Ahead of the publication of Resident Evil 5: The Complete Official Guide, Prima Games interviewed the Resident Evil 5 development leads. Yasuhiro Ampo; Jun Takeuchi; Masachika Kawata; Kentarou Yano; Toru Arikawa; Yoshiaki Hirabayashi; Mikio Ueda; Yosuke Yamagata; Yoshinori Matsushita; Jiro Taoka; Makoto Fukui; Yukio Seike; Takaaki Yamanouchi, and Tsukasa Takenaka were all interviewed.
What was the most difficult decision you had to make on this project?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "The introduction of co-op play. It was initially developed as a single-player game, so we had to change the design a lot. But we were sure that this would make the game better. I think that was the right decision."
Players may think of previous RE games as being dark or shadowy affairs, often taking place at night. But RE5 opens in the heat and dust of glaring sunshine. Did you want to escape that monochromatic gloom?
JUN TAKEUCHI & MASACHIKA KAWATA, Producers: "With hardware improvements, we have had the challenge of creating a new representation of horror-style visuals with an increased level of detail. This is reflected in the sharp contrasts found in lighting, and the use of improved color saturation to give the game a film-like quality."
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "As Africa was our chosen locale, we had to work on how to depict scenes in strong African sunshine – which is totally new for the Resident Evil series. I don't think we would have had so much sunlight if it were based anywhere else."
KENTARO YANO, Designer: "Having Resident Evil 5 take place in Africa gave us a great opportunity to develop the series not only in the sense of how we use darkness, but also brightness."
On the same theme, contrast seems to be a crucial part of the visual design. The player can feel dazzled when stepping out of the shade of a building or bathed in the red tones of sunset. How important is the use of lighting to set the scene, and was it difficult to implement?
TORU ARIKAWA, Designer: "A realistic representation of lighting makes an environment much more authentic, and helps to immerse the player. We achieved this with a variety of visual effects, such as tone mapping."
YOSHIAKI HIRABAYASHI, Cinematics Supervisor: "This was a very difficult theme for us. Being asked to represent horror in well-lit areas was pretty hard to imagine at first. The focus on high-contrast lighting, with extremes of "brightness" and "darkness", was devised as we tried to figure out how to achieve that goal."
Are there any elements specific to the new consoles that you simply couldn't have achieved on earlier machines?
MIKIO UEDA, Programmer: "Lighting effects, physics, sound effects, AI, animation of objects and characters with many joints, big textures, polygon count… not one of these Resident Evil 5 features would be possible on older consoles. If you take a close look, you can see the motion of all joints in each Majini's fingers. We depict flying debris with complex physical calculations, and a Majini's screams rebound from the walls inside buildings. Pay attention to details: you will find evidence of a designer's craft everywhere."
Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield and Albert Wesker are stars of previous adventures. How do you go about remodeling a character already known to players and fans?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "I also worked on RE1, so I have known them for a long time. I tried my best to preserve their image and imagined how they would have changed over the passage of time. Chris trained and got stronger, while Wesker got more wrinkles."
YOSUKE YAMAGATA, Modeler: "All the characters are very important for this series, and popular with fans. So we took care not to change their image from past games. It's a simple method, but we made a new design that retained their signature color – green for Chris, blue for Jill – to carry over the same look from the past. The facial structures are mainly based on the visuals of the GameCube version, and we added various details to these in order to develop a realistic texture."
Although she's a new character, Sheva Alomar has also undergone much in the way of redesign and re-imagining. Her face has changed several times in the search for the right look. What decided the final form she would take?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "The designing of a female character is a killer assignment. We had to change and modify Sheva considerably to combine two qualities, feminine attraction and the strength of a fighting woman."
YOSUKE YAMAGATA, Modeler: "Sheva is a character who symbolizes one of the themes of RE5 – the "bond of partnership". Her existence is very important in characterizing RE5. She is a new major protagonist, so we tested ideas repeatedly for a long period to decide what kind of portrait was right for her."
"Sheva already existed at the early development phase, but we discussed many ideas for her background. Sometimes she was a civilian or a guerrilla, sometimes she was a commander of a military corps. In fact, we made in-game models of Sheva for some of these ideas. But there were certain desired constants in all iterations: beauty as a heroine, ferocity and determination as a fighter. Finally, we chose the current design which is contemporary, as with Chris, mixed with a wild look appropriate for the assignment in Africa."
"We took great care in creating her face, sometimes starting from scratch just after we had finished. We then had to adjust the modeling several times after she appeared in-game until we got positive feedback on her appeal. Our visuals staff even suggested an adjustment to her in-game lighting so that she looks more charming."
Uniforms and equipment are represented with rigorous attention to detail. What kind of real-world sources did you draw on to bring conviction to the depictions?
YOSUKE YAMAGATA, Modeler: "Chris belongs to a state-of-the-art, practical organization. Therefore we created his equipment with reference to military hardware in the real world to avoid being outdated or unrealistic. We also drew upon photos of soldiers and PMC (Private Military Company, or mercenaries) in the field to recreate the "wardrobe" typical of troops involved in military action. I am interested in all gadgets that soldiers equip themselves with and the gear they carry in the field, but there is a huge amount of detail and the kit changes very quickly. So the reconstruction wasn't an easy matter."
"We got help from a Japanese military store during the game's development. The owner of this shop imports and sells equipment. We borrowed real body armor, holsters, night vision goggles, gas masks and other gear as research material. These were very helpful references. He taught me how to use these items and pointed out unsatisfactory aspects of equipment design. I guess this all helped us to achieve the level of precision in our presentation."
The Majini are far removed from the zombies of the first Resident Evil. Like the Ganados of RE4, their humanity is still often apparent and they act with intelligence. Does this make them less pitiable and more frightening?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "Majini are more violent, aggressive and possess more murderous intent than Ganados. This is an explicit sign that they will kill you if you don't kill them. As evidence that they are already victims of their leeches and no longer human, you can see the Plaga when you perform a headshot on them. They lost their humanity because of this parasite. And now, you must defeat them to survive. It's a horrific reality."
YOSHINORI MATSUSHITA, Modeler: "We do not express intuitive fear, such as you would feel for flesh-eating zombies with repulsive visuals. It is their insanity and unpredictable behavior linked with their human intelligence which now create fear for the player."
How much did you pick up on the notion of Plagas from RE4 and how much have you added to their abilities and potential, as a result of the artists coming up with "mutations"?
YOSHINORI MATSUSHITA, Modeler: "We adopted almost all basic concepts from RE4. There are few Plagas of "dominant type" and many of "dominated type". The dominated type (Majini belong to this class) acts with the will of the dominant type. This was barely apparent in previous games, but we used this setting as a basis to create Plaga in RE5."
"Plagas were weak against light in RE4, and did not appear during the day. Wesker obtained a Plaga sample in a side-story of RE4 and he or his followers conducted research on adapting the weaknesses against sunlight (although Plagas still remain weak against strong light, such as a Flash Grenade). Plagas do not have any individual form by nature and it is not clear what dictates their manifestation. Kipepeo in RE5 can also survive after leaving the host. This is evidence that Wesker's research enhanced the parasite's fighting strength."
Adjule can be seen in two forms: a normal dog form and a mutated form. How was the Adjule invented?
JIRO TAOKA, Lead Designer: "The Plaga's tentacles came out from the back in RE4 but, during the development of RE5, I wanted to create something more disgusting and visually impressive. As we were discussing ideas, the design artist made a rough sketch with a splitting head. This is the design I chose."
Concept drawings of Kipepeo reveal a creature that is equipped with abdominal claws. In the game, the creature uses these talons to perform an effective grapple attack. Which prevails, the artist's concept or the game design?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "Creatures can be conjured by artistic designs but, in the case of Kipepeo and Bui Kichwa, they were prompted by a request from the design team. We wanted to create a situation in which one character is caught and the other character must help."
YOSHINORI MATSUSHITA, Modeler: "The design team took precedence on creature design in RE5. They defined enemy characteristics, like their role, action pattern and so on for the art team. The two teams had various discussions and the artists prepared many rough designs from the results. This enabled us to chose the visual look of the creature. In rare cases we began with the creature's appearance and expanded the game idea from that image, like in the case of Uroboros. Sometimes we created a new character from art to remedy any lack of visual excitement following the gameplay development."
"The design team made a presentation of Kipepeo's required attributes ("Kipepeo comes rushing over to the player and pulls him up") and the art team then worked on a creature design to match this. But most designs are not chosen in a smooth way. Quite a lot of ideas must be changed, or will be abandoned when they do not fit the view of the game world, or if they are not compatible with the game system. In fact, the Kipepeo's design was first decided and appeared on the basis of animation, but then we thought, "Kipepeo's image doesn't fit the game", and we had to overhaul his design radically."
A concept sketch of the Bui Kichwa shows it attached to the character's back, as we see in the game, but also attached to a human or Majini host attacking the character. Were they originally some kind of mutated form?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "At first, yes, this enemy was a derivation of Plaga. But it was clear it would have more appearance opportunities if it could act freely. That's why it is now an independent creature."
JIRO TAOKA, Lead Designer: "Bui Kichwa is also an improved type of Plaga. So Bui Kichwa spawned from Majini, just like Kipepeo, in the early development phase. But it wasn't good to let so many stem from Majini, so we redefined this so that Bui Kichwa would appear from the ground. At that point, the idea of spawning from Majini was abandoned."
The Licker uses its long tongue to perform an effective attack. Where did you get this idea? Did you try to mimic the way chameleons hunt?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "Licker appeared early in RE2 with a "neck-chopper" attack which caused instant death. We changed this enemy according to the co-op design, adding the grappling time. The jumping attack is not an instant death attack like RE2's, as the co-op player has time to help their partner. The Licker now has a much longer tongue than in RE2."
Early images of Popokarimu suggest a hybrid creature that looks more like a bat and a scorpion combined. What were the reasons for this particular design?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "We started with the idea that we would like to have a creature like "Red Arremer" from Ghouls 'n' Ghosts [an older Capcom title] which can attack from mid-air and on the ground. Popokarimu has a weak point on its back for game design reasons – it makes it difficult to fight against Popokarimu alone and this highlights the merit of working together."
JIRO TAOKA, Lead Designer: "Popokarimu is a combination of bat and silkworm, invented when we planned to create a flying boss enemy. We heightened the red color on the weak point (abdomen) after play testing as it was decided it would be good to have this reflect the glowing of the sunset."
YOSHINORI MATSUSHITA, Modeler: "We kept the idea that Popokarimu is a huge bat infected by Plaga but we changed his appearance from adult insect with hard shell to young, worm-like larva. The reason for this alteration was the look of the early image. That creature had too strong a fantasy element, and lacked a sense of revulsion. So we changed him to increase the visual impact."
Are there any elements specific to the new consoles that you simply couldn't have achieved on earlier machines?
MAKOTO FUKUI, Lead Modeler: "I would say, the presentation of the creature Uroboros. The core element of this creature is the large amount of tentacles covering the body. Maybe we could have hit on this idea in earlier days, but it would have been abandoned at review phase because it was impossible to recreate. This depiction is not easy with any hardware, and it was quite challenging. Initially, we had to reduce the number of tentacles by about 50% for the final Uroboros but our highly-motivated staff wanted to develop a creature like never before and persevered to create the birth of Uroboros in RE5."
Is motion capture something you have always done, or is this a relatively new way for you to animate RE characters?
YUKIO SEIKE, Chief Animator: "We have employed motion capture in the past, but this time we used it much more than before. Practically 100% of our human character motions are based on motion capture."
YOSHIAKI HIRABAYASHI, Cinematics Supervisor: "We adopted facial capture and camera capture (virtual camera) for the first time in this series. I think the acting performances are better than ever before due to the facial expressions and a sense of realism evoked by the camera movement. Incidentally, the facial capture was synchronized with the voice recording."
There are some very impressive animations at work in the actions of all characters and creatures. How did you achieve this?
JUN TAKEUCHI & MASACHIKA KAWATA, Producers: "We made creatures with specific attributes in mind, such as something scary, something vicious, or something where we could show off our technology..."
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "First we thought about co-op play. What should these monsters do, and how should players move or attack as a consequence? We sometimes used an animal as the base reference, and then performed a Resident Evil makeover."
YUKIO SEIKE, Chief Animator: "Animations of non-human type creatures are made by hand. As there are many creatures with tentacles, we devised technology to create such animations easily."
How do you develop the action set-pieces that are the key element of each chapter?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "We often use a storyboard as the base and then flesh it out later. Sometimes, though, we make a very rough version of the whole chapter for testing purposes, then add new areas or enemies later."
When you started conceptualizing RE5, did you have any key ideas or scenes that acted as the guiding principles of the game?
JUN TAKEUCHI & MASACHIKA KAWATA, Producers: "The story of RE4 was like a side-story, so our aim was to continue the main RE story as a sequel."
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "The launch concepts were to use Wesker, the character of this series; to change the stage of this game to Africa due to the progenitor virus; and to develop this game with RE4 as a fundamental base. Co-op play was added to these concepts, which gave us a firm bedrock."
Co-op play is a major change to introduce. It dispenses with the tradition of isolation and self-dependence of the main character in earlier games. What was the intention? And did it work out in the way you imagined?
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "We were afraid of losing the fear and atmosphere you enjoy as a solitary player by introducing co-op as a primary feature. But then we thought: co-op is just like entering a haunted house with two people, and this was a big leap forward. We thought a great deal about the survival element, in which you must co-operate to survive. I think this combination of RE and co-op has more advantages than disadvantages."
JIRO TAOKA, Lead Designer: "Partnership – the bond between the two – is the theme of this game, and is reflected in the search for Jill. The co-op system is a very good way to realize this. With the characters working as a team, apprehension is greatly enhanced when a player is alone in certain situations."
Other video games have attempted to introduce computer-controlled sidekicks with only limited success...
JIRO TAOKA, Lead Designer: "I regarded it as an opportunity that we should take very seriously, as other videogames have struggled to create good CPU-controlled sidekicks. I talked with the development team and obtained their feedback in adjusting the system throughout the project. It is the result of a lot of hard work. I think we've achieved a good sense of fighting alongside a CPU character who is neither too good nor too lazy."
TAKAAKI YAMANOUCHI, Programmer: "To realize this feeling, we programmed the CPU to attack enemies on the back, come to help when the player is in danger and collect ammunition if the player has low ammo. To maintain tension, the NPC won't kill all enemies so the player himself must administer the coup de grace to bosses."
YASUHIRO ANPO, Production Director: "We engineered scenarios to make use of it. Scenes where you fight together and your partner is dependable; helping scenes where you must aid your partner; and tactical scenes where you rely on the assistance of your partner. We continued to adjust the co-op AI until the final stages of development phase, to make it perform well as your sidekick – but without it becoming too intrusive."
Do you start with a detailed overarching plan or narrative arc for the whole game into which everything must fit, or do you develop a few key scenes and then fill in the gaps to see where it leads? Is there constant rewriting?
JUN TAKEUCHI & MASACHIKA KAWATA, Producers: "First we developed a rough storyline, and then we introduced the details. Sure, we have rewritten settings when necessary, but I believe that the main storyline remained unchanged."
TSUKASA TAKENAKA, Story Background & Files: "Capcom favors the fun for the gamer over story during development, so it will be rewritten to improve the game. But too much rewriting leads to a lack of clarity and contradiction. I had to check the story, character relations and their aims. The "documents" in RE5 now have stronger meaning than previously because they fill the gaps. I would be happy if you could enjoy the RE5 story again by reading those documents once you have finished the game."