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Game Dev Hype [PS Blog] Creating Returnal’s otherworldly enemies: VFX-driven tentacle tech and deep-sea inspirations

Are you getting Returnal?


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Bo_Hazem

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Meet the uniquely terrifying creatures that will test your survival abilities on Atropos.

Harry Krueger, Creative Director, Housemarque:

Hi everyone! We are very excited to be approaching the launch of Returnal, on April 30, and we wanted to share a few more details on Selene’s journey. This time we wanted to talk about some of the hostile forces she will encounter on Atropos.




The planet of Atropos is a dark and mysterious place, and each environment will provide its own unique set of enemies to overcome: from the organic and parasitic creatures inhabiting the Overgrown Ruins, to the cosmic or corrupted entities roaming the sands of the Crimson Wastes, and the mechanical automatons that endlessly patrol the haunting Derelict Citadel… Players will encounter a large variety of different foes, which aside from their unique aesthetics will also provide their own unique gameplay flavor and special attacks.



When creating the organic enemies of Returnal, one of the biggest sources of inspiration for me was looking at bioluminescent deep-sea creatures. In many ways they felt like the most alien lifeforms one could find here on Earth. There is something inherently unsettling and foreign about the deep-sea as an environment for us. The way these creatures move deep underwater, with their long tentacles and bioluminescent highlights, can often appear majestic, beautiful and downright terrifying. It’s also not uncommon for these creatures to use their luminous beauty to allure or distract their prey (for example, with a dazzling display of bioluminescence), and suddenly strike when their prey is least expecting it. This combination of chaotic beauty and nightmarish aggression was something we aimed to capture with our organic creatures’ aesthetic.



Towards this purpose we ended up creating our own special VFX-driven tentacle tech and used it very liberally. These fully dynamic elements bring that chaotic beauty to the enemies we were after, and also created some really satisfying feedback for players as well.

For instance, the bioluminescent emissives on tentacles are strongly highlighted to telegraph oncoming attacks and provide satisfying hit reactions when enemies are shot (or when an enemy is killed, where they blow up in a glorious explosion of severed tentacles). The strong emissive highlights also connect back to our Bullet Hell attacks, where our projectiles naturally inherit this vibrant “energy signature” from our enemies, to create a cohesive aesthetic that strongly reinforces our gameplay intent as well.

For our creative process, we wanted to make sure that our enemies looked otherworldly and unique, but also wanted them to provide great gameplay of course. In a few cases, our enemy ideas would start from a particular aesthetic or story we were trying to tell – for example our Mycomorph (pictured above) was the idea of a parasitic organism that festers on Selene’s corpses, so you would see her fractured skull and ribcage amidst the tree-like parasitic growth of the enemy up close. But usually, we followed a very gameplay-first approach when crafting our enemies in Returnal: we’d devise various key roles and archetypes that we wanted to fill for each biome, and start prototyping them not only by themselves, but also in different combinations with each other.



While many of our encounters will provide a projectile challenge from afar, some enemies can provide close range attacks that demand precise avoidance timing as well. One example is the aggressive Titanops you can see in the video. This large bipedal creature has one arm completely made of tentacles, while the other is a cleaver-like extruded bone that it uses to land devastating blows. The Titanops takes a lot of damage to defeat, and will chase you relentlessly, often closing the gap on you by leaping large distances directly into melee range.

But most other creatures prefer to keep combat at a distance. For example, in the Overgrown Ruins the Mycomorph has a strong emphasis on shooting aggressive homing projectiles from afar. It will often teleport to new locations to find better vantage points, and will also throw out a grenade-style attack that releases a cluster of vines, which will inhibit player movement when within proximity.



In the Crimson Wastes, the Gorgolith is a crab-like creature with a penchant for ambushes. This predator is able to fire a barrage of fast-moving projectiles, a direct laser from its tail, and an expanding shockwave blast, but can also surprise you with a tentacle-style melee attack if you get in close and personal. Protected by a hard shell, its only weak spot is the head, so you will have to balance good defensive manoeuvring with a consistent offense, for example by utilizing our Focus Aim, which highlights enemy weak points and also increases accuracy.



Ultimately though most of our encounters will rely primarily on highlighting our signature projectile and Bullet Hell gameplay, and our bosses especially will provide a vast array of challenging patterns to showcase this. For example, soaring in the skies of the Crimson Wastes, Ixion has a large variety of different layered attacks to avoid, ranging from patterns that populate the playfield with hundreds of slow-moving bullets to carefully weave through, to fast-speed attacks that provide more reactive dash-focused gameplay, to expanding shockwaves that compartmentalize the space and demand your continuous attention, to majestic bursts of countless homing missiles with long trails which bring some extra intensity to our combat.

While many of these combat encounters will prove very intense on their own, it is really when they’re combined that they showcase Returnal’s unique gameplay. While each enemy has its own distinctive personality and its own uniquely identifiable attacks patterns, we have also tried to find the best synergies and pairings between enemies to ensure they work together gracefully. We want to ensure our combat scenarios feel consistently challenging and deeply rewarding, but also avoid veering into the unfair or incomprehensible.



On that note, your spatial awareness will be put to the test in Returnal. You’ll need to keep moving and make full use of Selene’s moveset in order to prevail, while staying fully alert of the myriad threats incoming from all directions. Our level layouts have lots of verticality, so you’ll need to be constantly traversing the environment to avoid the onslaught of projectile attacks and try to reach better vantage points to dispatch the enemies. Effective use of Dash will be critical, as it can be used freely as a navigation tool, but also to dash through our projectile attacks without taking damage, and also avoid last-minute melee attacks with some split-second timing. We’ve covered our wide array of weapons and upgrades that Selene can find in a previous post, and players will need to use every tool and navigation option they have in order to survive on Atropos.

This is just a small glimpse of some of the various encounters and combat scenarios you’ll find in Returnal. We are very excited and proud for PS5 users to experience Returnal very soon on April 30.




Additional photos and details screenshot from the trailer:

The monsters covered in the trailer, pulled them from the 4K trailer:











This one is very interesting:


When preordering, you get 2 suits:

 
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Bartski

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Jan 15, 2020
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Still a bit on the fence but I really liked what I saw in the final 2 trailers.

I've seen tweets from gaming media-related people (who might have played the game already or are possibly reviewing it) suggesting it's much better than anyone expects it to be...

At this point I even see myself taking the plunge day one but I'll wait for Metacritic summaries.

Can't find any info on when the review embargo ends.
 

Bo_Hazem

Gold Dealer
Feb 10, 2020
16,160
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Still a bit on the fence but I really liked what I saw in the final 2 trailers.

I've seen tweets from gaming media-related people (who might have played the game already or are possibly reviewing it) suggesting it's much better than anyone expects it to be...

At this point I even see myself taking the plunge day one but I'll wait for Metacritic summaries.

Can't find any info on when the review embargo ends.

Game won't go anywhere, indeed. You can always wait and see if it's the game that you want from trusted reviewers. Just be careful from the spoilers. A good number of users here are already buying/preordering it, so you may tag us as well, although we might share different tastes.
 

sublimit

Member
Aug 28, 2009
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So you won't, then.

Motherfuckers really outchea trying to keep Housemarque in the 'small £15 indie game' pigeonhole. Hate to see it. Harry Krueger et al are capable of so much more than just top down shmups.
It's definitely not an indie game but it's also definitely not AAA game no matter how much some people (and even Sony) are trying to present it as such. The game is the definition of AA and it's perfectly fine.
 

skit_data

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Nov 3, 2020
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Kinda reminds me of the hype around godfall. Sometimes it’s better to let a game speak for itself.
Godfall never looked very interesting IMO, the gameplay looked bland and art direction looked like scrapped leftovers from the Thor movies
 
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jm89

Member
Jul 29, 2015
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So you won't, then.

Motherfuckers really outchea trying to keep Housemarque in the 'small £15 indie game' pigeonhole. Hate to see it. Harry Krueger et al are capable of so much more than just top down shmups.
Nobody's asking it for it to be £15, what you on about?
 

slade

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Sep 30, 2005
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I want it but money is tight right now. I gotta pay 2000 in taxes and another 2600 for a new sofa and dining table. Been off work because of Covid for two weeks and just got back. I'll wait for a discount. Probably pick this and other games like RE8 in the winter.
 

Raonak

Member
Aug 19, 2010
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Imagine being this triggered by my comment.
Lol, you're the one posting on gaming message boards complaining about the price of a game.

If you can't afford it, just play another game. The price whining about this game is absurd. Crying about it isn't gonna make it cheaper.

It's a good sign though. Must mean it's a pretty good looking game it's getting you this hot and bothered.

Have fun with it once it's on sale. I'll be there day one 😂
 

Punished Miku

Gold Member
Jan 13, 2018
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PS Blog with a 2nd preview. 2 weeks to launch.

I hope they let someone else play it and discuss it publicly. I genuinely have a lot of questions about the game.
 
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Warnen

Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead / Hey, there, there goes the Spider-Man
Sep 24, 2005
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The $70 wouldn’t be so bad if Sony would adopt the MS/Epic/Steam return policy. Not on just this game but across the board. I’d be more likely to drop the $70 if I had a way to get it back if the game was bad/broken ala outriders and cyberpunk on stream the last 2 games I bought.
 
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jonnyp

Member
Jan 12, 2008
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Check out Amazon and other retailers around you, some find it to be around $60.

Won't really matter as it would get import tax of 25% slapped on it.

Prices were ridiculous before here but the PS5 inflated ones are just pure bullshit. I still haven't bought a PS5 game, waiting for sales.
 
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