By Matt Ayres
It’s been 20 years since the horrors of Resident Evil first crawled on to our TV screens and into our hearts. The 1996 release redefined what it meant to be scared by a video game, combining slasher film aesthetics with realistic survival elements to define a new genre: the survival horror.
Games of this type had been seen before, but never had they been executed so well. Although tame by today’s standards, there’s still a sense of urgency as you make your way around the original game’s massive haunted house, with the threat of shuffling zombies and mutant monsters making each new room a genuinely terrifying prospect.
With 23 games and five film adaptations released since the original, Resident Evil has become Capcom’s biggest franchise, eclipsing the likes of Street Fighter and Mega Man as the publisher’s most successful series. But there are still secrets lurking in the shadows – read on to learn about some of Resident Evil’s lesser-known facts.
Resident Evil was originally a first person shooter
Before Capcom decided on Resident Evil’s creepy fixed camera angles (influenced by 1992 title Alone In The Dark), the game was going to be a first person shooter.
Shooting up monsters from a first person perspective can indeed be an exhilarating experience (you only need to play the new Doom to realise that), but the genius of Resident Evil lies in its restricted viewpoints; obscuring enemies by leaving them just out of frame and giving you the shock of your life when you unknowingly stray into their path.
There was nearly a Resident Evil Game Boy game
The original Resident Evil was going to be ported to the Game Boy.
In fact, the handheld version was 90 per cent complete before Capcom scrapped it, stating that they were "not confident that the product would have made both consumers and Capcom happy."
After an enthusiast managed to get hold of the unfinished game, it was released as a ROM online.
Resident Evil was heavily inspired by another Capcom game
Critically acclaimed Japanese horror game Sweet Home formed the foundation for Resident Evil’s development – Capcom initially intended for Resi to be a remake of the 1989 RPG, which was only released in Japan due to its brutally graphic content.
Elements like the mansion setting, puzzles, inventory management, use of scattered notes as a storytelling device, multiple endings and tense ‘door opening’ loading screens were all borrowed from Capcom’s earlier release.
The name Biohazard was changed for legal reasons
In Japan, Resident Evil is known as Biohazard – a self-explanatory game, given the biological monstrosities that the game revolves around.
However, a DOS game called Biohazard already existed in America. Capcom’s solution? To hold a company-wide competition, asking staff to put forward name suggestions the US release. Resident Evil was chosen as the winner, referring to the game’s mansion setting and its bloodthirsty inhabitants.
Other playable characters were planned
The first game’s protagonists, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, were going to be joined by two alternative character choices: a hulking radio operative called Geltzer and an African-American medic called Dewey, who was apparently modelled on Eddie Murphy.
Although these characters were scrapped, the name Dewey was kept for a non-playable character, STARS pilot Edward Dewey.
Several gruesome messages were removed from Resident Evil
A trial version of Resident Evil included messages written in blood on the walls, presumably to flesh out the backstory of the mansion’s zombified residents.
One reads “painful breathing... someone stop this suffering.” Another message was going to say “For God's sake, get out!”, a direct reference to Resident Evil’s spiritual precursor Sweet Home.
Resident Evil was going to be multiplayer
Due to hardware limitations, Capcom decided not to make their famous survival horror a multiplayer game. Getting around those darned Hunters might have been a whole lot easier with a sidekick backing you up.
Jill has a hidden zombie encounter scene
Most people playing through Resident Evil as Jill Valentine will spot their first zombie gnawing on the body of STARS comrade Kenneth Sullivan. However, if you try to return to the lobby as Jill twice before entering the zombie’s lair, the undead cannibal will burst into the dining room instead. Visiting Kevin’s corpse after this event reveals that his legs have been eaten. Grim.
Brad makes a creepy cameo in Resident Evil 2
In the original Resident Evil, helicopter pilot Brad Vickers is seen to escape the mansion alive.
However, the second game reveals that things didn’t turn out too well for him afterwards: playing as Claire in Resident Evil 2 on normal difficulty while intentionally avoiding weapons and items will result in a zombified version of Brad staggering around in the maintenance tunnels.
You can battle Zombie Wesker on the Sega Saturn
PlayStation was the most popular console for playing Resident Evil, but a version of the game released for the Sega Saturn featured some cool extras. For example, you could fight a zombie version of Albert Wesker via the Saturn version’s unlockable battle game. An extra tough ‘gold’ version of Resident Evil’s final boss, the Tyrant, can also be found in this minigame.
Devil May Cry started out as Resident Evil 4
After the success of Resident Evil 3, writer Noboru Sugimura and director Hideki Kamiya planned for the fourth instalment to be a “cool and stylised” action game.
However, shoehorning a badass action hero into the classic Resident Evil formula proved challenging: fixed camera angles weren’t sufficiently showing off the player-character’s “coolness”, and the eerie survival horror tone was at odds with the fast-paced battle system planned for the new game. To avoid straying too far from the series’ roots, the developers decided to turn their work-in-progress into whole new franchise: Devil May Cry.
Resident Evil 1.5 was a thing
Resident Evil 2 could have ended up a very different game. A whole different version was made and nearly released, but the people at Capcom were dissatisfied with the game and started over, keeping key plot elements like the zombie outbreak concept and rookie cop character Leon S. Kennedy. So what was different?
Instead of Claire Redfield, Resident Evil 1.5 (as the prototype game is now known) had a playable female character called Elza Walker, a motorbike-racing college student. Enemies from the scrapped game included zombie gorillas, man-spiders and a bizarre boss monster with the face of Albert Wesker on its tail.
‘Lost In Nightmares’ can be played in retro mode
A downloadable mission for Resident Evil 5, Lost In Nightmares, can be played from the classic fixed camera perspective by checking the main door in the starting room three times. This is a nice throwback to the Resi games of old: after the third-person shooter elements of Resident Evil 4, some fans still pined for the fixed perspective of the earlier games.
There’s a nod to the infamous ‘Jill sandwich’ scene in Resident Evil: Uprising
“That was too close! You were almost a Jill sandwich.” Remember that atrocious bit of dialogue from Barry in the first Resident Evil? Mobile game Resident Evil: Uprising makes a mockery of it by including a hidden recipe for a Jill sandwich. It can be found on a post-in note in the police department.
George A Romero was fired from the Resident Evil movie
The godfather of zombie horror, George A Romero, had close ties with Capcom and Resident Evil after he was chosen to direct an ad campaign for Biohazard 2 in Japan. When Capcom decided to turn their critically acclaimed games into a film, they hired Romero as director and screenplay writer. But Romero’s script, which was based on the story of the original Resident Evil and included characters like Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, was disliked by the producers at Capcom. The legendary director was promptly fired. Mortal Kombat movie director Paul W.S. Anderson took his place with a screenplay that was further removed from the storyline of the games.
There are a lot of Queen references in Resident Evil
Resident Evil doesn’t have an obvious connection with Queen, but that didn’t stop Capcom from cramming their games full of homages to the band’s 15th and final album, Made in Heaven.
Chris and Claire Redfield are both shown wearing jackets with the insignia ‘Made in Heaven’ on the back; another jacket containing the phrase Let Me Live (track three from the album) is shown in Resident Evil - Code: Veronica; and Billy Coen from Resident Evil Zero has a large tattoo containing the words Mother Love (track four from the album).
Onimusha started out as a ninja version of Resident Evil
Like Devil May Cry, another Capcom game started out as a Resident Evil-affiliated project.
Japanese warrior game Onimusha was originally going to be a ninja version of Resident Evil, set in a ‘ninja house’ filled with booby traps. We're all glad it wasn't.
The Shining was a big influence
The eerily quiet mansion in Resident Evil was influenced by Stephen King’s similarly haunted setting from The Shining, the Overlook Hotel. Another hat tip to the horror classic can be found in Resident Evil 2, with the word ‘REDRUM’ scrawled on one of the walls.
Japanese dialogue in Resident Evil was originally discarded
Although the characters in Resident Evil are supposed to be American, the game was initially developed with Japanese voice acting. Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami decided to rerecord the dialogue with English-speaking actors, claiming that the Japanese performances had been “really lame”. Ironic, considering that…
Resident Evil was given the world record for ‘Worst Game Dialogue Ever’
Yep. With laughable lines like ‘Jill, here’s a lock pick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you’, it’s no wonder the original Resident Evil was recognised for its corny B-movie script in the 2008 Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition.