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The History of Resident Evil: The Beginning

17 March 2009

Be smart! Fighting foes isn’t the only way to survive this horror…

Few videogame franchises can boast at having such a profound impact on the industry as Resident Evil. Although never one to adhere to the concept of modern game design – from the static, pre-rendered backdrops to fidgety, restrictive control mechanics – Capcom’s zombie masterpiece has become synonymous with horror gaming for 13 years, spawning countless spin-offs, side-stories, merchandise and a movie trilogy, calving out a tenaciously loyal fan base in the process. Owning much of its inspiration to legendary film maker George A. Romero, along with early video game horror entries Sweet Home and Alone in the Dark (the latter of which coined the term ‘ambient survival horror’) Resident Evil offered a critical turning point for the ailing brand, propelling the now infamous Survival Horror genre onto the mainstream consciousness and going on to accumulate a staggering 34.5 million sales globally as of February 2008.

With the release of the hotly anticipated Resident Evil 5 this month, and as a fan of the series for over 12 years, I felt obliged on behalf of PSU to take a look back at this venerable franchise from its inception in 1996 through to present day, offering our readers a comprehensive look at each major canonical entry in the series, along with delving into some of the projects that never saw the light of day. With that said, strap on your Shotgun, bag a fresh pack of underwear and fork out a First-Aid Spray as we delve into the History of Resident Evil.

 

Resident Evil (a.k.a. Biohazard)
Release Date: March 22, 1996 (Japan), March 30, 1996 (North America), August 1, 1996 (Europe)
Platform: Sony PlayStation
Global Sales: 2,750,000

Directed by a then relatively unknown Capcom designer named Shinji Mikami, Resident Evil made its Japanese debut under the name of Biohazard on March 22, 1996 exclusively for Sony’s PlayStation console. Originally conceived as a First Person Shooter, the game’s concept endured several transitions throughout its lengthy development cycle, with early designs toying with the idea of a two-player cooperative mode via link cable. Said Mikami: “I thought about it for the first Resident Evil, but we gave up – technically it wasn’t good enough.” After flirting with these ideas for a while, the young Capcom producer eventually plumped for the single player horror romp we know and love today.

Set in the fictional mid-western town of Raccoon City on July 24, 1998, Resident Evil kicks off following the insertion of the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Alpha Team in nearby mountainous region of Raccoon Forest, who have been dispatched to locate and rescue the missing Bravo Team. The Bravos had been instructed to conduct a search of the area earlier in the day for missing hikers following an onslaught of several cannibalistic homicides in the region over the past few months. Lead by Captain Albert Wesker, the Alphas (consisting of Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, Barry Burton, Joseph Frost and Brad Vickers) eventually locate the Bravos' missing chopper, only to find it abandoned with no discernible trace of the team nearby. Upon conducting a search of the area on foot, the team are attacked by a pack of large, dog-like creatures that overwhelm and kill Frost, prompting Vickers to flee the scene, leaving them stranded. Spying a mansion in the middle of the forest, the remaining Alphas leg it through the woods and scramble inside the ominous structure, where the game begins.

Resident Evil offers the quintessential Survival Horror experience – a sublime cohesion of puzzles, combat and exploration, combining intricately designed pre-rendered backdrops with fully 3D rendered characters, creating an (at the time of release) unprecedented level of immersion and fear among players. Taking control of either Redfield or Valentine, player find themselves battling against legions of Biological Weapons including zombies, giant snakes and infected canines as they explore the mansion and its nearby grounds in an attempt to uncover the twisted, malevolent operations of a pharmaceutical giant known as the Umbrella Corporation.

Along the way, players are required to solve a vast array of brain-teasing riddles and puzzles, while carefully managing ammunition and healing items in order to progress through the game in one piece. Secreting gut-wrenching terror and suspense from every pore, Resident Evil also boasted ample replay value, featuring multiple endings, additional costumes and extra weaponry. Marred only by a cringe-worthy script, Capcom’s original masterpiece captivated audiences around the globe and ultimately secured its place as one of the best selling PlayStation games of its time.

Unsurprisingly, Capcom was quick to capitalize on the game’s success, and the following year saw numerous ports including a release on PC and Sega Saturn. The former included sharper visuals, an uncut introduction sequence and a couple of new weapons, while the latter featured an all new enemy know as the ‘Tick’ (in reality a pallet swap of the Hunters), a second Tyrant to battle in Chris’s campaign, alternate costumes, and a Battle Mode. Unlocked after completing the game, this Battle Mode mini-quest had players battling against various enemies – including a zombified version of the traitorous Captain Wesker – with limited ammunition and healing items in a battle against the clock.

A DS port, dubbed Deadly Silence, cropped up in 2006 and added in exclusive microphone and touch-screen functionality, along with fresh puzzles and all-new first person knife battles. An ambitious GameBoy Color iteration was also planned, but was ultimately canceled due to Capcom’s dissatisfaction with the port in 2000.

 

Resident Evil Dash (a.k.a. Biohazard Dash)
Platform: PlayStation
Release Date: N/A (Canceled)

Biohazard Dash (commonly abbreviated in the west as RE Dash) represented Capcom’s first attempt at creating a follow up to the original Biohazard, conceived (and subsequently canned) prior to the announcement of Resident Evil 2 in late 1996.

Sadly, the Japanese software giant neglected to divulge many details on the project before it was shelved, though what we do know is nonetheless an intriguing piece of Resident Evil’s illustrious history. According to Capcom’s Yoshiki Okamoto, Dash was a spin-off game centered in and around the crumbling ruins of the destroyed Spencer Mansion, with players hopping into the shoes of two new characters of unknown identity.

In addition to featuring bizarre, plant-like monstrosities to battle against (which may have been an early conception of RE2’s “Ivy” BOWs), the game featured a host of new areas to explore, with many of the original mansion’s rooms were tweaked in order to accommodate the flow of time (Dash allegedly took place three years after RE1). In particular, Okamoto noted that the action would have kicked off in a hidden location found underneath the Tyrant’s incubation room in the laboratory.

Dash was an interesting concept, but one that would have ultimately pushed development of Resident Evil 2 back some time, which resulted in the decision to scrap the title indefinitely. Rest assured, if we manage to dredge up anymore details on this elusive gem we’ll be sure to update this article for your viewing pleasure.

 

Resident Evil 1.5 (a.k.a. Biohazard 1.5)
Platform: Sony PlayStation
Release Date: N/A (Canceled)

Capcom officially announced its sequel to Resident Evil at the Tokyo PlayStation Expo in September 1996, unwrapping fresh details and screens on what would ultimately become the first incarnation of Resident Evil 2. Reputedly shelved at the 80 percent complete mark in early 1997, the colloquially dubbed RE 1.5 incorporated a host of features not seen in the final product, ranging from new gameplay additions and enemies to alternate locations and all-new story paths. Unsurprisingly, the project maintains a cult following among hardcore fans, many of which have petitioned (unsuccessfully) to have the game released over the past few years.

Similar to the final version of the game, Resident Evil 1.5 takes place in a zombie-infested Raccoon City some months after the events of the original Survival Horror classic. Unlike the commercial release, however, the Umbrella Corporation had already disbanded, with the surviving members of S.T.A.R.S. hospitalized following their horrific ordeal in the Spencer mansion. Players are able to control one of two characters: rookie cop Leon S. Kennedy, or fellow student and biker aficionado, Elza Walker. While Kennedy made the transition to the final version, Walker ultimately failed to make the cut and was subsequently replaced by Claire Redfield, making 1.5 an all the more intriguing package.

Unlike the first game, 1.5 had both characters starting off in entirely separate locations – Kennedy would find himself on the roof of the Raccoon Police Department (R.P.D.), while Walker would start off at ground level. Regardless, the R.P.D. building represents one of the most significant areas where the game deviated from its successor. Whereas the precinct in the final build was converted from an old museum, 1.5’s cop shop boasted a distinctly modern aesthetic, featuring slick interiors dotted inconspicuously with fax machines, discarded coffee cups and related paraphernalia – a far cry from the final build’s marriage of dusty antiquities and grand halls. A few areas did manage to survive the transition to the retail copy, however, most notably the morgue, the basement weapons storage and the prison cells.

Nonetheless, many of the game’s latter stages – such as the sewer and factory – deviated considerably from their final incarnation in terms of overall layout, with only Birkin’s underground laboratory baring any resemblance to the final copy.

Speaking in a 1996 interview, Capcom’s Noritaka Funamizu commented: “Resident Evil 2 [1.5] is about one and a half times bigger than the original. The room sizes are about the same as before – there are just more of them. And there’s a far greater number of enemies too.”

1.5 also featured a number of familiar faces carried over to the final version, including Chief of Police Brian Irons, the Birkin family, gunshop owner Robert Kendo (a.k.a. John), R.P.D. officer Marvin Branagh and Ada Wong (then known as Linda), However, aside from the Birkin’s, the majority of the supporting cast had substantially different roles than in Resident Evil 2. Kendo, for example, would no longer perish at the hands of zombies at the beginning of the game and instead aided Walker in her quest, alongside Sherry Birkin.

Branagh on the other hand became a vital component in Kennedy’s scenario, and was playable for a short portion of the game, as opposed succumbing to the affects of the T-Virus in the final copy. Meanwhile, the unscrupulous and mentally unstable Chief Irons of Resident Evil 2 assumed a far more hospitable role in 1.5 and is encountered wounded in his office, though much of his involvement in the game remains unknown. Rounding out the prototype version’s cast is Roy, a fellow member of the R.P.D., though little is known as to what role he served in the game.

Elsewhere, aside from the ubiquitous zombie hordes, 1.5 boasted an impressive line-up of twisted monstrosities, including but not limited to zombie dogs, infected crows and giant spiders. More noteworthy, however, are the legions of beasts that failed to make it into the commercial release, including mutated gorillas, a human-arachnid hybrid known as the ‘Man Spider,’ and a slightly different take on the mutated Dr. Birkin.

“In Resident Evil all the zombies moved in the same way and at the same speed. This time each of the zombies has its own pattern, so some will move slowly while others will suddenly pick up pace and start running at you – it’s to keep the player constantly on guard, and accentuate the element of surprise,” noted Funamizu. “But, since we had to reduce the number of polygons allocated to each character almost by half in order to compensate, it’s been quite difficult maintaining the clarify and detail of each of the characters.”

Characters also boasted the ability to equip different types of clothing in order to bolster their defense against enemies, some of which limited or increased the amount of items you were able to carry. More emphasis was placed on depicting the effects of both your characters' and enemy’s attacks than the final version, such as blood splattering on the player’s clothes after blasting an enemy with the Shotgun in close proximity, to tears appearing in both Kennedy and Walker’s outfits after accumulating a certain amount of damage. Furthermore, 1.5 also featured a couple of weapons that failed to make the commercial build, including hand grenades an assortment of automatic firearms.

Said Funamizu: “We’ve included different costumes for the two main characters, such as fire-resistant suits, and depending on which costume they are wearing, the number of weapons they can carry at any time will vary. Although there are roughly the same number of puzzles to be completed, they are much more obvious and realistic. That isn’t to say they’re easier, though.”

Ultimately, in early 1997, the company issued a press release confirming that the game would be pushed back due to an extended development period, ostensibly marking the point in which the team decided to can the project and start over. It later transpired that Mikami-san felt the sequel was ‘too similar’ to the first game, while a scathing review of the game’s script only exacerbated things for the young Capcom producer, forcing his team back to the drawing board.


The horror continues in part two of The History of Resident Evil.


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