With the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard only a little over a week away, I've been reflecting on the series' past. Resident Evil 7 takes the series back to its roots in survival horror, channeling the stark loneliness and terror of the first game. The original Resident Evil title has been immortalized in the annals of video game history, and it spawned a franchise that has grown to include 13 main series titles and a host of spin-offs.
However, Resident Evil might have been a very different game. In this article, I aim to take a look at the origins of Resident Evil, the changes made in pre-production and early development, and the small additions and subtractions made when the core Resident Evil concept solidified. We’ll be drawing on a wealth of information, including interviews with series director Shinji Mikami, literature about the series, to data taken from alpha and beta versions of Resident Evil.
The Origin of Resident Evil
The story of Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan) began in 1993 when Capcom commissioned Shinji Mikami to direct a game in the style of Sweet Home. Looking at Sweet Home, a Famicom game released in 1989, you can see how the original Resident Evil mirrors its style. The game Mikami was to make was to be set in a haunted mansion, and feature the supernatural elements, limited item inventory, puzzles, and emphasis on survival of Sweet Home in an updated package for the soon-to-be-released PlayStation. Tokuro Fujiwara, the creator of Sweet Home, served as Resident Evil’s producer and wanted to be able to do the things he wasn’t able to in Sweet Home on the then-new PlayStation platform.
Initially, Mikami worked on Resident Evil alone, composing the game’s script and character and location design. A major inspiration for Spencer Mansion, the primary locale Resident Evil takes place in, was The Overlook Hotel from The Shining. Originally the title was meant to contain the same supernatural Japanese horror style as Sweet Home, but after some deliberation, the theme of zombie horror, influenced by the works of George Romero, was chosen.
In its original concept as an updated version of Sweet Home, Resident Evil was intended to feature fully 3D, first-person gameplay. Instead of the pre-rendered backgrounds and fixed camera the final product had it was designed for players to explore and fight in a game that would have been more similar to Doom than the Alone in the Dark-style gameplay we received. The screenshot above has been floating around the internet since the '90s, and is claimed to be the only known art from the first-person Resident Evil concept.
According to Mikami, quite a bit of work had progressed on the first-person prototype for Resident Evil, which first featured the supernatural horror of Sweet Home, and later the zombie-centric gameplay of the final product. However, the PlayStation’s specs, while great for the time, were not enough to allow Mikami and his team to build a first-person based product with which they were comfortable. Around this period in Resident Evil's creation, Mikami discovered Alone in the Dark, which gave him a solution to the technical issues that were plaguing Resident Evil’s development.
Although he was afraid the use of fixed-view camera angles would lower the immersion factor of the game, he decided to switch to a camera system akin to the one in Alone in the Dark. This choice also allowed him to utilize pre-rendered backdrops, which allowed for much more detailed backgrounds to be used than would have been possible in the original, fully-3D version of Resident Evil.
Another major feature removed from Resident Evil early in production was co-op gameplay. The original idea was to have Chris and Jill stick together through the game, with the player giving commands to their AI partner via a menu similar to what we later saw in Resident Evil 0. Co-op gameplay was implemented but removed when, according to Mikami, the development team just couldn’t get it to function good enough for a final product. An additional feature that was apparent in the few videos that exist of co-op gameplay (seen above) as well as the 1995 V-Jump Festival presentation (seen below) of Resident Evil was real-time weapon switching. This feature must have been removed late in development for reasons unknown.
While Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine appear to have been part of the Resident Evil cast from the beginning, Rebecca Chambers, and Barry Burton were not. At some point in development, Resident Evil had more sci-fi components to the story, as evident in the Dragon Ball Z-like scanner devices you can see characters wearing in some concept art, as well as the removed character Gelzer.
Gelzer was a muscular cyborg who was slated to be the S.T.A.R.S. heavy weapons specialist. His right eye was replaced with an infra-red scope implant. In an interview in Resident Evil: The Official Comic Magazine by WildStorm, Mikami stated that Gelzer originally had the same role as Barry, including holding the ceiling in the shotgun trap room and preventing it from crushing the player. Eventually, a lot of Gelzer’s design elements were recycled into Barry Burton, from his immense physical stature to his history as a war veteran.
The second deleted character was an African-American man named Dewey. The Resident Evil script initially called for comedic relief, and Dewey was intended to be the character who injected humor into the game and kept the other protagonist's spirits up. When the script was rewritten to the more serious tone we got in the final, Dewey was written out. More than likely both Dewey and Gelzer were both eliminated from the game in the same rewrite. The only evidence proving their existence, besides concept art, are their character portraits that were left over in the code from an early Resident Evil beta. It’s unknown as to whether any version of Gelzer and Dewey ever even made it into actual gameplay.
Cut Content That Made it to the GameCube Resident Evil Remake
A location reported to be in Resident Evil by Maximum Console in 1996, and supported by concept art was a graveyard. In the Resident Evil Remake, the cemetery was located attached to the courtyard behind the Spencer Mansion. No screenshots have surfaced of a graveyard in the original Resident Evil, and it’s unknown whether the concept was ever implemented into the game at all.
In the Trial Version of Resident Evil you can stop the timer using a cheat device, and explore parts of the mansion, you wouldn’t normally be able to. In the second flood passage by the east wing stairs in the foyer of the Spencer Mansion, you can find a message scrawled on the wall in blood. The description upon examining the message translates as: “painful breathing... someone stop this suffering.” The message isn’t in the final build of the original Resident Evil, but in the GameCube remake it's part of a large added story thread involving the architect of Spencer Mansion and the fate of him and his family.
A Lasting Legacy
Other minor changes happened during development of Resident Evil (which I hope to expand on in a later article), but we’ve covered the changes that could have altered the course of the franchise. The finished version of Resident Evil was a genre-defining legend and spawned an IP that continues in the upcoming releases of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
The original Resident Evil wasn’t the only entry in the series that received significant changes in plot and gameplay during development. In an upcoming article we’ll examine the original version of Resident Evil 2, which was very different than the blockbuster game we love, and the various iterations of Resident Evil 4, one of which spawned another beloved Capcom franchise.