The Resident Evil series often comes up in discussions over game franchises which have lost their way in pursuit of the alluring mainstream. The series, which pioneered the survival horror genre with its foundation of slow, tense and unsettling gameplay, has in its two most recent iterations near-abandoned those core values in favor of explosive, Hollywood style action in attempt to appeal to the masses.
Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, however, thinks there's still plenty of potential left in his original formula for the genre. And that's a theory he will get a chance to prove with the help of publisher Bethesda, and his new game The Evil Within. Following a lengthy hands-on session with The Evil Within at a recent pre-E3 event, CVG sat down with Bethesda's VP of PR and marketing Pete Hines to discuss the firm's plan to revive the "old-school" horror game.
Also, we get more on the complications that caused the Elder Scrolls Online console delay, Hines' thoughts on VR and Kinect, and something about USA's chances of World Cup victory.
Survival Horror seemed to suffer a slump - a fall from greatness - in the last generation of consoles. Do you believe you can revive the genre?
We just wanted to make a really cool survival horror game that went back to the roots instead of where a lot of other survival horror games went. That was Shinji's (Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil series) pitch, that was his idea, he thought those kinds of games are still relevant, and he doesn't think a game where you're mowing down lots of enemies is what survival horror is about. He wanted to take it back and do old-school, and we were like, 'That seems cool. You should do that'.
What is different about The Evil Within that could make it the game to return survival horror to its former greatness?
It's a good question. The true answer is that we believe if you make a really good game and make sure everybody knows about it, that it will find an audience and do really well. Our fundamental approach on this isn't any different than on Skyrim or whatever. It's about finding people who are really smart, who have a lot of experience, who are good at what they do, who have a passion for making something, getting behind them and helping them realize their vision, and then making sure folks know about it. Our approach on The Evil Within isn't any different.
I think there have been survival horror games that have done well, but in what quadrant? Because I've seen stuff where the sales numbers seem pretty good, but the critical reception isn't good. Or the critical reception is great but it doesn't seem like it sold really well. We think that if it's true to the kind of game that they want to make, that it will be a really great game that fans and critics will accept. Then if I do my job in making people aware of it then it will find an audience and sell well.
"A game where you're mowing down lots of enemies [isn't] what survival horror is about."
The new generation of consoles has seen a focus on new ways to interface with games; both console have cameras, the Kinect can read your heartbeat, the PS4 has VR around the corner. Do you see any of these innovations as things that can help with the revival of survival horror?
Possibly. I tend not to speak much in the way of the industry or a genre because all we can do is make a game. It's not really up to us whether or not a genre comes back or is successful. I think the challenge with those things is that we tend to want to focus on things that will be experienced and appreciated by 100 per cent of our audience. So we don't want to spend a ton of time on something for Kinect, like facial recognition, or making the game able to tell when you're scared, because we're like, 'Great, but what do we do for everybody who's not playing with the Kinect?... well, nothing.' What do we do for the guy who are on PC? All that stuff would be irrelevant [to them]. So maybe we take that time and make the game better for 100 per cent of the people. Like, put that time, polish and energy into stuff that just makes the game better for everybody.
And then maybe afterwards we can look doing more - like we did for Skyrim, which is a perfect example. Spending a lot time at launch to have Kinect shout support just didn't make sense because it was going to take a certain amount of time to implement that. So leave it for later, and let's just make sure all of our time goes into just making the core game better for everybody and fixing those things.
Does the legal dispute between Zenimax and Oculus VR serve as a deterrent for Bethesda to support the Oculus Rift going forward?
No. I don't think that it's an incentive or a deterrent. I mean, that situation is what it is. We have and will continue to make decisions that we think are in the best interests of our games and our audience.
The Elder Scrolls Online console delay was disappointing news. How will you go about filling the gap that is now in your 2014 console release schedule?
We really don't look at it that way. I mean, if you look at last year, we didn't ship any new games - nothing that was a new release. We shipped DLC, and a Dishonored: Game of the Year Edition and stuff like that, but we don't have this same mentality of like, 'What's our Q3 shooter, what's our Q4 shooter, what's our Q1 action?'. We have never been built to be that kind of publisher. We back a fewer number of titles and put our whole effort behind them, and that's our approach. So if something moves out like a console version isn't coming out in June, we say 'It is what it is.' What do we do instead? Keep working on the stuff we're working on. We're not going to magically be like, 'Well this game wasn't going to come out but we'll move it forward and just release it'. We put our focus on the things that we can control and make the best decisions we can.
We're not happy about it - obviously we much rather have the console version out in June. But it seemed like the right thing to do, and we did spend a little time working with the console folks to try to come up with some kind of a thing so that the folks who couldn't play it could buy the PC version and then add a next-gen console version later for a lot less money. That seemed like something that was worth working on before we announced the delay. So maybe that's the answer to your question - trying to come up with something to say, 'Look, this sucks and we're going to try to do this to [compensate].'
The delay was put down to "a series of unique problems" regarding integrating your systems to the console platforms. Are you able to say anything more about that at this point?
No. I mean, yes, I could but it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, it's simply what we said in our statement which was that it's about taking stuff that we know that works on the PC, but when you take that exact same system and you go to a console manufacturer, fundamentally the way it works under their architecture is different than the way that we do it.
That's quite surprising for Xbox considering it's connection to Windows and PC architecture.
It is and it isn't, because it's not an open system, it's a closed system. It's not just an ESO thing - they have rules and regulations that govern all games, if you're going to do something it has to work a certain way. It doesn't matter the way that we want to do it - it has to fit their requirements.
I'll give you an easy example; payments. When we do stuff on PC, we manage it ourselves, it goes through our store, we manage the whole thing. When it goes through somebody else, that someone is doing all of that; taking your money, charging your PayPal, and then transferring that information to us. This is just inherently a different process than the one that we have, where it's our store and we just have to make sure our system works. It's the same thing on PSN - you have to just make sure that all of that stuff communicates. When you start adding up the pile of things and everything that we learned from launch, it was clear that we needed to take the time to do this right, because it has massive ramifications if it doesn't work right for the consumer experience.
That was the playful stuff, now the really serious question...
Who's going to win the World Cup?
Umm... I think you'd be really hard pressed to bet against Brazil in their own county. I'd like to say The States, but that's never going to happen. I don't even know if we can get out of our own group. I'm going down there in person to see - I'm going to watch our first two matches. But Germany, Portugal, Ghana - like, really? Why couldn't you have just given us Brazil in that group and just be done with it. How much harder could it possibly have been?
I like Brazil's chances, but I think the fun thing is just going to be watching all of it. I think it's great that it's going to be going on while we're here at E3 - getting together with folks from all over and watching matches is going to be great. I can't wait.
Thanks a lot for your time, really appreciate it!