In this reprint from the October 2005 issue of Game Developer magazine, Resident Evil 4 cinematics lead Yoshiaki Hirabayashi writes about the overhauls and challenges which faced one of the franchise's most notable entries.
The Resident Evil series has a broad fan base, and in order to meet players' expectations, we decided to create a totally new entry with Resident Evil 4. Because the series has been around for so long, we really wanted to address the feedback from both our fans and our development team in order to revamp the game. This meant looking at everything from presenting a new way to experience fear, creating more frightening enemies, implementing new ways of using items, and much more.
For this postmortem, we'll use one element, which was also one of our biggest challenges, as the archetype for the game's development: the successful creation of the title's graphical style. I'll provide an overview of what this entailed and how we were able to achieve it with some specific examples from the game.
What Went Right
1. Cutscene Integration
When we began the project, one area we focused on was how playable portions of games usually shift into atmospheric pre-rendered movies. This seemed like an area that, if done well, would improve critical reception. As gameplay shifts to a cutscene, the change is usually quite noticeable. It's possible that in that moment, players regard what is on screen as just imagery rather than a true part of the game. The change might be appealing to those people who simply enjoy cinematics for the higher quality of the cutscene graphics, but in terms of keeping players focused on the game, it's possible that these moments interrupt the flow of the experience. We thought that if we could facilitate a seamless transition between gameplay and the in-game movies, people would be able to stay involved throughout the entire experience without interruption. Our solution was to keep the cutscenes in real time.
The action button system we implemented for Resident Evil 4 was very complementary to our use of real-time movies. By incorporating an action button into the cutscenes, we made it possible for players to interact with the in-game movies. In a traditional game scenario, players change from being active participants to bystanders as the cinematics begin and play out. The player might not pay close attention or might even put the controller down, and either way, that's not what we want.
2. Improved Technology
In the current generation of consoles, the technical capacity of hardware has improved vastly over the last, and our technology itself has also increased to the extent that we can maximize the full potential of that hardware. Technologically speaking, this advancement has made it possible to express scenes in real time that would have previously only been possible in pre-rendered cutscenes, for example those that incorporate complex facial animation. Up until now, we didn't have the processing ability or capacity to realize complex animation of the sort we have achieved in Resident Evil 4 -- it was simply outside the hardware's capabilities. We solved this issue through programming and by packaging data intelligently. The same solution was applied to areas that required a lot of special effects, such as projection lights and explosions.
Using real-time movies also made it easier for us to change elements of the story according to the game specs and design. For example, in a pre-rendered situation, if a character or enemy in a movie had to be somehow altered, all the time and energy used to create it would have gone to waste. However, by using real-time movies, we could just rewrite a new model onto the existing model data.