PlayStation 5’s ‘Returnal’ revitalizes Finnish studio

Housemarque, a 26-year-old video game development studio in Finland with a reputation for pushing the boundaries of PlayStation hardware, is making a comeback with its recent PS5 release “Returnal”.

  • “I think we finally understand what we can do,” Housemarque Marketing Director Mikael Haveri told Axios.

The big picture: In the difficult world of video game development, few studios are able to survive independently for a quarter of a century, but Housemarque has recovered from very public setbacks.

The studio has focused for a long time on developing smaller, dazzling arcade-style action games with simple controls and plenty of enemies to zap in colorful explosions.

  • But in 2017, studio CEO Ilari Kuittinen proclaimed “the arcade is deadBlaming the “poor sales” of the self-published game by the studio “Nex Machina”. Housemarque would try to do something more mainstream.
  • “I think the Finnish mentality drives him a lot,” Haveri told Axios. “We have to be realistic about what we oppose.”

The resurgence of the studio started with the development of “Returnal”, which began in 2017 as a small “traditional sized” Housemarque game.

  • That was always going to be a departure for Housemarque: a game set in 3D space, rather than on the flatter terrains of his earlier arcade-style work.
  • And it was always going to star Selene, an astronaut stranded on a mysterious planet locked in constant shootouts with aliens that emit torrents of energy bullets in a variety of patterns.
  • But initially, it wasn’t going to have any movie footage, voiceovers, or other production value props.

During development, “Returnal” demos continued to impress publisher Sony, which funded the game.

  • “At each step, we had a little more readiness to expand the field of action and evolve the game,” said Haveri.

This led to plans for full-scale release, and Sony priced “Returnal” at $ 70, making it one of the first games in decades to sell for more than the industry standard cap of $ 60.

  • Haveri said Housemarque discovered the award “around the same time as the general public” late last year.
  • The studio was already struggling to justify a higher price tag than Housemarque’s old arcade-style titles at $ 20, ruling out any development impact of $ 60 to $ 70, he said.

“Return” valves in PS5 hardware to create a visually stunning game full of detail and movement.

  • The game is rendered at 1080p resolution, upscaled to 4K, at a target of 60fps (with only occasional dive.)
  • A “particle engine” produces the game’s bullets, explosions and tentacles in impressive detail.
  • A “wind system” allows all of these elements of the game to interact with each other. “So if you shoot stuff, the fog goes out of the way, and so on,” Haveri said.

The old PlayStation 4 might be able to make some of those awesome tentacles, but would fail elsewhere.

  • “The wind system interacting with the fog and everything, that would be impossible,” Haveri said. “All the ray tracing audio and global illumination, all of that would be impossible.”

Fan and critical response “Returnal” has been largely positive, with a pinch of criticism over the design choices that might be addressed in the downloadable updates.

  • Housemarque is looking to improve the game’s limited save system, Haveri said, although they haven’t decided on the best approach to take.
  • The studio is focused on “new content and updates, fixes and stuff like that.” No details yet on the new content, alas.

And after: For Housemarque, the gloom of 2017 is over.

  • “We are a happy 85 [people] now we’re so taller than we’ve ever been, ”said Haveri.
  • Smaller, arcade-sized games may still be dead for Housemarque, but “the arcade as a fundamental tenet of all of our games, the gameplay side of it, that’s exactly what we will bring to the new titles that we create, ”said Haveri.

About Sara Rodriquez

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