Shinji Mikami on Shadows of the Damned and inspiring a new generation of competition

After years of developing generation-defining titles, legendary game maker Shinji Mikami returns to current generation gamers with his second offering: Shadows of the Damned for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Collaborating with other well known Japanese game creators Goichi "Suda51" Suda (No More Heroes) and sound designer Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill), Shadows of the Damned quickly sunk its uncompromisingly crazy teeth into me following a brief hands-on demo at GDC 2011. At its core, the gameplay in Shadows of the Damned will be reminiscent of other high-profile third-person shooters of this generation. Though comparisons to the gunplay and camera of a Gears of War could be lobbied at the game, it was Mikami's Resident Evil 4 that sent a tidal wave of inspiration to hordes of game makers of this generation. In effect, Mikami has helped breed the very games he is now competing for shelf space with later this year. "You have the example of Gears of War, which has obviously taken things from Resident Evil, and you see they took that and really refined what was done there." Mikami says that, in the example of the Gears franchise, he can "acknowledge doing something well, like that." "What it comes down to is the development staff making really original titles and that's what people are going to see, regardless of genre," he added.

Garcia, hero of Shadows of the Damned, is a far cry from the game's originally imagined protagonist.

Mikami explained that even before he was involved with the development on the game that would eventually become Shadows of the Damned, he had heard rumblings about the title and became "really interested" in joining the game's development. Soon afterward, Suda51 invited the Resident Evil mastermind to help produce the project, reuniting Mikami with Grasshopper for the first time since working on Killer7 in 2005. "This game started about five years ago as a completely different title," Mikami reminisced to me in a hushed back-room at an EA Partners Party during GDC 2011. "It was a niche title where you were playing as a bare-chested--almost indigenous--man running through the darkness with a torch in front of him finding enemies to beat them with your fists. It was a very, very simple game." Gradually, Mikami notes, the game was shifted into the current vision of Damned (the team's preferred abbreviated title for the upcoming game). It's the collaboration of original visionaries like Mikami and Suda51 on Shadows of the Damned that has people's initial interest piqued. Having created the Resident Evil (BioHazard) universe--and some would say ushering in the age of "survival horror"--Mikami has also delivered cult-hits like God Hand. The mere mention of God Hand brings a smile to the legendary creator's face. Mikami happily admitted to me that God Hand was "exactly what [he] wanted to make and so [he] made it." God Hand unfortunately failed to reach commercial success worldwide when it launched for the PS2 in 2006. Soon after its release, the development team behind the game (Clover Studio) was dissolved by Capcom. While the intellectual property is currently in the hands of his former employer, Mikami says he would "like to make a sequel to God Hand sometime." focalbox Inspiration for Mikami has shifted throughout his career. For God Hand specifically he recalls a love of Japanese animation, manga, and comic books growing up as elements that helped contribute to the game. As a child it was the experience of listening to Japanese comedians--funny or not--that stuck with him, which he would draw from to help craft some of his later works. Inspiration isn't limited to childhood memories for Mikami. In one specific example, he postulated how it is possible that Resident Evil 4 could never have been made. "For BioHazard 4 (RE4) it came from playing Onimusha 3," he said, remembering that he enjoyed the game but thought it could be better if a few elements were different. "If only the camera was behind the player, it would have been so much better," he thought at the time. "That stemmed the idea for creating the camera system--the [third-person shooter] style--in BioHazard 4." "Probably if Onimusha 3 had been better, I wouldn't have thought of BioHazard 4," he laughed. What's most important to Mikami is staying fresh. Though Grasshopper initially approached Damned with a specific audience in mind; however, working with EA made it possible for the team to scrap any idea of taking aim at any particular market. "It came to the point where it was like: 'Let's try to show what Grasshopper is all about.' That's the most important thing," he remembered. "Less about markets and more about the uniqueness of Grasshopper and how can we convey this in the game. That took precedence over thinking about marketing." Once development on Damned ends, Mikami returns to his own studio, Tango Gameworks. In late 2010, Bethesda parent company ZeniMax purchased the studio. Although I tried to extract some details regarding life at Tango Gameworks, Mikami was unable to discuss the future of his new home. Shadows of the Damned launches on June 7 for the Xbox 360 and PS3. [Image credit]