Hey everyone, we’ve been very happy to see Returnal resonating so strongly with players, and this time we wanted to do a deep dive into one of our Bosses. In general, Boss battles have always been an essential test of skill for players in action games, and of course they’ve been a strong staple of the Housemarque formula in our past titles as well. With Returnal we really wanted to dedicate some time to create something special for our Boss encounters, and provide players with some powerful and memorable moments. We’ve been thrilled to see that players have been enjoying our Bosses so far, and today we wanted to share some notes on Hyperion, who seems to have quickly become a favorite among players!
SPOILER WARNING: this piece contains spoilers about the story of Returnal. It’s generally recommended that you read this only after defeating Hyperion, and ideally have seen credits roll.
From the very beginning, our goal with the story of Returnal was to haunt the player. On a personal level, many special and haunting moments I’ve experienced in games and film have often been accompanied by powerful music. In many cases I feel that music can be single-handedly responsible for creating the emotional impact and mood of a scene. This ability of music itself to express very complex, raw emotions in a unique way – to express the intangible – was the initial seed of inspiration here.
This importance of music was also directly woven into our story, along with our other central elements and themes early on. It started by envisioning our key story beats (beginning, middle and especially our end), and then consciously working backwards from there: identifying which puzzle pieces we would seed throughout the experience to get under the player’s skin, and create the feeling of an overarching, layered mystery for players to solve.
One of the crucial puzzle pieces was intended to be a specific piece of music, and throughout the game there are multiple clues that a particular melody is very important to Selene. (Note that I’m being intentionally vague to avoid spoiling too much here!)
In parallel, we also knew that we’d want to have some epic bosses in the game. These would need to be memorable highlights that would provide a challenge for players and serve as milestones of progress, but they would also need strongly resonate with players emotionally and be thematically tied to our story as well. In addition to the harsh, dark sci-fi elements of Returnal, we also wanted to explore some more psychological/surreal themes with our story. Our Bosses would serve as climactic manifestations of those themes. So from very early on we knew that we’d have one Boss that would play with this theme of musicality. This boss was simply codenamed “The Musician” internally, eventually this became Hyperion.
The idea for the Musician came first, and then the rest of the Echoing Ruins was built around it to support its presence.
“The Musician’s” visual design
There were some keywords we used to guide our initial concepting for Hypersion: unsettling, musicality, tragic, dramatic, theatricality. Much like our other Bosses, we wanted to make this encounter feel majestic. And what could possibly be more majestic than using an alien Church Organ?
I’ve always found the church organ