Interview: Housemarque Says Returnal Is Equally Inspired By PS1 Shooters And Greek Mythology

Whenever a new IP comes along, it is inevitably compared to something else. It’s hard to get excited for more teraflops and better defined triangles, or for a new feature with a name we don’t fully understand – be honest, you’ve heard the word ‘haptic’ more in the last six months than you have in your entire life, right? That’s why new IPs get the comparison treatment – it’s much easier to get excited about ‘Halo meets Guitar Hero’ than it is about a new concept that needs a paragraphs worth of explanation. When it comes to Returnal, the upcoming PS5 exclusive from Housemarque, these comparisons seem as eclectic as they are endless. I sat down with marketing director Mikael Haveri and narrative director Greg Louden to get a sense of how accurate these comparisons are.

I rattle off a list of all the comparisons I’ve heard people make of the game: Mass Effect, Hades, Crysis, Control, Death Stranding, Call of the Sea, Hitman, and Housemarque’s own games, Nex Machina and Resogun. All of these get a wry smile or a nod, apart from Hitman, which only gets a laugh. Make of that what you will.

“I think it’s a wonderful plethora of different influences that the internet has given us,” Haveri says. “I’ve heard you know, Risk of Rain with triple-A features too. For us, first and foremost, the catalogue of games that we make are attributed to other games from the past. So Resogun, that’s a Defender tribute in a way, and we wanted to do our own twist on it. And now we’re using a lot of the stuff we did with that catalogue. So learning how to do bullet hell patterns, it does take a couple of iterations. And now we feel like maybe we can take it to the third dimension. So our catalogue is the biggest influence to us.”

While Housemarque has typically been inspired by older games, this time around it sees Returnal as having more modern influences – though there are some classic muses in the mix too. “We look at soulslikes and roguelikes, and let’s say, more modern genres,” speaker says. “We try to pick and choose things that we feel fit into [Returnal]. Even if we look at the genre of third-person shooters, I think there was a heyday in the PS1 era. It used to be a bigger genre, but nowadays, maybe they aren’t as pure. They’re always a part of another type of experience. So we wanted to have a throwback to that era as well, of what a pure third-person shooter looks like.”

Although we call PS1 games ‘classics’, when it comes to Returnal, Classics has a capital ‘C’ too. “As well as games, it has also just been inspired by great sci-fi cinema and classic literature,” Louden says. “Lovecraft has been an influence, and Greek mythology is layered in. There’s a lot of references to Greek mythological stories [Returnal] is similar to, but it’s a layer. It’s a layer of the story we’ve put a lot of thought and attention to detail into, [especially in] the narrative. There’s a lot of meanings you can extrapolate from that. You’ll hopefully even learn some of these really fascinating stories.”

Even in the information released so far, the Greek influence is clear. Protagonist Selene is Greek-American, and is named after the Ancient Greek goddess of the Moon, but also of brightness. Literally night and day in one; a character of deep paradoxes. Meanwhile, the setting of Atropos is named after the Greek goddess of fate and destiny – a pointed choice for a game about a time loop mechanic.

“So I’d say there’s a whole different bunch of influences,” Louden says. “But for us that kind of came from the core genesis. At the start of the story of a character in a time loop [we said] how does she fight, and what is she fighting for? And just expanding from there has been looking at and respecting all the greats, but also trying to create a new twist and create something new for players to experience.”

This is a fragment of a larger interview with TheGamer about Returnal. Across the weekend, we’ll have articles on the gameplay, Selene herself, and how the game’s sound design is not to be trusted.

Next: Exclusive Interview: Saber Interactive’s Adam Tedman On His Move From Rockstar, Growing The Studio, And Evil Dead: The Game

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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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