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Resident Evil 2 (2019) - a zombie attacks Leon Kennedy on the ground

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How Resident Evil 2 fell apart, then became one of Capcom’s biggest hits

A new book excerpt tells the story of what happened behind the scenes

Capcom’s remake of Resident Evil 2 launches Jan. 25.
| Capcom

[Ed. note: Since 2014, Alex Aniel has been working on a book chronicling the history behind his favorite series, Resident Evil. Looking back at the franchise’s development history from the earliest days, the book — planned as two volumes — folds in interviews with many of the key figures who worked behind the scenes at Capcom.

Aniel isn’t planning to release the first volume — titled An Itchy, Tasty History of Resident Evil: 1994-2006 (Vol. 1) — until later this year. But to celebrate today being the 21st anniversary of Resident Evil 2’s release, he has put together a preview of the book in the form of an excerpt looking back on the creation of RE2. It’s a story about staff changes, failed experiments, and extraordinary success. And it starts with the promotion of game director Hideki Kamiya.]

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Capcom released games that achieved respectable sales. Mega Man and Street Fighter did not light sales charts on fire in 1987, particularly compared to the success stories of other companies like Nintendo and Sega, but they performed well enough for Capcom to release sequels that put these franchises on the map. Mega Man 2, believed by many to be the best in the series, outsold the original and became a global million-seller. The success of Street Fighter 2 was even more remarkable: it blew the first game so far away that the original is barely a footnote in Capcom history.

Compared to Mega Man and Street Fighter, the first Resident Evil was a more immediate success, putting it ahead of Capcom’s historical curve. Resident Evil 2 was thus born. For Capcom to maintain its momentum in the newly christened survival horror genre, though, Resident Evil 2 had to be better than its predecessor, much like Mega Man 2 and Street Fighter 2. The team wanted the sequel to be what James Cameron’s Aliens was to its predecessor, Alien: more groundbreaking and more ambitious.

Ideally, any video game sequel is propped up by the experience gained by its creators during the production of its predecessor. Creators aim to improve the quality for the sequel, usually adding new elements that were not previously possible due to time, technology, or budget constraints, all while expanding the scale to attain a better value proposition. However, even before Resident Evil 2 officially got off the ground, personnel shakeups at Capcom ensured that it would be created under a different environment than its predecessor.

Tokuro Fujiwara
Photo by Alex Aniel

The first change was the departure of Tokuro Fujiwara from Capcom in late 1995, before the original game was even released. Having been the grand master of Capcom’s console games since 1983 and a mentor to younger creators at the company, his departure marked the end of one era and the beginning of another. Fujiwara’s decision to leave came down to his desire to make new and original games, something he says he would have been unable to do within Capcom. “Outside of Resident Evil, Capcom wanted to continue making franchise titles like Street Fighter. Meanwhile, I wanted to develop original games, but it didn’t look like there’d be any opportunity to do so in the foreseeable future,” Fujiwara says. Officially, he resigned from Capcom immediately after the release of Resident Evil, although in practice, he had stopped coming into the office in December 1995 in order to use up his accumulated vacation days, of which there were plenty given his 13-year tenure, which encompassed thousands of hours of amassed overtime and unused days off, a pattern that was prevalent at Capcom during these years.

Fujiwara went on to establish his own independent development studio, Whoopee Camp. There, he assembled a team to develop a 2D platformer for PlayStation called Tomba! (known as Tombi! in Europe), which was released in December 1997. While not a tremendous commercial success, it performed well enough to receive a sequel two years later called Tomba! 2: The Evil Swine Return (Tombi! 2 in Europe). Unfortunately, Fujiwara did not enjoy the same level of success at Whoopee Camp as he did at Capcom. Neither Tomba title sold well enough to sustain the costs of operating the company, and as a result, Fujiwara placed Whoopee Camp into dormancy. The company continued to exist, but was effectively inactive.

Fujiwara went on to work on a number of games as a freelance consultant, such as the 2001 survival horror game Extermination for PlayStation 2. He would reunite with Capcom for the first time in a decade in 2006 for the PlayStation Portable (PSP) platformer Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins, a remake of the game he created two decades earlier. Later, he would work with PlatinumGames on a beat-’em-up title called MadWorld as a designer in 2009. Afterwards, Fujiwara took a break from working on games for several years due to health reasons. After his recovery, he quietly returned to the games industry in 2015 as a consultant. To perform these jobs, Fujiwara brought Whoopee Camp out of dormancy; as of 2018, he is operating under the banner once again. His involvement in the Resident Evil series may have been brief in retrospect, but had it not been for his seven-year-long desire to bring a legitimate horror experience to video games and his ability to recognize the talents of Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil might not exist as we know it today. Mikami is often credited as the father of Resident Evil, but Fujiwara should certainly be considered its grandfather. With Resident Evil 2, grandfather was no longer around.

The other notable departure was that of Kenichi Iwao, the scenario writer for Resident Evil. Iwao joined Capcom in the early 1990s, after the release of Street Fighter 2, and he initially worked on games like the Super NES platformer Demon’s Crest. Whereas Fujiwara as executive producer was more influential behind the scenes, Iwao’s contributions to the series are more direct and tangible. Iwao created the core elements of the Resident Evil game universe, like the T-virus, Umbrella Corporation, S.T.A.R.S. members, zombies, the Tyrant, and all other enemies. He also wrote the game’s files, including the iconic line “Itchy. Tasty.” from the Keeper’s Diary. In Japanese, the line is written as kayui uma (かゆい うま), which is more or less a direct translation of “Itchy. Tasty.” The phrase has become a pop culture reference in Japan, as the word kayu is a homonym that means either “itchy” or “rice porridge,” while the word uma (うま) is a homonym meaning either “delicious” or “horse.” Thanks to Iwao, Japanese Resident Evil fans can occasionally make jokes about the game featuring some combination of delicious porridge, itchy porridge, delicious horse, or itchy horse.

Upon departing Capcom, Iwao returned to his hometown of Tokyo and joined Square, where he went on to direct Parasite Eve 2, the sequel to a Resident Evil-inspired survival horror game whose plot is based on a novel. He also worked on the scenarios for the massively multiplayer online RPGs Final Fantasy XI and Final Fantasy XIV. It is difficult to imagine the Resident Evil universe without the framework Iwao created early on. His departure meant the Resident Evil 2 team would have to find a new scenario writer, which would have profound consequences on the game’s development.

Hideki Kamiya
Photo by Alex Aniel

Meanwhile, Shinji Mikami, now an established figure within Capcom thanks to his successful directing of Resident Evil, decided to take on a different role for the sequel as its producer, a task more involved with budgeting and project management than just working one’s creative juices. This meant having to choose someone else to direct Resident Evil 2. Mikami wanted to pass the baton over to a younger colleague in order to foster his or her professional and creative development. Among the many talented people on his team, Mikami took notice of a 25-year-old man named Hideki Kamiya who had recently joined the company.

Hailing from Matsumoto, Kamiya, like most creators, has his own humble beginnings. He became an avid gamer during his childhood, having owned an NES and played arcade games. He also enjoyed drawing. After graduating from university, Kamiya wanted to work in the games industry, leading him to apply for several companies. He received job offers from two major publishers: Capcom, for a designer position, and Namco, who wanted him as an artist. Ultimately, Kamiya chose the former, joining in April 1994. He was soon put through the motions, as most new hires in Japanese companies are during their first year. Following his job training, Kamiya performed entry-level tasks such as quality assurance and basic planning before joining the original Resident Evil team. There, Kamiya was a designer for certain environments in the Spencer Estate, though his most permanent contribution to the series’ lore was the naming of some of the characters, including Jill, Chris, Wesker, and the others. “I got the inspiration for their names from various media sources, including pornographic magazines,” Kamiya muses over dinner at an Osaka restaurant one rainy autumn evening in October 2017, when trying to remember exactly how he came up with their names.

Of course, Kamiya’s creative talents went beyond just naming characters, and Mikami soon took notice of his potential. Over drinks one night in mid-1994, Mikami told Kamiya, “You’re the dark horse of the new recruits. You’re either going to fail spectacularly, or you’re going to be a huge success.” While Kamiya admits he was fairly boisterous in his 20s, his colleagues universally describe him as diligent, thoughtful, and hardworking, traits that Mikami saw as vital to successfully leading a project. When it came time to choose a director for Resident Evil 2, Mikami called Kamiya into a meeting in spring 1996 to formalize the decision, much like Fujiwara had done to Mikami nearly three years earlier. Kamiya, for reasons even he himself claims not to understand to this day, was now the director of Resident Evil 2.

‘Resident Evil 1.5’ and the arrival of Noboru Sugimura

Survival horror games are not for everyone. Aside from being intended for mature audiences, their spookiness and haunting imagery require a certain level of mental preparedness, lest there be plenty of screaming and panicking. It was ironic, then, that Hideki Kamiya was now in the director’s seat for Resident Evil 2. Despite his newfound responsibility for overseeing the creative direction of the hyped sequel to the most successful horror game at the time, Kamiya was actually not, nor has he ever been, a fan of horror movies or games. He admits to being easily startled and having a soft stomach when it comes to violent and grotesque imagery, elaborating that even the gruesome death scenes in Resident Evil, from scenes of people being chewed by zombies to being decapitated by Hunters, can be far too much for him. However, Mikami chose him to direct Resident Evil 2, which meant that Kamiya needed to get over his distaste for horror, or else hand off the responsibility to someone who could. For the next two years, Kamiya would do his best to put on a brave face.

Unable to ever completely set aside his fear of horror, Kamiya decided that Resident Evil 2, while adhering to much of the core gameplay framework of its predecessor, would be more action-oriented. This direction was a reflection of his own preference for Hollywood action films. The original Resident Evil, as an early PlayStation title, neutered the combat abilities of its protagonists, resulting in a slow-paced action experience. With minor additions like automatic weapons and faster and more numerous enemies, Resident Evil 2 would largely abide by the original’s framework. But instead of an isolated mansion in the woods, the game would take place among the streets of Raccoon City. This meant more zombies on screen — as many as seven, in fact, which is more than double the maximum of three seen in the original. The sequel would star a new cast across two scenarios, including characters like officers Leon S. Kennedy and Marvin Branagh, civilians Ada Wong and Robert Kendo, young motorcyclist Elza Walker, and a teenage Sherry Birkin (most of their names were different earlier in production). Kamiya came up with unique and expansive scenarios for both Leon and Elza, much like the ones that set Jill and Chris apart in the original. Wanting Resident Evil 2 to stand on its own, Kamiya decided that the game would have few direct connections to the story of the original game, although they take place in the same universe.

With Resident Evil capturing gamers’ imaginations since 1996, the sequel garnered considerable media and consumer attention in both North America and Japan. Resident Evil 2 was shown publicly for the first time at the spring 1996 Tokyo Game Show. While it was still early in production, players could already see improvements in the graphics and gameplay. Hype began to build among fans and expectations grew high, which in turn added to much of the pressure felt by Kamiya and his team. There was also considerable pressure internally from Capcom management. Having averted the threat of bankruptcy with the success of the original game, Capcom was now in better shape, though still far from being in the clear. A mishap or two could send the company back into difficult times. Thus, Capcom could not afford to squander its momentum. Resident Evil 2 needed to be successful like Street Fighter 2 had been earlier in the decade. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1996, Kamiya’s team continued to develop the environments, scenario, and gameplay system. They managed to complete about 70 percent of development by the end of that year.

Yoshiki Okamoto
Photo by Alex Aniel

As it neared completion, Resident Evil 2 now had to pass inspection by Yoshiki Okamoto, just like the original in late 1995. Resident Evil had actually been in rough shape when he took over for Tokuro Fujiwara as its executive producer, but Okamoto turned out to be even more dissatisfied with the status of Resident Evil 2. Notably, the visual premise, with its overly bright neon-lit environments and emphasis on Hollywood action elements, seemed to run contrary to an authentic horror experience. Simply put, the game was not very scary. There were also a plethora of other personnel issues impeding on the project, which Mikami attributed in a 1998 interview in the book Research on Biohazard 2 -final edition- to the high number of young, relatively inexperienced developers on the team.

The story also proved to be a more tremendous hurdle than anyone could have expected. Okamoto felt the plot and writing were particularly subpar and uninteresting, with the game as a whole lacking originality. The Resident Evil series was Capcom’s first game in which the plot was an important part of the universe. The Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Ghosts ’n Goblins series all had simple stories with little dialogue. For those games, the stories might as well not be there. The team’s goals for Resident Evil 2 were thus unprecedented in Capcom history. Kamiya had taken charge of the story after Iwao left, carefully trying to work within Iwao’s framework while injecting his own style. However, Kamiya’s lack of real experience in scenario writing was evident. In its present state, Resident Evil 2 was nowhere close to becoming the Aliens that Capcom originally set out to create.

The team needed to modify the scenario, but no one else at the company had a credible replacement. Capcom thus decided to look outside of the company for help. Okamoto decided to get in touch with Noboru Sugimura, a well-known writer in Japan who by 1996 held an impressive two-decade pedigree for his work on Japanese television shows such as Super Sentai Zyuranger (adapted for the West as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) and Kamen Rider (adapted for the West as Saban’s Masked Rider). Sugimura happened to be a fan of the first game, so he accepted Okamoto’s invitation. In late 1996, Sugimura visited Capcom’s Tokyo office to meet with Mikami and Kamiya, who were visiting from Capcom HQ in Osaka.

Sugimura played Capcom’s latest build of Resident Evil 2. Upon finishing, he immediately offered Mikami and Kamiya his feedback. Sugimura, as a writer, believed that the story lacked both depth and thematic coherence, which he emphasized were key elements to creating a universe that would be engaging for gamers while surpassing what Capcom already achieved with the first game. The idea of “thematic coherence” was particularly vital to Sugimura, who lambasted Kamiya for creating a story without any ties to the original. “That’s terrible! You need to create a proper link between the two games!” Sugimura exclaimed. Sugimura believed that if Resident Evil was to evolve into a full-fledged game brand, then the games needed to be tied together in a manner that was deeper than what Capcom was used to doing with the Mega Man and Street Fighter series, which did not depend on their minimalist plots to define their identities as game franchises. Sugimura proposed the provocative idea of having the team cease development of the current build and begin anew. Mikami and Kamiya could not make the decision during this meeting. They told Sugimura they would discuss it with their team and get back to him.

Shinji Mikami
Photo by Alex Aniel

After the meeting, Mikami and Kamiya rode the bullet train for the three-hour journey back to Osaka. During the ride, the two discussed Sugimura’s feedback. While he was quite negative about the game, they agreed that Sugimura had raised many valid points that were difficult to ignore. This was the moment when Mikami and Kamiya realized what they needed to do: the existing build of Resident Evil 2 would need to be completely overhauled, and they would need to bring Sugimura aboard to steer the ship in the right direction. Such a drastic move would result in a year-long delay, which was still a long period of time in the PlayStation era. While a game created on schedule might take anywhere from three to five years to complete today, in the 1990s such long development periods were less common and often a sign of troubled production. Regardless of the lost productivity and financial impact on Capcom, Mikami and Kamiya had made up their minds. Okamoto analyzed Sugimura’s feedback, much of which mirrored Okamoto’s initial concerns. Okamoto backed Mikami and Kamiya, thus making the decision official: Resident Evil 2 was to be scrapped, delayed, and re-created. “We decided to cancel it because we knew it wouldn’t meet the expectations of players,” Okamoto says.

When asked about his feelings the moment Resident Evil 2 was officially canceled and whether he had any particular regrets about the experience, Kamiya unambiguously argues that starting over was the correct decision. “It truly was a piece of shit. It was boring, devoid of vision, and a poor excuse for a horror game,” Kamiya colorfully describes. Armed with a strong choice of words, Kamiya appears steadfast and confident in a way that only someone with the requisite experience could be. “To be honest, I was actually relieved when we canceled the game,” Kamiya admits. “It was my first time sitting in the director’s seat, so I was quite inexperienced. I like to experiment with different ideas to see what works and what does not. Another thing that contributed to the failure of the game was my lack of vision. I do not usually have a specific vision going into a project. I like to experiment and see what sticks.” When asked if he ever considered resigning — an act not unheard of in Japan, where a single failure can prematurely end one’s career — Kamiya stoically says, “No, not at all.”

When news of the cancellation made rounds within Capcom, a number of team members were dismayed. One year of development time had gone down the drain, and team morale had sunk. Certain team members even went as far as to arrange private meetings with Mikami to request that Kamiya be replaced as director. Mikami was not remotely impressed with such requests. He would flip the tables on the members and challenge them by rhetorically asking, “Why don’t you direct the game, then?!” No one offered to step forward to take over as director. Kamiya’s position was safe — for the moment. For everyone, however, it was back to the drawing board. During round two, Kamiya could not just rest on his laurels. Another failed attempt would not be tolerated, even by Mikami, who was Kamiya’s cheerleader at Capcom and the sole figure who stood between Kamiya and the more discontented members of the team.

The initial version of Resident Evil 2 was now gone, although not forgotten. The developers assigned it the codename “Resident Evil 1.5” in order to differentiate it from the release version of Resident Evil 2 that they were now working on. The “1.5” is meant to reference the prototype’s development taking place between Resident Evil (“1”) and Resident Evil 2. Most games change between their initial conception and final release; such transformations are usually kept out of the public eye until a game is close to its release date. But because “Resident Evil 1.5” was prominently covered in game media prior to its reboot, Capcom recognizes and openly acknowledges its existence as a canceled Resident Evil 2 prototype. To Capcom, it serves as a testament to starting over from zero when the situation truly calls for it, and that games had evolved to the point where seeking outside assistance such as that of Sugimura could help improve a project’s fortunes and set it down a path not previously available. Its cancellation was also a pivotal point in Resident Evil history, because it was the first step in creating a sustained and interconnected narrative that endures to this day. Capcom also learned that not all of its games needed to follow the Mega Man or Street Fighter approach of having only loosely connected stories. Even some of the prototype’s development engine found new life later on in another action game, Onimusha: Warlords, which was released in 2001 for PlayStation 2.

A curated trailer of “Resident Evil 1.5” was included as a bonus with Japanese copies of Resident Evil: Director’s Cut Dual Shock Ver., which was released in August 1998 (after the final release of Resident Evil 2), giving fans a glimpse of what could have been. Fifteen years later in 2013, an incomplete but playable prototype demo managed to leak onto the internet. The game-modding community has attempted to transform the demo into a playable product that adheres to the development team’s original vision, with varying degrees of success. Although gamers might find the prototype an interesting relic of gaming history, Kamiya is unenthused by such efforts to bring “Resident Evil 1.5” back: “Honestly, no one needs to play through such a bad game.”

Resident Evil 2 (2019) - aiming at a zombie on the ceiling
Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake for PC, PS4, and Xbox One keeps the same structure as the original game, but overhauls the visuals and gameplay.

Kamiya strikes back: Resident Evil 2 rebooted

Having been recruited into the Resident Evil 2 team by Yoshiki Okamoto to steer the ship in the right direction, writer Noboru Sugimura wasted no time getting his feet wet. Recognizing the value that well-written stories brought to games, Okamoto established an independent company called Flagship Co., Ltd., in April 1997 for the purpose of developing game scenarios. With Okamoto in charge of the new company, Sugimura was designated as the head of scenario development. While technically working for a separate company outside of Capcom proper, Flagship and Sugimura were very much integrated into the Resident Evil 2 team and would have hands-on involvement with the project’s new direction.

First, Sugimura examined what could actually be salvaged from “Resident Evil 1.5” or otherwise repurposed for the new game. Although Resident Evil 2 was being redesigned from the ground up, not everything from “Resident Evil 1.5” was getting thrown to the wayside. Sugimura decided to reuse some character designs to suit the new direction. He als decided that someone from the cast of Resident Evil 2 should have direct ties to someone from the first game. As a result, he chose to replace Elza Walker with a similar but new character: 19-year-old Claire Redfield, who would serve as the younger sister of Chris Redfield. The game now contained that direct connection to the first game that “Resident Evil 1.5” was lacking. The designs for Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong, Sherry Birkin, Marvin Branagh, and Robert Kendo were largely carried over from the original version, and given expanded or modified roles.

Sugimura also decided to keep the general Raccoon City backdrop, given that it was actually one of the few elements directly tied to the original game to begin with. And as with Hideki Kamiya’s original concept, the settings would be dramatically larger than those of the original. Raccoon City has been overrun with zombies, in contrast to the quieter, more isolated, and claustrophobic corridors of the Spencer Mansion. Three months after the original game, Leon and Claire have arrived in Raccoon City, where they are unwittingly thrust into the zombie outbreak. They seek refuge in the Raccoon Police Department (RPD), perhaps the series’ most iconic setting next to the Spencer Mansion, and where the real fun begins. Sugimura suggested that the RPD be given a specific backstory to allow for it to function as a puzzle-ridden maze. “During ‘Resident Evil 1.5,’ the setup of the RPD made no sense at all,” Kamiya explains. “Sugimura suggested making it so that the police building was formerly an art museum, explaining why there are bizarre puzzles throughout the building.”

Another element carried over from “Resident Evil 1.5” was the use of two protagonists. However, rather than have their stories occur in complete isolation like in the original, Kamiya and Sugimura worked together to come up with a new mechanic called the “zapping system.” Leon and Claire explore the same locations and solve many of the same or similar puzzles, but because their stories occur simultaneously, players must finish both scenarios to witness the entire story and earn the true ending. Leon and Claire cross paths from time to time, so there are instances when the actions in one scenario directly affect what happens in the other. The most notable would be deciding whether it should be Leon or Claire who acquires a specific weapon; players must weigh the pros and cons of the decision, as it could make things easier in the first scenario but more difficult in the second, and vice versa.

The zapping system contained an additional layer of depth: the presence of both “A” and “B” scenarios. In the A scenario, Claire is chosen, while Leon is chosen for the B scenario. The inverse, Leon for A and Claire for B, is also possible. The stories and gameplay elements, such as enemies and items encountered, would change depending on which scenario combination was selected. In total, there were now two combinations across four different scenarios. The B scenarios feature an exclusive stalker enemy, the trenchcoat-donning T-102 Tyrant, commonly referred to by Western fans as “Mr. X,” who would go on to become one of the more iconic monsters in the series. While the zapping system has come to define the identity of Resident Evil 2, neatly setting it apart from other entries, it was actually implemented late in development. Kamiya decided to incorporate the concept of two overlapping story arcs, an idea he actually came up with during the end of the first game’s development, when it was too late to implement into that game. Kamiya admits that there are repetitive elements shared across all scenarios, such as both characters having to open the same doors with the same key, but he also notes that obsessing over making the game too realistic would have made it less entertaining.

On the technical side, the team managed to make tangible upgrades to the game’s engine, particularly its graphics and animation. Whereas Resident Evil was an experiment in getting a 3D video game up and running on PlayStation, the team was now more skilled and experienced, and it clearly showed with the technical improvements in Resident Evil 2. The character models and backgrounds are more detailed, and characters will slow down and clutch their sides as they sustain injuries. The enemies are faster and more aggressive, thanks to improvements made to the game’s AI. This is most obvious with boss animations, which are faster and more threatening than anything from the first game.

One accident during development was how Resident Evil 2 became a game shipped across two CDs. In the final game, disc 1 contains Leon’s scenario, while disc 2 features Claire’s. It was technologically possible to have all of the final data for Resident Evil 2 fit on a single 700 MB CD, just like the original. This was what Capcom had planned to do initially. However, the team ultimately miscalculated the game’s final audio data size algorithm, which no one noticed until it was too late to change. Mikami recalls learning of the issue from Yasuhiro Anpo, a software engineer. Anpo called Mikami, who was working on a different floor from the rest of the team. “Anpo told me there was a problem. But before he could explain, I actually hung up on him!” Mikami laughs. “Anpo eventually came over to my desk, where he told me that Resident Evil 2 would require two discs instead of just one.” Mikami remembers gasping in surprise. As producer, he was responsible for keeping the game within budget. This would surely force a recalculation. Capcom management was not at all pleased with the development. It would result in higher manufacturing and shipping costs due to the thicker double-disc jewel case required. However, given that Resident Evil 2 was already behind schedule at this point, rather than give the team time to reprogram the audio algorithms, Capcom conceded and allowed the game to ship on two discs. Kamiya, in a January 2018 tweet reflecting on the game’s 20th anniversary, attributed the move to his youth and recklessness, but it certainly left its mark for years to come. Even though the team never initially conceptualized Resident Evil 2 as a two-disc game, it did have a positive net effect: it made the game seem even larger, and therefore better, than the single-disc original in the eyes of the average consumer who knew nothing of the game’s technical composition.

Meanwhile, Sugimura rewrote the sequel’s plot to be more expansive and engaging than both the original and “Resident Evil 1.5.” He improved the story by affording deeper roles to the supporting cast, which consisted of Ada, an enigmatic spy operating for an unknown organization, and Sherry, the 12-year-old daughter of the researchers at Umbrella responsible for developing the G-virus, which was capable of creating more powerful B.O.W. than the T-virus zombies from the first game. In contrast to the one-dimensional interactions of the original that were stymied by budget limitations and poor voice acting, the interactions among all the characters in Resident Evil 2 are more varied, containing elements like fear, tension, trauma, naïveté, romance, friendship, and family.

The story is presented more effectively in Resident Evil 2 than the original thanks to the sequel’s improved audio experience. Resident Evil 2 was the first time Capcom outsourced voice acting to a professional recording studio outside of Japan. Whereas the original game had Mikami and other core staff members working with amateur or non-professional English voice actors who happened to be local, the talent pool improved greatly for the sequel. Notably, voice actress Alyson Court joined the series as Claire, a role she would reprise multiple times over the next 14 years. Meanwhile, the soundtrack, composed by Masami Ueda, Shusaku Uchiyama, and Syun Nishigaki, featured moody and melodic tunes that managed to squeeze an orchestral sound out of the PlayStation’s sound chip. The music was so well-received that in 1999, Resident Evil 2’s soundtrack, along with tracks from other Resident Evil games, was orchestrated by the prestigious New Japan Philharmonic. To this day, many fans still remember iconic themes such as the B ending rock-and-roll credits theme, or the boss themes associated with the Birkin G-Type and T-102 Tyrant.

Resident Evil 2 also has more extra gameplay modes than its predecessor. The most notable is “The 4th Survivor,” which stars the enigmatic Umbrella agent codenamed “HUNK.” The mode was directed by system planner Kazuhiro Aoyama as a bonus scenario that unlocks after you’ve met a specific set of conditions in the main scenario. This marked the first time players could play as one of the bad guys. The idea for the minigame came late in production, when the development team had just enough time until the game was mastered for release to include an extra mode. “The 4th Survivor” was crafted together out of existing assets from the main scenarios, with Aoyama admitting that all of HUNK’s animations were identical to Leon’s. From a design perspective, they chose a masked character to avoid having to create an entirely new character. The other minigame, “The To-fu Survivor,” features, as the name implies, a character resembling a giant block of bean curd with floating hands, holding nothing but a Combat Knife. This bonus feature is a remnant of the game’s bug-testing phase, which used the tofu block to test the characters’ collision detection against enemies.

Due to its stylized all-caps spelling, fans over the years have speculated whether the name “HUNK” was an abbreviation for anything specific. Aoyama says that “HUNK” is just his name. An American on the Resident Evil team who wants to remain anonymous claims, “HUNK’s name was actually supposed to be ‘Hank,’ but the developers misspelled it as ‘hunk,’ which they also wrote in all caps. That’s why his name is stylized that way, even though it makes no sense.” Indeed, in Japanese katakana, “Hank” and “Hunk” are spelled the same way, ハンク (hanku), due to the lack of differentiation in Japanese between the /æ/ (A) and /ʌ/ (U) sounds. In Japan, nouns, proper or otherwise, are often spelled out in all caps. Most Japanese developers are not fluent in English, and thus are less discerning about grammar and punctuation; many have told me that all-caps spellings make it easier for developers to spot key terms in verbose conceptual documents. The same can be applied with “To-fu,” which was the result of someone on the development team not realizing that in English, “tofu” is spelled without a hyphen. Kamiya disagrees with the HUNK/Hank assertion.

Resident Evil 2 breaks sales records

At last, after an expensive and protracted production cycle that saw one prototype scrapped and development restarted from zero, Resident Evil 2 was finally completed in December 1997. The game was scheduled to be released in North America on January 21, 1998, and in Japan on January 29. Capcom hoped to sell 2 million copies of the game in a short span of time, a very tall order for video games in the 1990s, when the industry was far smaller than it is today. Resident Evil 2 launched under the watchful eye of both Capcom and worldwide Resident Evil fans.

The response was far better than Capcom could have ever hoped for. Straight out of the gate, Resident Evil 2 sold a very large volume of copies and received a vast amount of critical acclaim. In Japan, the game sold nearly 1.4 million copies in its just four days, making it an instant platinum-seller and doing what it took the original game a year to achieve. In 1998, only Square’s Final Fantasy and Enix’s Dragon Quest series ever sold beyond a million copies at launch, indicating how popular the Resident Evil brand had become since 1996. Resident Evil 2 was also very successful in the United States, where over 380,000 copies had been pre-ordered, constituting 60 percent of its initial manufacturing run of 633,000 units. The game grossed $19 million, earning it an accolade in the 1999 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. It even outpaced Final Fantasy VII and Super Mario 64. Despite Capcom USA still being a relatively small operation with limited marketing resources at the time, Resident Evil 2 cemented the series as one of Capcom’s most lucrative franchises, ultimately replicating what Street Fighter 2 and Mega Man 2 did for their respective series: take something great and make it even greater. Capcom had succeeded in making its equivalent to what Aliens was to Alien.

The game’s success brought Capcom financial gain that allowed it to pay dividends to its employees. By the time Resident Evil 2 was released, Capcom had introduced an incentive-based bonus system, in which a team’s salaries would be commensurate with the sales of the games they developed. Having sold 4.96 million copies globally, Resident Evil 2 was very lucrative for the team. Mikami and Kamiya in particular had complained of low salaries during the time of Resident Evil, with Mikami admitting in a 2014 interview with Polygon that “[his] salary on Resident Evil was probably less than a first-year employee would get today. [Mikami] was actually unable to get married because of [his] financial situation.” Resident Evil 2 had allowed each member of the team to achieve greater financial stability, in an industry infamous in Japan for its low salaries and long work hours.

Resident Evil 2 was critically successful as well. It was reviewed positively in all of the mainstream U.S. game media at the time, including IGN, Electronic Gaming Monthly, GameSpot, and the Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. On Metacritic, it enjoys a rating of 89 out of 100 and an average user rating of 9.2 out of 10. It cannot be overstated just how much of an improvement the sequel was over the original: it was larger and improved in nearly every respect. Perhaps the exception to this may be the actual horror elements, which some consider to be stronger in the original. But Resident Evil 2 is no slouch either, offering up its own fair share of frightening and disturbing moments, all while taking a more action-oriented approach that successors would adopt in the years ahead. Combined with a more dramatic and elaborate storyline thanks to Sugimura, one can say that while Resident Evil gave birth to this survival horror series, it was Resident Evil 2 that ultimately transformed it into a full-blown game franchise.

Resident Evil 2 (2019) - two people in a tunnel
The upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake is one of the most visually impressive remasters to date.

Ask your mom: Reflections from Hideki Kamiya

The tremendous success of Resident Evil 2 was just what Hideki Kamiya needed after such an arduous experience. The cancellation of “Resident Evil 1.5” had set the project back one year, cast doubt among some of his colleagues about his leadership skills, and nearly sent Capcom’s franchise careening off a cliff to an untimely demise. Armed with Shinji Mikami’s unwavering support, Kamiya never gave up on his goal of delivering a Resident Evil 2 that would be groundbreaking and high-quality. Kamiya prevailed, but the rest of his blossoming career still lay ahead of him. Kamiya never fails to remind everyone that he would never have been able to make it without Mikami’s support. “Without Mikami-san, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” Kamiya proclaims.

But perhaps the most important relationship within the Resident Evil 2 team was that of Kamiya and Noboru Sugimura. During our interview, Kamiya mentioned Sugimura’s name far more than anyone else’s, including Mikami’s. It is also notable that Kamiya always refers to Sugimura with the Japanese honorific title “sensei,” which is commonly used to address teachers or people who are masters at their craft. For Kamiya, Sugimura was the master at creating stories whose guidance helped get Resident Evil 2 back on track. “Sugimura-sensei was old enough to be my father,” Kamiya muses. In Japan, age and seniority are the social fabrics that profoundly shape how any two people interact with each other. Deference is given to elders, who are often seen as sources of wisdom and guidance.

It was Sugimura that carefully constructed and contextualized nearly every story element of Resident Evil 2, wrapping it all up within a coherent and interesting universe. That said, few people would give the Resident Evil series credit for having a story befitting the great literary masterpieces of our time, though that is not what Sugimura ever set out to achieve. He gave Resident Evil 2 characters and a story that fans would grow to care about, just like fans of Sugimura’s other work, such as Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. More importantly, Sugimura was the leader that Kamiya needed. “He really loved Resident Evil,” Kamiya explains. “I learned so much from him.” In the years ahead, their relationship continued, growing beyond just a simple professional relationship. Kamiya retells an anecdote about a motorcycle accident that left him hospitalized. Kamiya lay on a hospital gurney recovering from surgery when his mother arrived with a package from Sugimura. Kamiya, believing it to be work material, opened the package up in front of his mother and found five pornographic books inside, much to his embarrassment.

Today, Kamiya is one of the game industry’s most recognized creators. As of 2018, he is the senior vice president for Osaka-based PlatinumGames. On social media, he has earned a reputation for his colorful vocabulary and choice of words when interacting with followers on his Twitter account (@PG_kamiya). Kamiya, who tweets in Japanese and English, often mocks those who send him messages that he perceives to be inane, incomprehensible, redundant, false, or irrelevant. He particularly dislikes questions about games he never worked on and subjects he has discussed previously. If one wants to communicate with Kamiya on Twitter, one would best check his posting history first, for fear of getting publicly told to ask either one’s mother for the answer or to “go eat shit,” or perhaps worst of all, getting publicly blocked from viewing or responding to his tweets altogether.

From a distance, Kamiya might look like a grumpy, unapproachable celebrity. Even I was slightly nervous before meeting him for an interview in October 2017, apprehensive at the thought of bothering him for asking about something he may have answered countless times before. However, in real life, Kamiya is the complete opposite of his Twitter personality. He is very friendly, open, and hospitable. The Kamiya that most people witness on Twitter is, by his own admission, a character. His Twitter persona is an alter ego befitting a WWE actor. “When I post on Twitter, I talk as if I’m having drinks with someone at a bar. I’m not interested in maintaining a veil of formality like I do at work,” Kamiya explains.

While Westerners might be accustomed to the idea of freedom of expression on social media, in Japan fewer people take such liberties to the same extent; often, famous people are expected to show restraint in how they express their opinions to avoid drawing undue attention to themselves. In the game industry, overt criticism of fans, customers, competitors, or other companies is discouraged, which makes Kamiya a very notable exception to that pattern. Others in the game industry who tweet anything half as provocative as Kamiya have been reprimanded, though not Kamiya himself. In an April 2013 interview with Polygon, Tatsuya Minami, Kamiya’s former boss, said of Kamiya’s tweets: “Up until this point, everything he’s said on Twitter has been on the very close side of the safe line. I’ve never asked him to delete anything. But he pushes that safe line when he decides to use some of the more foul language that he knows in English.” Perhaps Kamiya’s online persona works well due to his status as an accomplished, charismatic creator in an industry where people are unfairly stereotyped as being socially awkward or lacking in communication skill. Whatever the reason, Kamiya’s colorful commentary dazzles observers time and time again.

Regardless of whether one agrees with his style of interacting with people on Twitter, Kamiya has certainly earned the privilege of being vocal and opinionated. Within the two-year development cycle of Resident Evil 2 alone, he catapulted from a rookie director who depended on Mikami and Sugimura for guidance to the charismatic creative who helped Capcom reach new heights in the PlayStation era. He had tasted the bitterness of failure with “Resident Evil 1.5” and the sweet sensation of success after Resident Evil 2. Kamiya’s involvement in the Resident Evil series would continue in the years ahead, although for various reasons, Resident Evil 2 remains his most notable and impacting contribution to the franchise.

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