Remaking ‘Resident Evil 4’ was a huge challenge. The team was ready.


Few video game franchises over 20 years old struggle to stay relevant. But publisher and developer Capcom looks set to maintain its track record of creative and commercial success with its upcoming remake of 2005’s “Resident Evil 4,” one of the most important video games ever made.

The truth is, the Resident Evil team is pretty good at making Resident Evil games. Their confidence stems from Capcom’s decision to develop the Reach for the Moon (or RE) engine, the company’s proprietary software framework for developing games. 2017’s “Resident Evil VII” was the first Capcom game to use the RE Engine. Since then, it’s powered every major Capcom game, including this summer’s highly anticipated “Street Fighter 6.”

“Whenever the designers create something, they can immediately check everything in the engine and see if everything is good,” said Yasuhiro Ambo, the longtime director of the Resident Evil series who is directing the new remake. “Ease of access really helps games grow.”

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But the original “Resident Evil 4” wasn’t just another Resident Evil game. It is often cited as the godfather of the modern third-person action adventure. It inspired “The Last of Us,” the Gears of War franchise and basically any video game that places the camera behind, above and to the right of the player character.

A more complex Resident Evil title remake for the RE engine. Past games, including the successful remakes of the second and third series, featured brainless zombies and other monsters waving and waving at the player. But the zombies of “Resident Evil 4” were essentially still human, their mental abilities intact, making quick decisions in combat encounters. This was a new challenge for the team.

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“We’ve made a lot of Resident Evil games,” said Yoshiaki Hibayashi, the game’s producer and another series veteran. “One of the challenges we had was to see what Kanado was like [zombified humans] Artificial intelligence works in the game. This is new for the RE engine.

“When you interact with enemies, they don’t walk straight at you or behind you, they have to have some kind of intelligence,” Ambo added. “You’ll see that they’re not acting like a computer, but an organism that thinks strategically behind their movements.”

This is not a new challenge in game design. Even the “Pac-Man” ghosts from the 1980s had artificial intelligence to act and strategize against the Pac-Man player. The Resident Evil series substitutes ghosts for zombies and mazes for a mansion or sometimes a city. In “Resident Evil 4,” the stakes are raised even higher: the maze is a Spanish countryside, and the ghosts are hundreds of zombified citizens, all clamoring to kill the player.

Developers have learned a lot about their own series over the years, and they’ve eagerly tuned in to player feedback. The overwhelmingly positive feedback for the “Resident Evil 2” remake fueled enthusiasm for remaking a fourth game — despite the team’s initial bewilderment at remaking such a venerable, influential title.

What makes a remake? Even the developers don’t really know.

Hirabayashi says they were laser focused on identifying what made the fourth game great and building that foundation. Player protagonist Leon may seem like a faint echo of the confident, skilled martial arts Leon of the infamous “Resident Evil 6,” but Hirbayashi says we focused on improving the fourth game while not thinking about other titles. Within the sequel or survival horror game genre.

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“The team is not specifically looking at other sports to try to copy from others,” he said. “The base is ‘Resident Evil 4.’

Player feedback suggested to them that audiences love the characters and want more stories about them. This is why Lewis, a bit player from the original game, has an extended presence in the remake, and Leon seems to be directly addressing his trauma from surviving the destruction of Raccoon City in the original trilogy.

“We learned that players really want to know more about everything,” Ambo said. “So we added more depth to the characters[.] They have more interactions with each other, so the player becomes more attached to them.

Shinji Mikami, who directed two of the most influential games in the series, the original “Resident Evil” and “Resident Evil 4,” recently announced his departure from Tango Gameworks, the studio he founded after leaving Capcom. Hirabayashi stated that his influence is greater in the current remake, but that Mikami had no input in the remake. Mikami directed the remake of the first game for the GameCube, which set the bar for groundbreaking video game remakes in 2002. But this time, Mikami met the group for drinks in a friendly capacity.

Mikami’s guidance from the early 2000s still resonates with developers; Many of them had previously worked under him.

“If you have a game that’s always tense, you’re going to lose those tense players,” Hirabayashi recalled Mikami advising. “Tension is built on a curve, high tension and low tension. High tension is followed by these cushioning moments.

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Ambo said the key to making a great Resident Evil game is giving players fear, and then, quickly, the means to overcome that fear. The series has established this push-and-pull dynamic of providing ammo and other useful resources when needed, then filtering it all through enemy encounters. That’s why the series always ends with the main character wielding a rocket launcher: it’s the player finally symbolizing the triumph of horror with great power.

“One of the key concepts is overcoming horror,” Ambo said. “In ‘Resident Evil 2’ and now 4, teams have learned to see how players approach certain situations and how they will handle them. We’ve added more tools to tackle any situation.

These tools include Leon’s knife, which is now a limited resource, but has been strengthened to hit with a chainsaw. This includes new partner AI, the president’s daughter Ashley and Louise becoming more active participants in the battle.

It also means removing button prompts that flash on screen for “quick time events” or as Simon calls it, for your controller. Instead, a famous knife-to-knife fight sequence from the original game will now become fully playable.

“We wanted the player to have control over the lineup,” Hirabayashi said.

When asked which part of the game was most important to them to keep, both declined to answer.

“It’s a tricky question for us because if we say too much we’ll spoil the game,” Hirabayashi laughed.

While the Resident Evil team is confident in how it remakes our collective survival horror past, players need to make sure they stay on their toes.

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