Housemarque’s Returnal director talks about the difficulty and accessibility saying that making the game too easy could lessen the impact of the narrative.
During Kinda Funny Games’ PS I Love You XOXO (via VGC) Harry Krueger, game director at Housemarque who directed Returnal was asked about the game’s difficulty and accessibility. He explained that there’s always going to be a challenge to “find that sweet spot” but mentioned that the studio can do more for accessibility.
“I think we can always do more and could always add more support for different ways to play the game and different control methods.” he said “I think when it comes to the difficulty I think it is a question of what kind of experience you are having with Returnal.”
The conversation looked into how death is part of the game’s experience in that players become disengaged with the narrative if they were to just blitz through the challenges. Krueger mentioned, “I think in many ways the story and the gameplay are very inseparable in Returnal.”
He added, “It feels like if you were allowed to just power through a boss without any challenge, or just go from A to B to C through the narrative points, it almost feels like it would create a bit of dissonance.” One explanation points to how “the game does evolve with you the more you die,” by granting players new items to gather, new audio logs to discover, and such.
Elden Ring was also, unsurprisingly, mentioned by referencing the game becoming the highest selling game of 2022 and whether this offers a “level of comfortability” for Housemarque if the studio was to make another difficult title.
Krueger responded, “It’s great to see that these difficult games do have an audience as well, and that audience is actually quite large.” He continued, “So, that does give us some validation in a way for approaching creating games that way too.”
He talks about how, with Housemarque games, “there will always be some design intent of creating these challenges that are, that should feel insurmountable at the beginning, and then when you overcome them you get that really big sense of satisfaction.”
Returnal launched last year and while our PS5 accessibility review praised the game for various features, it still “requires a sometimes tremendous amount of perseverance.” Originally, the game required players to sit through a cycle, but in a 2.0 update, players were given the ability to essentially pause the game and return at a later time.