The Evil Within 2
Shinji Mikami, who is often referenced as the "father of survival horror" for his work on the Resident Evil series, is not returning to the director's chair for The Evil Within 2. That responsibility has been passed to John Johanas, a designer from the first Evil Within game, and director of the game's two DLC adventures, The Assignment and The Consequence. We talked to Johanas about filling Mikami's shoes, and the challenge of scaring players again.
Game Informer: Stepping into the director’s role is obviously a huge undertaking. What did you learn along the way working under Shinji Mikami on The Evil Within? Did directing The Assignment and The Consequence properly prepare you for the task?
John Johanas: Working under Mikami-san taught me that game design is much more organic than I thought. It’s important to go with your instinct, with ideas you feel good about and let them take their course. But you also have to be critical over how people receive it and how you think players will respond, because eventually they are the ones who will judge it. Course-correcting is hard, but necessary for turning ideas into great games.
In a way, directing The Assignment and The Consequence was good preparation because I was in charge of all aspects of both titles, including writing the script. I could do whatever I wanted. It was a lot of fun, and for the scale of that project it was just barely doable to multitask like that. For a project as big as The Evil Within 2, I have to let other people take over those areas. However, having seen these two projects from inception to completion gives a lot of insight into guiding the team.
Survival horror series often move away from their protagonists after one game. That was even evident in Mikami’s early Resident Evil work. Sebastian Castellanos barely emerged from the first game with his life. He’s now a veteran of sorts in STEM. What do you think you gain from bringing him back as the lead? He’ll obviously be more experienced, but is part of the “falling down the rabbit hole” sense of awe lost?
Despite going through the first game as Sebastian, I don’t feel like we ever really got to know him. As the protagonist this time again, and having his journey feel more personal, I think it’s an interesting situation for us to create around as well as the players to experience. Besides going through hell in the first game (and I can say this from personal experience), hell is no cakewalk the second time around.
The situation within STEM is much different than it was last time, so there will definitely be things that Sebastian wouldn’t expect to encounter.
The first Evil Within game wasn’t bound to one style of horror, and often bounced chaotically between different types of terror and gore. Can we expect similar things from The Evil Within 2? If so, can you tease what we might see, or an inspiration you are drawing from?
The jumping around aspect I feel is a core element of the original game and so it exists here as well. While there are different styles of presentation, they are rooted in the logic of the characters and setting. The town of Union will have its own feel, the villains in the game have their own thematic elements, and areas dealing with Sebastian specifically will have their own distinct feel.
You have probably seen hints of the “beauty of the grotesque and death” with one of our villains, Stefano, which was a new theme we tried to explore in this entry. It’s a bit cleaner but more surreal in some respects. Things relating to Sebastian tend to lean on a psychological theme, which was hinted in some of the trailers.
This is obviously a more personal story for Castellanos. His daughter is at the core of this experience, filling the role of Ruvik. Kidman believes that her connection to STEM will produce a quiet, peaceful atmosphere. That obviously isn’t the case. Will there be moments that reflect the more innocent reality you’d think a young girl would conjure?
In this game, we focus more on the remains of what Lily had created within STEM, how it’s being repurposed and warped by the antagonists of the game and the fact the world is crumbling in on itself.
The cover art shows Castellanos in a milky substance. We also see enemies are made up of this material. An audiotape from the first game says “They lose who they are and become clay, completely reshape-able in my image, but not me.” Can you give us a hint as to what this stuff may be?
That milky substance is a bit high concept. There is definitely an in-game connection as you’ve seen with some of the enemies and will show up in some places we haven’t shown yet. Its initial concept, however, comes from entering STEM itself. The image of the characters entering this psychological world is being submerged within this white liquid, and that’s where the core concept behind the imagery came from.
One of the early concepts in the game that we jumped on was that the whole world is built upon the building blocks of that white liquid, coming to form by those who create from it. In the end, it’s more of a setting than a plot detail.
The beginning of Evil Within 2's second chapter is a roller coaster ride of tension and unease. It’s a beautifully scripted sequence of terror. Can we expect to see more moments like this throughout the game?
We have moments like that, major and minor, peppered throughout the game. The goal of the game this time is have a bit more downtime between them, so when the tension comes it has more of an impact.
We took what we made in the first game and tried to turn everything up, as well as maybe throwing in a few… surprises… for those who search through every corner.
Can you give us an idea of how Union is structured as an open area to explore?
The game opens up pretty early. It happens a bit after you first get your knife and handgun. The structure is fairly simple in that you have a goal to accomplish in the town of Union and at first you are pretty unprepared to get through it unscathed. If you’re good you can try to go right for it, but we encourage you to explore for resources and find weapons/items so you stand a better chance.
It also sounds like the open area might contain optional missions and people you can help. How extensive is this? Can you give us an example of one task you may be asked to complete?
Union isn’t filled with survivors and there aren’t a lot of official missions to take on number-wise, but some survivors you find will give you hints or small tasks to do which will, in the end, make your chances of survival a bit higher.
A lot of the optional tasks you find are actually more freeform. Sebastian has a communication device which picks up resonances left within the world. As you explore, you’ll suddenly get a burst signal which may lead you to something worth checking out. However, not all of these resonances are “good things.” For every one that may lead to you discovering an underground stash of ammunition, there’s one that may lead you into a dark corner of Sebastian’s subconscious.
The ending of Evil Within was left ambiguous. It almost looked like Ruvik was able to escape STEM and possess the body of Leslie Withers. Is that something we’ll learn more about in Evil Within 2?
While the ending of the first game was left ambiguous, the main focus this time is about the events regarding Sebastian and his journey to find Lily within STEM.