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Two Tendrils Of Resident Evil's Evolution

In this two-part interview, Brandon Sheffield and Christian Nutt speak to Resident Evil producer Masachika Kawata and two of his colleagues at Capcom about the evolutions of the Resident Evil series, in the specific forms of shooter Operation Raccoon City, and Revelations for the 3DS.

The Resident Evil series is a complicated beast, at this point in time -- multiple teams in multiple countries are working on incredibly different evolutions of the game for different audiences. With the 15th anniversary of the original title taking place this year, Capcom is particularly active with the series right now. But what guides its hand?

In this two-part interview, Brandon Sheffield speaks to producer Masachika Kawata and designer Kenji Matsuura about Operation Raccoon City, the multiplayer-focused Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC shooter under development by SOCOM developer Slant Six Games. Christian Nutt, on the other hand, speaks to Kawata and assitant producer Tsukasa Takenaka about Revelations, an original and more horror-focused title for the 3DS.

Why has Capcom split the game into these two markedly different directions? What governs the publisher's thinking behind the way these games are developed? And what specific decisions have the teams undertaken with each title -- and why?

This interview delves deep into these questions and paints not just a picture of why these two games have taken the form that they have, but also Capcom's plan for the series.

The Operation Raccoon City Interview

Over the last few years, Resident Evil has made a slow evolution into a shooter. Now Operation Raccoon City is actually a shooter. Can you talk a little bit about how and why it's come to that?

Masachika Kawata: The entire Resident Evil series -- it was never something that we planned to do. We never sat back and said, "Okay, we want to make these games more shooting-like, more action-focused." Resident Evil, especially the numbered Resident Evil games, have, for us, always been about being survival horror. If you can shoot a little bit more, and you do that, that's fine. But first and foremost, they've always been survival horror games.

With Operation Raccoon City, we started from a place where we said, "Okay, we want to make a shooter, not a survival horror game." At the same time, we want to keep some of the same emotions that you get when you play the game. So even though it feels like maybe it's been a slow progression, it really hasn't been a deliberate thing, where we're making the series more shooter-like. This time we definitely wanted to make a shooter.


Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

It feels like Resident Evil is branching off as a brand to encompass different types of games. Can you explain that strategy?

MK: At the core, basically, we want to make the best use of our brand. Resident Evil is an IP, and a franchise, that people have loved for a long time. It's still very, very popular and we're very, very happy about that, and we want to basically answer all the requests that we get about the series. People want to see a lot of different experiences within the Resident Evil universe, and so we've been fortunate enough to be able to answer those requests with a lot of different experiences, in different forms, in games.

Do you worry at all about diluting the brand by having different types of games coming out in rapid succession within the same brand?

MK: I'm not too concerned about that, for the simple reason that, like you said before, all these different Resident Evil games that are coming out are focused on very different things. I'm thinking that if we would have brought out all these Resident Evil titles, and they were all focused on survival horror, absolutely I think people would be really sick of Resident Evil.

But in my mind, we've got this online shooter game, we've got other things like Mercenaries that are even more action-focused, and some other games. And by going in a lot of different directions, I'm pretty confident that people are going to still be enjoying Resident Evil for a long time.


When you kind of go against expectations it can potentially make them wonder about the direction of the brand, but I can also see that point of view.

MK: Yeah. You can't please everyone, obviously, and there's been a lot of feedback from core fans, people who've played Resident Evil all their lives, since the PlayStation days, saying they want us to go even more towards the core, very deliberate pacing of those games.

On the other hand, there's been a lot of feedback saying, "We want to see an even more shooter and action-focused experience." And there's really no way to answer all of those requests in one game.

And so by creating these different experiences, we think that certainly some people's expectations will be violated, but that's, in our minds, a good thing, and it will hopefully get people to play something that they weren't expecting.

It's part of the strategy to split more of the shooting into a title like this, and then for the main line to keep it more into a survival horror title?

MK: Well, I cannot personally talk to Resident Evil's future, in terms of any main line title we might be making or not, because I would be in trouble if I did.

But in terms of what I'm working on, absolutely. Revelations, which is a 3DS title, is very much going to be core-fan focused and survival horror-focused. It's going to be a more deliberately paced-game, a little bit more classic Resident Evil, solving puzzles, things like that. So definitely there is the plan to go that direction as well.

Actually this is the 15th anniversary of the original Resident Evil, so there is a lot of stuff coming out, and we're really, really pushing a lot of different things, and hoping that people will rediscover their love for the franchise in new ways.

The whole shooting versus horror duality is very interesting to me, because it seems like the more confidence you can have in your weapons and firepower, the less scary it is. In older Resident Evils, shooting actually was a scary time, because you didn't have that many bullets and you know you weren't that powerful.

Kenji Matsuura: Well just in terms of Raccoon City, there still is that element of fear, where you've got tons and tons of bullets. There are more zombies than you've ever seen in a Resident Evil title coming at you, at the same time, so it's interesting.

When you're behind cover, you're taking out enemies and you think you're doing well -- suddenly, you start to bleed out or something, and zombies just start coming in from everywhere. You get that same kind of panicky feeling -- like, "Oh crap! I've got to do something to get out of this situation!" And it's really interesting that it's done in the different gameplay system, and with different ways of gameplay, but the feeling feels kind of the same.

Also there's the infection system, where basically you can be infected by the zombies, and then you turn into a zombie, and start attacking your own team. That's also something where it's a new, instant kind of fear -- you kind of know that you're screwed, in some cases, and that's a really, really interesting feeling, when you're playing the game.

Did you guys play Left 4 Dead before working on this? Left 4 Dead defined zombie shooting for this generation, so did you guys look at it at all, and what did you think? There seems to be some influence.

KM: Yeah, we definitely played Left 4 Dead, and we think it's a great zombie shooter. However, this game is not really about just killing zombies. Basically you're the Umbrella Security Service team, and you're trying to take out the U.S. Special Ops, and that's the main goal of the game. And the zombies are more part of the environment, in a lot of ways. They're something that you can use to your advantage or, if you're not too careful, they can turn on you and end up really making your job a lot harder, and that part of the game makes it something that's different.

MK: Well actually, in our minds, it's completely different from Left 4 Dead, because it's not just focused on killing lots of zombies. And so while Left 4 Dead is a really, really cool game, we feel that Operation Raccoon City is a bit more advanced in terms of just what is going on during this crazy situation.

What in your minds makes this a Resident Evil game versus just another shooter?

MK: The situation. Basically the situation -- the outbreak in Raccoon City -- and the characters.


The Revelations Interview

In bringing Resident Evil to the 3DS, what is the most important thing to keep in mind?

MK: Well, obviously, the thing that we had to pay the most attention to, and think about, was the 3D effects on the 3DS. We definitely had to think about making the game comfortable to play for a long time, without making the player's eyes get too tired -- but at the same using that 3D effect to create a real sense of presence, and to help the player get a really good sense of the space that they're in. It's really good for that.

Also, for the 3DS, there's another title that already came out: Mercenaries 3D. The controls of Revelations are very, very similar to what we have in Mercenaries, so that kind of is a common point, in terms of making the controls of a Resident Evil game for this new hardware. If you play Mercenaries before you play Revelations, you'll get an idea of where we're going.

Other than that, we didn't really do anything different because it's a portable game. We're basically making a normal, full-scoped Resident Evil game for the 3DS, so it's not any different from a full game you would see on a home console.

Of course, the big difference between this and the most recent big Resident Evil game, Resident Evil 5, is the fact that this is much, much more focused on horror and a scary atmosphere.

When you're creating an atmosphere of horror, is that setting? Is that the monsters? What creates the atmosphere of horror?

MK: There certainly are a lot of different kinds of horror, but, in terms of Resident Evil horror, the thing that I think makes horror very Resident Evil is having a situation or a place where you're in that is a normal place that you might find yourself in, but that has something just a little bit different about it, that makes you feel a little bit uncomfortable when you're there.

In the case of Revelations, we've got this very, very large ship that I think you've seen a little bit. To a large extent, it's a normal ship; however, there's something that's a little bit different. There's something that's not quite right about this place. You go into, say, a cafeteria; it seems kind of normal, but just under the surface there's something that doesn't feel quite right. That's something that we've really tried to bring out in Revelations.


Resident Evil: Revelations

I feel like, going back, the first game was the most horror-focused in the series. You're in that mansion; that sense of being trapped in an enclosed environment adds a lot to the horror. Is that something that you're talking about with the ship?

MK: Absolutely. That enclosed space that you cannot escape from, with the ship, is very similar to the mansion in the original Resident Evil. There's no way that you can escape from the horror, basically.

It would seem to me that, when you're looking at a portable game, since it's small, it's not as easy to create an atmosphere of horror. But, at the same time, you can focus very intently on it when you're alone. I'm interested in what your thoughts are in creating an atmosphere of horror that affects the player, given the system itself.

MK: The thing about the 3DS is that it's really, really easy to get sucked into the screen. You end up concentrating very hard on what you're doing, and that actually helps to bring out the feeling of presence and the horror.

Is that because it's 3D?

MK: Yes, the 3D certainly does bring that out. A lot of it is visual, but with that added dimension -- you kind of going into the game, the feeling of presence in the game -- really does enhance the horror in a way that you can't really do with just a 2D screen.

Also, the sound of the 3DS is really, really great. Certainly, if you're really wanting to immerse yourself in an environment, maybe the speakers of the 3DS aren't 100 percent up to the task, but if you get some headphones, and experience the environment that way, it's really quite immersive.

How did the game being 3D affect the creative decisions that you took with the project in general?

MK: To be perfectly honest, because it's 3D, we didn't actually need to change too much in terms of the design. The 3D didn't really influence the design all that much. Obviously, there are options like -- since it's 3D -- being able to actually go into a first-person perspective does present a little bit more information to the player about where enemies are and things like that.

But the basis for this game was creating a full-fledged Resident Evil experience with all the trappings on the 3D console. I think it's not so much that, because of 3D, we did too many things differently; the 3D enhanced our ability to tell an interesting story -- an interesting Resident Evil story that will, hopefully, resonate with fans.

I think that playing through the game on the 3DS will show players that 3D doesn't really make too many fundamental changes to the gameplay and how we make games, but it definitely does enhance that and make it better.


Are you satisfied with that? When you launched the idea of doing a 3D game, did you expect more fundamental changes to the kind of game that you were making, or did that align with your expectations when you began the project?

MK: I don't think that, as creators, we'll ever be completely satisfied with any hardware that we get. There's always more that we would like to be able to do. However, in terms of the 3DS, it's a very satisfying piece of hardware, and what it presents is pretty much in line with what we expected. We were able to make the game we wanted.

Did you begin to work on the design of the game before you actually had the hardware in hand, or were you able to experiment with the hardware and then have a concrete understanding of what you're aiming for?

Tsukasa Takenaka: I guess you have to understand a little bit about how the mindset at Capcom is. Someone's always thinking about a new Resident Evil game, or something interesting that we could do.

So I would say that there was the idea for a Resident Evil game that ended up being the core of Revelations before we had the new hardware; then, as soon as we get it in our hands and see what it's capable of, all of those ideas really take shape. Yeah, there were ideas before we had the hardware, but, once we got it in our hands, that's when we really saw it come into form.

That doesn't go only for Revelations; it also goes for Mercenaries 3D and Operation Raccoon City, which Kawata is also producing. Once we see an opportunity to put one of our ideas and make it reality, we try to jump on it every time.

Obviously, in game development, there is always the process where you have to deal with the realities versus the ideas, and it's interesting to hear the ideas take shape on the hardware at the time you need to make that product happen.

MK: It's always a battle against the restrictions that the hardware imposes on you. You're always trying to squeeze every bit out of it that you can; that's always a tough hurdle that you've got to climb over. At the same time, those restrictions force you to be more creative. They force you to really execute on the ideas and make your ideas more and more interesting within those frameworks. The ability to work within those constraints and still make a really interesting game is one of the directives of a video game creator. If you can't do that, then it's going to be really, really difficult to make a video game.

That's a typical function of creativity, right? You always have constraints; you always have limitations, and you always have possibilities. So it's choosing the path that you want to go down -- that's the fundamental thing that you have to do.

MK: The limitations are often complex. They're not straightforward. Obviously, if you're making a film, if you can find a way to shoot something -- if you can find a way to set it up -- then you can get it in the can and put it onto the screen. When it comes to making video games, everything has to be programmed, and it makes everything a lot more complex. It's certainly always an interesting endeavor, but the limitations within which you have to work are very complex and do end up shaping the path that you take and the creative vision that you end up with.

TT: To all the other developers out there that read your website, Kawata mentioned that it's always a battle against the limitations; I feel like the form of the battle always goes to overcoming those limitations and doing a little more with the hardware. You always see the most impressive games come out at the end of a hardware's life cycle.

Right now, we do feel very confident that we've overcome some of the limitations of the 3DS, and we fully expect that, down the road, other developers will overcome even greater hurdles. We can't wait for that, because then we want to try and do even better the next time.

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