Resident Evil Creator Shinji Mikami talks to us about zombies in 2020, and how his horror games will change post-pandemic.
When it comes to game development in Japan, unless you’re throwing around names like “Shigeru Miyamoto,” few people will have had more impact on the industry than veteran game director, Shinji Mikami. The man is a bonafide hitmaker, creating not just incredible games but popularizing entire sub-genres into the mainstream. You’ve read all the stories before: After joining Capcom straight out of university, and proving himself on early 16-bit Disney-based properties like Aladdin and Goof Troop, he was entrusted with the Sweet Home remake that eventually transformed into Resident Evil (or, Biohazard, as it is known in Japan). Resident Evil’s world-spanning influence cannot be understated.
Besides adding an entirely new dimension to Capcom’s portfolio, which by that point in its storied history was beginning to tread water with the Street Fighter franchise, Resident Evil—with its 3D characters, striking pre-rendered backgrounds, and tense balance of puzzle-solving and zombie blasting—was a revelation for Capcom as a publisher, launching a massively successful franchise that continues to dominate to this day.
Mikami’s zombie adventure made the survival-horror genre a thing in ways that the Alone In The Dark series—which had released three full games by the time Resident Evil emerged in 1996—never approached. It also spawned a legion of like-minded franchises in the genre. Arguably, without Resident Evil there would be no Silent Hill, Siren, Fatal Frame, Deep Fear, Alien: Isolation, or Dead Space.. Resident Evil reinvented zombies as a mass-market concern, resulting in countless spin-off games, movie franchises, and merchandise.
Incredibly, after directing or producing a successive string of hits—including further Resident Evil entries, Dino Crisis, Devil May Cry, and P.N.03—Mikami somehow turned in his most accomplished game to date, nearly 10 years later, in Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 4 is Mikami’s defining moment, a 20-hour adventure in which he lets loose his iconic leading man, Leon Kennedy, into a world of hostile Los Ganados (zombie-like non-zombies), and redefined survival horror in the process.
Remember that between 2000 and 2005, Capcom released nine Resident Evil games of varying quality. Some were worthwhile (Resident Evil remake) while others less so (the light-gun games, Outbreak, etc.), but by this point, the survival-horror arena was reaching its saturation point. When Resident Evil 4 arrived it wasn’t a moment too soon, as it not only right the ship, but established a new template by which all other survival-horror games would be judged. In terms of game length alone, you could finish the first four Resident Evils proper in the time it took to complete RE4. Mikami’s opus rewrote the rulebook for the series: You could put items down, and could basically Tetris your inventory to make everything fit.
Of course, the change of scenery from the by-then tired Umbrella saga, and the move away from proper zombies was also a sea change for the series. Resident Evil 4 showed that you could stick to the formula, and yet change the conventions. Typewriter ribbons (although not typewriters) were done away with, and while Leon Kennedy didn’t suddenly turn into Dante from Devil May Cry, he still came bearing new tricks. A new about-face 180 spin, as well as the revamped over-the-shoulder aiming and shooting—while not quite Gears Of War-tier—meshed perfectly with the new action-horror pacing. The inclusion of The Merchant and his ever-expanding cloak of upgrades was a welcome addition to the otherwise standard staples of the series. Resident Evil 4 offered both quantity and quality, and as admirably as Resident Evil 5 and 6 tried to innovate, they lacked the Mikami touch.
Although Mikami’s final project for Capcom was the polarizing, low-budget brawler, God Hand—created by Capcom’s short-lived boutique development team, Clover Studio—he somehow resurfaced revitalized and energized at Platinum Games with Vanquish, the dizzying and electric action game for Xbox 360 and PS3. After collaborating with Grasshopper Manufacture on Shadows Of The Damned, Mikami set the stage for his third act, establishing Tango Gameworks in 2010, spending the next four years on his survival-horror comeback, The Evil Within. With Mikami’s long legacy of games behind him, and with Tango’s upcoming GhostWire: Tokyo in the works, IGN caught up with the icon to talk about game development, Die Hard, kung-fu movies, modern horror films, COVID-19, eagle crests, and survival-horror in daylight.
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