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Reawakening the fears of the past with Resident Evil 2

Producer Tsuyoshi Kanda on prioritising emotional responses over specific mechanics when remaking a beloved classic

As the console generations come and go, it's natural that a growing number of people carry nostalgia for the past.

It is understandable, too, that said audience doesn't always know what it wants. To-the-letter recreations or straight ports of old games on modern consoles seem tempting, but the results often force off the rose-tinted glasses as players discover that old systems don't translate well into modern day.

How should a developer approach remaking of a beloved classic? For Resident Evil 2 producer Tsuyoshi Kanda, it's not so much about making a literal recreation as it is about preserving a feeling.

Kanda joined Capcom in 2002. He had been playing Resident Evil since his college days, but in terms of development was a relative newcomer to the franchise. He produced Resident Evil 7: Biohazard after a long stint working in marketing, PR, and support for various other Capcom titles, and then brought that experience to the Resident Evil 2 remake, where he was aided by a number of veterans of the original.

"The first step [in remaking a game] is to look back and face your nostalgia head on"

Director Yasuhiro Anpo, executive producer Jun Takeuchi and sound designer Shusaku Uchiyama were all part of the development team of the original version. In addition, Kanda was surrounded by veterans of the wider franchise, such as director Kazunori Kadoi, who worked on the very first Resident Evil. Most important of all, Kanda told me, everyone involved is a huge fan of the series and the original Resident Evil 2 itself.

Resident Evil 2 was the first Resident Evil game Kanda ever played, so it's natural that he and the others involved approached it with plenty of nostalgia. It can be tricky to balance that nostalgia when rebuilding a game from the ground up, however, and Kanda told me there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach for doing so.

"I think the approach to a remake really depends on each title, so this may sound like a generalization, but I think the first step is to look back and face your nostalgia head on," he said. "That way, you're able to see what made the original so great and what made it such a memorable experience. From there, you're really able to see what you have to work with."

Resident Evil 2's remake abandoned the tank controls of the original in favor of an over-the-shoulder view to better create tension and fear

Resident Evil 2's remake abandoned the tank controls of the original in favor of an over-the-shoulder view to better create tension and fear

Rebuilding a game like Resident Evil 2 doesn't just require retaining what made it memorable, though. Times change, demanding adjustments in everything from script to gameplay to user interface to visual aesthetic. But Kanda reiterated that, in deciding what changes to make, looking back on the memorable experience of the original was still the most important component.

"When deciding what to keep, remove or enhance in a remake, it becomes incredibly important to make sure you respect the source material," Kanda said. "It helps having some of the original crew on our development team, but it's about understanding what the original vision was and seeing how to make that a reality given the current industry landscape and technological advancements.

"If it incited the same emotions from the audience, we knew we were making the right changes"

"When we had new ideas to implement or potential areas to shave off, the first thing we always had to ask ourselves was whether it still stayed true to the original. For example, when we made edits to the script, we made sure not to deviate too greatly from the original plot-line. It was all about adapting it to modern tastes to make sure it still gave the same feel as it had for the people who experienced it in the classic game. If it incited the same emotions from the audience, we knew we were making the right changes."

One specific area where this came into play for Resident Evil 2 was with the tank controls, which the team opted to scrap in favor of over-the-shoulder, third-person viewpoint. For Kanda, that particular decision once again came down to capturing the feeling of the original.

"Whether it's a veteran coming back for the second time or a newcomer who's never tried out the franchise before, we wanted this title to incite that same level of fear that people experienced when they played the original game," he said. "With the extra level of detail modern technology offers us in depicting characters, enemies and environments, we felt having the camera closer to the character would give us fresh opportunities to create tension and fear with players."

Kanda and his team came up with the themes of 'darkness' and 'wetness' to inspire the visual style of Resident Evil 2's remake

Kanda and his team came up with the themes of 'darkness' and 'wetness' to inspire the visual style of Resident Evil 2's remake

Invoking those same feelings comes with its own set of challenges. What once might have been terrifying with PlayStation- or N64-era graphics can trip into silliness or even camp with current technology. With Resident Evil 2, the biggest challenge was to decide how to approach the new technology, and use it to convey the same feelings in a modern way.

"After we were able to hone in on what nostalgic elements we wanted to focus on, much of the difficulty came from researching and investigating what type of technology best fit our needs. Nowadays, you have so many tools and technology at your disposal that it can be very daunting filtering through everything and figuring out what fits best for what you need.

"Raccoon City is ravaged by a virus, so we wanted to portray the danger of an invisible threat through the visuals"

"The main focus of the original classic was to scare the player, so that was something we wanted to maintain in this new re-imagining as well. In order to do so, we came up with the visual theme of 'wetness' and 'darkness.' This came from the idea that Raccoon City is ravaged by a virus, so we wanted to portray the danger of an invisible threat through the visuals. Since pathogens thrive in moisture-rich environments, and people are naturally more afraid of the dark, it felt like the appropriate visual pairing to showcase the horrors taking place in Raccoon City."

Aside from recapturing the feelings of the original Resident Evil 2 on modern consoles, another major question in recreating the game involved the series' gradual shift from horror to more action-oriented gameplay over the years -- a shift fuelled by the struggle to make monsters and zombies frightening to players as technology changed. In many ways, Resident Evil 7 was a return to the franchise's horror-focused roots.

For Kanda, it only made sense to continue in that direction with Resident Evil 2's remake. Kanda told me it "felt like the natural progression" for the franchise, rather than an attempt to be more frightening than the many other horror games on the market.

"At the end of the day, I don't think it's so much about making sure you stand out amongst the crowd, but more about dedicating your craft in making sure your audience is satisfied with your work," he said. "In that regard, we focused heavily on two elements: Making sure the zombies were formidable and terrifying, in addition to bringing back that Metroidvania-style survival horror feeling of having to investigate and really know your surroundings."

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