Housemarque roared onto the Playstation 5 scene with the release of its roguelike third-person shooter Returnal, and now on the Game Maker’s Notebook podcast, game director Harry Krueger sat down to talk about how the studio made the game different from other roguelike games and how they worked the game’s story organically into the gameplay. Krueger had this to say about Housemarque’s methods for creating the game.
In a way, it was kind of just like taking that sensibility, that thinking, of creating this engagement and replayability, and just pushing it further now.
Returnal puts players in the role of Selene, a space explorer who finds herself crashed on a mysterious planet after being lured there by a mysterious signal. Now, surrounded by monsters and with no help coming, Selene must endure loop after loop to find out what drew her there and uncover the planet’s mysteries along the way. But that still doesn’t mean that Krueger intended for the player to find out all the answers, as he says here.
Our goal with Returnal was ultimately to haunt the player, that was the number one goal from the beginning with the narrative, and making sure that even after the credits you’d have something lingering there, some questions, that bittersweet melancholy, that uncertainty of what’s next.
Alongside the surface plot of shutting down the signal, Returnal also gets into more cosmic horror styles of story as it plays, leading to a deeper narrative than some other roguelike games. Selene’s story also includes her own personal demons, her relationship with her mother and what drove her to go into space to begin with, alongside a cosmic horror narrative centered around the planet itself. Krueger brought up various inspirations for the game’s narrative team, including the quintessential cosmic horror inspiration.
Lovecraft…has been a big inspiration, just that sense of cosmic horror, of the unknown, and how it affects the mind as it attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible, in a way.
The combination of the narrative and gameplay made Returnal a critically acclaimed title, and apparently enough to cause Playstation to acquire Housemarque for its own in a similar vein to how Microsoft is acquiring multiple studios for games in the future.
The success of Returnal might end up leading to a renaissance in many roguelike games, joining ones like Supergiant Games’ Hades as roguelike games that don’t sacrifice story to focus more on gameplay. Returnal is currently available on the Playstation 5 exclusively, and you can listen to the podcast yourself here.