GameSpot recently published a two-part video series dedicated to rise, fall, and future of Resident Evil. As part of its creation we interviewed a number of Capcom developers involved in the development of Resident Evil 7.
The interview features Resident Evil 7 director Koshi Nakanishi, as well as producers Masachika Kawata and Jun Takeuchi, who discuss why they decided to reinvent Resident Evil for its latest entry, whether it looked at indie games for inspiration, and the future of the franchise.
While the most pertinent quotes were featured in the videos, there was a considerable amount of unused material that we felt fans of the series would appreciate reading. With that in mind we’ve collated these interviews into one, larger piece which you can read below.
GameSpot: What was it that made you realize that Resident Evil needed to be reworked for the seventh entry?
Takeuchi: After our sixth [Resident Evil] we got a lot of feedback from fans. I think a lot of fans loved that game. It’s a dream team collaboration of all their favorite heroes working together. At the same time, we know there’s feedback that people thought we’re going too far down the road of action horror rather than survival horror. That was great timing because internally we also felt this is the time for us to just take a step back and re-evaluate what survival horror and Resident Evil means to us. It was really just the fact that the timing of what the fans wanted and we wanted to do next matched up. It gave me the confidence to do something radical and reinvent the series.
Kawata: In the beginning, when we were just going for the conceptual stage, a lot of ideas came about. At the end of the day we settled on the fact that Resident Evil really is a franchise based around horror. We figured, “This time around, let’s just double down on horror.”
After we made that decision, it was, “What do we need to do in order to make sure that we’re able to offer the player the ultimate horror experience?” That was what led to the decision of going from third-person perspective to first-person perspective. We figured this would be the best way of allowing player immersion. In terms of characters, we figured, “Let’s not have previous characters make an appearance.” Lead characters really blend in better with the survival horror aspects when we’re able to allow the player to empathize with this really average character.
Nakanishi: In terms of the change of direction, Takeuchi-san decided it’s going to go more in line with [acclaimed 1981 horror film] The Evil Dead where it’s more in this compact space. My first reaction to this was actually, “Whoa, are you serious? We’re going to change it that drastically?” I was definitely surprised, but at the same time I love challenges. I’m not going to [shy] away from them. Instead, those are the things that excite me personally. Obviously, there was a little bit of insecurity in terms of like, “Where are we going to take this?” We did get a lot of positive feedback internally as well in terms of like, “Yeah, this direction is going to work. Let’s roll with it.” I was able to take that positive feedback and move forward as well.
It’s interesting that you decided to take a new perspective instead of refocusing on the fixed camera style of the original Resident Evils or another over-the-shoulder game. Why did you decide to move to the new perspective?
Takeuchi: For us, the idea of going back to our roots wasn’t synonymous with just turning back the clock on gameplay systems or choices of camera systems. It was more about looking towards the future by saying, “We’re going to go back to our roots and we want to give players in 2017 a chance to experience the same kind of fear that players of 1996 felt with Resident Evil.” But that doesn’t mean that players in 2017 will feel the same about the gameplay choices we made in 1996. The most natural evolution in my mind was, “How do I get them to feel this direct sense of fear and atmosphere, [and the] fact that this character is very much in danger?” For me, first-person perspective was a very natural fit for that [and] for the future of survival horror while remaining true to the series’ roots.
Did it give you confidence to see indie horror games taking a similar approach and becoming very, very popular because of it?
Nakanishi: In terms of the general scene and the popularity of the horror genre, it definitely did give me some confidence. In terms of the market being populated by a lot of horror games, we also wanted to make sure we stay true to ourselves in making sure we are able to give the core Resident Evil experience, which is not only offering a heightened level of fear but also giving the player the opportunity to combat it and overcome [it to] feel that level of triumph. That’s not something that you always see in other horror games. Yes, we moved over to [first-person perspective] and that kind of visual representation might be similar to other games, [but] I’m very confident that we’re still able to differentiate ourselves and offer something that only Resident Evil can offer.
Takeuchi: It’s been a positive experience for us to see that the rise of that kind of genre, but I do think that there’s not many games like Resident Evil even within that sub-genre because they are horror games and Resident Evil is a survival horror game.
To my mind, the difference between the two is that, in a horror game, your main objective is, “How do I scare the player?” I can make them as scared as I want all the time and they have to just escape and stay alive. [But in survival horror] we have a cycle of tension and release where you are scared, but you are given the means to fight back. Even with limited sources, you’re going to be able to face your fears and overcome them at some point. That’s the kind of gameplay cycle and feeling that we want to give people with survival horror. Even though there’s things to learn from the existing indie horror genre, I think it’s still not like we’re quite the same as them. I think we still have a unique take on what we can give people with the horror experience.
It’s been a positive experience for us to see that the rise of [the indie horror] genre, but I do think that there’s not many games like Resident Evil
Jun Takeuchi, Resident Evil 7 producer
Was it difficult to balancing that empowerment but also scare people? Did you look back at all the games, like the Resident Evil remake came out recently, to figure that out?
Takeuchi: Fortunately, I worked on the first Resident Evil so I don’t even need to go back and play it. I can just visit my memories and they’re buried into my brain because it was such a tough project actually, but it was a really creative team–especially the director, Shinji Mikami. There are other Resident Evil 2 staff members still around at Capcom like a guy called [Yasuhiro Ampo]. Of course, Mr. Kamiya [too], who is no longer at Capcom. I was able to have a chat with him to just kick start my own memories and remember what we did back then.
The other side of that is it’s been quite a while since those games came out so there’s quite a few younger staff members at Capcom who have never played the original games or are not familiar with them. We had to kind of teach those guys or get them to play, be it the Resident Evil Remake or whatever, just to make sure that they had the mindset of what it was to play Resident Evil back then. I didn’t want them to just copy it, but take what they learned from that, then rearrange it and remix it and mash it up as it makes sense to them in the context of a survival horror game in 2017.
Nakanishi: In terms of the visual representation, yes, it’s going in a very different direction. At the same time, we always make sure that even if we go in various different directions that the core fun factor is still intact. For me, a lot of the fun comes from the old game systems where you have to slowly open the door not knowing what’s ahead of you. On the flip side [is] knowing what’s ahead of you. Predicting, “Oh, there’s definitely a jump scare in front of me, but there’s no other direction for me to take. I have to go forward.” Having to deal with a combat situation where you’re low on ammo and so you have to strategize, “Am I going to fight here? Am I going to run away? Do I take the long route?” Just all those decision-making aspects or things that I think really make Resident Evil shine. Those are things that I wanted to take into more modernized approach and really make sure that the player is able to immerse themselves with these game mechanics in this new environment.
Was there ever a worry that, currently, the larger group of fans may be the people that know Resident Evil 4, 5, and 6 and like the quicker pace of gameplay. And perhaps that the audience that you once had that likes that slower pace you’re returning to may not be there anymore?
Nakanishi: Of course, there’s definitely that worry, but Resident Evil has survived for over 20 years now. It’s just done so many things along the years. You’re obviously going to have fans who prefer co-op, [or] who prefer single player. You’re going to have the new fans, the old fans.
The fanbase is so large and there’s just so many different opinions that honestly making a product that’s going to satisfy every single one of them is just incredibly difficult. Instead of taking that approach, we figure, “Let’s focus down and make sure that we’re really refining and sharpening one aspect of Resident Evil … let’s focus on fear.” As a result, obviously, we might have fans that are like, “Okay, I like the online action-packed multiplayer.” We do realize that that’s a reality.
Takeuchi: Some of the teams certainly felt that way. Someone that has been raised on the diet of more modern games might find it difficult to step back and play a more patient experience, but myself and the director, we felt differently. I think there are a lot of fast-paced games out there including the more recent Resident Evil games, but we’ve seen that there is a market out there that is willing to understand the need for a slow-paced game, particularly in the horror genre. If anything, I think people who are used to the faster pace of game might find it a new fresh experience to go slower.
Maybe there’s a lack recently of that kind of Metroidvania backtracking within a single location gaming style that it’ll seem all the more fresh to someone who has been playing other games. I think no matter what the generation you’re talking about or what time in the games industry you’re talking about, I believe there’s always a place for this kind of game.
The changes you’ve made for Resident Evil 7 feel like they were necessary to ensure Resident Evil continues to exist as a franchise, even if that does mean cutting loose a bunch of fans who may be more used to action.
Kawata: [With] Resident Evil 4, 5 and 6, especially Resident Evil 4, that was definitely something new at the time. As the games kept coming out, the world definitely expanded out–it became more large scale. We felt that this would be a really good time to take a step back and be like, “Okay, let’s not keep expanding the scale, let’s actually scale it back down and make it more of a confined space.” Taking that confined space and adding further depth to it. That was the general direction we took.
Nakanishi: First off, we definitely don’t want to just abandon one subset of fans. That just wouldn’t be fair. We’re not thinking of like, “Alright, we’re never going to do online multiplayer ever again.” It’s more of just finding the right opportunities and figuring out like, “Okay, this is the best time to release this kind of Resident Evil.
[In] Resident Evil, it’s always about trying to surprise our fans. Going up and offering something new. Tackling new challenges. That’s our mantra as developers. I wasn’t directly involved, but even during Resident Evil 3 to Resident Evil 4, that was almost like a civil war amongst Capcom, so it’s not always without conflicts when we try something new.
The transition from 3 to 4 was a controversial time within Capcom, then?
Nakanishi: I can’t really say much about it because I wasn’t involved, but that’s what I hear. If you look at the results of this conflict, it ultimately resulted in something good. Even within Capcom, we’ve definitely adopted that approach like, “Maybe there’s going to be a lot of conflict. Maybe there’s going to be a lot of arguments.” At the same time, going up against new challenges is definitely a very healthy developmental approach.
Was the move from Resident Evil 6 to 7 equally as controversial?
Nakanishi: On the contrary, it was actually quite the opposite. Once Takeuchi-san gave that directive, things actually went pretty smoothly. We made a prototype early on and that prototype was received very positively within Capcom. Yeah, we actually were able to move forward without too many obstacles.
It sounds almost as if everyone knew that the franchise needed to change and that it couldn’t carry on going as it was, so there was less conflict.
Nakanishi: Yeah, you’re right. There was definitely this conversation and this atmosphere of like, “Alright, this is really the right time to look inward and try to figure out what’s the root of the franchise and what really makes Resident Evil.”
How does it feel for you as a developer, and other members of the team who have worked on the series, to be back in familiar territory again working with designs and frameworks that you know so well? Do you feel like you know what Resident Evil is again?
Takeuchi: Most of the team is actually from the 4, 5, 6 era. There’s not too many of us who have been around since the Resident Evil 1, 2, 3 times. Rather than mostly being able to relax and get back into the old style it is actually very stimulating and new for them to work on this kind of game. It’s a fresh experience for them. I’ve heard from a lot of team members that working on an old style of Resident Evil game … Not old style, but one that harks back to the old games has actually helped them better understand the origins of Resident Evil on what makes it what it is. That gave them motivation even though it’s very hard work to develop a game like this. It helped them push through to the end of the project. I think it’s been an interesting experience for the team for sure.
We’re not Call of Duty. We’re not Dead Space. We’re not Outlast. We’re Resident Evil.
Koshi Nakanishi, Resident Evil 7 director
Are you more optimistic about the future of Resident Evil? Do you feel like it can be the king of the survival horror genre again, and where do you envision the series going?
Tekeuchi: In the next four or five years, I hope that we will have been able to build on the success of Resident Evil 7. We’re bringing the series back to its roots. Even the title of the game is trying to show you that by combining the original Japanese and English titles we’re saying, “It’s like the ultimate revival and it’s a sort of new masterpiece for a new generation to build the future of Resident Evil.” I’m very hopeful for the future of the series. I hope I can be talking to you again in a few years time about the next step in the series which is going to bring you another entire new level of scares and great experiences. Please look forward to our next conversation about that.
Kawata: Ultimately, it’s going to be [dependent on] the results of Resident Evil 7. How people are going to receive it? What user feedback is going to be. It’s all going to be based on that. Obviously, if reception turns out to be incredibly good, then that’s going to obviously entice us to keep going forward [in] this direction. At the same time, Resident Evil is a franchise. It’s very flexible. There’s obviously going to be feedback coming from fans where it’s like, “Okay. We still want to be able to see our characters.” Maybe we want to definitely cater to that and be flexible and offering different gameplay styles to cater to specific user needs.
Nakanishi: For me, personally, it’s not about overcoming the competition, [and] being [at] the top. For me, I think what would make me happy is hearing feedback from fans to know that they would be like, “This is Resident Evil.” I think that’s the kind of feedback that I definitely want to hear. To know that, we don’t need to be compared to the competition. We’re not Call of Duty. We’re not Dead Space. We’re not Outlast. We’re Resident Evil. Being able to make our own space within the game industry and say, “Okay. If you are able to see these specific things, you’re able to very easily identify [that] this is a Resident Evil game.” That’s what I’m personally striving for.