Images courtesy of Capcom Though Resident Evil 6 sold millions of copies, the general consensus afterwards was that Capcom needed a new direction for the survival horror series. But Resident Evil 7, a brilliant return to form that accompanied a shift to a first-person perspective, wasn't the first idea Capcom had for the next Resident Evil. These and other details are part of a behind-the-scenes documentary series the company is releasing, a few months after Resident Evil 7's debut.
The 11-minute video illustrates Capcom's own confusion. In 2013, a few months after Resident Evil 6, Capcom began sketching out a sequel that followed the same bombastic, action-oriented take that'd been the focus since Resident Evil 4.
"We were still developing the concept with the same kind of mindset [that we had] after Resident Evil 6," said series producer Masachika Kawata, "but it wasn't really coming together."
As that version of Resident Evil 7 struggled to find its footing, executive producer Jun Takeuchi, part of the series since the start, conceived of a new approach. This theoretical Resident Evil 7 would takes its primary influences from the Sam Raimi horror film Evil Dead—a movie in a single location, with a small cast of characters—and shift the player's perspective. The idea was "compact but deep."
It was a departure from the thinking that'd gripped them for years.
"So the theme for RE5 was asking ourselves how to build on RE4 and get as many people as possible to enjoy that game," said Takeuchi. "And that meant that the scale inevitably became larger, we added various characters, as well as co-op play. The game was designed to be bigger in every way. Now with Resident Evil 7, we are moving away from this because we felt that it was harder to feel fear or horror in a game of that scale."
(He was right.)
Takeuchi picked Koshi Nakanishi, who lead the team behind Resident Evil: Revelations, as a director. Though Revelations was not without problems, the locked-on-a-ship spin-off was the closest the series had come to capturing the claustrophobia that helped define the Resident Evil series originally.
Resident Evil 7's team started coming together in January 2014, but production didn't begin in earnest until February. While technically a sequel, they didn't have a specific framework to build around, so the team made a short CG film to try and crystallize what Resident Evil 7 might look like, if they went forward.
Clips of the movie are in the video, and the style will look familiar to anyone who's spent time with Resident Evil 7. It core aesthetic was nailed early on.
Looking for feedback, the film was sent to other Capcom offices. It was a hit.
"They sent us back a reaction video that they'd taken of themselves watching it," said Kawata, "and in that video, one of the younger staff member in particular had her face twisted in fear. That really motivated us because it told us we were on the right track and gave us confidence in our direction. That was a great feeling."
(My face was like that a lot while playing Resident Evil 7…but in VR.)
From there, Resident Evil 7 moved forward.
But as with any game, some ideas were cut along the way.
Nakanishi recalled how the Baker family, the game's central villains, once had a family pet that made a startling appearance during one of the game's early scenes. Though he wasn't sure, he seemed to recall the dog's name was Diane.
According to Takeuchi, they also prototyped a zombie-like enemy that could pick up the player's breathing, so you'd have to hold a button and sneak by. The whole time, a meter would be going down, signaling how long you could hold your breath.
"It was a really fun idea," said Takeuchi, "but we found people tended to tense up and hold their breath for real, making it very tiring to play. It was a great idea on paper, but we ditched it because we thought doing that for 15 hours would give people hypoxia."
(Hypoxia is a condition where the brain isn't getting enough oxygen.)
By almost any measure, Resident Evil 7 has been a success, breathing life into a franchise some folks, myself included, had wrote off. The reaction seems to have invigorated the people behind the games, too, who grew dispirited at fan criticisms.
"Personally," said Nakanishi, "I've felt somewhat sad when we've tried various things, and then had players say that Resident Evil has lost its identity, or that Capcom needs to find its footing again. At the same time though, we now had this chance to present a new style of gameplay while going back to the roots of what makes the Resident Evil series so great, which I felt really positive about."
We'll have more Resident Evil 7 to play soon, too; a DLC that takes place after the events of the main story is due sometime in the "spring."