Resident Evil 4 is iconic. Pale sunlight, a rickety wooden village, grumbling villagers with pitchforks in hand—Capcom not only redefined the series with Resident Evil 4, but the entire survival horror genre. You can still feel its influence to this day, and Capcom’s reintroduced Leon Kennedy and his ill-fated trip to Europe to new audiences over the years by porting it to PC and to modern consoles.
But VR presented a unique challenge: Resident Evil 4 on Quest 2 would need a new presentation, a new first-person point-of-view, and new ways of interacting with the world. How do you do it? How do you bring such vaunted source material to VR?
The answer is a bit of a paradox. You change nothing—by changing everything. “Every area you go to, every boss, every enemy you fight, every room you enter—we wanted them to all be like you remember. But we made a lot of changes to make it look like you remembered it,” says Armature Studio Senior Producer Tom Ivey with a laugh.
That meant redrawing textures, sure—but also creating weapons you could physically reload, doors you could crack open, and even a teleport system that fast-forwards the world around you. We recently sat down with Ivey for an insider look at how Armature rebuilt the classic Resident Evil 4 for cutting-edge hardware. Read on for more details.
Resident Evil 4 as you remembered it, not as it actually was. That was the guiding principle behind Armature’s work. Stepping into Resident Evil 4 on Quest 2 should feel like stepping into the same world Capcom created in 2005.
But obviously you’re doing so from a new perspective: first-person. “If you played the game before, that perspective shift is a lot more nostalgia-inducing than you would think,” says Ivey. “Being in this place that you’ve seen before, but in a completely different way—it’s a unique experience.”
You would never see the original Resident Evil 4 from this angle though. That created some new challenges. “With VR, there’s obviously a lot of places you can get your head that you couldn’t get your head before,” Ivey notes. Working with the original source material, Armature needed to clean up the textures and geometry so they’d hold up under scrutiny. Armature didn’t add new buildings or do major landscaping, but being able to see behind objects that were never meant to be seen from behind necessitated some spackling.
“You can get so close to everything,” says Ivey. The original game’s textures were also redrawn at a higher resolution—and with a newfound need for color as well. “The original game had a fairly muted color palette,” says Ivey. “There are a lot of browns and tans in the Village, and we found that those muted colors looked very flat in 3D.”
Armature worked closely with Capcom to broaden Resident Evil 4’s color palette without compromising the original intent. Resident Evil 4’s Village wouldn’t be the Village without that “Golden Hour” lighting, for instance—but Armature also pushed some red undertones that were present (but barely) in the original game, to give the scene more depth and make it feel more like a real place.
Oh, and Leon’s head needed to be shrunk. “For some reason, when you saw yourself in the third person, Leon’s head just looked a little bit odd,” says Ivey, laughing. “I think we changed the scale eeeeeever so slightly.”
Other changes were made to take advantage of VR’s capabilities and turn a game from 2005 into a game that felt built-from-the-ground-up for Quest 2.
“We wanted to keep the player in first-person as much as possible,” says Ivey. Weapons were redesigned as interactive objects you reload by hand. And puzzles received the same care, with buttons to push and levers to pull. Why? “Pushing a button grounds you in the world,” Ivey explains. “It’s simple and fast—it actually makes the interaction faster in some cases—but it grounds you in the world.”
Committing to first-person puzzles came with its own set of problems to solve though. “In the original game, you’d press a button and a camera cut would happen,” Ivey continues, “but we wanted to present those puzzles in a VR space, and that sometimes meant repositioning objects so you could see what you were manipulating in real-time.”
When making changes, Armature needed to carefully consider what would improve the player’s overall experience. “We’re not building this game from scratch, right? This is a game that already exists,” says Ivey. Capcom’s original code runs underneath Resident Evil 4 on Quest 2, governing everything from Leon’s movement speed to the way enemies behave. Making even simple tweaks could have complex consequences.
Take ladders, for example. Early on, Armature needed to decide how to handle ladders. Do you climb them? That sounds easy enough, until you see the knock-on effects. “Now enemies have to understand when you’re halfway up a ladder. How do they treat Leon? That’s not a state that exists in the original game, so it creates all these possible exploits. And we don’t necessarily think it’ll be very fun [to climb all these ladders] either.” It became easier to simply whisk the player to the next platform.
Doors are a great contrast, though. Doors in the original Resident Evil 4 are either open or closed, but Armature’s doors are fully physical, with a doorknob and hinges. You can open the door just a crack and peer through it, or even fire your gun. “We had to do a lot of work there. Doors are all driven by our code, and we had to not only make the doors physically able to be part-open, but make the enemies understand that state a bit more,” says Ivey. “That was a case where we thought it was tactical, you can use it, and it was worth the effort.”
Another change that had far-reaching consequences: Armature moved Ashley further away from the player. For those who haven’t played Resident Evil 4, the bulk of the games sees you escorting the president’s daughter Ashley, who was kidnapped as part of a mysterious global conspiracy.
“When you would turn around in VR, she would be so close to your face that it was a bit unnerving,” says Ivey with a laugh. “You don’t want anything that close to you in VR. It feels unnatural.” Armature decided to change Ashley’s behavior so she’d follow further behind the player—but that also made her more vulnerable to enemy attacks, especially if the player didn’t immediately realize she was in danger.
“We pulled her follow distance back, but that meant that she would get targeted more often because she was now the closest target, so we then had to adjust enemy behavior to target Leon a little bit more,” Ivey notes. “There were a lot of little things like that, where we’d make an adjustment to the game to improve the way it played in VR, but then we’d have to make sure the overall feel of the game matched the original again.”
Sometimes, working within the constraints of the original source material lent itself to creative solutions. Early on, Armature settled on direct control with the analog stick (or “smooth” motion) as the default—same as the original Resident Evil 4, though with the addition of strafing to make Leon more mobile.
Resident Evil 4 will be some people’s first VR game, though—by design. “Resident Evil 4 is the introduction to the franchise for a lot of people, right? So we thought it would also be a good introduction to VR,” says Ivey. That meant building a wide array of comfort options for first-time players. And comfort options meant a teleport mode.
Most built-for-VR games simply pick up the player and drop them in a new place. Easy enough—but that would break the underlying game logic in Resident Evil 4. Armature came up with a creative solution. It looks like a standard teleport mode—a quick fade-out at your original location, a quick fade-in wherever you selected. Most people will probably never realize anything odd is happening.
But during that fade, magic is happening. “We are fast forwarding the game at that point,” says Ivey. “Leon is physically walking to the destination. For a long time during development you’d actually see him walk to his destination, but it was just so slow and it felt too much like third-person mode. Now we do it behind the scenes, because the game still has to understand what’s happening. Everything is playing out. All the original code is running.”
That includes enemies. “If you move far away, you can actually get interrupted and grabbed. It becomes a tactical game almost, where you have to think, ‘Can I move there? Should I take care of this enemy before moving?’”
“I think the teleport experience and the analog stick experience are equally exciting, and I’m very happy that through a lot of work from the engineers and designers we were able to get to that level,” Ivey continues. “We’re actually really curious to see if it catches on with speedrunners, because you don’t have to move through the environments in real-time, you’re not spending time running. You’re just shooting, and it becomes this exciting and active version of the game.”
For all the work that went into Resident Evil 4 on Quest 2, Ivey is quick to mention all the pieces Armature didn’t change. Leon moves through the world at the same speed as before. Enemy animations and encounter designs were touched lightly, if at all. You still save your game at the typewriter—only now you get to actually type on it.
At its core this is the same Resident Evil 4 people played and fell in love with back in 2005. “We want you to play it and think ‘This is exactly how it was,’” says Ivey. The key difference is now you’re in it, instead of seeing it from over Leon’s shoulder. A small difference, maybe, but an amazing one—and a lot of work went into making it happen.
Resident Evil 4 is out now on Oculus Quest 2 for $39.99 USD.