It has been 20 years since Resident Evil 2 was released. The game is considered by many to be one of the best that the franchise has to offer despite its rocky development process. The original version of the game, now colloquially known as Resident Evil 1.5 was scrapped at about 70% complete nearly a year into its dev cycle, pushing the release of the game back from May of 1997, to September of 1997, and finally to a release date of January 1998. Today we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Resident Evil 2 by looking back at its journey from concept, to product, back to concept, to final version. Welcome to Arcadology: The Development of Resident Evil 2.
Development of Resident Evil 2
In April of 1996, once month after the release of Resident Evil, work began on Resident Evil 2. Shinji Mikami, the creator of the franchise and director of the first game moved into the role of producer. Hideki Kamiya who was a planner on the first game was promoted to director and the team got to work. By July of 1996, with only three months of work into the game, Production Studio 4 already had a demo to show at the V-Wrap Festival in Japan featuring two new protagonists, Elza Walker and Leon S. Kennedy.
The reason for moving on from Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield differed depending on who you asked. Mikami’s reason was quite straightforward: Jill and Chris had already experience the terror of zombies, and new characters were needed in order to keep the horror fresh. On the other hand, eventual RE2 team member Noboru Sugimura would state:
“Jill and Chris’ motivation was simply to escape the zombie-infested Spencer Mansion, so they weren’t given any independent characterization or motivation. That made it hard for us to give them big dramatic arcs. That’s why for the sequel we decided to create new characters, with suitable motivations for the dramatic plot…”
During the course of production, Mikami and Kamiya would have frequent disagreements about the direction of the game. So often that Mikami eventually had to take a creative backseat for the sake of the project. In November of 1996, a press release was sent out by the US office of Capcom revealing the release date for the game to be May of 1997, a little over a year after the release of the first game.
The timeline for when Resident Evil 1.5, or the Elza Walker Build was scrapped is a little hazy. What I do know, is that as of February 1997, it still seemed as if 1.5 was intended to be the final version of the game based on an interview Shinji Mikami gave to GamePro. At this point, the release date of May had been pushed back to September, but the screenshots used in the article are clearly the 1.5 version of the game.
At some point after this, Yoshiki Okamoto, Mikami’s supervisor, was given a demonstration of the game and expressed his dissatisfaction with it. A screenwriter by the name of Noboru Sugimura would be brought on to consult on how the scenario needed to be adjusted. His ultimate suggestion? Tear it down and start over again. In his own words:
“It was all too realistic. The ominous atmosphere from the first game, as represented in things like the Spencer Mansion itself, the armor room, key items like the jewelry box and gemstones… all that had been removed. The Police Station, too, had been changed to a very modern building. As a result, everything felt too modern and strangely sterile. “This doesn’t feel like Resident Evil…” Of course, wiping the slate clean and going back to zero on a project that’s already 70% complete is no mean feat…”
Sugimura’s involvement grew from consultant to narrative designer, bringing a professionalism to a plot that up until that point was a little bit ramshackle. Each developer had their own idea of what the narrative was, and no one was actually working off of a centralized document, or what they call in the TV world, a story bible. In an interview with the late Sartoru Iwata, Hideki Kamiya took the full blame for the scrapping of version 1.5. He considered it his fault because he would agree to every suggestion that the people on his team would throw at him. He was truly grateful that Mikami kept him on as director after it became apparent work would need to be scrapped.
The game was torn down to the studs. What could be reused, was reused, but many graphics would have to be changed in an effort to sharpen the presentation. Initially character models used a lower polygon count which allowed for more enemies to appear on the screen at once. As this need waned, the fidelity of the character models increased. By June of 1997, one month after the original release date Capcom was demonstrating a new demo of the game at the E3 convention.
Aside from graphical changes, there were a number of changes to the characters in the game. The original female protagonist, Elza Walker, was replaced by Claire Redfield, the sister of Chris Redfield. Marvin Branaugh, who was supposed to be a support character for Leon, had his role minimized to only a cameo. The start of the scenario was moved from the police station to the city itself. Speaking of the police station, the design of the building was changed from a typical modern aesthetic, to a former Art Museum that closely resembled the style of the Spencer Mansion.
As they reshaped the story, Kamiya wanted to implement an idea they didn’t utilize in version 1.5 called the zapping system. I’m not entirely sure why they named it this, but the zapping system was what allowed the actions from one scenario to effect the other. It was an idea originally suggested by Kamiya during the development of the first Resident Evil game, obviously though it was not implemented. This resulted in Resident Evil 1 having two stories that are roughly the same, with some minor changes, whereas Resident Evil 2 allowed the protagonists to have wildly different experiences. Sugimura was initially against the idea of interweaving the plots because of how complex it could become. Eventually though, Kamiya won out, and the result was a total of four scenarios: Leon A, Claire A, Leon B, and Claire B.
Regardless of how the player approached the game, the story beats remained largely the same. An outbreak of the t-virus wreaks havoc on the citizenry of Raccoon City. The battle against the zombie horde reached its tipping point not long before the arrival of Leon and Claire, who find the city broken and battered with few survivors. Those that remain, Robert Kendo, Marvin Branaugh, among others, are not long for the world. While Leon and Claire try to escape the madness, evil big pharma company Umbrella is attempting to recapture one of the few extant samples of the G-Virus, a more mutagenic plague that is affecting its creator, William Birkin, who prowls the entirety of the game. There are twists, and turns and a good old fashioned countdown to destruction timer. The game also features one of the most iconic enemies in the Resident Evil bestiary, the inside out looking creature known as The Licker. A funny plot point though that I never thought about until now is that Ada Wong somehow does not have a cinematic cut scene. It would have been apt given the kiss that Ada and Leon share. Hideki Kamiya’s explanation was that all the cut scenes were created earlier in the production process, at a time when Ada’s plot line was different. There simply wasn’t enough time to create scenes for her.
Upon release, Resident Evil 2 was critically well received by the major publications of the era, including EGM, GamePro and Game Informer. One of the most common criticisms was a repeat of the first game: the voice acting. In an interview for the book Biohazard 2: Final Report, Kamiya mentions that because the voice actors recorded before there was any footage for the game it was difficult for Capcom to direct the voice actors into performing in a more genuine way.
It also sold well, ultimately selling nearly five million copies on the PlayStation alone. To promote the release of the game in Japan, Zombie movie legend, the late great George Romero, was hired to direct several commercials. According to Shinji Mikami, he didn’t think that the suggestion to get Romero was serious but thought it should be pursued, and much to his surprise, George said yes. Romero would eventually be considered to direct the film adaptation of Resident Evil and he even wrote a draft of the screenplay before getting the axe. Capcom producer Yoshiki Okamoto famously said, “His script wasn’t good, so Romero was fired.” Now, I’m not going to defend George Romero’s first draft of the Resident Evil movie. It’s… it’s eh. But it was better that what Paul Anderson would eventually put together. And I know some of you are probably fans of the Anderson movies. I am not. I think they are hot garbage. But that’s just like… my opinion man. Anyway, back to RE2.
Now, the early days of the franchise are often associated with the PlayStation. This makes sense given the massive sway that Sony’s first console held over the market. Resident Evil 2 would be ported to other consoles over the years after its release, most notably, the Nintendo 64. There is something jarring about the thought of Resident Evil on a Nintendo console. Only several years prior, Nintendo was acting like the narc of the game industry during the Senate hearings that would lead to the creation of the ESRB, with Sega taking most of the negative attention from Senator Joe Lieberman. For those of us who were in our teens and 20s at the time, it felt like tonal whiplash for Nintendo to be interested in allowing Capcom to port what was then one of the goriest franchises in production.
The responsibility for the port would be given to Angel Studios. In a post-mortem for the game written by programmer Todd Meynink on GamaSutra, he mentions that the team’s efforts lead to a very efficient port which maximized the reuse of preexisting assets, as well as the successful compression of FMV onto a cartridge, which at the time was still quite a feat. Some delays occurred however when the game was handed to Nintendo for approval. Despite the minor hangups, the game shipped in November of 1999 after a 12 month development cycle with a team of 10 people and a budget of $1,000,000. It received a lot of praise as well.
One of the more fascinating ports of Resident Evil 2 was the one for Tiger Electronic’s Game.Com handheld system. You guys remember Tiger right? They made those little LCD games that, were barely games? Well the Game.com handheld was a Tiger handheld on… well, normally I’d say steroids, but in the spirit of the topic… the G-Virus. The game was a simple black and white, and featured screen and after screen of encounters in a pseudo-3d environment. The audio seems surprisingly effective from the gameplay I’ve watched but overall I feel sorry for those that had this as their first encounter with Resident Evil 2.
[ In the years since it’s release, there has been fascination with the scrapped version of Resident Evil 2. Although RE2 is beloved by many, the screen shots and demos that permeated games media back in 1996 and early 1997 of the 1.5 build have kept people wondering “what-if” for nearly 20 years. Several years ago, a group of fans named Team IGAS decided to put those what ifs to rest. Using bits of code from leaked demos of RE1.5 as well as code found in the finished game the team slowly but surely created a working version. Despite the digital archeology, not all the game could be reconstructed. In an interview with Kotaku the project lead who went by the name Birkin mentioned that while they were able to figure out 90% of Capcoms intentions there was still some creative license they had to take.
Recently there has been inconsistent news of Resident Evil 2 receiving the REmake treatment that gave Resident Evil 1 a facelift. Unfortunately since the announcement of the Resident Evil 2 Remake back in 2015, there has been very little official news about a release date or progress on the game. According to the youtube channel Residence of Evil, there have been some leaks about the game being in development hell, while this seems likely, I can’t independently verify that. Back in 2016 Hideki Kamiya, the director of the original game, admitted in an interview with Polygon that he had been prodding Jun Takeuchi, director of Resident Evil 5, to lead the remake the game. As far as rumors that Kamiya himself would want to direct the Remake, those were put to rest in an interview he game to Metro’s Gaming site. In it, he said when he got to play the Resident Evil 1 Remake, it was like he got to play the game for the first time:
“Even though a lot of the maps and designs were carried over from [Resident Evil 1] there were enough tweaks and adjustments in the remake that they made me feel like, “Wow, I’m playing this game for the first time”. So in that regard I have the same feelings for this Resident Evil 2 remake, which is that I would want to play it if only I could experience it as a consumer.”
Resident Evil 2 is being remade in another way however, as a board game. Capcom is partnering with Steamforged Games to create a table top version of Resident Evil 2. The development of the game was funded by a kickstarter that raised over 800,000 pounds. I’m interested in seeing how both ultimately turn out.
Resident Evil 2 has a longstanding legacy as one of the greatest survival horror games ever made. It also kicked off the career of Hideki Kamiya who would go on to create classics such as Devil May Cry, Viewtiful Joe, Okami, and Bayonetta. The success of 2 prompted further development in the series as well, but we will be discussing the period between 3 and 4 in another video.
Question of the Day, what is your favorite Resident Evil game? Thanks for watching Arcadology. The sources are available in the description below and if you enjoy this kind of content, please consider subscribing. Until next time, take care everyone.