’ll have the same reaction. Scanner Sombre will be available on Steam come April 26.