Survival horror father Shinji Mikami on The Evil Within
Back in 1996, Shinji Mikami gave birth to the survival horror gaming genre with Resident Evil.
It was a gory zombie adventure that blew the minds of countless gamers around the world, especially my own, as it was the first PlayStation One game I ever played. I'll never forget that special day with Jill Valentine and the vicious brain eaters.
The franchise that Resident Evil started has now sold over 50 million games, not to mention feature films, animated films, novels, comics and more. But over the years, the franchise drifted away from its horror roots and into the action genre.
This year, Mikami is bringing back survival horror gaming in a big way with The Evil Within.
This is a game that aims to embody the meaning of pure survival horror. It's a full-on, intense experience of horrifying anxiety and extreme gore.
I recently caught up with Mikami, the father of videogame evil, to find out more about the game.
Watch the video interview or read the transcript below.
The Evil Within is a return to what you call "pure" survival horror. Since you first started this genre nearly 20 years ago, why do you think it has gone more into action and more away from straight horror?
With horror, if you repeat the same scary tricks people get too used to it. So to satisfy customers as you create more and more sequels, we put in more action to try and satisfy a greater number of people. With most game developers it's not intentional, but it naturally just leans more towards action. I myself went down that same path too.
Let's talk about gore in a moment, but just now I want to talk about tension and dread. These are emotions that humans generally try and stay away from, but in the horror genre they're fun and we want them to be as powerful as possible. Why do we seek out these feelings in horror movies and games, which we normally want to avoid?
Another media person asked a similar question: "If I get into this world, what would I do?" And my answer was, "I'd probably hide somewhere and wouldn't move at all." To put it simply, if it was happening in real life, most people wouldn't be able to do anything. But in the world of the game, nobody actually dies for real. If there was a game that could kill you in real life, nobody would play it. It's a very good point about games. In a war game, nobody would play a real war game if you could actually die, but in a war game you get to experience something like war without the chance of dying. But you can still feel the fear of dying – that's why games are great.
The Evil Within has different types of fear and one of them is loads of gore. Often when movies or other games have a lot of gore, they can become comedic or kind of silly. How do you have such a high amount of gore, but keep it scary?
Moments of extreme gore are a crucial part of this game, but you can't push it too far. Deciding what is pushing it too far can only be controlled by my inner sense.
For people like myself, violence in real life is disgusting, but fake violence can be highly pleasurable. I have a very weak stomach for stuff like news footage of real violence, but a very high tolerance for any fake violence, including extremely violent things like The Evil Within or The Raid movies or extreme horror movies. Why do you think that is?
It is important that you definitely know that it's fake. If it's fake, you can enjoy it. If violence is real, for example a video on YouTube, it'll make you sick. So we enjoy this violence because it is fake. I wouldn't want to take a ride on a rollercoaster if it fails once every hundred rides!
There are supernatural elements in the game and you're unsure exactly what's going on when you're playing it, what's real and what's not. How difficult is it to do that in a game and not have it to become frustrating and annoying, because it's too disorientating?
It's hard to explain the actual formula, it's all up to my inner sense. The important thing in survival horror is providing players the right amount of stress, but also providing a sense of achievement, which is found by defeating creatures and overcoming stress and fear. So getting it all to have the right balance – there is no formula for that, I just have to feel it.
There's a lot of horror references in this game. I've seen what I think are direct references to The Shining, Saw and Session 9 to name but a few. What's your intention with these references?
With this game I am taking some memorable horror movie scenes and parodying them a little bit. At the E3 demo of The Evil Within you saw lots of examples of those, but there's not too much in the full game. I parodied a game too, but I can't say what game... apologies to Capcom!
So when you make a scary game like this, it must be hard to get scared from it yourself, but I imagine there are some parts in it that still scare you when you're playing. What gives you the biggest scare?
I get scared by the character Laura, the long haired, multi-limbed monster. There's a part where I use a trap to make her fall into a pit, but I only hear the sound and have to decide where she's coming from just from the sound. That part is still very scary for me.
I recently got the first Resident Evil as a download on PlayStation 3 and Resident Evil 3 on the PlayStation Vita. It's fun playing those games, but they're very old now. There's obviously a huge improvement in the graphics on The Evil Within, but there's big improvements made to the combat system too. How would you describe the changes to the combat system?
The most obvious difference would be the stealth mechanics. You can run away from the monsters, but you can also sneak around and kill them from behind. That's one big difference. Another thing is the traps that are set by your enemies, you can switch those around and trap them.
To finish off, what have gamers got to look forward to with The Evil Within?
Everyone's been missing good, old, classic survival horror and wanting to play it again. You'll feel it's definitely back with this game and I'm sure you're going to enjoy it, I promise.
The Evil Within is released October 23 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.