Written by Ryder Windham of Star Wars novelization fame, Scraper: The Rise of Cifer is already out on bookshelves or, more accurately, Kindle reading lists.
It’s the prequel novel to not one, but rather an entire series of upcoming Scraper VR games, headed by the budding Labrodex Studios out of Jericho, NY.
The story of the IP centers around a distinctly futuristic version of Austin, TX in the year 2076, after humanity has willingly given itself over to AI entities called the “Humechs”. It’s drawing from a philosophically introspective yarn, exploring the what-ifs of humanity giving society over to intelligent machines.
Right now, fans are waiting intently for the release of Scraper: First Strike, the first in a line of episodes that will culminate in the complete release of the first title in 2020. As Labrodex’s founder, Jim Ivon, initially told me over the phone, Labrodex intends to release three Scraper games with five episodes of content per game.
I got the opportunity to catch up again with Ivon, this time over email, about his perspective on VR, his love of science fiction, and the future of the IP that he and his team are painstakingly constructing from scratch.
VRScout: We talked briefly on the phone about Blade Runner as an inspiration for you. How closely does Scraper’s inspiration come from classic cyberpunk thrillers like Blade Runner or (in the games industry) System Shock and Deus Ex?
IVON: “Blade Runner was a big influence early on for the game. We wanted to create a story that was darker and more ominous, while addressing advancements in computing power, robotics and the blending of the two with humanity. Roy Batty was an example figure we discussed when designing LCF-R’s makeup and persona.
Scraper definitely shares qualities with iconic titles like System Shock, Deus Ex and BioShock. Cybernetic enhancements, robotics, unique weaponry, stealth, RPG elements and interesting factions are all present and develop during the story of Scraper. We also believe in player choice affecting the world. This will become more and more prevalent in future episodes. One slight difference is Scraper starts off as a near utopian society, versus a dystopian one. Society revolves around the success of the Humechs and the scraper megacities they manage. It all comes to a screeching halt once LCF-R evolves to the belief he needs to “help” society to succeed.”
Does Scraper have any affiliation with James Gilberd’s novel of the same name?
“No relation at all. Scraper: A Novel About Punk, is a great book about a young rocker in the early 80s and his band. I don’t think there are any Humech robots in that story like the Scraper: The Rise of Cifer novel, which is available on Amazon. Anyone who reads will have a great foundation for the game.”
How did you get together with Ryder Windham and start working on the brand-new IP?
“I wanted a well-known sci-fi author to help with the book. I felt I had all the pieces in place, the story, characters, factions, environment and world, but was looking for someone to help sew it all together. I had reached out to about 6 authors and had brief conversations with a few of them. Eric Nylund, the brilliant writer from the Halo franchise, Jason Fry from Star Wars fame, along with a few others that included Ryder Windham. After speaking with Ryder, we clicked. He was in-between projects, and I caught him at the optimum time. Ryder liked the story and had some immediate impactful suggestions about the world of Scraper. From there, we spent many hours almost daily for weeks talking about the novel until the first rough draft was complete.”
What informed your decision to start the series off with a novel, vs. telling the story in a visual medium such as a webcomic or a series of shorts?
“The novel felt like the most complete solution for the story we wanted to tell. The goal from the beginning was to develop a new IP, not just a VR game. For this, we needed a well thought out world, characters, environments and mood. Seeing it down on paper, reading it over and over again helped me solidify key elements of the Scraper universe.”
Do you have plans to include additional types of media to build upon the Scraper brand, in addition to novelization and VR?
“Definitely. If things continue to progress, we would love to explore a web-series, Netflix and beyond. Ryder used to be the Editor of Dark Horse Comics, and we’ve talked about a graphic novel, comics and a weekly blog that has already been started. It will be shorts featuring main characters and will be available at ScraperNetwork.com.”
How did you come to the decision of doing three games with five episodes per game?
“I had the story mapped out in my head long ago and started from there. As I began writing down the characters, events, timeline and world makeup, I realized there is no way this could be covered in one book or one game. There are some shocking reveals along the way and the story takes interesting turns with the main characters, both Human and Humech.
I wanted to explore the gray areas that exist in everyone, and not be a black and white story of good versus evil. Without getting into details, there are some great moments planned in future episodes that will make the player reflect back on the choices he/she made earlier in the game. Also, the episodic design matches the story. Each episode is a building or scraper. Episode I is Reactor Building 03, Episode II is the Life Sciences Center, Episode III is the Armory Services building and so on. Each building is huge and very unique, like an additional map would be for a traditional game.”
When can players expect to see the very last title in the trilogy?
“That is a tough question. So many factors will shape that date. How well the first game does, how fast we can ramp up more staff, how aggressive we want to be with building out the story, along with the funding necessary to do the things we want to do. A quick guess would be 2025.”
By the way, how did you meet and bring over Joel Burgess, Winifred Phillips, Max Preussner, and Lawrence Nelson?
“From the start, I wanted to create a new type of studio. A hybrid firm that would blend the boutique touch and feel of an indie studio with the talent and resources of a AAA outfit. For example, I wanted an original score for the series, and when looking at top video game composers, Winifred was an obvious choice. She was highly successful, well-known and had done the music for titles like Assassin’s Creed, God of War and the Sims. She is an amazing person, and did a fantastic job.
Like Ryder and Winifred, I wanted to complement our internal team with specific leaders in their field. Joel Burgess is a friend of mine who I met at GDC, who also happens to be a World Director at Ubisoft. Prior to that, Joel was a major factor in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series of games. He is one of the best world builders on the planet. Who better to ask for advice on our levels than Joel? We also have a lot in common with charities and dogs. His real-life dog is the actual Dogmeat in the Fallout series! My company, Labrodex comes from my own Labrador (as you can see in the logo) and we do a lot of work with the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s Vet Dogs. Joel is an amazing guy and has given us some tremendous advice on the game.
Lawrence is a very good friend of mine. A leader in architectural concept work. He has clients like the royal families in Dubai, China and his incredible designs have been built all over the planet. For our game, Scraper, which is about gigantic buildings in megacities, there was no better person to design the city layout and individual buildings. Lawrence and I have known each other since high school art class. He’s someone who has worked on games early in his career at Lucas Arts and has always been tied to the entertainment industry.
Max Preussner was a senior software engineer for Epic Games. He has been working with Unreal for 20 years and was part of the Paragon and Fortnite development teams. He was part of the design process for several of Unreal’s core features. We reached out to Max and the timing was just right. We showed him the game, let him know where we needed his UE4 super powers and he jumped right in. He has been amazing to work with and a fast track to resolving issues regarding the title.”
Are they working with the team or only on a consultant basis?
“Max is pretty much with us daily (just down in NC), Even though Lawrence and Joel travel constantly, they are always available for a quick call, advice or just to help me work through challenges we are addressing with the game. Winifred has always been available and accessible to help us with audio and implementing her brilliant score. In addition, we have numerous AAA freelance artists on the team with backgrounds that include BioWare, ILM and Bethesda to name a few.
From the start, I have been reaching out and making connections with as many high-level industry professionals as I can. Equally important to the technical and artistic side is the business side. Along the way, I’ve met and become friends with people like Paul Eibeler, the former CEO of Take-Two Interactive. Paul has given me invaluable business advice for running and growing the studio.
The internal team has done an amazing job of bringing everything together and making the game a reality. We have a super group, and I feel very lucky to be working with them on a daily basis.”
What was your journey like on the way to self-funding an entire game studio?
“I own an IT solutions and project staffing firm I started in New York City back in 1996. We were fortunate to be one of the dot com companies that was privately funded, and we did well enough to put me in a position to start Labrodex Studios.”
Besides the occasional item or easter egg, does Labrodex reward developers for learning and applying development skills outside of their immediate role?
“It was important to me personally to learn as many technical roles as I could when starting the studio. When designing the game, I wanted to be able to share narrative ideas as well as technical. This has made working with the team much more rewarding.
As part of the original business plan, I wanted to hire people with a primary skill and a secondary skillset. This was crucial in the early stages with a small team. We needed people to be able to jump into other areas and more importantly, not be afraid to learn something new. We want to grow, expand to other cities, other disciplines and work towards being an ILM in the long-term. If that happens, tremendous advancement and career opportunities await the core team who helped make it happen.”
What’s your outlook on VR as an emerging industry?
“It’s no secret VR didn’t take off as quickly as expected, however I do think it is evolving rapidly and on its way to being a dominant medium for entertainment and business. Sony has done an amazing job with the PSVR and is headed towards 4 million units sold. Pimax, Vive, Oculus and StarVR are all pioneering new technologies and gearing up for their 2nd generation hardware.
There are already some incredible VR titles out there like Lone Echo, Robo Recall The Climb, Beat Saber and Astro Bot. Not to mention the amazing things indie studios have done to propel the medium forward. We are in an exciting time and it’s going to be fun watching things unfold as we get ever closer to the Holodeck experience that everyone is waiting for.
The corporate side of things will end up being the biggest users of AR and VR. That will drive growth, investment and lead to more studios tackling VR and AR for games and entertainment.
Right now, we still need more killer content for VR to take off. The big AAA firms have incredible franchises they need to take care of, but as time goes by and 2nd generation hardware comes out, I think we’ll see more AAA studios make an investment in big VR titles.”
What is it about Labrodex and Scraper that gets you out of bed every day?
“The fun aspect. We’re having such a great time as a studio and the industry evolves so quickly, there is never a dull moment. There is a lot of pressure, but it’s the good kind and we’re channeling that energy into making the best game we can. For me, the ability to combine business, technology and art is the ultimate job for me. It’s extremely fun learning about the industry, meeting interesting people and working with highly talented young professionals.”
Do you plan to cook up more IPs in the Labrodex kitchen once Scraper is complete?
“I actually have 3 IPs written down. Scraper is one of them and the other two are in early development and have been sidelined for the moment. It would be extremely fun to do a World of Warcraft type MMO in VR. We would love the opportunity to work on a large-scale title with a big studio through our 3rd Party Division.”
Do you have any additional thoughts to share with readers?
“If you like sci-fi shooters with RPG elements and full locomotion with large levels to explore, check out Scraper: First Strike in VR when it is released. This is our first step on the journey of creating the Scraper universe, and we hope you take it with us.”
Scraper: First Strike is slated to release in the middle of December, 2018. You can find the Steam page for the episode here, and the equivalent PlayStation Store page right here. Meanwhile, the full title release is expected to happen at some point in 2020. If you’re interested in learning more about the ‘Scraper’ setting, you can get started reading Scraper: Rise of Cifer immediately, in order to get a feel for the narrative beats and characters that you’ll interact with in-game.
Image Credit: Labrodex