Immediately after the April release of Resident Evil 3, it became known that Capcom was developing a remake of the fourth part of the series, the company’s most successful game. At the same time, despite the success of all past remakes, many players spoke out against the restart of Resident Evil 4, which the original game designer of the game, Shinji Mikami, does not agree with.
“I think Capcom did a great job with the Resident Evil 2 remake, and if the fourth part is as good, I have nothing against it,” said Mikami.
It is worth noting that the legendary game designer was offered to do a restart within the M-Two studio, but he refused due to his employment in the GhostWire: Tokyo project, which we saw again at the recent presentation of the PlayStation 5, and the game is scheduled for release in 2021.
This year marks thirty years since Mikami connected his life with the development of video games.
Contrary to the traditional leitmotif, Mikami was not an avid gambler as a child, preferring to spend his time outdoors. He was first introduced to video games in high school and didn’t start playing regularly until he was in his twenties.
Mikami studied commercial sciences at the university, but at some point he got into an open meeting with representatives of Capcom, where you could leave your resume.
“I went there mainly to eat for free, but as I interacted with people at Capcom, I realized that I would like to work in the games industry,” recalls Mikami.
The future game designer applied to Nintendo and Capcom, but later found out that the interviews were scheduled for the same time. Intuition prompted to choose the second option.
“I think I did the right thing, because Nintendo wouldn’t have hired me anyway. Only a company like Capcom would need someone like me.»
At Capcom Mikami was immediately attached to the game Capcom Quiz: Hatena? no Daibōken as project planner. Then the game developer got his hands on it, acting as a designer in the development of several Disney titles for the Super Famicom and Game Boy, one of which was the well-known Aladdin.
It wasn’t long before Mikami was noticed by game designer Tokuro Fujiwara, who liked to give ambitious newcomers a chance to shine while really squeezing the juice out of them.
“When I was working for Fujiwara, I would come home from work maybe twice a week. And my salary during the development of Resident Evil was less than a person without experience will receive now. That was a different time, and if I tried to do something like that these days, they would sue me, ”recalls Mikami.
It was Fujiwara who at one time created one of the first horror films in the Sweet Home industry, and in 1994 he instructed Mikami to develop the spiritual heir to the game.
The main sources of inspiration for Mikami are various films and especially horror classics such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jacob’s Ladder, The Evil Dead, The Cage, and of course George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
Mikami says that after watching these films when he was not yet twenty, he learned all the tactics to intimidate players, and since then he has not come up with anything new in this regard. In Resident Evil, he first had the opportunity to test these techniques in practice.
For the first nine months, on the advice of Fujiwara, Mikami worked on Resident Evil alone and only then recruited a team of fifteen people, which by the end of development had grown to sixty.
The game designer wanted to make the game as scary as possible and at some point even thought about adding ghosts as enemies.
“Then I realized that monsters should be as human-like as possible. I immediately thought of the zombies from Dawn of the Dead. I was fascinated by the idea that, unlike the characters in the movie, the player can fight enemies in their own way and end up staying alive,” Mikami explained.
In fact, Mikami did not expect the upcoming popularity of the game and the series as a whole. When releasing the first Resident Evil, he hoped to sell no more than half a million copies of the game.
The game designer believes that in addition to luck, the main factor in the success of the game was its key theme — horror.
“Horror can be experienced by anyone, and we managed to generate its unheard-of level at that time. Players froze in place, afraid to move forward.
The phrase «survival horror» has become associated with Resident Evil, and its game mechanics have been borrowed more than once by other developers. It is believed that the brainchild of Mikami has become one of the games whose popularity has seriously helped the PlayStation to firmly stand on its feet in the industry.
Capcom Production Studio 4
Realizing the potential of the series, Capcom began to create the next parts of Resident Evil, in the development of which Mikami acted as a producer. Shortly after the release of the commercially successful Resident Evil 2, Mikami founded Capcom Production Studio 4 within Capcom.
Over the next ten years, Capcom Production Studio 4 released not only several Resident Evil titles, but also a number of titles of various sizes and genres, from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney to Devil May Cry and Dino Crisis.
Dino Crisis, incidentally, was the next game to be fully directed by Mikami, further exploring the survival horror genre. The game designer wanted to turn it into a «panic horror», and instead of zombies, he filled the game with dinosaurs, which could now chase the player around the locations.
The title received positive reviews from critics and became a commercial hit, but it did not grow as well as Resident Evil. Until 2003, Dino Crisis saw three sequels, each inferior to the previous one.
In 2001, Mikami entered into an agreement with Nintendo, according to which the main parts of Resident Evil were to be released exclusively on the GameCube, including the upcoming remake of the debut part and Resident Evil Zero.
Moreover, Capcom later announced the release of five GameCube exclusives (“Capcom Five”), namely PN03, Viewtiful Joe, Killer7, Dead Phoenix, and most importantly, Resident Evil 4. Mikami had to oversee the development of each of these titles.
Unfortunately, the plan to save the GameCube did not go well. Shooter PN03 and beat ’em up Viewtiful Joe had poor sales, and Dead Phoenix was canceled altogether. Killer7, developed by Grasshopper Manufacture, also didn’t hit the numbers Nintendo needed, turning out to be more arthouse than mainstream. In each case, the problems were closely related to tight development deadlines, and Mikami decided to leave his post as general manager of the studio, focusing on the creative aspects of developing future titles as a producer. Now Capcom Five could only save Resident Evil 4.
Resident Evil 4
Mikami felt that players were tired of the already familiar gameplay patterns, and understood that Resident Evil 4 should, in fact, restart the line.
However, finding the right concept turned out to be extremely difficult. The game has changed several versions and even leaders. Although Hiroshi Shibata was originally in charge of development, Mikami himself later sat in the director’s chair. Under his leadership, the title finally found the right form and did what the rest of the Capcom five could not achieve.
Like Resident Evil in its time, the fourth part not only became commercially successful, but also influenced the entire genre in principle. Its aiming system and over-the-shoulder camera have become turning points for third-person shooters, not to mention survival horror. QTEs also appeared, which forced players to carefully watch all the cut-scenes to the end.
Released in 2005, the game immediately made a splash and sold over a million copies in its first year, becoming one of the best-selling GameCube titles. Needless to say, the critics, along with the players, were crazy about the game.
Interestingly, almost all of the Capcom Five exclusives ended up on other platforms. At some point, Mikami even apologized to the players that Resident Evil 4 had lost its exclusive status.
Departure from Capcom
After finishing Resident Evil 4, Mikami left for another Capcom studio called Clover Studio. There he released God Hand, which became a parody of Japanese and US pop culture in the beat ’em up genre. Although the title sold rather poorly, and critics immediately failed to see anything special in it, God Hand quickly gained fans, gaining the unofficial status of a cult game.
When Capcom closed Clover Studio in 2006, Mikami decided to leave the company for more than fifteen years for good.
“Capcom started to build management on the example of Electronic Arts. If earlier, when you came to the boss with a great idea, you immediately got the green light, now you had to wait for the opinion of analysts, ”said Mikami.
Mikami joined Platinum Games, which was founded by key employees of Clover Studio and Odd Inc. At the new location, Mikami led the development of the Vanquish shooter, and Sega acted as the publisher. Mikami and his team have done some serious work on the cover shootout gameplay, once again setting new rules for the genre.
In addition to making covers themselves easily destructible and penalized for overusing them, Platinum Games introduced a jet-glide mechanic that allows players to move between covers very quickly.
Gaming publications noted the invention of the developers, which was used in the future by such shooters as Bulletstorm, Crysis 2, Binary Domain.
“At the very beginning, the design of Vanquish was centered around QTEs, which by that time flooded the industry. As a result, we started to remove the QTE and focused on creating a simple high-speed gameplay, ”explained Mikami.
After finishing work on Vanquish, Mikami left Platinum Games and decided to finally open his own studio. However, before that, Mikami took advantage of his free time and tried to help his friend Goichi «Suda51» Suda, who runs the Grasshopper Manufacture studio, get a contract with EA for a game with a big budget. As a result, Mikami’s reputation worked as it should, and the publisher provided funds for the development of Shadows of the Damned.
Unfortunately, when production started, it became clear that Suda’s vision was drastically different from that of EA representatives. From a tempting quirky adventure, the project quickly turned into an action game, which, according to Mikami, is not Suda’s strong point.
Tango Gameworks, consisting of twelve people, not counting Mikami, was founded without much fuss. Mikami has long wanted to start cultivating a new wave of game designers who will prioritize creativity, and to do this, he moved his office to Tokyo, opening a new studio.
Mikami wanted Tango Gameworks not to be tied to one game or genre, and began working on several different concepts with the team, which were later scrapped. One of them was Noah, an open-world sci-fi adventure inspired by the movie Dune.
In late 2010, Mikami finally secured an investor and Tango became part of Bethesda Softworks, the company behind up-and-coming studios like Arkane Studios and MachineGames.
According to Mikami, Japanese publishers have become less willing to allocate decent budgets for projects, which is why the game designer began to look to the West.
“Bethesda is a lot like the classic Japanese publishers, who don’t pull the creativity out of people with tongs. Instead, they give developers creative freedom,” said Mikami.
Among other things, the game designer settled on Bethesda, because the company was known for focusing on single-player projects, despite the industry’s huge interest in multiplayer. This is what Mikami was going to do.
The Evil Within
Realizing that the industry has completely abandoned survivor horror in its classical sense, Mikami decided to rectify the situation. However, at that time he was already over forty, and by his own definition, he was not suitable for the role of director of the project.
“If you’re over forty, you lose touch with the game fans, and when you’re too young, you still lack experience. It is best to conduct projects at the age of thirty, ”Mikami believes.
This decision was given to the game designer with great difficulty, but in 2010, in an interview, he announced that the first Tango game would be the last project in his career, where he himself would act as a director.
At the time Mikami was starting to create The Evil Within, first-person horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent or Outlast were already gaining popularity, betting on the helplessness of the main characters. Such games Mikami calls «pure» horror and notes that one of the key points of survival horror is the ability of the hero to fight back.
At the same time, the game designer does not hide the fact that the first Resident Evil was supposed to be just the same “pure” horror, but then Mikami doubted that the genre could succeed.
The Evil Within is a terrifying adventure in which the player in the person of Sebastian Castellanos will have to go through the protagonist’s many nightmares filled with disfigured monsters.
Once Mikami was asked the question: «What would you do if you yourself got into the world of Evil Within?». To which he replied that he would hide in a corner and froze in horror.
“I think most people would do the same. However, in video games, no one really dies. In video games, you feel the fear and stress of possible death, which you can eventually try to overcome. This is the essence of the survival horror genre,” says Mikami.
The entire industry has been waiting for the release of The Evil Within as one of the fathers of survival horror is back to doing what it does best. In fact, the game has collected rather restrained reviews, all as one criticizing the overly complicated plot.
“I always put the general mood of the game and how exactly it will scare the player in the first place. Only after I get a strong base, I start layering the plot on it, ”the game designer explained.
Otherwise, The Evil Within turned out to be a convincing horror, and the problems with the narrative were largely corrected in the sequel, in the development of which Mikami again acted as a producer.
Back in 2013, Mikami revealed that three of his collaborators, designer Shigenori Nishikawa, and artists Naoki Katakai and Ikumi Nakamura would be able to successfully lead the development of large, ambitious projects in the future.
We saw one of them, namely Nakamura, at E3 2019, where she, along with Mikami, presented the next Tango Gameworks project — GhostWire: Tokyo. Players are waiting for an adventure high-speed action from the first person, in which they have to fight against paranormal evil and find out the secret of the disappearance of the inhabitants of Tokyo.
Mikami, as promised, did not take the director’s chair of the project, but, nevertheless, it is clear that he is going to introduce something completely new to the industry again. As GameSpot once said about a game designer:
«The main feature of Mikami is that you never know what he will surprise you with next time.»