An Interview With Shinji Mikami, The Father Of Survival Horror

by Andrew Reiner on Sep 10, 2014 at 05:00 AM

Shinji Mikami's career began at Capcom in 1990. He's known as the father of survival horror today, but his early work suggested a much different title. The first three games that Mikami worked on were all Disney properties: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Aladdin, and Goof Troop. He was given the chance to create his own intellectual property for the PlayStation in 1996. Mikami and his team introduced players to a mansion infested with zombies in Resident Evil. This genre-defining release paved a bloody road for Mikami's career. In addition to the Resident Evil series, Mikami helped create Dino Crisis, Devil May Cry, Killer 7, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Viewtiful Joe, Vanquish, and God Hand. After departing Capcom, Mikami helped create Shadows of the Damned for Electronic Arts. His latest venture with his new studio Tango Gameworks and publisher Bethesda Softworks is taking him back to his survival horror roots. The Evil Within is his first survival horror game since 2005's smash-hit Resident Evil 4.

In Game Informer's November issue, I played through the first five chapters of The Evil Within, finding it to be as much a new take on survival horror as it is a love letter to Mikami's previous work. I talked to him about the state of survival horror, embracing different types of horror, and a nod to Resident Evil that he's included in The Evil Within.

You are often referenced as the father of Survival Horror. What’s it like to hold such a title?
I am proud of the fact that I have been able to create and introduce a new genre that is neither pure horror nor pure action. I am grateful to the fans that have supported my games and the genre and I cannot thank them enough.

What are your thoughts on the current state of survival horror? Are you pleased with the direction it has taken?
It’s definitely gone more toward action. This is just my personal take, but to me the definition of survival horror is a game where fear and the sense of exhilaration coincide. So some of the games out there don’t exactly fit my definition. But I don’t have any rights to the definition of the genre so people can call them survival horror if they feel it fits. Basically, I understand that the spectrum of what survival horror is to the general public is pretty wide.

How did The Evil Within come to be? Did it start with a story idea? The horror elements?
I wanted to make a pure survival horror game. The start of it all was that simple. Also, I knew I wanted to depict horror in a world not set in one reality. 
The Evil Within contains spirits, hallucinations, Japanese-style horror, Western horror, enemies that stalk you – a bit of everything. Why did you choose to borrow elements from multiple parts of the genre rather than focusing on one?

I’ve been exposed to horror pretty much all of my life regardless of whether that’s Japanese or Western, so I can understand why you see both elements.

Many of the horror elements in The Evil Within are not tied to reality, and instead fall into the realm of psychological horror. How does this different setting influence your design for horror and gameplay elements?
As a form of expression I wanted to use something other than realism. I like the fact that you are never really sure what is going around you, which adds to the horror elements of the game.

How much time and iteration goes into making sure the player has just enough ammo for a combat encounter?
Balancing horror and fun certainly is a huge challenge. From player speed versus horror, darkness versus level of visibility, spacing of save points versus risk of “retrys” and player motivation, the amount of ammunition versus horror, as well as considering the player‘s play style – there were so many things to account for simultaneously. It wasn’t something that could be determined by fiddling with numbers or logic. It meant a lot of trial and error, and yes, it is a painstaking process. I’m glad I don’t remember the number of times we reiterated.

A lot of the game seems to revolve around the human brain. What kind of research did you do regarding this element of The Evil Within?
I spent time reading up on how the brain worked when dealing with information and learning and what parts of the brain controlled human emotions. It wasn’t like I had a neurology expert, but I want to thank Goggle search for their assistance.

In some sections in the game, the best course of action is to run, but the game doesn’t tell the player this outright. How do you lead them down the path of fleeing rather than fighting?

There are three ways. First, introduce a creature that no one’s ever seen before. In this case we have to make sure that even with the weapons you have, they most likely won’t work. Second, we simply let players know either from story or NPCs that they have to run away. In this case the situation must be very persuasive such as having hordes of enemies coming at you. Third, is decreasing the amount of ammo toward the point where you want the player to run. If the player has less ammo, it’s natural for the player to runaway rather than confront the enemy. But this is the most unideal method of the three.

Are there any horror elements that you left out of the game because they were too grotesque or frightening?
I never leave out anything because it’s too scary, but I do leave out because it may be just too grotesque.

Are you finding you can do new things with horror elements using the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hardware?

I’m happy how light and dark parts of the game turned out. I think there’s more depth. But it’s a fine line between making it look beautiful versus how visually scary it looks as horror.

The first zombie reveal in The Evil Within is almost identical to Resident Evil's. Is this an intentional nod back to your past for survival horror fans?

Initially, I didn’t think about putting that scene in the game but I was hearing voices from the team that it would make horror fans happy – hence it’s in the game. There are other scenes in the game that pay homage and horror fans may recognize them as well.


We have a full month of horror-themed coverage set up for gameinformer.com, complete with video features and more. Be sure to visit our hub throughout the month for a steady stream of updates.