At the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco this afternoon, Koshi Nakanishi, director of the recently released Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, outlined the game’s development process.
Development on the game started in Osaka in January 2014, Nakanishi explained, under the working title ‘harawata’, the Japanese term for 'entrails'.
The game’s high-level concepts were laid down by Capcom’s veteran designer Jun Takeuchi right at the beginning of the process. He set the team the goal of creating a game that called to mind the feeling and aesthetic of Sam Raimi’s 1981 budget horror film The Evil Dead. Resident Evil VII would have to be, Takeuchi, said, a singleplayer experience, that kept references to characters from previous games in the series to a minimum.
This way, he explained, the player would never know whom to trust. “We knew the player’s goal was going to be to escape," he explained. "The questions we wanted to raise -- who? what? where? how? -- were intended to contribute to feelings of anxiety and fear.”
Taking cues from The Evil Dead, the team settled on five main characters. “We thought that a good way to bring everything together would to make them a family,” said Nakanishi. The team also decided to limit the game to, principally, a single location: a tumbledown mansion.
"The Resident Evil series can be thought of as a series of trilogies,” Nakanishi said. “That meant that, with this the seventh game, we could choose to take a new direction. So we decided to focus on photorealism and a first person perspective,” while reducing the number of fast-paced action sequences, choices intended to compound players’ sense of “claustrophobic horror”.
“To concentrate on the horror aspect of the game, we kept the scope narrow so as not to have too much clutter," Nakanishi said. "This was not a rash decision, however. We had been doing soul-searching on how to redefine the brand."
The industry is oversaturated with games in which you gun down zombies, Nakanishi said. "We wanted to differentiate. Staying true to our newly defined vision we started a design document.”
Louisiana was chosen as the new setting -- a location which the series has never visited before. "The sense of new and unknown continued with our enemy design, using vivid and grotesque expressions and movements," said Nakanishi. "The aim was to always keep players guessing, with level designs focused on enclosed areas using either linear or ‘Metroidvania-style’ progression.”
“Key to defining the game’s tone was the conscious omission of certain features. We felt we had to exclude co-op, zombies, fast gunplay, familiar characters, and blockbuster film-like scenes.” Including these would have run counter to what the team wanted to achieve.
Perhaps in response to the lukewarm reception to Resident Evil 6, a game that employed various different styles, Nakanishi pointed out that, “making something no one hates means making something that no one loves.”
While Nakanishi said that the marketing team’s response to the game’s initial design document was generally positive, it was “very easy to come up with reasons why it might fail.” At an early stage, Nakanishi asked the team to write reviews of the planned game, as if it were finished and they were general consumers. Through these reviews, the team was able to identify their hopes and anxieties about the project.
Full production began in April 2014. The team spent a great deal of time watching horror films, reading up on local legends, visiting supposedly haunted houses and, later, visiting Louisiana to find reference material in museums and plantations in order to reinforce the realism.
While the programming team worked on a new engine specifically built for the game, the designers and artists prototyped their early ideas in Unity. “We didn't care too much about making things cohesive or organized,” he said. “Anyone and everyone should have the opportunity to mock-up their ideas.”
“It was important everyone considered the game as a whole, expanding beyond his or her ‘official’ roles,” Nakanishi said. “Everyone was free to discuss design.”
“What’s important is to have a simple vision, to keep faithful to the team’s passion and commitment,” said Nakanishi.