As a developer, indie studio Housemarque has certainly seen its fair share of ups and downs. Arcade shooters like Resogun and Nex Machina have enjoyed great critical succes, but haven’t sold terribly well, and that incongruity led to the developer being forced to rethink its strategy not that long ago. Infamously, Housemarque declared that arcade games are dead, and that in order to be financial successfully, they’re going to pivot away to something with more mass market appeal- following which they announced battle royale shooter Stormdrivers.
The decision wasn’t received very well, and even Housemarque didn’t expect the game to be very successful. Some time later, however, they confirmed that the battle royale title’s development had been put on hold, as the studio shifted all of its focus on Returnal– a game that brings the arcade style bullet hell action that Housemarque is known and applies it to a big, ambitious, 3D game.
Ahead of Returnal’s launch, Housemarque co-founder Ilari Kuittinen recently posted an update on the developer’s website, talking about those ups and downs, about Returnal’s development (which apparently started in March 2017, with the game first being pitched all the way back in 2015), and more. Notably, Kuittinen thanked publisher Sony for its “fantastic support” for a game as unique as Returnal, especiall at a time where publishers have almost completely stopped taking creative risks.
“Although we managed to release one of the best reviewed new games of 2017 according to Metacritic, we were certainly left disappointed with the sales leading me to declare #arcadeisdead and ending our long standing commitment to the arcade genre,” Kuittinen wrote. “Giving up on the genre didn’t mean that we’d be giving up on our deep commitment to fast-twitch action gameplay. Instead, we wanted to take on the challenge to figure out how we could translate our arcade 2D gameplay expertise into a 3rd person action game. On the other hand, it was still very uncertain, if we’d be able to move past the prototype phase and convince Sony to keep on funding a new, unproved concept. The concept was ridiculously ambitious and looking back we as a company really weren’t totally appreciating the challenge ahead of us and how hard it could be to tackle it.
“In the age when game publishers are taking less and less creative risks, we are truly thankful to our publishing partner Sony, who has given us an opportunity to work on something very risky and has given fantastic support during the whole project. We are forever grateful for having this opportunity.”
Given recent discussion around how Sony seems to be homogenizing its approach to first party development and is adopting a risk-averse strategy that prioritizes production of AAA blockbusters like God of War and Horizon Zero Dawn at the expense of more experimental stuff, something like Returnal is great to see. PlayStation Studios boss Hermen Hulst has said that Sony will continue to have a diverse first party lineup in the years to come, so here’s hoping this continues.
Returnal is out tomorrow, exclusively for the PS5. In our review of the game, we awarded it a score of 9/10, calling it “Housemarque’s best game to date, and an unmissable killer app very early in the PS5’s life.” You can read our full review through here.