Crystals, Light and Power: An In-depth Dive into the Returner Universe Art Style and Inspiration

Our game mantra: experience – narrative – gameplay

Creating a sci-fi universe is a monumental amount of work involving careful iterations and a lot of imagination. The Fantastic, yes team has spent over a year dedicated to the Returner universe. Now that we’re so close to the release of Returner Zhero, we wanted to take an opportunity to talk about what elements make the Returner world so stunning and unique.

 

If you’ve been following our activity, you know how important visual style of Returner games is to us. This week, we’d like to share with you all the things that make Returner, well… Returner.

 

Science Fiction with a Twist

We are not afraid to play around with the genre we’re in. During the pre-production stage, we went through a lot of references and did our research to define the style.  Hundreds of ideas were spawned for the game. If you look closely, you will probably notice at least 10 different references to alien life forms, and theories about the universe (can you name some of them?). We have stayed true to sci-fi in some ways, and also pulled in inspiration from the Renaissance and beyond.

If we had to boil it down to just few lines, the Returner universe is all about:

– An alien spaceship made from crystals and hard surface architecture

– Floating elements and illuminated objects

– Detailed props and puzzles

– Beautiful visual effects

 

The look we are after:

Our architecture and prop style is defined by chunky shapes with beveled edges, cornicing around their width and flowing feminine surface details. We took inspiration from the wonderful Renaissance era. Some of the fine details and patterns within the Returner Universe are inspired by the style of furniture dating back to the 15th century, characterized by flowing movements, symmetry, and bold shapes. We implemented some swirls and repetitions that are common for this style in the architecture of the ship.

Styx Boat Concept Art

 

If you’ve been wondering what limitations we set ourselves, the answer is: not many. In the blue sky phase, we experimented with many different styles. After some crazy experiments, we found what we wanted the games to be like and what they should not. We set ourselves the limitations as follows:

– Avoid going too fantasy (we didn’t want to design our own elven language)

– It’s not Art Nouveau.  But it IS closer to Art Deco without the light ray diagonals

– Use curves to cut up flat surface shapes and create depth

– Think in layers

 

The eternal love for crystals

There would be no Returner without the omnipresent crystals. Our crystals are both wild (growing from the walls) and cut (aliens do this for function and as a means to control their environment). Crystals are the main theme for environments, characters as well as the puzzles.

 

To create crystal constellations worthy of outer space, many different crystal sources from earth were combined to create the final result. Compared to any other topic, crystals is what we talk about most at Fantastic, yes.

First Concepts of the Demon Crystal

Getting the style “just right” took a lot of research. We studied fluorite, amethyst, tourmaline, and different types of quartz clusters. We spent days researching and recreating natural formations, geometric compositions and fascinating variations found in nature.  After we were done with crystalline construction, we played with alternating transparency and reflection.

 

In Returner Zhero, you can find them floating around in the ship and explore the formations of crystal plants and flowers and watch them grow. Crystals aren’t just a hard element, they are the main basis of life for the aliens and the organic growth on the ship illustrates that.

 

Crystal Environment – Styx level in Returner 77

 

Refining the theme

Puzzles do play the central role in the Returner games. We didn’t want them to be just tactile and standard brain teaser puzzles, therefore as we got further into the design, we realized that there are three distinctive themes for the puzzles in the Returner series: light, power, and alien language.

Light

– Light can be reflected or refracted by surfaces (split, bundled, redirected)

– Crystals and lenses can change the wavelength (color), split, reflect or redirect the light

– Bundled light can be used to destroy objects, but also to power some alien objects

Light Pyramid Puzzle – Storyboard

 

Power

If you played the game, you probably noticed that sunlight is used to ignite the ship’s core. That is because the light is collected and bundled through crystals to be converted to power. In The Den, the god statue represents the alien reactor which needs an ignition to start producing energy, like a fusion reactor.

God Statue Concept Art

Going back to the crystals: not only are they part of the environment, but some of them can be charged and store power. Crystals and beams can power/deactivate items and puzzles. Also, consoles can be powered up to become intractable, while force-fields can be deactivated to give access to restricted areas.

 

Charged Crystal Concept

 

Alien Language

As an advanced form of life, aliens developed a graphic language.

The signs were inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs and the ancient signs found in caves, tombs, and walls. Our graphic designers created a whole alien alphabet and symbolic drawings.

Alien symbols are required to solve certain puzzles or puzzle stages. Symbols and drawings provide hints to the final state of a puzzle.

We’re proud of what we have created and we hope that learning more about the Returner universe gives more meaning to the games. We’re hyped to share more madness and insights with you guys over the next months!

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