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Shinji Mikami discusses The Evil Within and the drive for 'pure survival horror'

Shinji Mikami, the main mind behind the original Resident Evil series, is back in the survival-horror scene. That much he proved last week when Tango Gameworks, the Bethesda-owned developer Mikami founded in 2010, released the first real media from The Evil Within, their first major project, last week.

"With this game, we are aiming for a pure form of survival horror," Mikami told Famitsu magazine in this week's issue. "The gameplay you see in the survival-horror genre has changed with the times, and I think right now it leads more towards action than it did before. So we're trying to avoid that. To be honest, it's hard to make survival horror work as a game. Should you emphasize the entertainment aspect and focus on the fun of killing enemies? Or should you try to aim for more of a creeping sort of terror? It's hard to strike a balance, but with this game, we're trying to place our weight primarily on the horror aspects."

The Evil Within (announced this week in Japan under the name Psycho Break) stars Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who's sent along with his partners Joseph Oda and Julie "Kid" Kidman on a call to a mental asylum in the city where they live. Apparently all the patients and employees in the hospital are dead, and things get even weirder once Sebastian sets foot in the facility.

"Sebastian, the hero, starts the game already in pursuit of a brutal murderer," Mikami explained. "However, as he answers the call that takes him to the mental hospital, he winds up accidentally going into this nightmare-like world. We made it accidental because if you had a solid goal and you were chasing down this mystery, it'd stop being scary once you found the truth. I think it's more fun, and scarier, for this detective to get whisked away in this mystery while answering another call. Instead of chasing a criminal, it's a game where you're being pursued and you're trying to figure out how to survive."

Mikami said that he also made the hero a police detective in order to get gunplay into the game, although he emphasized that this isn't The Evil Within's main focus. "There are traps you'll run into in assorted areas, and you can use these traps to defeat enemies," he said. "You can use guns, too, of course, but you'll find the ammo supply to be just a bit limited in this game. Instead of just relying on your firearms in battle, I want players to use the traps and other things in the local area to strategically find a way to survive."

As Mikami put it, too much gunplay would rob the game of much of its horror, something he's taking pains to preserve here. "With Resident Evil," he said, "you're controlling these special-ops guys, and yet they fire their handguns pretty slowly, right? Even at the time, people on the dev team would say 'These guys have special weapons training; aren't they firing a little too slow?' But there was a reason for that. You could shoot a zombie once, but they'd still keep coming towards you, right? He might bite you before you get the next shot off. That's the kind of fear I wanted the player to feel. With this game, too, that interval is really important."

Mikami first announced The Evil Within in April of 2012 under the codename Zwei — the way he framed it in the interview, it's taken this long to get the game firmly off the ground. "Being a completely original project, it's a difficult process, but a really gratifying one," he said. "I love dealing with the problems that crop up every day, and I'm working hard on the story, too. Previously, I always put more weight on the game aspect when working on stories. I'd take a pretty simple approach to building a scenario — maybe there'd be a character who got involved in the story, but really, he's only there so he can give you an item you need; that kind of approach. With this game, the game and the story are much more closely weaved together. The gameplay isn't prioritized above the story here, and we're trying to make this the the best sort of survival-horror entertainment it can be. I'd like to have it so the player can't skip past the storytelling event scenes, so I'm thinking of ways to deeply weave the story into the game so it doesn't affect the tempo."

Right now, Bethesda has a 2014 release planned for the PC and assorted consoles — and Mikami refused to elaborate on that. "I'm sorry, but I really can't answer that yet!" he told Famitsu. "It was a tough trial-and-error effort in the early stages, but things are moving along smoothly now. The basic game system is complete, and now we're all just working hard toward getting the game done. People expecting pure survival horror are definitely going to be glad they waited. We're planning to support next-generation consoles as well, so look out for further updates."

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