Resident Evil 2 – 1998 Developer Interview

Resident Evil 2 – 1998 Developer Interview

In this Resident Evil 2 interview from the June 1998 issue of The Playstation magazine, director Hideki Kamiya and film screenwriter Noboru Sugimura discuss the design philosophy behind Resident Evil and the (then) novel experience of working with a screenwriter. I’ve also added a short additional interview with producer Shinji Mikami, who talks about some of the movie influences behind Resident Evil.

Hideki Kamiya - Director
Noboru Sugimura - Screenwriter

—It’s been 5 months since the release of Resident Evil 2. Can we begin by having each of you explain your role in the development?

Kamiya: I was the director for Resident Evil 2. In the first game, I worked as a planner, doing editing.

Sugimura: I joined in the middle of the Resident Evil 2 development. As a professional screenwriter, I worked with Kamiya on fleshing out the scenarios. That reminds me—this was the very room where we holed ourselves up to have our secret discussions. (laughs)

—One of the biggest parts of Resident Evil 2 was the introduction of the new “Zapping” system.

Kamiya: In the first Resident Evil, Barry doesn’t appear when you play Jill, and Rebecca doesn’t appear when you play Chris. The two scenarios are completely independent stories. However, by the end of that development, the truth is we were already thinking about having one story that is shown through multiple perspectives. When we first started making Resident Evil 2, though, we didn’t have a system like that. At a certain point we scrapped everything we had done and went completely back to the drawing board, and it was then that the Zapping System got added.

—When you say you scrapped it all, I assume you’re talking about the legendary Resident Evil 1.5, which was discussed very briefly in game magazines last year.

Kamiya: We had Sugimura, a professional screenwriter, take a look at the completed scenarios from 1.5. That was actually his first point of contact with the development. When he read them, he said “You should probably re-write these again.” Resident Evil 1.5 was actually about 70% complete then… (laughs)

Hideki Kamiya

—What were some of the specific problems you saw with the story/scenarios in 1.5, Sugimura?

Sugimura: It was all too realistic. The ominous atmosphere from the first game, as represented in things like the Spencer Mansion itself, the armor room, key items like the jewelry box and gemstones… all that had been removed. The Police Station, too, had been changed to a very modern building. As a result, everything felt too modern and strangely sterile. “This doesn’t feel like Resident Evil…” Of course, wiping the slate clean and going back to zero on a project that’s already 70% complete is no mean feat, and in that sense, I think it was a very brave move on the part of the developers.

Kamiya: To be sure, there was also a lot of excitement from everyone when we learned we were redoing it: “this time we’re going to get it right!” As a result we had to speed up the pace of the development after that. (laughs)

Sugimura: Once it was decided we’d re-do everything, I had a meeting with Kamiya, and it was at this point that he really settled on the idea of the Zapping system, I think. However, for awhile we didn’t know how to make it work. Then I suggested that it should be possible to use the data on the memory card to link the stories together, and from there we took off. To tell you the truth, I was actually opposed to the Zapping system. I knew how much work it was going to be to weave together multiple narratives… but Kamiya wouldn’t back down. “This is what I want to do in Resident Evil 2.”

Kamiya: I was like, “Let’s do it, let’s do it!” and Sugimura eventually conceded, “Ok, fine, we’ll do it.”

Sugimura: Hey, now you’re just exaggerating. (laughs) Anyway, it is true though—Kamiya is the type who, once he gets a clear idea of what he wants to do, will stubbornly push for it until he gets his way. Now that I think of it, besides the Zapping, the Tyrant scenes were also added on his insistence.

Kamiya: We originally had no plans to bring the Tyrant back, since he was the final boss of the first game. I was saying we should make him the perfect, invincible Tyrant this time. (laughs)

Sugimura: But after talking we realized that making the Tyrant so strong would render the existence of the G-virus meaningless… to solve that problem we came up with the idea of the Tyrant having a mission to retrieve the G-virus. Also, one of the consequences of having players go through the same scenario twice was that, by the second time, they’re used to things and it’s too easy. For that reason we decided to have the Tyrant appear in Scenario B, as a way to raise the difficulty.

Concept art of Elza Walker, the lost protagonist from Resident Evil 1.5. The drawing on the right, according to the caption, shows her wearing an Umbrella uniform which was apparently part of a scenario where she sneaks into the laboratory.

—Why didn’t you bring back Chris and Jill for Resident Evil 2?

Kamiya: Well, unlike the Street Fighter II series, the Resident Evil series doesn’t have a lot of character stuff going on. That being the case, we thought we’d add some new characters for the sequel.

Sugimura: The original Resident Evil was just a survival/escape game. Jill and Chris’ motivation was simply to escape the zombie-infested Spencer Mansion, so they weren’t given any independent characterization or motivation. That made it hard for us to give them big dramatic arcs. That’s why for the sequel we decided to create new characters, with suitable motivations for the dramatic plot, like searching for her brother, or a romance sideplot.

Kamiya: The characters changed a lot between 1.5 and 2 as well. For example, there’s Marvin, the black detective who you meet in the police station. He’s just a side character who, after a brief conversation with the protagonist, becomes a zombie. But originally we planned to use him much more. He was going to be a support character like Ada or Sherry, who would work with you in the final act. Ada, on the other hand, was originally a researcher and wore a white lab coat. She wasn’t at all like the cool female spy she became. (laughs)

—Do you have other stories like this to share, of “the Resident Evil 2 that almost was…” ?

Sugimura: Well, there’s Leon’s uniform. Leon is wearing his Racoon Police Department uniform from the start of the game, but originally he was supposed to start out in his civilian attire. There would have been a scene where he talks to his superior Marvin at the police station, and then changes into his uniform. It’s true that with Racoon City destroyed, the police wouldn’t be actively on duty, so there’d be no real need for Leon to change into his uniform… but we wanted to show his determination to protect both the city and his principles by having him change into his uniform regardless. It was a scene with a lot of meaning. Unfortunately, due to a problem with the CG it got cut.

—It sounds like a lot of scenes had to be cut, for various reasons. It really does feel like there was a whole other Resident Evil game out there.

Sugimura: Originally, in the very first scenario of the game, you were supposed to start out holed up in the police department which was under siege. However, we wanted to convey to players the terror of a town overrun with zombies, so we changed the opening to one where you’re in the middle of the town. In the middle of the game, though, we had planned another scenario where you have to go back out into the town. But the game was getting to be too long so we had to cut that too.

Noboru Sugimura, screenwriter

—What was going in that scenario, to make the player go back outside?

Sugimura: Right after you begin the game, and until you arrive at the police station, your weapons are really weak. The player has no choice but to take shelter in the station, as a matter of survival. However, after clearing the station, and armed and ready, the player would head out into town, defeating zombies as he made his way to the sewer system. In that version of the game, the police station and the sewers were not directly connected.

—Now that you mention it, there was something fishy about that underground parking lot beneath the police station… it felt like something was going to happen there.

Kamiya: Well, we never had it where you’d actually get into a patrol car and drive out, but at the planning stage we had a number of different ideas for how to use that location.

Sugimura: We had even thought of a scenario where you’d revisit the ruins of the Spencer Mansion before you leave the Racoon City area. (laughs) I’m sure a lot of people who played the first Resident Evil wondered what became of that place… and I wanted to go into that myself. There would have been a monster that was left alive in the blasted out ruins of the lobby and dining hall. We even got so far as drawing concept art for the location, but…

—The other characters besides the protagonists have strong personalities, too. Police Chief Brian Irons, in particular, was very colorful.

Kamiya: He was very different in the beginning too. He was originally a normal police chief. His rotund exterior was the same, but he wore his uniform properly, spoke like a normal officer, etc.

Sugimura: I was the one who created that deviant personality of his. Once we had changed the police station building from a modern one to that old art museum, someone on the team said it would be weird if there were medals just lying around in such a place. Then I said, “Well, we’ll just have to make the police chief a weirdo then!”, and Irons was what I came up with. (laughs) I created a hidden room, and the idea that he had been receiving bribes from Umbrella—a police chief with an insane grin on his face… At first people were saying, “This isn’t very realistic”, but I replied that reality depends on persuasion and belief, so as long as everything was consistent, it would appear real.

Kamiya: To be honest, the first time that I heard Sugimura wanted to make Irons into a weirdo, I was against it… but as the development progressed, the whole staff got into it. (laughs) One example is the torches in the hallway leading to his hidden room. The person who made it told me, “The Chief uses those to light a fire when he has his rituals!” They started coming up with all these ridiculous details. (laughs)

Concept art for the Spencer Mansion ruins that were originally planned for Resident Evil 2. The spiderwebs suggest some kind of monstrous arachnid creature may have taken up residence there…

—The Police Chief’s name actually appears in the first Resident Evil as well, doesn’t it?

Kamiya: Yeah, on the player select screen, on the ID card. His signature is there. I wanted to use something with that “-ian” sound doubled, and “Brian Irons” worked perfectly. I didn’t think it would be anything more than a signature; it was just added lightheartedly.

Sugimura: I didn’t know this, but when the Resident Evil 2 development started the Police Chief was actually called Gordon. But then it was pointed out that he had already been given a name. (laughs) So we went back to Irons to connect it to the first game.

—Were there other things, like the torches you just mentioned, that the staff added as little jokes or easter eggs?

Kamiya: Supposedly an image of my face is hidden in there somewhere, although I have no idea where it is myself. (laughs) I think it might not even be in the game itself. Also, if you read the signs around town in reverse, they’re the names of the developers and of Street Fighter II characters. The poster for the watch was them joking around too, “this is the #1 best selling watch in the world!” Also, in the back of the locker that contains the submachinegun and backpack, there’s a poster of one of the popular characters from the Biohazard TV anime. And when the window gets broken in the weapons shop, you can see the characters 兼人 (“Kaneto”) written on the side of the parked car outside.

—Oh, I always thought those characters were 無人 (“mujin”, unmanned / empty).

Kamiya: Kaneto is the name of the old man who runs the weapon shop, and it’s written on his car. There was something like this in RE1 too, the poster of the woman in the laboratory at first was a picture of Chun Li. I thought this would be too dissonant with the world of Resident Evil, though, so I had them take it out. But yeah, I’m sure there’s a lot of hidden things in there that even I don’t know about…

—In both Resident Evil 1 and 2, there’s a variety of guns, but no melee weapons. I think it could be interesting to have them too… how about it?

Kamiya: Actually, when we were making 1.5, there was a steel pipe…

Sugimura: I think space and distance are very important to Resident Evil. That’s why we didn’t add melee weapons. We want players to feel fear and dread, like danger is just around the corner—even if you can’t see it on-screen, you can hear the footsteps of licker or the groaning of a zombie… should you flee, or fight? But if we go and give the player a steel pipe that can be used over and over, then we’re giving that player a reason to approach the zombies! And then the player will no longer be afraid. The Resident Evil world must always hold true to the idea that approaching the enemy == danger. And even if you do choose to fight, you run the risk of expending your precious ammo…

Concept art for Ada and Claire. In these, the 1.5 versions, Ada is dressed more like a scientist or lab worker; Claire is nearly unrecognizable from her final design.

—Right. You don’t want a system like in RPGs, where the player purposefully tries to kill enemies for items and gold.

Sugimura: That’s why I was also against the idea of having the Tyrant drop bullets when he’s defeated. We must not give players a reason to seek out fights with enemies. Unlike many other games, the enemies in Resident Evil don’t drop gold or experience. In Resident Evil we’ve sought to convey a terror free from such impurities, and I think that has been the key to its success.

Kamiya: I didn’t want to give the Tyrant those bullet drops either. However, defeating him uses up a lot of ammo, so it was done out of consideration for beginners. Finding the right difficulty balance is tough. Personally, I think Resident Evil 2 was too easy. But when you take into account new players, I think this was the right thing to do.

Sugimura: That will probably continue to be an issue for us. If we’re going to preserve the true character of Resident Evil, we may not be able to continue to “open the gates” to new players like that.

—In the first Resident Evil, the scenario and story were written by in-house Capcom developers, but for the sequel you’ve hired Sugimura, a professional scriptwriter. What is the meaning behind that decision?

Kamiya: I think it’s very significant. Working with a professional has also made me realize the immaturity of my own abilities. I hope we can keep borrowing the help of such professionals, and make our games better and better.

Sugimura: Before I joined the development, there was no single, official planning document for the different scenarios. It was therefore very hard to understand the script, and each developer had their own idea about what was happening, with no shared consensus. So I got the team to come together in unifying and creating a single document that they could all get behind. If you don’t do that, you won’t end up with a good game.

The trend of games using cinematics to convey their stories is going to continue, I think, but those cinematics need to involve the player on an emotional level, the way film does. There’s a number of development teams at Capcom that are asking me to write scenarios for them now. They’re seeking something on the same level of quality as a movie. I think it would be great if the game industry could establish a system where movie-level works are created, games that are designed around screenplays from the ground up.

—Indeed, CG has come a long way, and there’s a lot of focus in the game industry now on using visuals to drive the narrative. But you still feel that a textual approach—that is, with a screenplay—is important to making a good game?

Sugimura: What the director and other top personnel think flows downstream to the rest of the team… in other words, you’ve got to have good communication. As a way to facilitate that, I think developers are reconsidering the importance of a central guiding document such as a written screenplay or script. In the future I think that’s a mentality that everyone in the industry is going to need: that we’re all working together on the same project, pulling in the same direction.

—Finally, Kamiya, please say a word about the next Resident Evil.

Kamiya: I’m thinking next game, we’ll switch screenwriters to someone a little nicer. (laughs)

Sugimura: Damn you, Kamiya! (laughs)

Shinji Mikami – 1998 Developer Interview

—In Resident Evil 2, the Zapping system allows you to see scenes from a different character’s perspective. There’s a surprising number of such A and B routes, but wasn’t it difficult making everything synchronize and match-up, storywise?

Mikami: Indeed it was… and if only it was the story! There was also a huge number of gameplay things we had to adjust to make the routes match up. (laughs) Even a route that is completely straightforward will have several different ways to beat it, which was another pain.

For example, take some big puzzle. There will be a discrepancy in the stories if it’s only solved in one route. And if we didn’t have an “order” in which the puzzle was supposed to be solved, that would inevitably cause problems too. We’d end up having to make both characters solve the puzzle, and doing so meant that, to a certain extent, we had to sacrifice a strict chronology of events. Then there was the problem that something a player did in route A could become a hindrance to the player in route B. On the other hand, if you killed too many enemies in route A, there’d be none left for route B!

With all these issues, I said we should have just made each character route independent. As I expected, we couldn’t implement Kamiya’s vision 100%. Even if we had made it according to his ideal, though, there’d have been no end to it… who knows how many discs we would have needed. (laughs) So at this point I’m pretty satisfied with what we’ve done.

—I also got the impression that the difficulty was different between the A and B routes…

Mikami: That was done intentionally. We took a cue from our experience with the Resident Evil Director’s Cut. The arrange mode of the Director’s Cut is balanced so that even someone who’s played a ton of Resident Evil will still enjoy it. We re-arranged things to foil player’s expectations about where zombies would appear, thereby rekindling their sense of fear. We tried to do the same thing with the A and B routes in Resident Evil 2, and we also raised the difficulty in the B routes. Naturally, once you get used to the game, the zombies become less of a threat, and your stress and fear are both diminished. By changing the difficulty and enemy patterns we were able to hold onto some of that.

—Famous horror director George A. Romero directed the commercial for Resident Evil 2. Can you tell us how that came to be?

Mikami: The development team had been talking about wanting to work with people from Hollywood. After a lot of discussions we came upon the idea of having Romero direct the commercial. At first, we actually weren’t that serious about it, but Romero was really enthusiastic about it, and things gradually took shape from there.

—And there does seem to be a lot of influence from Romero’s zombie films in the Resident Evil games, in fact.

Mikami: Yeah, there is. My original inspiration was Romero’s 1978 movie Dawn of the Dead. I saw it in middle school, and it made me think about the kind of zombie thing I’d want to make. I didn’t think it’d be possible in a movie, but maybe if it were a game, I thought. When we began planning the first Resident Evil, someone said “let’s do a horror game.” I was wracking my brain trying to come up with something, and then Dawn of the Dead came back to me in a flash.

A neat "making of" documentary about George Romero's Resident Evil 2 commercial.

—Were there any other movies you were inspired by?

Mikami: Spielberg’s Jaws. I also saw this at the theatre when I was in middle school. For good horror entertainment, you can’t just have chase scenes—you’ve got to keep building and building stress. But how to relieve it? I was contemplating that when I suddenly remembered the final scene in Jaws, where at the very last moment he shoves an oxygen tank into the shark’s mouth and shoots it with a rifle, and BAM!, the shark explodes in a million pieces. The exhiliration of that scene somehow refreshes you. Face to face with the most terrifying enemy, right when you’re completely cornered and you think it’s the end—that’s when desperation kicks in and you fight back like a cornered animal.

This was a key point for me in developing Resident Evil. I didn’t want the fights to be something that you initiated yourself; rather, I wanted the player to feel cornered, so that if he didn’t fight back he was going to be killed. “Uwa! Don’t come any closer!!!” Then BLAM! you fire your shotgun, the zombie’s head flies off, and you can breathe a sigh of relief—this was the method for relieving tension that I cribbed straight from that last scene in Jaws.

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