MCV speaks to the people behind the hit horror series
Shinji Mikami and his team redefined the survival horror genre when they developed Biohazard – aka, Resident Evil – in 1996.
Not that anyone expected it at the time. Resident Evil was loosely based on a niche Japanese-only 1989 Famicom game called Sweet Home. Not your typical basis for success.
But it was a success. A huge one. It sold 2.75m units on PSone alone and now the franchise has become a true global sensation. Almost 46m copies of Resident Evil games have been sold worldwide, across 64 different SKUs, and the majority of them have been lavished with critical plaudits, with editions appearing across a huge range of platforms.
Here we speak to a number of the key development and marketing staff that have helped make Resident Evil the industry’s defining horror series – and Capcom’s most successful franchise.
Why do you feel the Resident Evil franchise has managed to endure?
Katsuhiko Ichii – Head of Home Video Games Business and Managing Corporate Officer of Capcom Co. Ltd. of Capcom Entertainment, Inc: Because it’s real. Resident Evil also had a truly unique concept and it very much stood out when it first arrived. We then fearlessly kept on going by innovating the franchise with each new iteration and kept it away from being stale.
Masachika Kawata, Resident Evil producer wh has worked on Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil Operation Raccoon City, Resident Evil Revelations and Resident Evil Mercenaries: The franchise has always valued and put emphasis on the things that are important for developing video games. In terms of the level of the graphics and various functions, Resident Evil has always challenged the best hardware can do. Also we think it’s important to respect the Resident Evil universe the fans love.
In addition to those points, it might also be because of the R&D staff’s constant efforts to create the games that meet both fans’ and creators’ expectations. But more than anything, it is because of our fans’ love for the franchise and we are very grateful for the Resident Evil fans.
Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Producer of Resident Evil 4, and has worked on all Resident Evil titles to date: Although the franchise begun as a horror game, which was quite new then to begin with, it also had an enticing plot that didn’t leave the game a one-off ‘shock & horror’ product. The franchise since has been at the cutting edge of innovative game design and has been challenging the hardware capabilities for all the consoles it has been on.
Stuart Turner, Capcom’s Head of Marketing for UK and Europe: Simply put, evolution and knowing when to evolve.
Resident Evil had a dedicated fan base it had built up to Code Veronica, but there was a feeling that the genre was stagnating, that while new story lines could be investigated, the game itself hadn’t changed.
Then came Resident Evil 4 which left the creaking doors behind and shook up the world. It still regarded as one of the greatest games ever created, it influenced and inspired hundreds of games that followed, while bringing in a brand new audience to the game.
I’m confident that the game is in safe hands and the staff in our R&D teams will continue to evolve the franchise in future iterations.
What were Capcom’s expectations for the Resident Evil series back in 1996, was this long-standing success expected? Were there ever any concerns about the franchises’ birth?
Kobayashi: When the original Resident Evil was launched, we obviously had no idea it would grow to be so popular. But once we knew, the pressure was on us each time we released a new one, because it had to best the previous. But this determination led to the quality of Resident Evil franchise you know today. During the development we had both internal and external resistance as we were aiming for something that was very new and unconventional – but at the end of the day the team was sure it would be accepted by the gamers one way or another.
Kawata: We thought the quality was very high and we were happy with how it turned out, but I did not expect it to be such a long-standing success to be honest. We thought horror games only had a niche market in the first place, so we did not think this franchise would become so popular. But because of its originality and the highly entertaining contents, Resident Evil has opened up its way to reach out for the bigger audience. Also, the strategy to expand and create more contents with this IP has led to the success we see today.
Ichii: The original Resident Evil was an instant global success and this was also where history begun. But RE2 then took it to another level with the benefit of full strategic planning and marketing support that original RE perhaps did not receive in the quite same scale. But I think the first two RE titles really solidified the franchise and proved it to the world it wasn’t a random fluke but a fine display of Capcom production quality.
Famously, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4 – arguably the greatest games in the series – had false starts and were re-started mid-way through development. Why do that?
Ichii: Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 4 incidents ultimately stem from Capcom’s stoic perfectionism. The team pursued a level, however highly set, and were determined to reach it. At the time of reviewing the products as a company we felt that the games just did not have the quality we wanted. We then had the choice of just releasing them or virtually remaking them. We chose the latter. It did have a devastating effect to the company then but I feel the current Resident Evil franchise and Capcom’s reputation of uncompromised quality only came with that hardship we went through.
Turner: This is pretty standard of the way game development is done at Capcom. Early prototype versions are created then tested and then discarded if they do not stand up to the high standards that we set.
We probably have around five requests a week for us to release these prototype versions or 1.5 and 3.5 as they’re often called, the Resident Evil5 leaderboards were even hacked with the message give us version 3.5”. Some fans genuinely think we’re some evil Umbrella style organisation and have two totally finished games sat in a vault somewhere.
Kawata: We especially re-developed Resident Evil over and over, we almost believed the day it got released would never come. However, the know-how we gained through the struggle has now been passed on to make Devil May Cry and other Resident Evil titles.
Kobayashi: Compromise simply is not an option. It is controversial but if it hasn’t got what it takes to awe, then the title is dead to us. For Resident Evil 2 and 4 we basically felt that the quality wasn’t at the level we believed they could be.
Resident Evil has often dipped its toes into alternative genres, with Gun Survivor, Outbreak, The Chronicles games and of course the upcoming Operation Racoon City. Why do this? And why do you feel these spin-offs concepts, by and large, have never lasted past two or three games?
Kawata: We believe that challenging alternative genres has made Resident Evil an interesting title that can reach a range of audience. In the production process though, we have to respect the Resident E