Where Does Umbrella Corps Fit in the Resident Evil Timeline?

Zombie Jelly.

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Revealed at this year's Tokyo Game Show, Resident Evil: Umbrella Corps is the next game in the sprawling, Resident Evil series. But while details were sparse immediately following the game's announcement, we talked with the Umbrella Corps producers, Masachika Kawata and James Vance at the convention to learn more about the competitive online shooter.

GameSpot: Umbrella Corps is quite a different take on the Resident Evil series; what drove the decision to make this more of a straight-up shooter. Especially since that's a much more popular genre in the than here in Japan?

Masachika Kawata: As you said, because it's more popular in the West.

Is there anything you're doing to try to keep the Japanese audience engaged, or is the focus entirely on the West with this game?

MK: Well, we think we've made a quite a unique proposition here. The close-quarters battle system that we've got with these quite cramped and claustrophobic environments combined with the unique elements like the Zombie Jammer that you don't find in many other titles will be enticing elements that will get Japanese users on board. [Editor's Note: The Zombie Jammer is a backpack-like unit that all players start with. It keeps zombies from attacking you, as long as you don't attack them.]

Of course, it has the Resident Evil hallmark zombies, but what other elements does it borrow from the lore and history of Resident Evil?

MK: The game is not a hypothetical, "what-if" side scenario. Umbrella Corps is set in the present day of Resident Evil, which means it's after the events of Resident Evil 6. It's almost in an ironic way that we're using the title Umbrella Corps. If you know your Resident Evil lore, Umbrella no longer exists at this time in the universe; it's been destroyed. There's definitely a kind of a background of the Resident Evil universe that forms the basis of the game's premise.

Is there anymore about that story you can talk about now?

James Vance: Umbrella Corps is, basically, an ironic title. The premise is that Umbrella Corporation, they were the lead corporation in the world of Resident Evil; they had the most advanced technology and most advanced bio weapons and things like that.

After their fall, there are a multitude of other organizations that are trying to get their hands on that research, or that information, to become the next Umbrella. The mercenaries are hired by these corporations--often times not in a forward-facing manner, it's all behind the scenes--to go into these areas where some kind of biological terror incident may have occurred to try to extract something with value. In that regard, these areas will tie into the Resident Evil universe quite strongly, and there's many things that you'll see there, that we can't reveal at this time, that have strong Resident Evil hooks.

One thing that I'd add about the zombies is that they pose a kind of unpredictable element to the game. If you shoot them, they recognize you as a threat. You can do that on purpose if you want to get one as a shield. But more often that will happen without it being your intent because they're in the midst of a firefight. Rather than a standard, straight-up military action game where it's just you versus the other players, there's this unpredictable element of the zombies in there which I think because it's the Resident Evil universe, it's a very a very unique proposal that we can add into the mix.

"The game is not a hypothetical, 'what-if' side scenario."

Is there a story campaign, or is Umbrella Corps completely multiplayer focused?

JV: There's no forward-facing story.

How will leveling work in the game? And is there a difference in what you earn from doing well versus just playing for a long time?

MK: We're taking the approach that, rather than having the character you play as level up as a concrete number or strength or whatever else, you're the one who gains the experience and knowledge by playing the game; you're the one who gets better. There's a points-based system in the game where as you do things, you earn points that can be used to get customizable options for your character and so forth. But we're not locking it into a system where you're getting a more powerful character just by playing for a longer time. You're the one who has to become more powerful yourself as a player.

In terms of balancing, we've also made it so the weapons have their own strengths and weaknesses, but there's no ultimate weapon that if you get it you'll be able to win. It's really up to the player to be able to strategize and use the tools at their disposal as best they can in order to get victory or defeat.

JV: We have three weapon layouts here at the show, and a lot of thought has gone into how they differentiate from one another, rather than just having ten machine guns with minor cosmetic differences. The things that will differentiate players are the weapons they choose to use and which special items they choose to use, not just a level number.

Are you putting together more of a loadout-based game, or is each character more customizable for whatever kind of fighting you want to do?

MK: It's fundamentally loadout based. You'll always have your pistol and the Zombie Brainer, your melee weapon. Then beyond that, it's a set of loadouts.

JV: You can choose what main and sub-weapons you'll have, but there's always the four main-weapon set: sub, main, brainer, and grenade. Of course, you have the shield as well.

You mentioned earlier that it's kind of a claustrophobic feel that you're going for. Was that really just this specific map or is that feeling supposed to represent the game overall?

MK: It's a key concept of the game, this kind of closed quarters enclosed environments with the tension of never knowing from what direction your enemy will come--including up and down as well, it's quite a 360 degree feeling because there are lots of routes that go up and down the levels. You can even use your Zombie Brainer to climb up the walls, and you have to be aware who's coming behind you. While we will have bigger maps than the one you saw today, we also have smaller maps. None of the bigger ones will go into giant arenas or anything like that. It will still stick to the concept of the close-quarters, claustrophobic battlefield.

"If people are looking forward to games that are more back on the main track that we've released so far, we've got stuff in the pipeline in that direction too."

Also, because the stage design isn't incredibly massive, it also means that the number of players who will fit in isn't going to be some huge field of people. That makes matchmaking and getting into the game quickly that much easier.

And will there be character customization options as well?

MK: Yeah. You'll be able to change the gear your character wears and change their appearance and add customizable elements to make it your own. And we'll be adding in additional weapons and so forth. There'll be a lot of customization coming.

Have you started thinking about microtransactions and how that might fit into the game?

MK: We're not looking to focus on microtransactions with this title. There will be additional free DLC--for example, a few additional maps and so forth--that will help revitalize the player base as time goes on. But it's not something where we're going to try and make the main source of revenue be constantly expanding extra content over a long period of time or anything like that.

For the same reason, the price of the game isn't going to be a full-price title--we want to be able to get people to have it be a no-brainer, so to speak. An easy to pick up and purchase title that they can go out and enjoy straight away without having to worry too much about it.

And what platforms is the game coming out on?

MK: The PlayStation 4 and PC.

What drove that decision to only do PlayStation 4 and PC and not something like Xbox One or even Wii U?

MK: We were just focused on PS4 development, so we didn't really have any other console platforms come in to our plans.

Is there going to be cross play between the PC and PS4 versions?

MK: No.

In your role as a developer, have you still had time to play a lot of different kinds of shooters recently, especially the popular ones in the West?

MK: I've played the big titles out there in the market. In particular those multiplayer titles where there's quite a lot of people on the field of battle playing against each other. I think it's made me realize that I like the fact that our concept is somewhat minimalist in the sense that we're keeping it to a quite small number of players at a time and focusing on this kind of high tempo feel. Because you're not waiting for 20 people to match-make in a lobby, you're able to just get online with five people and get into the game. Victory or defeat is decided quickly, and then you're never waiting too long to jump back into the game.

JV: There is a lot of staff involved with this who worked on previous Resident Evil games as well as Lost Planet. So the team comes from a shooter pedigree. And a lot of them are also really into what are called "survival games" here in Japan, where you shoot pellets at each other while wearing full gear and you go out in the field. Kind of like paint ball without the paint. They're very into that, and you could see a lot of the influences from that here. For example, the analog cover--peaking out in just the right amount from behind cover and things like that. A lot thought went into transitioning those ideas into a game in a way that feels very slick and tight.

The game feels like it was balanced primarily for playing on controllers. Are there any kind of concessions you had to make for either the PC or console versions?

JV: Right now, we're developing with the controller as the main input method on both platforms.

MK: There are some fine tuning aspects between playing on a PC versus playing on your television with a console, but speaking broadly about the gameplay experience, we're aiming to make it the same experience across both platforms.

JV: Yeah. The experience and the content is the same.

What's the most important thing that Umbrella Corps needs to get right, or that it has to do better than other games?

MK: Definitely being able to aim well and shoot the other players is pretty key. But I think it's really important that you cater to a variety of gameplay styles--different players out there have different skill levels. Speaking for myself, I'm not the world's most skilled shooting game player. So while some people might get out there and they're moving around the stage really quickly and tactically and taking everyone out with military precision, I personally, and probably a lot of other gamers, might be the type who would want to wait and see who comes my way and take them out and try and be safe that way. Or maybe I'll wait above a corridor, and when someone runs past, I'll just jump down and take them out. I think getting that right is important, and that's one thing we really focused on with Umbrella Corps.

In addition, we're trying to go the extra mile with our systems. The characters have special equipment like this zombie shield on one arm when you're using your pistol. In a lot of shooting games, the pistol is your "plan B." It's the gun you use when you run out of ammo and you're stuck with the crappy pistol option. But we really wanted to make that a tactical option--you free up one hand when using a pistol, and you can defend yourself against headshots with this shield. It also serves as a means to lure zombies to come in and bite the zombie guard part, and then you can use the zombie as a shield. We've tried to add a lot of unique features and equipment that has multiple uses rather than having just the sort of standard equipment that you might find in any game that isn't set in the Resident Evil universe.

We've had so many different kinds of Resident Evil games over the years. Thinking about the franchise as a whole, what does being a "Resident Evil game" mean to Capcom now?

Resident Evil still means survival horror to most people, but it's also a brand that has evolved over time. It's been around for 20 years, and over that time it's seen a variety of spin-off and side titles. We think it's important to have a variety of experiences within that single brand.

I think some people might have been surprised that we came out with a third-person shooter like this. But creating experiences that branch out from the core, mainline franchise has always been part of the Resident Evil series. Of course, if people are looking forward to games that are more back on the main track that we've released so far, we've got stuff in the pipeline in that direction too. We've got a nice selection of experiences that can suit most players.

Justin Haywald on Google+

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