Resident Evil 2

Before 2009, if you owned one Resident Evil game, chances are good it was Resident Evil 2. It was the highest-grossing game in the series for years, selling 4.96 million copies worldwide. As of September 2012, it has been topped by Resident Evil 5, which sold 5.9 million. Still, RE2 has dominated the hearts and minds of RE fans for over a decade, and is considered by many to be the best in the series.

Resident Evil 2 came at a perfect time in the PlayStation’s life. The original RE had just jump-started the dying survival horror genre, and RE2 was the much-anticipated sequel that Capcom had poured all their effort and millions of dollars into. The game had a $5 million ad campaign, and some of that money went to zombie king George A. Romero, who shot a TV commercial for the game.

Development

There is surprisingly little info on the making of RE2, but I’ve compiled here all my findings. I did extensive research into the methods Capcom used to create the pre-rendered backgrounds and place the characters in the scene. It’s more complex than just slapping the characters down over a 2D image, as depth and collision need to be processed as well. First, the images are rendered out individually in 2D and programmed into the game. Each “room” (including outdoor locations) is a scene using multiple cameras at different locations and angles, which the game switches between and loads a new image as the player moves offscreen. The scenes contain data from the original 3D objects that were rendered out to 2D, but with wireframes denoting objects for collision and depth instead of fully rendered objects. So, there may be a desk in a scene. That desk is rendered as a 2D image and placed in the game. Then, it is deleted in the original 3D file and an invisible collision object is put in its place, and that information is also put into the game. All you see when you play the final game is a desk, but there’s an invisible object there to tell the character, “you can’t go there”, and to tell the game, “hide this much of the character when they pass behind this object.” Essentially, it’s as if all the 3D geometry is still there in the game, it’s just invisible as a wireframe behind the 2D image. It’s a really neat trick to get better performance out of the PlayStation rather than having fully-rendered realtime environments, which could end up looking quite ugly and killing performance.

I read that the program used to render the background images in the game was called, “O2”, but seeing as Capcom has used Softimage for every Resident Evil, it’s more likely that the computer was the “SGI O2“, and the software on that computer was Softimage 3.7 (the latter of which has been confirmed by several sources). Yay for research!

 

This is more than likely the computer Capcom used to create Resident Evil 2.
 


Microsoft Softimage|3D 3.7. This is what the software looked like that Capcom was using to build their assets and create the pre-rendered backgrounds. Softimage has been used for many award-winning movies and games, including Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Titanic.
 

It supposedly took 3 weeks to render each image, which I find a little hard to believe. There were over 1,250 images used in the game, and 3 weeks to render each image would have meant they were rendering for over 70 years… Plus, the computers they were using should have been able to easily render one image in minutes. Most likely, there was some translation error when this information was recorded, and it actually took 3 weeks to render all images for the final production, maybe even the FMV sequences as well. I mean, they were rendering at 320×240 for Pete’s sake.

The pre-rendered FMV cutscenes were created through an interesting process as well: Maquettes (dolls, basically) were made for each main character (except Ada, who could not be finished in time and thus was not featured in any FMV). Stop-motion animations were shot for each cutscene using the maquettes, and rotoscoped using an animation program (probably Softimage).

The final game looks very different from the original way it was designed. They were roughly 60% finished with the game when Producer Shinji Mikami decided it was all crap, and they should start over from scratch. Mikami felt “Resident Evil 1.5“, as it is now known, was “dull and boring” in gameplay and setting. In the new version, they decided to base their designs off classical Western architecture and took many references for building interiors and exteriors from old photographs of American buildings. They were able to finish the revised game in time, and release a product that was critically acclaimed and praised by gamers for its visual design and characters. In my opinion, Mikami made a good call.

Even though RE 1.5 was officially scrapped, various elements of it still exist and are out there on the interwebs. Some hackers/ modders have been trying to restore the game into some playable form, and they quite recently succeeded. It’s really awesome seeing video game history being preserved like that, even if the original development company doesn’t necessarily approve. I played the restored version, and it’s very limited, but it is interesting to see how the RPD design shifted from clean, shiny, and modern, to dirty, old, and classical. I can see why Mikami felt the locations were dull – The final game provided a contrast between old wood and marble buildings and modern steel and plastic labs, which makes the experience more memorable than just having bland, shiny surfaces all the way through.

Review

I had some fresh opinions on the game after playing it again on PS1. I’ve actually never played the PS version before now. The first several times I beat the game was with the N64 version, and after that, it was straight to GameCube, which was the first copy of the game I bought.

Resident Evil 2 is one of the more complex games in the series. What I love about it is that it’s not just a gore fest typical of the horror genre. It is a game of hardcore strategy, with rich characters leading an intricately woven story about lies and deception in a city driven by insane, power-hungry individuals.

Unlike RE games after the fourth entry in the series, RE2 requires you to be very conservative with your ammo and health, and take extreme caution when walking into a new situation. Danger lurks behind every door. You will be led into a false sense of security when you have 58 handgun bullets and a first aid spray, and you’ll find yourself 2 minutes later in orange Caution with less than a clip left and dodging zombies left and right. RE2 is made even more difficult by the save system. You have a limited number of ink ribbons to use on typewriters to save your progress, and typewriters become less and less frequent as you delve deeper into the underbelly of the city.

I’ve always loved the music of the RE series, especially that of 2 and 3. It’s a strange combination of pieces influenced by ’80s action movies like Terminator and Aliens, and eerie, haunting compositions that will plague your mind weeks after you beat the game. Here’s one of my favorite pieces:

Unique, yet inspired. Haunting, yet soothing.

The game is set up with A and B scenarios, so you play with one character, then the other’s “B-side” so you get to see what they were doing while you were running around the first time. It was inspired by Back to the Future Part II, in which Marty gets to see things that happened in the first movie, but from a different perspective. I was surprised at how quickly I beat the game, as I used to be much slower: Leon A was about 4 hours (non-consecutive), and Claire B was just shy of that. Then, Claire A was 3:10-ish, and Leon B was 2:57!

I was playing on Normal, and I couldn’t help but notice the game is incredibly fair and balanced. Many games today err on the side of too easy to make sure the “mainstream audience” doesn’t get frustrated and fed up with the game. In Resi 2, I always felt like I was in trouble, running low on bullets and health, creatures everywhere trying to kill me, and I died a few times, sure. But I never felt like there was a part I absolutely couldn’t handle. I always felt a challenge, but never an impossibility.

Originally created for the PlayStation, RE2 has been ported to several systems, and to date is available on a whopping 7 different platforms. The first version for a new platform was released the same day as the Dual Shock version of the game on PS1, and it was for the Game.com, which isn’t really worth mentioning. It was BAD. The Windows port came next, adding new content and features, though not higher resolution backgrounds and textures, which it was criticized for. Next, the N64 port was released on Halloween ’99, almost two years after the game’s initial release. The N64 port by Angel Studios (later Rockstar San Diego) and Factor 5 (N64 LucasArts games) is praised for its technical achievements, being one of the few titles on the system to give the RAM expansion pack a good workout. The entire game is on one 512Mbit cartridge, as opposed to the PS version’s two CDs, with a higher resolution and smoother graphics. However, packing all that content onto one cart came with some drawbacks, like compressed sound and textures, which causes many fans to dismiss this version. IGN did a comparison back in ’99 before the game’s release that goes into better detail about the differences. The Dreamcast version was released a few months later, almost identical to the PC version, and then the GameCube version around 3 years later. The GameCube port is good, however there are issues with black shadows being brown for some reason throughout the game, which brings it down. Finally, the game was made available on the PlayStation Network in 2007 in Japan, 2009 in the US.

Resident Evil 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. It has its cheesy moments, especially in the voice acting and writing, but that’s due to it being a ’90s Japanese game translated for Americans. Everything else about the game is immersive and to me, truly awe-inspiring. Maybe it’s because I grew up with the game, although I grew up with a lot of games, and a lot of Resident Evils. RE2 just made a huge impression on me in its dark, gritty visual style and hauntingly beautiful sound design, and it is something that continues to inspire me today in the creative work that I do.

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~ by The Retro Gamer on March 3, 2013.

2 Responses to “Resident Evil 2”

  1. RE2 was my first video game really. This was a pleasure to read!

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