“What scares me now?” Mikami considers for a moment before a grin breaks across the 48-year-old’s face. “My wife.” It’s disarming moment of joviality from the earnest director but it’s also a veiled criticism at the industry. Mikami talks of his disillusionment by the state of modern horror, not just in gaming, but even in his first love of cinema – “It’s unfortunate, but I feel the energy of horror movies has gone somewhat stagnant,” he laments.
This would partially galvanise Mikami to return to survival horror, likewise the burgeoning demand from a new generation of gamers for a truly terrifying virtual experience that had been absent from the medium for several years.
“A lot of the indie games are true horror games in my opinion,” he compliments. “I believe for an indie game to be successful it really needs to stand out on its own, have a very clear identity and be targeted towards that genre’s specific audience.”
Highlighting the distinction between his own approach and the degeneration of the genre, he describes his own method for success when it comes to survival horror.
“Rewinding a little bit, the very first time I got the chance to make a horror game was Resident Evil 1,” says Mikami. “But I knew if I made the game as a true horror game it would mean that it would lose some of the ‘entertainment’ appeal as content. Running around and just trying to survive the entire game would just be too stressful. So in order to make it appeal to a wider audience I made the game a little softer. If you think of it as beverage it would not be water or juice but rather like an alcoholic drink. Not wine or sake but beer, an alcoholic beverage consumed by most adults. Beer was the positioning of Resident Evil.”
And it’s fair to say that gamers drunk it up; the industry intoxicated with the formula until creative tap had dried up.
The Resident Evil franchise, while still ambitious, has mutated into a creature unrecognisable when measured against Mikami’s original design; Silent Hill has all but lost the potency and allure that its suffocating mist once held; and other horror franchises such as Alone In The Dark and Fatal Frame rarely spring out of the shadows today. In Mikami’s opinion, publishers have lost touch with their audience, which has resulted in this nebulous redefinition of what survival horror should be.
“When it comes to what players want from a horror game, it seems to me they want to play more of an adventure type game rather than an action type game,” he says. “Where player’s skills are less required and more emphasis is put on the scary atmosphere. I think the sense of ‘How the heck am I gonna make it out of this situation alive?’ is what players are looking for in horror games nowadays.”
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