Resident Evil: The Many Ways the PlayStation Game Was Changed

Resident Evil was nearly a game about cyborgs fighting ghosts, so it's safe to say the PlayStation title changed a lot during development.

Resident Evil
Photo: Capcom

1996’s Resident Evil is on any respectable shortlist of the most influential console games of all-time. While it didn’t invent the idea of horror gaming, it popularized that concept in such a way that makes it almost impossible to imagine how the horror genre would have ever thrived in gaming without it.

Despite being so influential for its combination of concepts that once defined a genre and an era in gaming, the original Resident Evil was hardly the product of a clear creative vision crafted by those who were confident that their work would change gaming forever. If anything, you start to realize that Resident Evil was, in many ways, a happy accident that’s success stunned even those who spent years working on it.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Resident Evil didn’t end up pretty much exactly the way it was, but if you’re curious about a time when Resident Evil was a game about cyborgs fighting ghosts, then you have to learn more about the many ways that Resident Evil was changed during development.

Resident Evil Was Originally a Spiritual Successor to Sweet Home Intended for the Super Nintendo

We’ve talked about this before in an article you really should read, but Resident Evil began life as a spiritual successor to the cult classic Famicom horror title, Sweet Home. Capcom essentially wanted to make a game that featured many of that title’s key elements without necessarily making a direct Sweet Home sequel.

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What you may not know is that there was reportedly a very brief period of time when Capcom considered releasing what would become Resident Evil on the SNES. Ultimately, the project’s suspected production time and the promise of the PlayStation’s hardware persuaded them to convert the concept into a next-gen game. As we’ll soon see, that conversion led to a number of problems and fascinating opportunities.

Resident Evil Was Almost a First-Person Game 

This is another fairly well-known fact, but we have to mention that one of the earliest versions of Resident Evil’s PlayStation build utilized a first-person perspective. A lone piece of concept art and statements from the game’s developers suggest that version of the game would have been somewhere between DOOM and the game we eventually got.

Sadly (depending on your…perspective), the limitations of the PlayStation hardware made it incredibly difficult for the team to complete their vision while preserving that first-person viewpoint. They instead decided to utilize the fixed camera system previously seen in Alone in the Dark. Future Resident Evil games, including Resident Evil 7 and the upcoming Resident Evil Village, would revisit and reimagine that first-person concept. 

Resident Evil Was Supposed to Feature Extensive Motion Capture Technology

While it’s hardly a big deal these days, the plan was for the original Resident Evil to utilize what was, at the time, relatively new video game motion capture technology. Capcom was apparently quite adamant about exploring the potential of that technology and felt that Resident Evil offered the perfect chance to test its possibilities. 

This idea pretty much went out the window with the game’s transition from first to third-person cameras. Rumor has it that there were attempts to retain motion capturing during the early days of that transition process, but pre-rendered backgrounds both matched the game’s theme better and put less strain on the PlayStation hardware.

Capcom Tried to Fill Resident Evil With A.I. Companions

You may have heard the rumor that Resident Evil was initially designed as a co-op game, but that’s only part of the story. Capcom actually tried for quite some time to develop a first-person Resident Evil game with motion capture technology that saw you and several A.I. teammates work to clear a haunted mansion. In fact, the idea of working with companions seemed to be a pretty big part of the earliest Resident Evil concepts.

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Capcom struggled to retain the A.I. teammates concept across several early builds of the game before eventually deciding that the PlayStation just wouldn’t be able to properly handle what they wanted to do. The team even tried to make “naked” zombies at one point to reduce the technological strain, but none of their sacrifices were enough to eliminate the substantial technological hurdles.

The Original Version of Resident Evil Was More Influenced by Japanese Horror than Western Horror

While Resident Evil is best known for its collection of creatures typically created by a chemical concoction (it’s one of the elements of the franchise that has remained fairly consistent over the years), a very early version of the game featured supernatural enemies and other horror elements heavily inspired by Japanese psychological/supernatural films. 

However, a change in the game’s creative staff resulted in Resident Evil taking more inspiration from Western horror and science-based creature concepts. It should be noted, though, that there was a time when the title’s supernatural and sci-fi elements converged in a very strange way…

Early Builds of Resident Evil Were Reportedly Too Similar to Mega Man

For a brief period of time, Resident Evil was a game about four genetically enhanced operatives battling an evil scientist and his army of supernatural figures throughout a haunted mansion. It sounded absolutely wild and, to be honest, something I’d probably still play to this day.

One of the big reasons that basic idea was scrapped was that Capcom felt the idea of having cybernetic characters battle an evil scientist was just a bit too close to the Mega Man series. While that’s may have been a bit of a stretch, nearly every element of that original concept was eventually removed from the game. Interestingly enough, though, one fascinating piece of evidence from that time has survived over the years…

Original Resident Evil Characters Included Dewey and a Cyborg Named Gelzer

A pretty famous piece of concept art from Resident Evil’s early days reveals that the original four main characters of the cast would have been Jill, Chris, Dewey, and Gelzer. Dewey was described as a comic relief character who some say was modeled after Eddie Murphy, while Gelzer was going to be a mechanically enhanced heavy weapon specialist. 

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Gelzer was eventually replaced by Barry Burton when the team decided to abandon the project’s early sci-fi elements. As for Dewey, it’s believed that he was essentially replaced by Rebecca Chamber despite the fact that they’re two very different characters. Interestingly, the name Dewey was reused as the last name of the S.T.A.R.S. helicopter pilot in the retail version of the game.

You Could Originally Change Your Weapons in Real-Time

The original Resident Evil utilized a menu-heavy system that significantly slowed down the pace of the game. According to footage and documents of an early build of the title, though, the original plan was for you to be able to swap your character’s weapons in real-time rather than through a menu. Simply pushing a button would allow you to swap between being unarmed or wielding the knife, the handgun, or the shotgun.

Why was that feature removed? It’s not entirely clear why the change was made, but it likely came down to a combination of stylistic preferences and changes forced by the various other alterations to the game during the course of development.

Resident Evil Was Supposed to Feature an Extended Graveyard Sequence

Across the various early builds of Resident Evil that Capcom demoed at preview events over the years, the game’s developers typically showcased a graveyard sequence that would seemingly play a major role in the final game. As you know, though, there is no such sequence in the original PlayStation version of the title.

It turns out that the graveyard was just one of those things that got cut as Resident Evil’s development progressed and the team needed to start trimming the game down to get it out on time. Thankfully, the original graveyard concept is faithfully recreated in the brilliant Resident Evil remake.

Zombie Children Were Originally Supposed to be in the Game

Resident Evil features a decent variety of enemies, but early versions of the game featured additional creature designs and variations of existing monsters. Actually, there was at least one point in the early builds of the game where you would have been forced to battle child zombies in an apparent nod to famous scenes from Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

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There’s no mystery why that concept never made it into the game. Shinji Mikami felt uncomfortable with the idea of shooting children (even zombie children) in a video game and decided to have the team remove those designs.

Spiders May Have Replaced Dogs in the Hallway

The moment that the dog jumps through the window in Resident Evil right as the fixed camera changes is rightfully remembered as one of the scariest moments in franchise history. However, an early demo of the game that shows spiders instead of dogs in the mansion’s hallways suggests that the same scene could have featured an even more intimidating monster.

It’s actually not clear if those spiders were just placeholders for the dog models at that point in development, but given some of the other changes that were floating around about that time in regards to the mansion’s layout, it’s certainly believable that Capcom played with the idea of putting spiders in the hallways rather than dogs.

Japanese Voiceovers Were Recorded but Not Used

As strange as it may sound, there were no Japanese voiceover options available for the original PlayStation version of Resident Evil despite the fact that Capcom briefly thought they may only be able to release the game in Japan. What’s even more interesting is that the RE team did actually take the time to record Japanese dialog but decided to not use it in the final game.

Why? Well, it’s been said that the team stylistically felt that it made more sense to use American (or Western) actors since the game was set in America, but it’s also been noted that many on the staff felt the Japanese voice recordings were pretty bad. The funny thing is that the American voiceovers probably weren’t much better as translation issues resulted in the original Resident Evil claiming a Guinness Book of World Records nod for having the worst dialog in video game history.

Enemies Utilized More Complicated Attacks and Could Be Trapped

The majority of Resident Evil’s enemies are fairly simple to handle with the biggest obstacle typically being the game’s controls and limited resources. However, early builds of the title reportedly featured much more advanced zombies who utilized multiple attacks that would require you to navigate a kind of limited combo system. Some enemies were so advanced that the developers even reportedly worked on a “trapping” mechanic that would have allowed you to permanently and temporarily restrain enemies. 

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Interestingly, members of the RE development team say that the technology was there to make these concepts work but they simply didn’t have the time to properly implement them as production deadlines started to creep up. 

Enemies Followed You Between Rooms Forcing You To Barricade Doors

In case it’s not horrifying enough to imagine Resident Evil zombies that are more aggressive and need to be trapped, consider that early Resident Evil design concepts allowed zombies to use doors and travel between rooms to pursue the player. In fact, the plan was to implement a system that would have required players to barricade doors in order to prevent zombies from following them.

The idea of barricading doors to hold off zombies would have been another neat little callback to Night of the Living Dead, but it seems like this is just another one of those ideas that were scrapped along the way due to technological limitations.

Mysterious Unused Items Included a Pickaxe and Lamp Oil

There’s no shortage of items that were ultimately cut from Resident Evil along the way, but the two that have garnered the most attention over the years have to be the pickaxe and lamp oil. While remnants of the pickaxe’s code were datamined after RE’s release, it’s still not clear what its purpose was. Some say it’s leftover from an unused area, while others claim it was intended to be used as a weapon. Most signs point to the possibility that it simply would have been used as part of a removed or altered puzzle.

The lamp oil makes a little more sense as we saw similar items added to the Resident Evil remake. There, the player used oil and fluid to set zombies on fire and prevent them from coming back. It’s likely that Capcom planned to put a similar mechanic into the original game.

Mysterious Writing on the Walls Would Have Helped Enhance the Story

Here’s a strange one for you. Early Resident Evil builds prominently featured messages left on the walls that told miniature stories and warned the player of the terrors that befell their writers. However, those messages are not found in the final game (at least without hacking through walls) despite the fact that they were originally featured in rooms that did make it into the retail version of Resident Evil.

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The developers likely just decided to abandon this concept somewhere along the way, but it would have been interesting to see this idea implemented in the final build considering that the act of telling stories through such environmental writing would become a big part of horror gaming in the years that followed.

The Biohazard Name Was Changed in The U.S.

While you’ve probably heard this one before, it should certainly be noted that one of the biggest changes to the PlayStation version of Resident Evil was the name “Resident Evil” itself. The story goes that Capcom realized they wouldn’t be able to use the game’s original name (Biohazard) in the U.S. due to several potential copyright issues. 

That being the case, Capcom held a contest to determine the series’ U.S. name, and Resident Evil obviously won. Interestingly, there were many in the company who protested the name at that time as they felt it was kind of corny. 

Items Used to Be Limited to the Boxes That You Left Them In

In case you don’t know, the U.S. version of Resident Evil is much harder than the original Biohazard game released in Japan. Apparently, Capcom’s U.S. team requested that the port be made more difficult in order to prevent U.S. players from renting the game and completing it too quickly. So, the development team reduced the number of ink ribbons available in the U.S. version and implemented a few other changes designed to make players more carefully consider their resources.

It was almost much worse, though. At one point, the plan was for the U.S. version of the game to remove the “universal” nature of item boxes. In other words, if you put an item into an item box, it would only be available in that specific item box. That feature did actually make it into some preview copies of the game, but it was scrapped from the retail release and later incorporated into the remake as part of an optional difficulty setting. 

Resident Evil’s Intro Video Was Censored in the U.S.

This is another pretty famous story, but the saga of Resident Evil’s “censored” opening cutscene is undeniably fascinating.

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See, the game’s opening live-action sequence was heavily censored for the title’s U.S. release. Not only was the whole thing converted to black and white from the original color footage, but certain scenes were cut entirely or otherwise edited carefully. For instance, Chris is shown smoking a cigarette in the uncensored version which is made all the more interesting thanks to the fact that Chris’ original character profile picture showed him with a cigarette in his mouth. That profile picture was changed during development, but it seems that Chris almost beat Solid Snake to the punch as an infamous PlayStation smoker.

While the uncensored version of that opening was supposed to make it into the game’s “Director’s Cut,” a mistake by the localization team meant that the censored version was re-released instead. Capcom posted the original uncensored footage to their website at that time, but it was years before that footage was properly restored.

The Original Japanese Version of Resident Evil Had a Rocking Theme Song Not Heard in the Other Games

Resident Evil’s moody atmosphere is complemented by a haunting soundtrack with minimalist, yet striking, tones that perfectly fit the game. The quality and nature of that soundtrack make it all the odder that the original Japanese release of BioHazard featured two rock/pop songs (complete with lyrics) performed by Fumitaka Fuchigami. Apparently, some Capcom producers felt that the game may be easier to market if they got the up-and-coming singer to write some music for the project.

The decision was met with nearly universal scorn from the rest of the game’s developers who felt that the songs clashed with the game’s tones and themes. You can kind of see what they meant (and certainly understand why the songs were cut for the game’s international releases), but this song is independently fun in its own right all these years later.

The DualShock Version’s Awful New Soundtrack Was the Result of a Decades-Long Scam From a Famous Composer

Before we stop talking about Resident Evil’s soundtrack, we have to spend a little time on this fascinating story you may have never heard before. 

When Capcom decided to release an updated version of the Director’s Cut of Resident Evil that supported the PlayStation’s DualShock controls, they also decided to give that version of the game a new soundtrack. The idea was that the new soundtrack would offer those who already purchased the game a little more incentive to also buy the updated version of the title.

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Even better, Capcom managed to convince Mamoru Samuragochi (a famous Japanese composer whose partial deafness led some to call him the digital age Beethoven) to compose a fully-orchestral soundtrack to replace the original’s synthesized sounds. It sounded like a recipe for success, but much of that new soundtrack turned out to be indescribably awful. The entire composition is best remembered for this basement theme that’s considered one of the worst video game songs of all time. 

For comparison’s sake, here’s the original version of that same song.

What happened? Years later, it was discovered that Samuragochi had not only exaggerated his condition but had gotten a friend of his (Takashi Niigaki) to ghostwrite most of his work. Niigaki is believed to be the actual composer of the DualShock version’s infamous soundtrack.

The Sega Saturn Version of Resident Evil Made Some Weird and Notable Changes

Of the many versions of Resident Evil that have been released over the years, the Sega Saturn edition of the original title has to be one of the strangest. Not only did the Sega Saturn port feature notable visual design changes (the character models are strikingly different from their PlayStation counterparts) but it introduced a special mode that would eventually serve as the genesis of Resident Evil’s famous Mercenaries mode.

What’s even more bizarre is that the new mode featured a special Tyrant not seen in any of the other games as well as a zombified version of Albert Wesker. The Tyrant could be a callback to a time when Capcom reportedly intended to add a second Tyrant boss to the game, but the zombie version of Wesker is just a bizarre trip into an alternate timeline.

The Original Controls Were A Little Better and a Little Worse

We know Resident Evil’s camera changed quite a bit over the course of development, but it must be noted that the game’s infamous tank controls were the end result of several experiments. For instance, an early version of the game actually required you to double-tap the “Up” button in order to run. 

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Not all those early ideas were bad, though. One very early version of Resident Evil reportedly featured a 180-degree turn that wouldn’t be added to the franchise until Resident Evil 3 where it was hailed as one of Capcom’s most welcome additions/alterations.