I've known Capcom's director of brand marketing, Mike Webster, for several years. Some of my fondest memories in the gaming business involve Mike, Epic's Cliff Blezinski, a swimming pool in Cabo , and a lot of tequila. Wait, that sounded all wrong. There were lots of other people there too...and girls (really!). Anyway, I recently caught up with Webster and chatted about Resident Evil 5, discussed Resident Evil's influence on Gears of War, talked about Jill Valentine's "death", and sung a few lines from Annie Get Your Gun (really!). Warning: this interview is a classic example of two people that have known each other for a long time chatting at the end of a long day (around 11:15PM) while propped up on a bar. It starts off with some typical company answers and progresses to some wacky stuff.
Raymond Padilla: Resident Evil 4 was a huge hit. What do gamers have to look forward to in Resident Evil 5?
Mike Webster: I think they really have to look forward to the progression of last generation's platforms to this generation's platforms -- what the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have to offer. The Resident Evil team has really innovated the franchise in order to take advantage of these platforms.
RP: You guys also seem to be putting more of an effort into cooperative play for RE5.
MW: Cooperative play is really one of the biggest innovations and it really makes sense. The Resident Evil franchise has a storied history of partnerships -- Leon and Claire, Chris and Jill,
RP: Wait a minute! Is Jill dead? I saw the ad in Famitsu.
MW: Well, yeah! According to Famitsu! I don't know. You'll have to ask them. It's news to me too.
R.Pad: Oh, you know.... Anyway, getting back to coop.
MW: The next-gen platforms give us the ability to truly integrate these partnerships and create gameplay that really makes for a deeper story and a deeper relationship between two partners. Now you're working together. It's not just AI that's controlling the other character. You have the opportunity to work with another player and strategize on how you're going to get through the game.
R-Pad: Some old-school fans feel that the series is progressing in a different direction -- perhaps too different from the first games. What do you have to say to longtime fans that have played RE1 and on?
MW: For me -- because I was one of those guys that enjoyed RE1 -- the Resident Evil franchise has always been about storytelling. I feel that Resident Evil 5 offers the best story in any Resident Evil game. The franchise has had so many different offshoots, with different branches and the comic books and the movies, but the canon has always been the video games. Even though the series has changed over the years, I think it has always maintained a high level of storytelling.
R.Piddy: Some readers of TheFeed have complained about the game not featuring the typical, lead-footed zombies that are a staple of survival-horror games. Care to address that issue?
MW: The first thing I would say to them is that the people you're fighting are called majini. This is a Swahili word for evil spirit.
R2thePizzo: So they're not technically zombies?
MW: No they're not, but they're infected.
RaymondP: Sorry, my Swahili is a bit rusty these days.
MW: Well, that's what I like to bring to the table, Ray. I like to bring a little culture. That's just me. That's my style.
R-Pizzay: Well thank you!
MW: As the franchise has evolved, the enemies have gone from your zombies -- your typical undead monsters that creep around aimlessly -- to enemies with advanced AI that are actually threatening. Part of that can be attributed to what the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 allow us to do with enemies. It also reflects the designs of Takeuchi-san and his team, and how they want to evolve the brand. They don't want it to be a regurgitation of what was successful in the past.
R2P2: So really, these infected -- in Swahili -- are just the natural progression of the old, stupid, lumbering zombies and offer gamers a more challenging experience.
MW: That's correct. They really take advantage of more advanced AI, which really makes for a more interesting experience for the player. Now go ahead and say "majini." Come on! Say it once!
MW: That's it.
R*Pad: Totally nailed it. Now let's take a look at another game. Our old swimming buddy, Cliffy B, has said on numerous occasions that Resident Evil 4 influenced his design on Gears of War. Some would say that Gears one-upped RE4. Is there any pressure to one-up Cliff's games?
MW: No! With a game like Gears and a designer like Cliffy, it gives producers like Takeuchi motivation. They kind of feed off of each other. While RE4 certainly influenced Cliff's game, I think Takeuchi looks at Gears and thinks, "Hey, I want to take that!"
R$Pad: Are they getting all "anything you can do I can do better"?
MW: Nah. I don't think it's "anything you can do I can do better". What's that from anyway?
R!Pad: Annie Get Your Gun...why do I know that?!?
[Mike and I start singing the duet...really.]
MW: I think what these guys want to do is reach a level of creative excellence. They're both perfectionists. So to the extent that Cliffy B looks at Resident Evil 4 and says, "Wow, that really influences me!", I think Takeuchi takes a look at Gears of War and says, "Wow, there's some really good stuff in there that I want to use in my games." Things like that and people like that really push the industry forward.
RayP: So when someone like Mikami says that he probably won't play Resident Evil 5, how does that make the team feel?
MW: Part of what the Resident Evil franchise is all about is the element of fear. So that's great! Mikami is afraid to play Resident Evil 5!
RP: [laughs] I'm not sure that's what he meant.
MW: No it's not, but I want to make it clear that we have the utmost respect for Mikami-san. In fact, Resident Evil 5 is, in a lot of ways, going back to the roots of the original games and answering a lot of questions on why certain things happened.
RP: So why is Jill Valentine dead?
MW: I don't know! I just saw it in Famitsu.
RP: Just because it's in a Famitsu ad, doesn't mean it's true, right?
MW: I don't know...but she has a tombstone and everything!
RP: Oh fine. I'll just say that it might be true. So will longtime fans of the series get all their Umbrella Corp. answers in Resident Evil 5?
MW: The whole premise of Resident Evil 5 is that Chris Redfield is now a full-fledged BSAA [Bio-terrorism Security Assessment Alliance] agent and he's going back to Africa.
RP: Like Toto? Does Chris "bless the rains down in Africa"?
MW: [laughs] Exactly like that! [laughs] That's a good one.... He's going back to Africa to uncover the roots of the progenitor virus and how the Umbrella Corporation came to be. So from a story standpoint, if you're a Resident Evil fan...god, this is the game for you. This is where a lot of things will be uncovered.
RP: And we'll all learn how Chris blesses the rains down in Africa.
MW: Just like Toto!