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The making of Resident Evil 4: “By that point in the series, zombies were simply no longer scary to players”

Strangely enough, the best part about Resident Evil 4 is that it’s not really a Resident Evil game. With the established survival horror formula honed by three PlayStation titles and several spin-offs, both the development team and fans wanted something new, something different, something challenging.

This hasn’t been easy for Capcom, with the team early in development exploring supernatural and paranormal elements as workarounds to growing zombie fatigue, but it’s hard to argue that the final product isn’t worth the wait. Avoiding static camera angles for an over-the-shoulder case that quickly became a staple of third-person shooters and letting brain-eating idiots fester to allow a parasitized population to take the stage, this was no longer survival horror—it was survival horror.

It’s a subtle difference in language, of course, but an important distinction to make. The foundations of Resident Evil lie in classic B-movies and horror movies – with static cameras allowing for horror movies to be staged and classic cinematic techniques, the action is always directed and controlled by the director.

While elements of horror and certain tropes remained in Resident Evil 4, they were no longer the primary and ultimate goal of encountering a small army of peasants armed with primitive vehicles or just an obvious threat (like Dr. Salvatore and El Gigante). Reminiscent of Mr. X and Nemesis’ follow-up threats from previous games) turned out to be truly gruesome, without the provisions or skills necessary to perform the task. Fear scares her when the cameraman decides to reveal her in the next corner; Terror is finding yourself from the depths of it only to hear the ominous acceleration of a nearby chainsaw. To see? There is a difference, okay…

to the unknown

resident Evil

(Image credit: Capcom)

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Psychological horror was still the domain of Silent Hill, the paranormal stuff Capcom tried went against the grain of a series based on its own stale science with various types of viruses, but trying typical zombies made the game feel stale. and familiar. “At this point in the series, zombies were no longer scary for players,” Kobayashi confirmed. “They have become cannon fodder that you can easily beat. We wanted something different from the enemies you’ve seen before, something that would bring back the feeling of the unknown and scary, and that was the birth of Los Ganados.”

The parasite-based nature of these strictly non-zombie new enemies was the lightbulb moment Capcom had been waiting for. In addition to giving complete creative freedom to go wild with creative new kinds of foes, from mutated insects exposed to the parasite to hosts who were once human and have (or lack) the talent for these powerful parasitic friends, it also gives them complete creative freedom to use existing knowledge as a new one. Connect, a series of bioweapons experiments by ticking each box as you check for a new list of formidable enemies and challenges to overcome.

The premise change was necessary in order not to burn the fans with zombies, but the transition to a more action-centric game was somewhat less expected. “We took a look around 2005 at games that were popular in the western market at the time, and it was clear to us that games that let you aim and shoot in this third-person style were the way to go,” he says. kobayashi

resident Evil 4

(Image credit: Capcom)

“Getting the camera position behind the player was a very difficult remediation process”

Hiroyuki Kobayashi, producer

Many thought this shooter was the downfall of the poorly received Resident Evil 5, but a decade ago it turned out the wheels were already in motion to develop more interest in the western market. Let’s face it, later sequels tended to make Resi 4 only shovel a little bit (watch out for Del Lago, folks…), but still, boldly move into full shooter territory if you want to point it out. Finger-point a criminal for the final doubling action and you’ll find yourself suing one of the best games ever made.

It’s easy to underestimate great game design, and even from the various pre-release versions of the game, you can really get an idea of ​​how many different camera placements the team has to go through before deciding which version to pick. send. . Beta footage shows a mix of fixed and view-based cameras, while in this early shot you can see a variety of heights, depths and angles offering different action shots.

“Getting the camera position behind the actor was a very difficult healing process,” admits Kobayashi. “It’s just one part of the game, but you really have to get it right as it affects every other aspect of the game.” Since then we’ve played countless third-person games where the camera felt ‘off’ in an indescribable way – too floating, maybe, a little too far away, or maybe too tightly connected to the player’s character – which is just what Resi 4 did with all its predecessors. It adds more weight to the argument that it’s done better than games and even many games since. Well done, Capcom.

a difficult balance

resident Evil 4

(Image credit: Capcom)

“We went through four different versions of the game before deciding which direction we wanted to go.”

Hiroyuki Kobayashi, producer

Due to the fast pace of the game, there were other challenges ahead of the team. Players would quickly become accustomed to enjoying encounters on a large scale (in terms of number of enemies or full size) and where the tension of the original games allowed minimal enemy placement for maximum effect (thus lowering the player’s adaptability). Each enemy) meant that something had to be done to spawn them in larger groups and, more often, to prevent people from feeling like they were dominating a new kind of enemy within minutes.

Pressed for the biggest design challenge during the development of this game, in fact, Kobayashi cites this issue as the main obstacle to the game’s development. “The process of figuring out what kind of creatures should spawn, probably in the second half of the game,” he confirmed. “You’re used to Ganados now, so it’s a tough balance to keep things interesting while staying true to the atmosphere of the game.”

Capcom has had its fair share of challenges in leading the franchise in this bold new direction, so it’s interesting how the team decided to convey that to the player. An example of this is the inventory system – it went to the simplified small grid where each item, regardless of volume or weight, occupies a slot, was replaced by a much larger grid in the form of an upgradeable briefcase, where the item’s size determines how many ‘blocks’ it occupies. .

The current system for micromanaging your inventory has become obsolete and overly simplistic at this point (just get an ink sliver, a healing item, your main weapon and some spare ammo, leave room to move puzzle items), but this ingenious new mechanic has come to think of what and why we’re carrying it. , we make it a mini game in itself. “Interestingly, Tetris was the inspiration,” laughs Kobayashi. “I thought it would be fun to play a puzzle game where you try to put the pieces together as best you can, without gaps, to maximize efficiency.”

Unforgettable Encounters

resident Evil 4

(Image credit: Capcom)

Extended ReadingResident Evil 4 VR logo screen

That’s why games like games by Quantic Dream continue to use this mechanic so heavily, as it leaves players free to focus on the action and narrative until the moment they’re called upon to take action. They’re also well accustomed to Telltale’s twist on the classic point-and-click formula with games like The Walking Dead, and it shows how Resi 4’s masterclass in using QTE continues to infiltrate the market and evolve today.

Kobayashi seems delighted that his game is still so respected 16 years later. “It’s an incredible honor that really makes me happy,” he tells us. “has been [over] It’s been 10 years since the game was released and it’s great to see how much fans loved it back then.”


This feature first appeared in the 150th issue of the magazine. old player magazine. For more detailed and excellent resources, you can purchase print and digital versions of the latest edition at Journalsdirect.


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The making of Resident Evil 4: “By that point in the series, zombies were simply no longer scary to players”

Oddly, the best thing about Resident Evil 4 is that it isn’t really a Resident Evil game. With the established survival horror formula perfected by three PlayStation games and several spin-offs, both the development team and fans wanted something new, something different, something challenging. 
This didn’t come easily for Capcom, with the team exploring supernatural elements and the paranormal in early development as workarounds to the growing zombie fatigue, but it’s hard to argue that the final product wasn’t worth the wait. Eschewing static camera angles for an over-the-shoulder affair that quickly became the staple for third-person shooters and leaving the brain-munching idiots to rot in order to let a parasite-ridden populous take centre stage, this was no longer survival horror – it was survival terror. 
It’s a subtle difference in terms of language, sure, but it’s an important distinction to make. Resident Evil’s foundations were in classic B-movies and horror films – static cameras allowed for staged scares and classic cinematography techniques, the action contained and controlled by the director at all times. 
While elements of horror and certain tropes remained in Resident Evil 4, they were no longer the be-all and end-all and the fear of stumbling into a small army of villagers armed with rudimentary tools or just one obvious threat (the likes of mini-bosses Dr Salvatore and El Gigante reminiscent of stalking threats Mr X and Nemesis in previous games) without the provisions or skills to see the task through proved genuinely terrifying. Horror is a jump scare around the next corner when the cameraman decides to reveal it; terror is finding yourself out of your depth only to hear the ominous revving of a chainsaw nearby. See? There’s a difference, alright… 
Into the unknown

(Image credit: Capcom)
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Psychological horror was then still very much Silent Hill’s domain, while the paranormal stuff Capcom tried sort of went against the grain of a series grounded in its own hokey science with various strains of virus, yet trying typical zombies only made the game feel stale and familiar. “By that point in the series, zombies were simply no longer scary to players,” Kobayashi confirms. “They had become cannon fodder that you could defeat with ease. We wanted something not like the enemies you’d seen before that would bring back the sense of the unfamiliar and the frightening, and that was the genesis of Los Ganados.” 
The parasite-based nature of these new definitely-not-zombie enemies was the light bulb moment Capcom had been waiting for. As well as granting full creative freedom to go nuts with new and inventive enemy types – from mutated bugs that had been exposed to the parasite to once-human hosts with an aptitude for (or lack thereof) these powerful parasitic friends – it also managed to tie into the existing lore as a new line of biological weapon experiments, ticking every box while still scrubbing the slate clean for a whole new roster of horrible foes and challenges to overcome.
The shift of premise was necessary in order to avoid burning fans out on zombies, but the switch to more action-centric gameplay was a little less expected. “We took a look at games that were popular in the western market at the time, around 2005, and it was clear to us that games which let you aim and shoot with precision in that third-person style were the way to go,” reveals Kobayashi. 

(Image credit: Capcom)

“Getting the position of the camera behind the player just right was a very arduous process of refinement”
Hiroyuki Kobayashi, producer

Many thought this shooter pandering was the downfall of the ill-received Resident Evil 5, but it turns out the wheels were already in motion to develop greater interest in the western market a full decade ago. Granted, later sequels have had a tendency to stride boldly into full-on shooter territory where Resi 4 merely had a bit of a paddle (be careful of Del Lago, guys…) but still, if you want to point fingers and name a culprit for the recent action bent, you’ll only find yourself prosecuting one of the greatest games ever made. 
It’s all too easy to take great game design for granted, and even from the various pre-release builds of the game, you can really get a feel for just how many different camera placements the team must have gone through before settling on the version that shipped. Beta footage shows a hybrid of fixed and aim-based cameras, while you can see various heights, depths and angles that all offer different takes on the action in that early footage. 
“Getting the position of the camera behind the player just right was a very arduous process of refinement,” Kobayashi admits. “It’s just one part of the game but you really need to nail it as it influences every other aspect of the gameplay.” Ever since, we’ve played countless third-person games where the camera just feels ‘off’ in a way that’s hard to describe – too floaty, perhaps, just slightly too far away or maybe too stiffly attached to the player character – which just adds more weight to the argument that Resi 4 did this better than pretty much all games that had come before and indeed many since. Way to go, Capcom.
A difficult balance

(Image credit: Capcom)

“We went through four different versions of the game before settling on the direction in which we wanted to go.”

Hiroyuki Kobayashi, producer

There were other challenges ahead of the team due to the quicker pace of the game, too. Players would quickly grow used to enjoying huge-scale encounters (either in terms of enemy numbers or sheer size) and where the tension of the original games allowed for minimal enemy placement for maximum effect (thus slowing the rate at which players could adapt to each enemy), having them appear in bigger groups and more frequently meant that something had to be done to avoid having people feel they had mastered a new enemy type in a matter of minutes. 
When pressed for the greatest design challenge during development of this game, in fact, Kobayashi cites this exact issue as the main hurdle in the game’s development. “Probably the process of working out what kind of creatures should show up in the second half of the game,” he confirms. “By that point, you’ve become more accustomed to Ganados so keeping things interesting while remaining true to the atmosphere of the game is a difficult balance.” 
Capcom clearly had its fair share of challenges in steering the franchise in this bold new direction, so it’s interesting how the team decided to pass these onto the player. One such example of this is the inventory system – gone is the simplistic small grid where every item, regardless of bulk or weight, takes up one slot, replaced by a much larger grid in the form of the upgradeable attache case, where item size determines how many ‘blocks’ it takes up. 
The existing system for micromanaging your inventory had become stale and overly simple by this point (just take an Ink Ribbon, a healing item, your primary weapon and some reserve ammo, leaving room for ferrying puzzle items around) but this ingenious new mechanic made us think about what we were carrying and why, becoming almost a mini-game in its own right. “Funnily enough, Tetris was the inspiration,” Kobayashi laughs. “I thought it would be fun if you had to play a puzzle game where you tried to fit the pieces in together as best you could without any gaps to maximise efficiency.”
Memorable encounters

(Image credit: Capcom)
Extended Reading

That’s the reason games like those made by Quantic Dream continue to employ such mechanics so heavily, as it leaves players free to focus on action and narrative until such a time as they are called upon to take action. They’re also used to decent effect in Telltale’s twist on the classic point-and-click formula with games like The Walking Dead, showcasing how Resi 4’s masterclass in QTE use continues to permeate the market and evolve today. 
Kobayashi seems delighted that his game is still so revered 16 years later. “It’s an incredible honour that makes me very happy indeed,” he tells us. “It’s been [over] 10 years since the game came out, and it’s great to see how much the fans have loved the game in that time.”
This feature first appeared in issue 150 of Retro Gamer magazine. For more excellent in-depth features, you can pick up print and digital versions of the latest issue from Magazinesdirect. 

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