Old scares for a new audience.
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Resident Evil 0 is the latest title in the beloved survival horror Resident Evil franchise to get a makeover for the modern era. Thanks to the power of new technology, the upgrades to the 2002 title will show the events of RE0 like they've never been seen before; environmental objects like train car plaques and slumped over corpses look more real than before, adding a deeper, more unsettling level of creepiness to the game and strengthening its intended tone and atmosphere. This, along with a handful of smaller tweaks like an even easier difficulty option, also make the game more accessible to a modern audience, whether its players are new to the game or returning fans that just want to experience the story once more.
I sat down with Resident Evil 0 HD producer Tsukasa Takenaka to talk about the importance of the series' past, the challenges of bringing the franchise to a modern audience, and where he sees the series going in the near future.
GameSpot: Why remaster Resident Evil Zero 0 next?
Takenaka: After the great success of the Resident Evil 1 remaster, we thought it was a really good time to bring RE0 back because it's a prequel story to RE1. It fills in the blanks of the background of the mansion incident depicted in RE1, and it's also explains all the mysteries and details of that game. Like for example, that famous scene in Resident Evil 1 when you walk down the corridor and there's someone being eaten by a zombie, and the zombie turns around and looks at you. If you play Resident Evil 0, you can find out who that guy was who was being eaten and why he was there. It seemed like the right time to let this game come back as an HD remaster.
You've worked on classic Resident Evil titles, as well as more modern titles like Resident Evil 5, Resident Evil Revelations, and Resident Evil 6. What do you think is different about the series now compared to when RE0 first came out?
At the time Resident Evil 0 came out I was still a game designer on Onimusha, so I can't really speak on how much the working atmosphere on Resident Evil titles has changed since that time period. But you're right in saying that I've worked on the more so-called "modern" Resident Evil titles. I've seen, definitely, that since RE0 was released, I've seen RE4 really bring the series in a new direction in terms of modernized gameplay systems. We've seen the fans as well--some people tend to like the newer games and some people like the classic old-school ones. That's something that we recognize in the fan base, so people who have only gotten into Resident Evil since 4 onwards, which have a different feel, I think it's a great chance to bring this remaster to them because these are classic titles and we want to show we haven't forgotten them. Also, purely because these games were released on hardware these people don't still own, they now have the chance to play them on modern systems.
Why do you think so many fans are attached to that older style of the Resident Evil series?
The other reason why I think a lot people say they want us to return to that style is that since we've modernized the series, we've kept the horror aspects of it and found new ways to express that side of the games. At the same time, it's true that certain kinds of things have been left behind in the change, and that's what those fans I think are still craving. For example, when we're working with fixed camera angles, we are able to hide an enemy until the camera angle switched, and then as soon as you go to the new angle, not even going into a new room, you would have a different angle of the same room and there's a zombie in the corner you couldn't see because of the camera system. That kind of particular style of surprise and horror is something that you don't do in a modern game with a 3D camera. So I think those people still want to see those kind of old-school versions of horror in the series, and that's something they miss.
I think the [camera angle] is one big factor [in fans clinging to classics] but probably not the only one. It's probably also the change to the newer style. We've shifted gameplay from the older games, you could almost put them in the Metroidvania category where you'd go back through the same location where you have to backtrack with new items and so forth. Since RE4 that's changed to wider spaces that allow more open outside areas as well. I think that's another big thing that's a part of the old style that's changed, but we do feel like we will be bringing something more in lines with the times and what players expect and want from us.
What are your thoughts on the fixed camera and do you feel that allows you to create a scarier scene? Or is it easier to compose scenes this way? How do the characteristics of these different camera angles help you create that sense of horror?
This kind of camera can certainly have its advantages in creating a horror scene, because like I said before, you can literally hide things beyond the next cut from the player, and they see exactly what you want them to see. But that's not the only part of the games. I think the fixed angles also bring certain downsides in terms of game design in that it's a lot harder to get a read on the immediate surroundings beyond the camera angle, and of course the controls... I mean the whole reason we implemented the so-called "tank controls" in the original games was to get over the hurdle of the fact that when the camera angle changes, your directional inputs will change from seeing the scene. We have had to add more modernized controls in the remasters as well because they can be rather frustrating for players to use these days. While fixed camera angles certainly have their advantages and disadvantages, I wouldn't say that they are the absolute right answer for creating horror. They're not the only answer for creating that atmosphere.
What other elements do you think have become unchangeable hallmarks of the franchise?
I think it probably applies to movies as well as games, without strictly speaking about a game design thing--but for horror the most important thing is combining sound design and lighting design, and that contrast between light and dark places. Not just in exactly how you combine those things, but in using that as a toolset for the designer or director to control the player's emotions as they progress through the experience.
That you have to have in place to make it a Resident Evil game, to make it scary. But on the opposite side, with what not to do... We have a joke in the office that if we ever go to space, we're done. It will all be over at that point. We need a grounded setting for our stories as well, it's zombie fiction but it is in the real world, it has a certain amount of realism to it.
What new features in the remaster do you feel improve it or make it a different experience?
The level of detail that comes up by doing an HD remaster. We've gone back over all the assets with a fine-toothed comb and not only can you now read all the writing around the train and see all the details in the setting the original designers created, it brings new discoveries that even I have made myself. For example, there's a train car where a dog comes out and attacks you, and there was a sign there and a chair and it's like, I never knew what that particular car was for and why that chair was randomly there. But it's only now that we get the assets redone in HD and we can see a sign saying "smoking area." I've always wondered what that area was for and these kind of little details the original designers took care into creating for the setting we can now see with the new technology. The technology we had at the time wasn't able to bring that full imaginative setting to the players, and now we can see every single detail like that. Things like that are really fun to point out and notice, where you can see how much effort has gone into making the environments very realistic and atmospheric.
Thirteen years ago there was no way to get that level of detail out onto the consumer version of the game even though they designed the game at such a high level of detail. That was a really great discovery for me. On the other hand, there were some things there that had to be redone because, knowing they could get away with it, there were some visuals shortcuts that we exposed that had to be changed. For example the train cars have these little plates saying what the next car is, and there is a dining car on the train and a plate that says that. Turns out because you couldn't read the writing, they reused the restaurant car plate in multiple places. There were a few things like that we did pick up on once we could see all the details that we had to move around and correct.
Did you find anything else like that that was really amusing?
There's a sleeper car and there are people's photos lying around. One of them, if you looked at it again now--because you couldn't see what it was then, it's a photograph taken of the team at a bar drinking, and it was blurred enough to look like a random photo when they put it in at first. But now in this train ostensibly set in the United States it mismatched the setting, so we redid that one to make sure it wasn't completely out of place. Japanese guys getting drunk. Why would someone have that photo in a sleeper car on a train making its way towards Raccoon City?
Are there any other changes to the game other than visuals?
This is a 13-year-old game, and back then there was a difficulty to games that was taken for granted. It's kind of old-school. Not quite old enough to call it Nintendo-hard, but there was a certain difficulty that was just part of the landscape of gaming. I think in the modern gaming era, people expect games to be easier to get into and somewhat more comfortable to get through as an experience because they have so much more variety available to them that they don't necessarily have the time to plug into this kind of thing. The original GameCube version of Resident Evil 0 had a normal and hard difficulty, and then when we re-released it on Wii several years later we added an easy difficulty. What we've done this time around for the remaster is we actually tuned the easy difficulty to be somewhat easier again, because we want the easy option to truly represent the way to get through the game and see the experience without feeling frustrated. In that sense what we've done is rather than make specific minor adjustment to the gameplay balance, we wanted a situation where the modern gamer who doesn't want this old-school RE experience but wants to play the game has an option available to them.
We've got this current trend where people are turning to games like Dark Souls for real meaty challenges. They can rest assured that it's only easy mode that has been returned this way, normal and hard are kept the same as the original and you can really experience the original difficulty and tension that way.
If Resident Evil 0 does well, will we see more remasters of older games? Perhaps Resident Evil 3 or Code Veronica?
Yes! We'll be looking to see the performance of Resident Evil 0 Remastered as an indicator for what fans want and what they expect from us. So certainly, we'll be looking at it as an indicator of how we should proceed.