Scars Above interview with Mad Head Executive Producer Ivan Zorkić

by on December 14, 2022

I was lucky enough to fly out to Serbia last week and spend some time in the company of Mad Head Games, who put on a fantastic showcase event for their upcoming third person sci-fi actioner Scars Above. Despite being in the somewhat unsettling environment of a cavernous former crypt (and, I am told, once a nightclub, hence the telltale chewing gum that mottles its stone floor), the afternoon was enjoyable in that the game itself was a blast to play, and the people who made it are a likeable, passionate bunch who were on hand and only too willing to answer some questions for me about its creation, influences, and the games industry in Eastern Europe in general.

I collared Scars Above Director and Mad Head Executive Producer Ivan Zorkić in an atmospherically lit, dry ice-filled corner of the cavern to pick his brains.

The burning question for me, given that I had my own theories on it, was to ask what the principal influences were when developing Scars Above? “That is a common, but great question! There were quite a few actually; in this business you play a lot of games, watch a lot of new movies and tv shows, and read a lot of books. All of us at the studio are fans of science fiction, really big fans. And fans of fantasy as well, but science fiction is always very close to our hearts.”

Scars Above interview with Mad Head Executive Producer Ivan Zorkic

Left: Ivan Zorkić, Right: Sean Smith

Now at this point, or any point during my Serbian adventure, I wasn’t expecting the image of Lt Frank Drebin to enter my mind, but it is easy to forget how the late, great Naked Gun star was once a semi-serious movie star involved in some classic sci-fi and disaster movies. And lo and behold, Ivan triggered me.

“This was inspired in part by some of the classics, all the way from the very earliest movies that I remember – like Forbidden Planet with Leslie Nielsen, with its themes of astronauts stuck on a scary planet”.

With its sinister creatures popping out of icky cocoons, there was clearly another slightly more contemporary space-horror touchstone in Mad Head’s thoughts when constructing the hostile planet I had just been exploring: “The biggest influence would probably have to be Alien. Kate, I would say, she is similar to Ripley, and inspired by Ripley in that she is not a soldier – she is an officer on a ship – and not a combatant, right? So that was very inspirational. Also, perhaps not reflected in the game but something for me personally was reading Alice In Wonderland and thinking about the similarities and how Kate goes down “the rabbit hole” and ends up on this alien world which is strange, and weird, and beautiful, and terrifying!”

Scars Above interview

Other than films and literature, Ivan also gave some insight into the kinds of video games that had been influential on the development process. “You always look at other games. Resident Evil is always a big inspiration due to the survival elements. We took a lot of cues from Horizon Zero Dawn, which is one of my favourites. We also borrowed some mechanics from Souls games. It is not a Souls-like, but there are some elements in terms of challenge, learning about your enemies. We incorporated this because of the story which is about learning about your environment, teaching people to do things by trial and error, where people die in certain sections and then replay in order to learn from that. There are also some shortcuts you can open so you don’t have to play certain parts again. The story is not so open to interpretation, it is more of a contained story with clear explanations, a more linear story inspired by Sci-Fi classics.”

There were a few things that I noticed – firstly that some of the enemies gave off a certain Lovecraftian vibe. This was particularly relevant in my brain having just binge watched Guillermo Del Toro’s superb Cabinet of Curiosities anthology which blended Sci-Fi and horror with an overarching HP Lovecraft theme. “Yes – there is a reason in the story, which I wont spoil, but we approached the enemy design like they were part of a biome, an existing biological unit. We imagined how different environments – like marshland, ice, grassy fields – what kind of creature would live there? So, there are areas with tall grass, and we have a very fast creature who is a quadruped and relatively low, who hides in the grass and is hard to see and has evolved to be a predator in that kind of environment. There are fur covered creatures in the snowy part. We explain in the story the reason why they are all so monstrous and hostile. There is a specific reason for that. We were going for the idea of animals turning into monsters. There is a reason why some of the creatures are bipedal”.

Scars Above interview

At this point I noted how much the game recalled Alex Garland’s sensational film adaptation of Annihilation. It shares many themes and a female lead with Scars Above. “That was obviously something we looked at: a strong female, and one of the creepiest things I have seen on screen – the bear scene – and the mechanic it used to lure people in. So we designed these monsters to be a part of a specific environment and evolution, and how they can use their natural abilities in unique and interesting ways to make things difficult, and how you can counter these with different elements.”

The elemental weapons play a big part in proceedings and Ivan was keen to point out how they wanted to move away from the generic style of gunplay seen in other titles. “We didn’t want her going in shooting with an automatic rifle so we used the elemental weapons. We know people usually think of magic when you mention elemental weapons but this is more like forces of physics and based in reality.”

Finally I was keen to find out a bit more about games development as a whole in Serbia and indeed the Balkans in general as it is not really an area that we associate with the industry. “This whole region is relatively new to game development. We were one of the pioneers over fifteen years ago and when we started things were relatively new to everyone. It wasn’t new to us! But people were surprised that we made games out here. Now it is much more common and you have bigger players out here like Epic Games, or Ubisoft opening studios. We are still one of the first to have started making console-core games. I expect a lot more not just here in Serbia but in the region as well – because of one hand it is easy to develop here for financial reasons, the geographical location; but we are also close to the rest of the world in terms of pop culture and communications”.


“We have heard a lot from our friends and colleagues in the US and UK about how they may have difficulty communicating with companies from the far east for example, due to problems with language or even cultural differences. I know everyone says this about their part of the word but there is a tremendous amount of talented people from technical skills, to artists, and creative people here. I think that even if it may not sound relevant, we also have a great sense of humour which I think is very important no matter what kind of game you are developing. So I think this whole region – Serbian of course, but also Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary – is becoming top for game development and you will hear more and more about it.”

Amen to that. I was extremely impressed by everything I saw in Serbia and felt that the passion for videogames is as intense and abundant as anywhere you care to mention. The amount of graft and effort that has gone into showcasing Scars Above is nothing short of brilliant, and I look forward to playing it and seeing what Mad Head come up with next. And word to the wise – Serbian rakija is as potent an aperitif as I have ever encountered.

This Scars Above preview is based on hands-on impressions from a press trip to Serbia. Accommodation and travel was provided by the publisher. The game is coming to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X in 2023.

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