The Resident Evil 7 team is gearing up for the Xbox One release of their next terrifying DLC, Banned Footage, which is bringing more of the great gameplay that brought the series back to its #Horror roots. But what can the team behind #ResidentEvil teach us about horror?
What Can These Quotes From The Producer Of 'Resident Evil 7' Teach Us About Making A Scary Game?
Recently, Resident Evil series producer Masachika Kawata gave an interview to Kotaku, talking about the thought process behind #ResidentEvil7 and its approach to horror. He didn't say much, but what he did say was both revealing and illustrative of just what Resident Evil 7 got right when it came to making the RE series scary again.
Fear Requires Immersion
“We felt that a switch to first-person perspective would heighten the immersion and bring the player closer to this horror, making everything feel more personal.”
The Resident Evil franchise has been married to the third-person camera since its inception. Though later entries into the series changed the player's viewpoint from a fixed angle to an over the shoulder perspective, the separation of player and character remained constant.
In order to counteract the more open sensation of the third-person camera, the Resident Evil games, along with other popular third-person survival horrors, often imposed artificial restraints on the player's view. Early games intentionally limited the camera, setting up artificial suspense through the angles of perspective. A monster could be lurking just around the corner at any time, even if the corner wasn't a physical one so much as an abrupt shift in camera-angle.
The later, action-focused entries used a different technique. They pulled the camera in tight on the character, limiting your peripheral vision and blocking much of the screen with your own body. The result was a feeling of claustrophobia; an enemy could attack from the sides or the rear at any time and you wouldn't be able to see them.
Resident Evil 7 took immersion a step further. Taking inspiration from recent hits like Alien: Isolation, P.T. and Outlast, the game brought players into the first-person perspective. Not only was the player forced to share Ethan Winter's viewpoint of the horrors occurring around him, but the experience was explicitly designed to be experienced at its peak in #VR, creating the ultimate immersive horror experience.
Setting And Atmosphere Are Key To Horror
“Thematically, we aimed for something more intimate, rather than having some large in scope. We wanted to go back to having players explore a single location with a lot of depth.”
When it comes to setting, many horror games fall flat. They take the easy route out by appealing to old and lazy cliches: an abandoned asylum, a spooky castle, a sterile laboratory. Sure, these locations can be scary, but we're also desensitized to them. I've seen more spooky virtual asylums than I can count, and these days, they're just not that interesting.
The Baker Mansion, on the other hand, is a masterpiece of set design. It's a space that feels lived in, but in a deeply disturbing way. The remnants of the Baker's lives, now corrupted beyond repair, the little notes and clues that hint at the horrible acts they've committed, the way the house is laid out like an actual house. They all come together to create a setting and atmosphere that's frightening because of how simultaneously familiar and totally alien it feels.
Isolation Means Terror
“I have the fear of death that I’m sure is universally shared, but what also frightens me is the idea of complete loss of communication.”
The greatest misstep of the last few Resident Evil titles, in my opinion, was the inclusion of co-op gameplay. For most people, fear is borne of isolation, both literal and figurative. A good horror game makes the player feel alone, even when there's other characters around.
Resident Evil 7 understands this, and presents the player with an all-encompassing isolation. No one who comes into the Baker House will ever return to normal society, either because they have been changed forever, physically and mentally, or because someone put a god damn shovel through their head.
“The thought of being completely isolated from the world you know is a terrifying concept to me.”
During the course of the game, the player is isolated both physically and mentally. Potential allies are dangled in front of the player and quickly yanked away, or worse, turned into new threats. What few interactions the player has with other characters are often terrifying and threatening. The Baker dinner is as isolating as any moment of eerie silence.
Mystery Keeps Audiences Engaged
“The dummy finger reception was definitely unexpected. We were expecting it to take a while before all of the secrets were uncovered, so it was completely shocking that players were able to discover everything so quickly!”
Since the release of the first demo, Resident Evil 7 has walked a thin line between mystery and anticipation. Small details, hints and odd, obscure items and secrets were dropped through updates. By the time of the game's release, fans had ravenously combed through every bit of info and hidden nook to try and discover what was going on in the game.
To develop a great horror narrative requires investment from the audience. Without a mystery to delve into, you risk never engaging the audience enough to scare them, if you reveal too much or too little of the mystery, you miss losing their attention early. Resident Evil 7 was a masterclass in mystery, spooling out hints to a larger story with each smaller revelation.
From the looks of things, Banned Footage is only going deepen the mystery.