Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Why Would Capcom Ask Such a Stupid Question?


“As a fan of Resident Evil, what do you think we're doing right and what should we be working on?”[1]
One would think that enough fans yelling the answer to this since 2004 would have left more of an impact on the series. Given that it actually HAS been seven years since Leon S. Kennedy traipsed through Europe[2], inspiring a notable number of other developers to forgo one of the media’s longest lasting muscles[3], it would only be sensible that such an echo chamber be created. The answer to the question is of course, atmosphere--- or at the very least some semblance of a narrative (the former of which can make the latter always seem more qualitative than it is if done competently). The answer of atmosphere should only inspire ‘fans of Resident Evil’ to ask their own question, which is:
“Why in the hell haven’t you delivered on it already?”
Even to the answer to that is obvious, as the action of RE4/5 easily pandered to a generation of gotta-shoot-shit-junkie gamers, understandably making them the best-selling entries in the franchise to date. Money was the answer, so the question then becomes:
“How much of that fanbase can you see yourself realistically parting with Capcom?”
The answer to this isn’t as cut-and-dry and would rely mainly on hypotethicals of optimism and pessimism that would be up for debate by any of the various fanboy camps involved. The current formula being tampered with would irrevocably alter the income generated by the games. What does a new Resident Evil even mean in the context of this late age of 7th generation console survival horror? The only reason Resident Evil is even still relevant is because it’s had no worthwhile competition to spur it on. I wouldn’t consider something like Silent Hill as competition like most would either, because it mainly provides a different type of fear in the new rhetorical age of what all of these games could potentially convey.

Resident Evil easily flew off into the action-cliché arena for another reason apart from money. That is---that it was simply more of an action-based game in the basest sense. The horror was always more external, rather than internal (something I intend to post about on its own when I get back to playing a ‘certain’ pre-4 Resident Evil title). Players were always better armed and they were consistently more powerful in the space of the game’s narrative context. Resident Evil 4 capitalized on this gloriously, abandoning all prior atmosphere and external horror in the face of power and a cathartic sense of action; instead of horror acting as an overbearing supplement for the latter two in the franchise, it was laid on top of an action game more along the lines of a mere aesthetic filter instead. The little horror that the games started out with has never progressed forth since. Capcom merely used all of the flashy design bells and whistles to ‘put the band-aid on a broken arm’ (i.e. HD optimization, inclusion of co-op elements, potent design focus on being a shooting gallery, etc.). There were also plenty of stagnant design decisions that when analyzed, become questionable in themselves (such the inability to move whilst shooting).

So many of the comments on that Facebook Status resonate with the older titles, but few give articulation towards what it would mean to make a new Resident Evil game that’s not just a mere remake[4] or extension of an older title [5], but rather an admirable evolution in the design of the older games’ synergy. I don’t want to dwell too much on this post-because as I’ve said---I’ve got another one coming somewhere down the line concerning a pre-4 title specifically. So, here’s a short list of things off the top of my head that better-delve into the inadequacies of the franchise as it exists today.

1. Something Resident  Evil 4 did right was depict Leon get butchered in a plethora of brutal and vicious ways[6]. This was strangely absent in Resident Evil 5 where the dynamics of various socially-retarded design tropes began manifesting all over the place (e.g. Sheva wouldn’t be shown getting graphically mutilated simply because she’s a woman). So, less timid design choices would always be a plus in evolving the likes of fear, vulnerability, and gore that’s not specifically for gore’s sake. If you Capcom can GRAPHICALLY show a pair of tits shaking whenever a woman blinks her eyes[7],they can GRAPHICALLY show them get ripped apart as well. At least grow a pair of testicles if you’re going to be GRAPHIC.

2. Something else Resident Evil 4 and 5 did well was introducing an exclusive air of tension into progressing through the story-mode. This of course, is undermined by how the AI will still react (i.e. running full speed at you then stopping just so the player can have a sort of ‘reaction reprieve’ and can see how much work the animators put in as the infected leer at you before launching a scripted strike). This has its ups and downs in both games, but putting an emphasis on how the enemies react or act at all is key. They can be mindless, but that has to be conveyed through their action (which is why the older games hold up, as the zombie’s action is consistent with the general perception of how a brainless undead corpse would act). It doesn’t hold up in the recent games because the Ganados and Majini are semi-intelligent entities that are part of a larger hivemind. When the illusion breaks on that (which is fragile as a spiderweb holding up a two-ton truck), the game devolves right back into a competent shooting gallery.

3. What the latter two entries in the main franchise remain utterly terrible at is the distribution of power available for the player. There’s a similar problem faced in stealth games where over-equipping the player kills the entire point of the genre. Resident Evil 4 basically said ‘fuck it’ and gave the player everything from tommy-guns CONVENIENTLY-useable rocket launchers. When finding weapons and ammo in the older games, it was complemented by the direness of your situation, requiring you constantly keep an eye on and maintain it. RE4/5 only do this in the superficial sense of the player managing the layout and organization of their weaponry rather than the content of what they have (yet another example of ‘the band-aid on the broken arm’).

4. There’s only a slight difference in the variance of monsters between the pre-4 titles and those afterwards, but there was better sense of unpredictability in the pre-4 titles. For RE4 and 5, the game had begun to hit the point of ‘going through the motions’ with what it offered in terms of its creatures instead of giving more interesting dynamics and systems to the ones that were already there. Sometimes the inefficiency of the combat system in the pre-4 titles worked in favor of gaining those titles atmosphere. If Capcom designed the over-the-shoulder shooting-mechanics to expose themselves with similar deficiencies (which are only alluded towards in certain areas of 4 & 5), then the franchise would begin moving forward again at least.

5. Narrative-wise, there’s no coherency in terms of the game’s scale. For the first three titles, which were confined to a small Mid-Western American city, more of a global sense of doom was available than that of the latter two games (which ironically take the player to two different damn continents). It was obvious at the point of RE5 that Capcom was more excited with ‘traveling’ for the sake of SAYING they’re doing something different rather than actually doing something different.

6. Then there’s the massive number of Japanese design problems inherent to their whole culture in terms of social inertia. This includes things such as the way both females and males are shown aesthetically, how the design of both the narrative and characterization have always been hovering just between camp and plain dumb, and just the general tendency for the Japanese to rely on their over-disciplined design principles out of the sheer sake of not wishing to shake up certain aspects of their games.

As usual, I don’t expect any of these to be acknowledged within the next two or three games---that is if they ever even will be. Too much experience with the franchise has run me dry towards being optimistic for it in any realistic sense. Someone like me is better off playing one of the older games and theorizing how they could be better-built upon, which is exactly what I’m doing these days anyway. ¯\_()_/¯

Note for #1: Yes, I realize the fact that this being a fanpage question means that such a query is not likely to have been generated or even be accessible to the actual developers of the game and is just a pandering attempt by the fanpage itself to interact with and grow its fancount. I just used it as an excuse to write this. ^_^
2. Resident Evil 4 – Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resident_Evil_4]
3. Gears of War – Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gears_of_War]
4. Gamecube Remake of Resident Evil – Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resident_Evil_(video_game)]
5. Resident Evil:  Revelations – Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resident_Evil_Revelations]
6. Resident Evil 4 Death video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHsHjrC6BXY]
7. Excella Gionne – Resident Evil Wikia [http://residentevil.wikia.com/Excella_Gionne]