“When the designers create something, we can immediately check everything in the engine, see if everything looks good,” said Yasuhiro Ampo, a longtime director of the Resident Evil franchise who is also directing the new remake. “The ease of access really helps the development of the games.”
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But the original “Resident Evil 4” isn’t just another Resident Evil game. It is often cited as the godfather of the modern third-person action adventure. It would go on to inspire “The Last of Us,” the Gears of War franchise, and really any video game that places the camera behind, directly above, and to the right of the player character.
The remake is also the most complicated Resident Evil title for the RE Engine. Previous games, including the successful remakes of the second and third sequels, featured brainless zombies and other monsters chattering and shuffling at the player. But the zombies of “Resident Evil 4” were basically still human, with their mental faculties intact, making quick decisions in combat encounters. This was a new challenge for the team.
“We’ve made a lot of Resident Evil games since,” said Yoshiaki Hiabayashi, the game’s producer and another series veteran. “One challenge we had was looking at how the Ganado (zombified humans) artificial intelligence works in the game. It’s new to the RE engine.”
“When you’re interacting with enemies, we need them to have some kind of intelligence so they don’t go straight to you or behind you,” Ampo added. “You will see that they are not behaving like a computer, but a thinking creature with strategy behind its movements.”
This is not a new challenge in game design. Even the ghosts of 1980’s “Pac-Man” had artificial intelligence designed to react and strategize against the Pac-Man player. The Resident Evil series would just substitute the ghosts for zombies, and the maze for a mansion, or sometimes a city. In “Resident Evil 4”, the stakes are raised even further: the maze is a Spanish countryside, and the ghosts are hundreds of zombified citizens, all clamoring to kill the player.
The developers have learned a lot about their own series over the years, and they’ve been very receptive to player feedback. The overwhelmingly positive feedback for the “Resident Evil 2” remake led to the excitement of remaking the fourth game — despite the team’s initial consternation about remaking such a venerable, influential title.
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Hirabayashi said they were laser-focused on identifying what made the fourth game good and building on that foundation. Player protagonist Leon may seem like a faint echo of the confident, martial-arts-skilled Leon from the infamous “Resident Evil 6,” but Hirbayashi said they kept their focus on improving the fourth game, while not thinking about other titles in the series or within the survival horror game genre.
“The team didn’t particularly look at other games to try to copy from others,” he said. “The foundation was ‘Resident Evil 4’.”
Player feedback also suggested that audiences love the characters and want more stories about them. That’s why Luis, a minor player from the original game, has an expanded presence in the remake, and why Leon seems to directly address his trauma after surviving the destruction of Raccoon City in the original trilogy.
“We learned that players really want to learn more about everything,” Ampo said. “So we added more depth to the characters(.) They have more interactions with each other so that the player becomes more attached to them.”
Shinji Mikami, who directed the original “Resident Evil” and “Resident Evil 4,” the two most influential games in the series, recently announced his departure from Tango Gameworks, the studio he founded after leaving Capcom. His influence looms large over the current remake, but Hirabayashi said that Mikami has had no input into the remake. Mikami directed the first game’s remake for the GameCube, which set the standard for transformative video game remakes back in 2002. But this time, Mikami is just meeting the team for drinks in a friendly capacity.
Mikami’s guidance from the early 2000s still resonates with developers; many of whom previously worked under him.
“If you have a game that’s always tense, you lose the players within that tension,” Hirabayashi said, recalling Mikami’s advice. “The voltage is built on a curve, high voltage and low voltage. The high tension is followed by these subdued moments.”
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Ampo said that the core of making a great Resident Evil game is to give players fear, and soon after, the means to overcome that fear. The series has established this push-and-pull dynamic of providing ammo and other useful resources when needed, then depleting it all through enemy encounters. That’s why the series always ends with the main character using a rocket launcher: It’s meant to symbolize the player finally conquering the horror with overwhelming force.
“Overcoming fear is one of the main concepts,” Ampo said. “With ‘Resident Evil 2’ and now 4, teams have learned to look at how players approach certain situations and how they overcome them. We’ve added more tools to overcome any situation.”
These tools include Leon’s knife, which is now a limited resource, but has also been strengthened to the point where it can go blow for blow with a chainsaw. This also includes the new partner AI, with the president’s daughter, Ashley, and Luis becoming more active participants in combat.
This also meant removing “quick events” or button messages that flash on the screen like Simon Says for your controller. Instead, a familiar knife-to-knife fight sequence from the original game will now become fully playable.
“We wanted the player to be in control of the sequence themselves,” Hirabayashi said.
When asked which part of the game was most important to them to keep, both men shied away from answering.
“This is a difficult question for us because if we say too much we can spoil the game,” Hirabayashi said, laughing.
While the Resident Evil team is confident in how it recreates our collective survival horror past, they want to make sure players stay on their toes.