Unpacking Returnal’s UX design: Gameplay-first UI, retro-futuristic tech, and accessibility

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My name is Johannes Koski and I’m the UI/UX Director of Returnal here at Housemarque. My role in the project has been both taking part in the design and overseeing and supporting the work done by the team. I’ve had the privilege to work with a diverse multi-disciplinary group of amazing designers, artists, programmers, and audio specialists. We’ve just launched a game that has been my ultimate dream project since I was a little kid, so I’m super excited to be able to share something about our game’s UX!

Gameplay first

The goal of a game’s UI is pretty straightforward: it guides the player and supports the game. In other words it gives the player all the necessary information and tools they need to understand and enjoy the game’s mechanics and at the same time it supports the game’s artistic core and storytelling with aesthetic means. In practice this unravels to hundreds of hours of planning, user interface design, concepting, usability studies, artistic choices, motion design, audio development, optimization, programming, player onboarding, and tutorial design to name a few areas.

Our core design principle is “gameplay first”. When designing the overall UX, one of our main goals was to remove all possible distractions from the second-to-second gameplay. We wanted to keep all the menus as clean and as minimal as possible. We even made the decision to not have a title screen or main menu at all and take the player always directly to the action.

We spent a considerable amount of time finessing all the HUD communications so that the player is always aware of critical gameplay information during intense bullet hell combat. We iterated a lot to find the perfect animation timings, intuitive color coding systems, and optimal information hierarchy to support various gameplay scenarios, etc.

The most crucial information needs to be communicated at the player’s immediate visual focus point — in and near the reticle. Some critical guidance can be shown diegetically in and around the player character model and the actual game world. The content that is not essential for second-to-second survival can be shown in the periphery of the HUD.

Then we have the most important scenarios like near-death, low-health situations, where we throw everything we have at the player’s senses: HUD visor glass cracks and digital glitch animations, threatening vignettes, flashing warning icons, diegetic warning lights in player’s space suit, game world post-processing, health gauge color coding, player character animation, voice-over, VFX, emergency audio signals, and engaging haptic feedback.

The 3D map

We’re especially happy how our unique 3D map and HUD minimap turned out. There’s a lot of verticality in our levels so a compass or a traditional 2D map wasn’t enough. It was challenging to create a map system for randomly generated levels that was precise, looked good stylistically and wouldn’t cause a performance hit. The map will be very helpful for both player guidance and planning combat flow.

Audio and haptics

We’re using a wide variety of 3D Audio,

Get ready for PlayStation’s Celebration of the community with Days of Play 2021

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We’re excited to announce that Days of Play is back for 2021 to celebrate the passionate PlayStation community around the globe!

Get ready for PlayStation’s Celebration of the community with Days of Play 2021

We wanted to make this year’s event even more special and engaging for our gamers. That’s why this year’s Days of Play will feature various activities across a few weeks to celebrate the power of play and the vibrancy of our community by connecting gamers together.

PlayStation Player Celebration*

PlayStation Player Celebration is back! This special event calls on our player community to join together to achieve a shared set of goals and earn exclusive PSN avatars and PS4 themes in the process.**

Registration starts today and will remain open until May 31. Stage One kicks off on May 18 –  here are steps to participate:

Get ready for PlayStation’s Celebration of the community with Days of Play 2021

1. Sign Up

Register with your PSN Sign-In ID here.  Once you sign up, you’re automatically entered into all future Stages of the program.

The event is open to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 users in the following locations: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, UK, and the United States.

2. Start playing on May 18

There are three Stages throughout the event

PS5’s 3D audio: Returnal, Resident Evil Village creators detail Tempest implementation

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3D audio has been one of PlayStation 5’s headline features ever since the console’s announce last year. Much like the system’s lightning-fast SSD and the DualSense wireless controller, the custom-built Tempest 3D audioTech was conceived to make your video game experience as immersive as possible in games that support it.  

On PS5, gamers can experience 3D audio with the stereo headphones that many already own, either through a USB dongle, USB wired headset, or wired headphones connected into the DualSense wireless controller’s 3.5mm jack. But you can fine tune the experience further: navigate to the 3D audio section within the Sound menu of your PS5 settings and pick which one of the five 3D audio profiles that sounds best to you. 

PS5’s 3D audio: Returnal, Resident Evil Village creators detail Tempest implementation

“We spent a long time deciding on the five audio profile settings for PS5,” explains Kenichi Imai, Deputy Head of the SIE Software Engineering Group, who helped build the Tempest engine. “Each person hears 3D audio differently, so these settings allow players to adjust sound to a level that’s closest to their ear level.”

3D audio has tantalizing applications for every genre. In the past few weeks, we’ve seen how it benefits action and horror with Returnal and Resident Evil Village. To learn more of how the tech is pushing the boundaries of immersion for those two titles, we went directly to the source: Housemarque and Capcom’s sound teams.

Wataru Hachisako, Resident Evil Village’s Audio Director, believes 3D audio can bring something new to the iconic survival horror series. “It’s very important in the horror genre to apply fear to the player’s imagination through elements they cannot see,” he explains. “I want players to be able to enjoy the experience of encountering a new enemy, even before they’ve visually chanced upon it. I believe 3D audio has the specs t

Outbreak: Endless Nightmares launches on PS5 and PS4 May 19

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Hey survivors! I’m Evan Wolbach, founder of Dead Drop Studios, and a solo indie developer working tirelessly to drag you kicking and screaming back into the world of survival horror. I’m here to tell you all the grisly details about Outbreak: Endless Nightmares and explain how PlayStation, especially PS5, has allowed the series to take a generational leap. Get ready to lose yourself in this new nightmare.

Apocalyptic levels of player feedback led to this nightmare

For almost six years players have been blasting away the undead in the Outbreak series, covering the events of an undead apocalypse. Each title has slowly iterated based on player feedback but now it’s time for a generational leap. High quality mo-cap animations, a persistent gameplay experience to level up your survivor over a 10+ hour adventure, semi-procedurally generated levels, access to multiple camera views, improved co-op split screen experience with a streamlined interface, a deep crafting and loot system, and much more are waiting for you. 

Outbreak: Endless Nightmares is a love letter to retro survival horror.

Face the undead any way you choose

You now have the opportunity to choose how you want to play this nightmare. The entire game was built from the ground up to play great in a classic survival horror fixed camera, over-the-shoulder or first-person view, with intentional focus on designing environments so enemies, traps and loot is visible in all views. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t secrets hidden around, and you might find that a useful item obscured in the fixed camera view is revealed when you swap to over-the-shoulder. With user-configurable options like FOV, inverse look, left-or-right player placement in OTS view and much more, you can configure the camera exactly as you’d like.

You also now have access to a free-look tactical camera that you can use to survey the environment for danger. When using the tactical camera, the entire game freezes, including all physics and visual effects, so you can line up the perfect screenshot too.

Escape from madness in Call of the Sea on PS4 and PS5, out tomorrow

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Hello! We are Out of the Blue Games, an indie game studio from Madrid, Spain. On December 8, we launched our debut title Call of the Sea, a personal and emotional first-person puzzle adventure where you take the role of Norah Everhart, a woman who has crossed an ocean in the search of her husband’s missing expedition. 

Everything has been awesome since then, reviews, critics, awards… We are really happy with the way things are going with Call of the Sea, so we wanted to make sure it reached as many players as possible. 

Escape from madness in Call of the Sea on PS4 and PS5, out tomorrow

So we definitely had to bring Call of the Sea to PlayStation! The game will be available on PS4 and PS5 tomorrow, May 11. 

And what will PlayStation players find in Call of the Sea? To sum up, it’s a love letter to puzzle games and Lovecraftian stories set in the Pacific in the 1930s.

Exploration of the lush island Nora finds herself on is driven by the game’s narrative and its puzzles. Those are hidden throughout the environment and need to be solved to uncover more of the game’s world and its story. Your journey will take you across and below the island, getting to know both it and Norah’s needs as a character. All backed by a magnificent instrumental soundtrack composed by Eduardo de la Iglesia.

But Call of the Sea is not an ordinary puzzle game. We wanted to intertwine every puzzle to every emotion Norah feels and experiences while keeping it tightly tied to the narrative. This way, the player experiments the initial fascination of Norah on the island, and the fear for the wellbeing of her husband as she progresses, as well as the bewilderment at the strange events and landscapes she discovers in the most secluded places of the island (and that are beautifully rendered by Unreal Engine 4). Call of the Sea is not only a thrilling 30’s pulp adventure but also a woman’s journey of self-discovery. 

Call of the Sea is a Lovecraftian, but not a conventional Lovecraftian game either. While most of the H.P. Lovecraft stories are about a passive subject that descends into madness, Call of the Sea tells the story of a resolute woman’s rise to sanity, in a story that revolves around the acceptance of one’s true nature. 

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