Housemarque looks back on Returnal’s success

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Last week I joined a group of reporters in the offstage winners’ room for the DICE Awards celebrating the best video games of 2021 at the DICE Summit in Las Vegas. Each group of winners through our room and we collectively threw a bunch of questions at the winners.

Won Housemark’s Return for Outstanding Achievements in Original Music Composition and Audio Design. We met with Gregory Loden, the narrative director for Return; Harry Kruger, Return’s Game Director; And Ilari Kutinen, managing director of Housemark.

I asked one question about the problem, while other reporters asked the rest. Here is an edited transcript of our interview.

Return to Leaders (left to right):
Return Leader (left to right): Harry Kruger, Ilari Kutinen and Gregory Louden.

Question: Congratulations on the victory. How does an award distinguish itself when judged by your peers, as opposed to a media or fan vote?

Gregory Loden: It’s huge. I’m sure the team would be proud to win the best music and the best audio design. He is victorious. We are very proud of Returnal. We want to push the boundaries of what you can do with PlayStation 5, Dual Sense and 3D Audio. I’m sure our audio team is dancing in London and Helsinki. It’s so exciting.

Question: Housemark has made a big splash in terms of the scale of the games you are making. At this point, looking back, how do you feel about jumping from small bullet hale shooters to roguelik with a plot bullet hale shooter?

Harry Kruger: We’ve probably made a name for ourselves in the last 12-13 years to create these arcade-inspired games – Resogen, Nex Machine, Super Stardust HD, etc. Each of them was a stepping stone in terms of sophistication and technological advancement, but with Return, the step was so high that it almost felt like a wall that we needed to climb.

It was interesting to us, because when you are given so many new possibilities, it is important to remember who you are. It was always worth remembering for us that we have these timeless gameplay values ​​that we discovered in our previous games. Unpleasant video game, arcade heritage. Neon flare explosion, lots of particles. It was important for us to hold on to it and make sure it survived and prospered during the transition to the big game. We are very proud of what we have achieved as a team.

Question: Was Return always on the back of your mind, in a way, you were waiting for technology to catch up so you could build it? When was it implemented that this was the next step for you?

Ilari Kutinen: While we were thinking about it – I think it was 2015. We had the first pitch, and then 2015 was the year we started to make it something bigger. We had a few different routes we tried. One of them was trying to pitch a much bigger game than we had ever done before. That’s where it all started. Moving on from there, a few years later we really got a chance to start doing it.

Kruger: We really dared to dream with Return. The question was, if we could make a game that we could, what would it be? We started putting all these ideas together for our final dream project. We were a little surprised. It felt almost too good to be true when it got the greenlight and we were finally able to make it. Sony, of course, was incredibly key in this journey, supporting us in every step and advancing our vision. We could not have done it without them.

Return to PS5

Question: Do you enjoy making difficult games?

Kruger: That’s a good question. How much time do we have? But yes, I think it’s never about making games difficult just because it’s difficult for us. It’s about how we can create the most rewarding experience. I think it’s very difficult to have that spirit of victory, that spirit of joy, if you don’t push yourself to the brink of despair in time. That adversity, that friction with the game, makes that success seem more rewarding when you achieve it.

With Return we felt randomized content, roguelyc elements, the game’s procedurally generated elements, which in a way acted as pressure valves. Luck is also an element. Sometimes you get a good run where things are aligned and you get these good results, and other times you get a little unlucky and feel like the game is working against you. But it’s probably the beauty of the game, that it makes these memorable player stories.

Q: What do you think about the integration of studios across the industry?

Kutinen: Well, we’re in Finland, of course, and that’s probably a different scenario. A relatively high percentage of Finnish employees is federal. It is a common theme in Finland. When it comes to game development, there’s something going on, and I think it’s a good thing for any industry if they collaborate well with their companies.

Q: Right now we are seeing a sea of ​​changes in video games and how they are made. Sony has recently bought a bungee. You’re obviously under Sony’s umbrella. Earlier you talked about maintaining your identity and who you are as a studio. At a time when Sony especially wants more live service games, more things like this, how do you react to that? Are you interested in creating live service games? And at a time when games are changing, the people who play them are changing, how do you hold on to that identity?

Kutinen: Well, the jury is still out. We are one of the last dinosaurs to make arcade games. Nex Machina, a few years ago, was a very shoot-‘-em-up game in the style of the 80’s coin-ops. That’s kind of the key. But it’s interesting. We are thinking about that. We worked on multiplayer games, because a few years ago it seemed like you needed to have some kind of multiplayer experience. We tried it, and we didn’t really do it. But those are the early days when we start a new game, a new IP, imagine it. We’ll see what comes with it.

Kruger: We’re really trying to hold on to that identity, as you mentioned. Right now it’s amazing that gaming has evolved and evolved so much that there are so many variations and variations of game experiences. They can all live together peacefully. There may be live service games, multiplayer games, games with many different sensitivities. Return is just another sound. At this stage we are very proud of what we accomplished with Return, and we look forward to continuing the same path as a company.

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