The upcoming May will give the gaming industry a lot of long-awaited releases, and one of them will be Resident Evil Village, the seventeenth story title in the series, if you count the remakes, and the twenty-seventh in principle.
If from the first to the third parts Resident Evil represented the genre of survival horror in its classic sense with a fixed camera and scrupulous inventory management, then from the fourth to the sixth series it went over to the side of a more dynamic action game, very often forgetting about zombies as the main opponents in the game.
Taking on the development of the continuation, the developers decided not to break the tradition, and in Resident Evil 7 they offered a completely new vision, on which the future RE Village is built.
It all started with the fact that after a very profitable release of RE6, fans, and the developers themselves, began to fear for the future fate of their favorite line. Watching the kaleidoscope of epic Hollywood scenes in the sixth part, they were sure that Resident Evil would soon finally go over to the action side. So did Jun Takeuchi, producer of the fifth and later executive producer of the seventh part of the series. The experienced developer realized that it was time for the line to return to where it started – a truly frightening horror.
In general, the developers wanted to mix the classic Resident Evil with the most modern technologies, however, while working on the concept of the seventh part, they were also inspired by various films. Perhaps the main one was Sam Raimi’s 1981 film The Evil Dead. Takeuchi wanted to recreate an intimate movie-like atmosphere in RE7, where everything takes place in one location and includes only six characters.
In addition, the developers looked to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Blair Witch Project, and other horror classics for inspiration. Each boss in the game represented a different sub-genre of horror, such as slasher or body horror. Realizing that players stop being afraid as soon as they realize how to deal with this or that enemy, the developers decided to add more chaos to the gameplay by building their own gameplay mechanics around each leader.
Takeuchi commissioned the team to film a demo film to try out the first-person concept with jump scares. When the final result, sent to Western colleagues, frightened even the developers themselves, the team realized that they were moving in the right direction.
“We felt that switching to a first-person view would improve immersion, thereby bringing the player as close to their own horror as possible,” said game producer Masatika Kawata.
At this point, in a sense, the series is as close as possible to the concept of its main source of inspiration, the 89-year-old game Sweet Home. In it, the player explored a large house filled with ghosts, and it was her remake that game designer Shinji Mikami had to make, taking on the creation of Resident Evil.
RE7 takes place in one of the southern US states, Louisiana, five years after the adventures of Leon and company in RE6. Since the general style and atmosphere was different, it was decided to introduce a new protagonist, because Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield already had a blockbuster atmosphere. The protagonist this time is Ethan Winters, who unexpectedly receives a message from his missing wife. A mysterious message leads him to the home of the Baker family, who will meet the protagonist in their own way.
When creating most of the setting elements, the developers used a technique such as photogrammetry, in which an object is photographed from many sides, and a three-dimensional model is assembled from the resulting material. Despite the fact that the method allows you to work with 3D cheaper, faster and better, it also had its own difficulties. In addition to the fact that many objects must be made by hand to use it, photogrammetry requires a lot of equipment. As a result, when studying the setting, developers often had to limit themselves to only shots for reference.
Having decided on Louisiana, the team began looking for specific locations, first through Google Maps, and then sent several people to the US. In addition, the developers together watched a ton of various horror films and visited several famous haunted houses in Japan.
Although the developers noted that they did not plan to put the player in the role of a helpless victim, as, for example, in Outlast or Amnesia, they still wanted the players to try to hide from monsters rather than go ahead. To do this, the variability of firearms was minimized, and cartridges came across extremely rarely, not to mention the serious survivability of opponents. Various notes and documents revealing the plot background were replaced by VHS cassettes, while watching which the player could influence the setting.
According to Takeuchi, the final version of the game did not include enough interesting ideas that players might see in future titles in the series. For example, when it was still planned to populate zombie locations, the developers thought of adding a mechanic in which the main character had to hold his breath. However, the idea had to be abandoned, because it became clear in the tests that the players automatically hold their breath too, which can lead to hypoxia. Also in early versions of the game, the Baker family had a dog, and the opening scene looked completely different.
The game’s soundtrack was written mostly by Japanese composers, led by Akiyuki Morimoto (Lost Planet 2, Resident Evil 6), but American music composers such as Chris Velasco and Michael Levine were also involved. Capcom noticed the latter after he produced a cover for Lorde of the song Everybody Wants to Rule The World. Then the dance hit of the 80s turned into a dark and unusual song. Capcom asked Levine to make a scary remake of some famous folk song.
“American teachers helped build the Japanese school system in the 1870s, and then our song Go Tell Aunt Rhody migrated to them in the form of the Japanese Musunde. I tried to make it as scary as possible and ended up with RE7’s title track,” Levine said.
Officially, development started in February 2014 and until April 2015 was carried out on Unity, while the studio was building a completely new RE ENGINE engine. The Resident Evil team has been researching VR since 2012, and as such, interacting with VR has become one of the engine’s strengths.
After the release of PT from Hideo Kojima, which is a vivid first-person horror, Capcom was afraid that players would consider RE: 7 to be only a parody. However, that all changed when the developers released a small tech demo for PlayStation VR called “KITCHEN” at E3 2015. The unexpectedly enthusiastic feedback from the players made the producers think, and in the end it was decided to make RE7 fully compatible with VR.
“During development, we were constantly asked if fear would be unbearable in VR. To be honest, that’s exactly what we were looking for. We hope that those who completed RE7 in VR experienced a truly scary experience,” said Kawata.
At E3 2016, the game itself was finally announced. It became clear that Koshi Nakanishi, who was in charge of RE: Revelations, had become the creative director of the project. It is noteworthy that for the first time in the history of the series, an American screenwriter, namely Richard Piercy, who managed to work on the FEAR line and the Spec Ops: The Line shooter, participated in the work on the plot of the game.
Immediately after the announcement, Capcom posted a demo of The Beginning Hour, designed to show players the atmosphere that awaits them in RE7. The game teaser turned out to be so popular that it was updated several times in the future, replenishing with locations and riddles. As of July 2016, The Beginning Hour has been downloaded over two million times.
“We didn’t expect players to unlock all the secrets of the demo so quickly, especially the puppet finger puzzle,” Kawata said. “We thought it would be a long time before everything became clear.”
Resident Evil 7 was released in January 2017 on PC, PS4, and XONE to worldwide acclaim. The main criticism concerned the VR component of the title and the campaign finale. It seemed to many that towards the end of the game, Resident Evil began to flirt with action elements too frankly again, pushing the horror component aside.
“Now even we already agree with this opinion,” Nakanishi admitted. “However, from a level design point of view, it is logical that in the first half of the game a person studied and solved secrets, so that in the second he had the confidence that now he could face the enemy face to face.”
RE7 had the third best debut in the line after RE4 and RE5, selling 2.5 million in its first week. Although Capcom failed to reach its target of 4 million, by 2021 the title has surpassed the 8.5 million mark.
The first year after the release, only PlayStation owners could use VR while playing the title, and there were no less than two hundred thousand such players. As a result, Resident Evil fans increased the average duration of a gaming session on PlayStation VR to an hour. By the way, an aromatic candle with the smell of an “abandoned house” was sold specifically for the VR experience.
Just a week after the release, Capcom released the first DLC, Banned Footage Vol. 1, including a new game mode and two scenarios. A month later, Banned Footage Vol. 2, and in December, an add-on was released using Chris and Zoe from previous parts of the series.
It is interesting that not all Resident Evil fans were delighted with the seemingly suitable RE7 concept for the series. Many hoped that the title would not achieve significant success, and soon the players again in the person of Leon would shoot back from hordes of monsters, dodging the plane flying at him.
However, everything turned out the other way around, and in January 2021, fans were already playing the first demo of the upcoming Resident Evil Village. Does this mean that we will not see more zombie action movies with a huge arsenal of weapons in the licensed parts of the series? Nakanishi advises not to jump to conclusions.
“One particular title will never be able to please the entire audience. We are by no means saying that the franchise will no longer return to action-oriented games, the creative director assured. “However, now the company decided to focus on a more intimate concept, in which Leon, flinching from a cockroach on his arm, would look completely out of place.”