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Breaking the Cycle: The Making of 'Returnal'

Harry Krueger  (Game Director, Housemarque)

Location: Room 2010, West Hall

Date: Thursday, March 24

Time: 10:00 am - 11:00 am

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core Pass, All Access Online Only Pass - Get your pass now!

Topic: Design

Format: Session

Viewing Experience: In-Person/Virtual

Vault Recording: Video

Audience Level: No

Housemarque is the oldest game development studio in Finland, known mostly for their fast-paced arcade-inspired shooters. With Returnal, they had a unique opportunity to take their craft to the next level and create a world-class launch title for the PS5. This retrospective-style talk will cover Housemarque's full "indie to AAA" journey of developing Returnal, from the initial concept and aspirations to its eventual critically-acclaimed release.

The talk will delve deeper into some key creative decisions and challenges the team overcame as they shot for the stars with Returnal: from transitioning their trademark neon-fused arcade action to a 3rd person experience; to building roguelite/procedurally generated worlds; to integrating a layered and haunting narrative, all for the first time, and all done while adapting to a rapidly growing team, a new platform, a relatively unfamiliar engine (Unreal 4), and in the end even shipping amidst a global pandemic.


Insight into the development of Returnal. Inspirations, creative goals and pillars, challenges and lessons learned for a growing team transitioning from a smaller 2D arcade space to a big-budget 3rd person experience. Also design takeaways on how to combine roguelite elements, bullet hell, 3rd person action and a haunting narrative.

Intended Audience

Game developers who are interested in hearing how a small studio can transition to a larger world-class production while preserving their core creative philosophy. Also for attendees who enjoyed Returnal and would like to know more about its inspirations, design philosophy, and development.