One of the great unspoken truths about video games, beyond all the intrigue and drama and the cold hard face of all that technology, is that they are made by mere humans. People like you and me, who face some of the same challenges, make the same mistakes, the same compromises, and experience some of the same triumphs and failures. Itchy, Tasty, a new look at the birth of the Resident Evil series from Alex Aniel, is as fine an illustration of all that as you’ll ever see – indeed, perhaps its greatest achievement is how it goes beyond the legend that is Capcom’s survival horror series and looks at some of the human stories behind it all.
I went in expecting a detailed history on the series and its origins – and Itchy, Tasty delivers all that and then some – but ended up with so much more besides. That’s thanks in no small part to Aniel’s approach, gathering first-hand accounts from the people who helped make Resident Evil a phenomenon. Aniel – a lifelong Resident Evil fan, even if he admits it was Silent Hill that first took his heart – has been a resident of Japan for some years, where he works as a producer alongside Japanese developers.
“Resident Evil changed my life in a lot of ways,” says Aniel. “I found out that Resident Evil was a game by Capcom, and that Capcom was a Japanese company. So that was partly responsible for why I became interested in learning Japanese, and eventually came out to Japan to join the games industry as well.”
It’s perhaps Aniel’s experience, and his intimacy with the Japanese development scene, that’s enabled such candid accounts. It also helps that this is a strictly non-official affair, and that all the interviewees have since left Capcom – something that’s more liberating than it is restricting, even if it does mean this history of Resident Evil only takes us to the release of Resident Evil 4.
“Resident Evil started big and it got bigger and then it hit trouble for a few years,” says Aniel of the timeframe he chose. “Then Resident Evil 4 came out and revolutionised our industry, and that’s kind of a nice kind of thing to end on. The other benefit, of course, is the director of every Resident Evil up to 4 have all left Capcom.”
And so Itchy, Tasty offers up Shinji Mikami and Hideki Kamiya, both on fine form as they recount their parts in the twisted, tortured tale of the musical chairs that was the making of what would become Resident Evil 2, 3 and 4 – a tale that’s been told in part before, sure, but never with this clarity, detail or insight – but what really struck me about Itchy, Tasty is how it goes about reframing this particular origin story. There’s some marvelous detail on Sweet Home, Capcom’s 1989 horror movie tie-in where it all really began, and a welcome effort to reestablish that game’s director, Tokuro Fujiwara, at the heart of Resident Evil’s genesis.
It’s the effort Aniel goes to give every Resident Evil from the era its due that really impresses, too – there’s a fascinating look into the Survivor lightgun series, as well as the unloved Outbreak games whose history proves to be more captivating than the games themselves, and Aniel even attempts to uncover the curious story of Tiger Electronic’s Resident Evil 2 port for the Game.com handheld.
“There are so many spin offs, side stories and derivative entries,” says Aniel, “so there are really more like 20 Resident Evil games at this point. And, you know, the fact that the series has maintained a strong sense of identity is extremely impressive. There are very few franchises that really make it to 25 years, and I’m really glad that as far as Capcom is concerned, they’ve managed to make Resident Evil one of them.
“Making one video game is hard enough, right? I think we can all agree on that. Making a series last as long as Resident Evil has, it takes a lot of coordination. And there has to be a lot of smart and creative people involved in the process, and with Resident Evil they’ve come and gone, but somehow the people at the top have managed to keep Resident Evil relevant by empowering their creators to do certain things.”
What’s so great about Itchy, Tasty is how it empowers those creators once again to tell the tale of this remarkable run of games first-hand, and to give a valuable insight into the chaos, calamity and resulting magic of Resident Evil in its formative first years. The result is a book that’s near enough indispensable, whether you’re a fan of the series or not.