Since we had to basically reinvent the series, we needed to improve our workflow -- converting data, managing data, and troubleshooting -- in order to stay on target. We needed to find a way to complete these tasks more efficiently, which was how we came to use the XML data management system. This workflow management method saved us valuable time that we were then able to apply to the creative elements of the game design.
Figure 1 shows the system we used for converting movie scenes, posting scene data, modeling, and making slight adjustments for texture data, among other things. The XML system allowed us to evaluate the total amount of data in order to assess whether there was an excess or deficiency to support it. The system also eased the process of making multiple alterations to the customized models in each of the game's many scenes.
Looking at our previous system (Figure 2), you can see exactly why our new system has helped us. The traditional development pipeline in Japan is still quite hierarchical: With the previous system, you needed a programmer to transfer data to the development tool, which put limitations on the programmer's work capacity. This situation caused a tremendous loss of time.
As opposed to the old flow, which put the heft of the workload on the programmers, the new system (Figure 3) actually resulted in the designers being able to contribute more frequently and more directly, thus minimizing the amount of time lost.
Creating believable images doesn't necessarily mean that the images need to be factual and realistic. Rather, they should engross players and be believable within the game's universe. For example, in Resident Evil 4, a long skirt or long hair moves naturally according to the motion of the characters, but in a slightly enhanced way. This effect helps to immerse players and create a suspension of disbelief. If something swings in the real world, it also swings in the game; however, in real life, it might not move in such an exaggeratedly beautiful way.
We adapted the swings a little and brought the motion close to what players might expect, even though it isn't completely accurate.
In regard to creating more appealing characters, there's a wide range of opinions on the topic. In our meetings with Shinji Mikami, the game's director, he stressed that the most important factor in making a character appealing is to create believable facial expressions and gestures. Characters should exhibit appropriate feelings and expressions for a given situation, while also expressing their individual personalities.
With Mikami's goal in mind, we put a great deal of effort into making characters' expressions believable (see Figures 4 and 5), and to that end, each characters' fingers have joints that move and articulate, for example. Still, we wanted to focus on even more refined details. In order to achieve this, we used a very large number of face targets (or facial expressions) for each character.
At key moments, we conveyed the tension that characters might be feeling by using extra lighting elements to highlight a character's facial expression. We actually created quite a lot of facial expression patterns for the characters. We also used special higher-quality textures to make the expressions look as good as possible.
For Ashley, the main heroine, 36 facial targets were used in total, which is one and a half times the normal number. Regardless of the effectiveness of the increased targets, we couldn't have that much data for just one character, so we used a method called face target packaging. Even though 36 targets were prepared, they were not all necessary for each scene. We included targets required by each scene into models that implemented them on a scene-by-scene basis.
At first, I talked with a programmer regarding the amount of data which could be used for a character and decided to use 30 targets for each. We divided these into two categories (see Figure 6). One is the Standard Slot, which is frequently used and is the general default slot. The other is the Select Slot, which dictates less frequently used targets for each scene. We made one package with these two slots. Because the number of Select Slot expressions varied from scene to scene, we were able to efficiently manage the data allocation so there were only 30 targets in the package at any given time. By changing the package according to the scene, we were able to produce facial animations with higher quality.
Even though the series is linked to horror, it also has become known for having strong gameplay and a high entertainment value. We wanted to make Resident Evil 4 appealing to an even wider variety of players by raising the game's level of entertainment. Early in development, through trial and error, we found that the game was scary, but had a low fun factor -- we needed to rethink both the gameplay system and the fear component. We restarted the project four times in order to ensure that this title would be interesting and fun for the consumer; there had to be more to the game than just fear.
In order to change the gameplay, we challenged ourselves to implement features and elements that had been impossible to realize previously, in terms of environmental interaction, graphical quality, and more frenetic action. We took the existing archetype of Resident Evil and added extra play value that would make sense within that world. The main character's melee attacks were made to be more robust because he's a police officer and should be better at close-quarters combat than we had demonstrated in previous games. Enemies were made to be more intelligent and much faster; they can pick up weapons and open doors. Enemies also talk to each other, communicating plans of attack. This was used as a new way to inspire fear for the series, giving the player a feeling that he or she was up against a sentient and unrelenting force, rather than shuffling zombies, or simple monsters.
We had intended from the start to make the project something that we ourselves found intriguing and challenging. In demanding this of ourselves, and largely meeting those goals, I think we were able to provide an exciting game for the fans.