Return became Housemarque’s breakthrough not only because of the shooter’s flawless gameplay, but also because of its storytelling. It was an unexpectedly strong and mysterious story based almost entirely on its only main character, Selena. Games with such great stories often have a wider roster to lean on. Jane Perry, the author of many sensible and twisted versions of Selena, explained how she was able to explore the character using her imagination, a guide from Housemarque, a handy numbering system, and a good deal of wine.
Having the imagination is a key factor in many game performances, as putting on a ridiculous costume and stock camera will not directly apply in any game. But Return goes beyond mere imagination as Selena does not interact with either of the other two speaking characters in the game. The game is a reaction, and when there is no one to react to, all the pressure falls on one person.
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Perry talked about how other actors’ lines often provide vital context, but since that wasn’t possible here, she had to rely heavily on narrator-director Greg Lowden and voice director Damien Goodwin. She said she depended on them more than any other game she’s ever made, mostly because Selena’s mental state fluctuates so much between audio recordings. In some audio recordings, she is clear and determined, while in others she is in complete disarray. This needs to be monitored, but the team was able to communicate her status more easily using a numbering system.
«In this game, I was very dependent on my director and Housemarque to fill in the gaps,» Perry explained. “They had a label showing what state Selena was in with her state of mind. So they would say, «This is Selena 10, and she’s pretty connected and sane» and «This is Selena 10,000.» She lost him. And so they let me know what state of mind I should put myself in as I spoke my lines. I depended on them more than in any other game.»
Reaching Selene 10,000 was no easy task. Perry said that oscillating between such extremes began to affect her when she tried to fit herself into Selena’s space, which is not good for a character who mumbles incomprehensibly after seeing her corpse for the thousandth time.
“I started to feel a little touched by this journey when I was recording it,” she said. “In a way, it’s like a downward spiral. And she goes deeper and deeper into her own psychology. And every time she comes back, she comes back in a different mental state. It was quite a journey to try and imagine in my mind where she was emotionally and mentally and trying to keep those notes. And there were times when I was very tired and emotionally exhausted because of all this. It took a lot of wine.»
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But it wasn’t an exclusively draining experience. Perry admitted that it was exhausting, but at the same time it was an exciting and interesting journey, which she «loved very much.» This is partly due to the real story of the game, as well as Selena. She is an irresistible protagonist, but she has very few bright and bold features. She is not particularly charming and does not use jokes to win over the player, but she is entertaining nonetheless and is an appropriate avatar for the player. Perry explained why she thinks so and how the shared experience between Selena and the player makes for so much hard work.
«I think what’s compelling about her is that she’s driven by something unknown, so it’s almost like you’re taking her on a journey into the unknown,» Perry said. «And I think it’s a real invitation to this amazing environment that they’ve created with Return and because it is a psychological phenomenon, it kind of opens the door to your mind. There is an attitude towards oneself and an attitude towards the family, as if it were her mother and her child. And I think that’s all we can relate to.»
But just like the descent into the sixth biome, it goes deeper. Perry said she believes the loss is also an important part of Selena and how we can relate to the experience, especially Selena’s mother and son.
“And there are times when it gets lost,” she continued. “There are very human things that she goes through that we can all understand: feeling lost, feeling longing for something, feeling trying to figure something out, or flashing back and always going back to that moment in your life.” a life where you did something you might regret, or something didn’t work out, or a relationship that you’re constantly struggling with. So I think when they created this character and wrote Selena, they really tuned in to what people struggle with day in and day out, whether they’re conscious or subconscious. Maybe it’s the subconscious stuff that’s so compelling because we don’t fully understand, and she doesn’t fully understand.»
Many of these issues are told through metaphors that players must interpret for themselves. It’s all part Returna call to force the player to do the work to understand the narrative. Everyone will come to different conclusions about the game and determine which parts are real and which are fictional allegories. Perry was hesitant to give a full explanation of the game, as she believed that the power of the game lay in each person’s personal interpretation, but she ended up giving some of her thoughts on the overall narrative.
“I guess my interpretation is that part of it is literal,” she said, “there is loss in her life. There is trauma in her life. There is a mother’s trauma and a daughter’s trauma. Trauma is what she’s trying to heal from. And it’s sort of Jungian in the sense that she meets her shadow side and constantly confronts these monsters and demons, and she’s in a battle royale with these things. She’s fighting her shadow self, fighting her own psychology and trying to figure out what’s going on and she’s really got a very scientific mind so she methodically tries to figure things out, but some things in life are impossible to understand. in that direction. Sometimes a different approach is needed. So I think she has things that happen consciously and things that happen subconsciously.»
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She elaborated by saying that subconscious elements can even control the entire game.
«And there’s this idea in life that our subconscious actually controls everything, so sometimes we have to do a lot of work to figure out what the hell is going on and why you do all these crazy things in life,» she said. “It’s because we have certain beliefs and certain things have happened that we have to come to terms with. Her journey and struggle are both literal and metaphorical.»
Return is a beautiful achievement that requires the kind of analysis that is still astounding for a studio that used to tell the simplest one-sentence stories that served as paper justification for arcade gameplay. Perry’s involvement in this process is admirable given the importance the role has given her and the way she has appropriately brought Selena to life. It was a process that put her to the test, but she said it was addictive, which is quite fitting for a game known for its satisfying difficulty and fun gameplay.