Some Japanese creators have had widely-reported difficulties transitioning to next-generation console game development -- something that's not been the case technically for Capcom, whose MT Framework engine, used in Dead Rising, was cutting-edge even back in mid-2006.
The seminal Resident Evil franchise is one of Capcom's key next-generation titles, and the early 2009-due Resident Evil 5 is being helmed by producer Jun Takeuchi - whose history at Capcom dates back to the first in the franchise and even Street Fighter II, and who also produced titles such as Lost Planet.
This 'co-op' interview also includes director Yasuhiro Anpo, who also worked on the first two Resident Evil games - of which the newest instalment is set in Africa, and due to debut for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in March 2009.
The conversation with Gamasutra stretched beyond the co-operative mode recently revealed for the title, to a broader discussion of Capcom's strategy and philosophy -- including why Osaka natives are allegedly better at making games than their Tokyo counterparties.
Obviously, Resident Evil 5 is a refinement of the ideas that drove Resident Evil 4. It looks like you've taken the design ideas, and really promoted them into next-generation quality. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided to settle on the design for this game, and move forward with the development?
Jun Takeuchi: For Resident Evil 5, a lot of the elements in it are a refinement of things that we had in Resident Evil 4; making them better, and choosing which elements to keep, which elements to discard.
The biggest change that we had to it, and the biggest change that we had from when we first settled on the design for it, was that we definitely wanted to have co-op in it, right from the start, and to have co-op be an integral part of the game, just right from the start.
So that's one of the first things that we decided, when we were making the game. That has led the development of the game. Right now we're about 70% of the way through the development process.
When you sit down to make a sequel like this, expectations are obviously high -- RE4 really revitalized the series -- so how do you decide what features to bring to the game? How do you decide which features are must-do? You talked about co-op being one of the things that you really wanted to do; how did you decide, and why did you decide that, specifically? And what did you have to balance to make that kind of thing happen?
JT: When we first sat down to design Resident Evil 5 -- obviously, like you said, Resident Evil 4 was such a huge game, and such a great game -- we decided that changing fundamentally the way that Resident Evil 4 worked was something that we did not want to do. So that was one of the most important parts of that design process.
And, also, we did decide from the start, in terms of the co-op element, that it was time to introduce that element to the series, to liven up that aspect of the series and also to give ourselves a new challenge. To give us something new to bring to the series, and to give ourselves something new and challenging to do.
The development process in Japan seems to not be completely similar to the way the development process works in the west -- you know, job titles, and responsibilities, are a little bit different. Like, for example, it's not very often that a game would have a "director" in America, so it's interesting to talk about how the responsibilities break down on a title.
JT: Of course, there are differences between the way we do things in Japan, and the way things are done in the west, in the [job] titles, and those kinds of things -- but actually, I feel, based on my experience, that even though the job titles are different, we're all game designers, and we're all ultimately working toward the same end goal.
So, actually, even if maybe the titles are different, people are having largely the same kind of responsibilities, and doing largely the same kind of thing. So I actually don't feel that there's too much of a big difference, there.
Anpo-san, can you talk about your day-to-day responsibilities on the title?
Yasuhiro Anpo: As the director on the game, with such a big team -- there are almost a hundred people working on this game, at the moment.
The most important thing in my job, and the thing that takes up the most of my time from day to day, is to look at the work that different parts of my team are bringing to me.
To look it over -- to make sure it fits both the standard that we expect from the game, and the direction that we want to bring this game in -- and either reject it or approve it. So that's the thing that I do most, day to day.
Capcom is, I guess, out of the Japanese publishers -- maybe Nintendo also, but in a very different way -- has found the most success in the west, this generation. And it's probably one of the only Japanese publishers that has made several games that, I think, feel on the same level as the western games -- and have a similar feel, while retaining their identity. Can you talk about why you think Capcom has made that leap that some of the other publishers are still struggling with?
YA: Probably the most important reason is that we decided very early on that we wanted to have a multi-platform strategy for this generation, and we set out to build -- and did build -- the MT Framework, which is our multi-platform engine that we use internally at Capcom.
Because we had that ready to go, and we had that created, that's probably what gave us the advantage over other Japanese developers who are maybe struggling with the next-gen consoles, to a certain extent, and maybe only now are getting to grips with it.
Is there something creative at Capcom, too, that's part of the equation? Ultimately, Resident Evil, all the way back to PS1, is the game coming out of Japan that best captures that Hollywood movie feel -- and I feel that if you look at Lost Planet, Dead Rising, Resident Evil, and other major Capcom games in this generation, they really bring up the polish and manage to retain that. It's become a Capcom style, in a certain sense. What drives that, at Capcom?
JT: Well, I think that there are two reasons, mainly, why that is. First of all, we at Capcom, when we set out to make a game, we make it on a world-wide basis.
We make a game that people all over the world are going to buy. And I think that that way of thinking is one of the reasons for our successes.
Maybe at other developers, they first of all look at the Japanese market, and then say, "Oh, we can also sell this in the west."
They develop it first for the internal market, for the Japanese market; but we at Capcom, we look at it first of all as selling something for the whole world.
The second reason, I think, is that we in Capcom are based in Osaka, unlike most of the other Japanese developers, who are based largely in Tokyo.
And I think that gives us -- we have a lot of creative people, and the atmosphere and feeling in the workplace is a little bit different, and I think that gives us a little bit of originality, and allows us also to make something that's technically very high level.
To say that, you must be from Kansai! [Ed. note: Kansai is the region in Japan which contains Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto, among other cities. The region containing Tokyo is known as Kanto.]
JT: Yes, Kansai-jin! He's Kansai-jin too [indicates Anpo]. Maido okini!
(laughter from all)
So you guys think you're better than people from Kanto at making games?
JT: People in Kansai think that!
YA: One of the differences is that the people in Kanto, and the people in Tokyo, would think that they would join a company, thinking that it would be a step up to getting into another, bigger company. Or thinking, "Well, even if I get into this company and it's no good, I can always go to some other company."
But people who join Capcom only want to work for Capcom; that's the only thing that they're interested in. Maybe that's another big difference, too.
Obviously part of the big "Hollywood style" thing is creating these games with western characters, and setting them in different countries; is that something that's just creatively interesting, or is that part of your worldwide targeting? Does one follow the other, or is it both satisfying, and also helpful from a sales perspective?
JT: Maybe one of the reasons for that is that both of us worked on Resident Evil 1, back in the day, and back then our goal was that we wanted to make something that was like a movie, and our goal was, we said, "Let's make a game that looks like a movie!"
And so we wanted it to look like a Hollywood movie. When we watch Hollywood movies, they're in spoken English, with Japanese subtitles; so that's the feeling that we wanted to capture with that, and that was how we set out to make that game.
YA: At that stage, in terms of the level of quality you were seeing, games were well below movies, but I think they've really caught up to movies now, and are much more respected along the same level as movies, these days.
You talked about the MT Framework... Has engine development been continuous, over the course of the lifespan of the consoles? Dead Rising shipped on that engine, but this is a couple years later, and the games are more advanced; I'm assuming that you have an engine development team, to improve the engine alongside the development of the games?
YA: Yeah, absolutely. We have a development team that work exclusively on the MT Framework engine, and they are constantly updating it, adding the latest technology, adding the latest tools, and making it available for our teams to use.
Is that a new way for Capcom to work? Especially in the past, Japanese studios, even within the same company, have been very closely guarding their technology, or the way they're working on a game. And Japan is famous for having game creators who are competitive in trying to push their own features, or having people working on one specific platform -- all kinds of things that don't make sense in the marketplace.
So has this been a real change, like a philosophical change, at Capcom, and how were you able to make that leap? In making an engine -- not only an engine that's multi-platform, but also that everyone in the company is going to be using on multiple projects.
JT: Yeah, that was something that actually came from the development teams, rather than from upper management. It was something that the developers thought of.
YA: Before the MT Framework, we were all working on games separately, and creating them separately, and it was a very inefficient process, to have lots of different teams separately developing tools to make games.
So we wanted to create something that would unify the process, and make it easier for us developers to create those games on a company basis, and improve the efficiency of our work, and make it easier for us to make better products. So that's where that came from.
JT: There are a lot of other Japanese developers who are opposed to that way of thinking.
But there's no real advantage in it, is there? Do you see any advantage in doing it the old way? Like, starting over again, or having two teams making two games on two platforms? It just seems that in this day and age, it's not really feasible.
JT: There's not an advantage, to it, certainly. I think where it comes from is that the developers in one team always want to think that they're the best, and that their way of making the game is the best way to make their game.
YA: So, actually, there's a lot of rivalry within teams working within the same company. Before, that used to be an advantage, and it used to be a plus point that you'd get rivalries between different teams who are working in competition with each other.
That did help improve the quality of the product, ultimately, but these days I really don't think it's an advantage at all.
JT: In fact, it's a disadvantage.