First Impressions of Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

(Spoiler Alert)

Anyone who knows me or has been following my blogs knows that I don’t favor the live-action Resident Evil movies starring Milla Jovovich.  What I despise most about this six-film series is the shoddy storytelling, blatantly bad continuity, and the fact that all the established characters from the games play second-fiddle to an all-original character portrayed by Jovovich.

When I first heard that a new Resident Evil movie was in the works that would start from scratch and be truer to the source material, I welcomed the second chance for a stellar cinematic experience.  But the more I learned about the movie’s plot and characters, the more wary I became.  While I didn’t think it was a good idea to compact the stories from the first two games into one film or change the personalities or appearances of the franchise’s beloved heroes, I vowed to keep an open mind and give it a chance.

After I settled into my seat at the theatre and viewed several trailers for other films of interest (Moonfall, Matrix 4, Spider-Man: No Way Home), I ironically found myself thinking during the first few seconds of the Resident Evil movie, Wait, what did I come to see?  It didn’t take me long to reorient myself and kick back for the ride.

I have to give the filmmakers credit for recreating the iconic locations seen in the first two games (the Spencer Mansion and the Raccoon City PD respectively) and for overlapping the unrelated stories in a creative way.  Overall, I liked the narrative and thought it showed promise for the very probable, teased sequel.  There were also some very suspenseful scenes sprinkled throughout the movie that I genuinely enjoyed; I’m glad that the filmmakers changed the narrative to the extent that it generated some truly frightening moments.

On the other hand, my view of the characters themselves is a mixed bag.  While Albert Wesker is far from the emotionless, sunglasses-toting villain that fans know and love, his big-screen counterpart still betrays his team for personal, monetary gain.  I’m open to the idea of Wesker evolving from a more personable character to a badass, superpowered villain—no problem there.  What’s harder to ignore is a pair of psychotic characters (the monstrous Lisa Trevor and police chief Brian Irons) from the first two games being transformed into protagonists\saviors.

I definitely feel that the film’s runtime could have been longer with more emphasis put on character development.  For instance, it’s said through dialogue early in the film that Jill has a crush on Wesker; it would have been nice to see evidence of this sprinkled throughout the story.  One of the film’s main faults is that it does too much telling, not enough showing.  It would be nice to see an extended cut for the home video release that will make up for this, but I won’t set my hopes too high.

In either case, the new Resident Evil film is still a big step up from the Milla Jovovich-centric saga.

First Impressions of Resident Evil Village

On the day that Resident Evil Village released, I began downloading it shortly after midnight and left my PC on to let it work.  By the morning, very little progress had been made, and the estimate for the full download would be twenty-four hours.  Since I didn’t want to wait that long, I shut down my computer and hauled the tower and monitor up from the basement to speed things up.  When I turned it on upstairs, the time was reduced to about two to three hours.

The download finished around noon; following an appointment I had and grabbing a bite to eat, I started up Resident Evil Village at approximately 2 PM.  Even then, I postponed starting a new game in favor of reading through documentation of what occurred between the previous entry in the series and Village. 

I found it interesting to learn that the events of the seventh game were covered up and the survivors of the incident (Ethan, Mia, Zoe, and presumably Zoe’s Uncle Joe) were declared dead by the media\military.  In addition, it is revealed that Ethan and Mia were placed in witness protection in Europe; according to a memo from Chris’ anti-bioterrorism organization (the BSAA), his recent behavior is being questioned by his superiors.  Though I hoped that Zoe would make an appearance in Village since it is indicated that she wishes to see her fellow survivors again, she is absent for this particular game.

For those who might be worried about spoilers for Village, I will carefully word this article to avoid giving away anything major for those who might not have played through to the end.  Bear in mind, I will assume that any fans of the Resident Evil franchise who are reading this have already experienced the opening of this game for themselves.

I was entranced from the moment I started playing Village for the first time.  As I’d learned from trailers, the game opens with a visually-depicted folklore tale being read by Mia to her infant daughter, Rose.  After a brief glimpse into the family’s domestic life, their home is invaded by a rogue military team (though I hesitate to call them that now that I know the full story) led by Chris Redfield; the latter flat-out assassinates Mia in front of her husband by shooting her multiple times.  In the aftermath, Ethan and Rose are taken from their home to be driven to an unknown location.

The nightmare worsens when Ethan awakens during the night in the middle of nowhere, the vehicle transporting him wrecked, the other occupants dead, and his daughter missing.  It doesn’t take long to get to the title locale and encounter the first villager.  I was a bit surprised at how quickly the game transitions from night to day while you’re exploring the inside of a lodging.  I feel that the resulting siege by a horde of werewolf-like creatures would have been more suspenseful in the dark, but it was still nerve-wracking.  I even questioned aloud, “Did I live?” after I was thrown a good distance downstream.

Not long after the siege, Ethan is captured and brought to a summit meeting amongst the five primary villains.  It was intriguing to see the full interaction between the boss characters to get a sense of their personalities and that there is a certain degree of discord among them.  Though the mysterious Mother Miranda is the de facto leader of the group, not all of her generals are unquestionably loyal; only one of the four is confirmed to be wholly devoted to their leader.

Much of what follows revolves around Ethan’s search for his daughter, which takes him through the various headquarters of Mother Miranda’s subordinates.  Each locale has its own unique atmosphere and provides, for the most part, a look into what makes that particular boss tick.

I stated in my previous blog that one of the things that had me most excited about Resident Evil Village was Alcina Dimitrescu, a nine-foot-tall vampire lady with retractable claws.  While she is an intimidating boss, especially once she morphs into her true form to battle Ethan, it’s difficult for me to call her the scariest monster in the game now that I’ve seen everything.  During my first playthrough, I encountered an impactfully nightmarish creature that made me not want to turn out the lights at bedtime.  (Those of you who have played Village up to a certain point will likely know what I’m talking about.  Those who haven’t are in for a treat when you see and hear it.)

As far as the gameplay goes, I do have a few minor complaints.  One thing that irked me on my first playthrough was the amount of searching I had to do to find every scrap of ammo, quest items, or treasures to be sold.  The map indicates which rooms still contain an inventory item you can pick up, but not what it is or where to look for it.    I believe that’s part of the reason why my first playthrough took twelve and a half hours.  I have since played through at least five times, but have not yet been able to recover everything from the castle courtyard; I have no idea what I’m overlooking there.

Another minor issue is that I have some trouble getting the camera to turn, which really becomes a problem when I’m in a combat situation.  I believe this glitch only occurs when I’m carrying the grenade launcher and have a wall to my immediate right or left.  But experience will tell me for sure.

Also, unlike previous games in the series, you’re unable to return to certain locations (such as the castle) once you defeat the respective boss and escape.  Many Resident Evil games allow you to re-explore areas you’ve previously been to and pick up any items you might have missed.  On the other hand, this does add to the replayability factor; you can discover things you overlooked on a previous playthrough.

I’m glad that I remained largely spoiler-free until I experienced the full game for myself.  It was thrilling to watch the story unfold with no inkling on what lurked around the corner.  It made the shocking plot twists and introduction to the various monsters out to kill you all the more exciting or nerve-wracking.  I can’t even count the number of jaw-dropping moments or instants where I stated something along the lines of “OMG!”

I found the ending both amazing and deeply emotional for a Resident Evil game, especially since the main character was someone I cared nothing about in the prior installment\his intro story.  Suffice to say, I feel that the story woven in Village has taken the place of my previous favorite, Code Veronica, and produced dozens of threads to pursue in future titles of the franchise.  And I look forward to what’s next on the horizon.

Just so long as I learn from my mistakes (which aren’t limited to Village) and, rather than stand there like an idiot, run away from the giant monsters who can swallow me whole.

Why I’m Hyped for Resident Evil Village

When I first heard that there would be a new Resident Evil game once again starring the rather-bland leading characters from the previous entry and with a setting partly reminiscent of the fourth title, I wasn’t all that excited.  And the little tidbit that the monsters seemed to be supernatural in nature, such as vampires and werewolves, instead of the genetically-engineered monstrosities the franchise is known for had me on the fence as to whether this new title was even worth playing.

I gradually changed my mind and got downright intrigued about Resident Evil Village with each bit of info I gleaned, even though I tried to minimize the number of spoilers I was exposed to.  I’m not entirely sure of the order in which I learned things about the game, but I will address the aspects I’m most excited about.

1) Alcina Dimitrescu—There are quite a few Resident Evil fans buzzing online about the formidable main vampiress of the new title ever since photos and video clips of her debuted.  Standing at nine feet tall and later revealed to be rocking at least one set of long razor-sharp talons, I’m inclined to think she might be the most terrifying enemy in the game (though I’m sure there is something scarier I don’t know about yet).  Alcina and her brethren do answer to a mysterious figure called Mother Miranda, so odds are the later portion\ending of the game may raise the fear factor exponentially.  In either case, I look forward to the challenge of trying to survive against the seemingly unstoppable Alcina as she’s stalking me\my character Ethan through the halls of her castle.

2) Longstanding hero Chris Redfield is a villain?—I knew early on that the seventh game’s protagonist, Ethan Winters, would journey to this monster-ridden village to rescue his infant daughter.  But the exact details for this story setup, as revealed in the first game preview, presented a mystery that has me eager to witness the overall story.  In short, Chris Redfield, a hero of the Resident Evil series who has been around since the very first game, actually instigates the events seen in Village.  I can only guess at Chris’ motives for assassinating Ethan’s wife Mia and abducting the couple’s daughter to take to the village.  But I am certain as a writer that there has to be some explanation other than Chris having become a straight-up bad guy.

3) Possible origin story for the Umbrella Corporation—It’s widely known amongst fans of the franchise that a corrupt pharmaceutical company and its high-ranking employees were responsible for the science experiments gone wrong that cause one source of conflict after another throughout the series.  With Village, iconography seen in some screenshots suggest that Umbrella has ties to this locale; the company’s logo is seen at the center of an altar depicting icons of the four “houses” (Dimitrescu, Heisenberg, Moreau, and Beneviento) around the village.  The new game’s lore seems to suggest that the village and its various monsters might pre-date the Umbrella Corporation; one human occupant of the village proclaims that, until several days before the start of the story, “Mother Miranda has always protected us.”  Whether Umbrella originated in this locale or had some hand in creating the threats within, I’m eager to find out the story here.

4) Better story/higher stakes than the seventh game—This one is pretty self-explanatory, but I do like that Ethan is much more fleshed out and, from what I’ve seen, actually has a personality.  This is a big improvement over his intro in Resident Evil 7 in which he was a completely dull, unrelatable character trying to survive a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque nightmare.  In addition, I feel that any story in which a child is separated from his\her parents and placed in peril carries more emotional connotations and gets the reader more invested in seeing the narrative through to its end.  Granted, I can think of two other games in the Resident Evil series that contained a plot thread involving someone’s child in peril (RE2 & Revelations 2), but this counts as the first time the child is completely helpless and incapable of fighting back.

5) The Duke\Merchant & backstories—One aspect that was present in Resident Evil 4 makes a comeback in this new title in the form of a merchant from whom you can purchase weapons, upgrades, and other items.  In Village, the merchant is a grossly overweight man called The Duke who curiously knows who Ethan is when they first meet.  The Duke, despite his obesity, is seemingly capable of moving around as he is rumored to pop up in various locations throughout the game.  Being a colorful character aside, I am very curious about this merchant’s familiarity with Ethan.  But then, the backgrounds of Ethan and his wife are just plain nonexistent; nothing has been revealed about who they were prior to their adventure in the seventh game.  I am quite intrigued to find out Ethan’s history and exactly how The Duke ties into it.

There are other, smaller details that have me hyped to start playing Resident Evil Village when it releases on May 7, 2021, but the five aspects above are what intrigue me the most.  Based on what I know and/or have seen so far, I have very strong expectations for this game and a good feeling the overall story will not disappoint.  And I really hope that the week following the release date proves me right.

If you enjoyed this article, be sure to tune in next month for my full review of the game.  ?

The Year 2020

I enjoy the twisted plot of a horror movie or book and tried writing a story that would cause one’s blood to run cold. I read several books that sent chills up my spine.

One of my favorites was Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason. This macabre, darkly humorous story has a great twist worthy of an author’s debut novel. My attempts at writing scary stories have fallen far short of causing a person to coil back in fear and turn on every light in the house.

Last year, scary but true stories filled our newsfeed. One of the ongoing horror stories is the pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus. Worldwide, it has infected 105 million people with 2.29 million deaths. About 460,000 of those deaths were in the United States.

The Black Lives Matter protests over the murder of unarmed George Floyd by a callous police officer, the divisive impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, and the West Coast wildfires and Australian bushfires that left thousands homeless and destroyed countless acres of land kept people riveted to the news.

Shocking, newsworthy deaths that touched the hearts of many included that of a phenomenal basketball player Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash; the trailblazing Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Marvel superhero, Black Panther actor, Chadwick Boseman; and beloved Jeopardy game show host, Alex Trebek.

The massive accidental Beirut Port explosion that killed at least 190 people and injured thousands could have been prevented. The authorities were forewarned about the dangers of storing 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate at the port.

Then there was the Washington state invasion of Asian giant murder hornets which can wipe out an entire colony of honeybees in a matter of hours. When that attack happened, I thought that in my wildest imagination I couldn’t write scarier stories.

The year 2020 was the boss of horror stories. I looked forward to a different 2021. Then the storming of our capitol happened on January 6, 2021. I’m almost afraid to think that 2021 might up the scariness of the previous year and have my fingers crossed that this year has to be better.

My Journey of Designing a Video Game, Part 1

I feel I started on the path to designing a video game back when I began taking courses in software engineering.  And a contributing factor would be the gaming-related blogs I wrote to post on the website of my writing group.  My critiques of what made a good game drew encouragement from fellow members of the group to design one myself. After many years of deliberation, I finally got around to creating my own PC video game in November 2020.

Initially, I didn’t have a story so much as an idea.  I wanted to have it so the player could loot random items from treasure chests that would either help or hinder them in battle.  This would have included a wide variety of wacky items ranging from food to household items to tools and more.  And I wanted to have it so that certain objects would prove especially useful against a particular monster.  It didn’t take me long to come up with the title, Secret Weapon, for my game.

I started work on it shortly after I took a leave of absence from my job out of fear of the worsening pandemic.  Using a program called RPG Maker MV, I started building some basic maps to use in the game and created some preliminary items to use in battle.

I can’t entirely say what turned me away from my initial concept.  Maybe it was the areas that were teeming with treasure chests to loot that felt meaningless.  Or maybe I felt that the game would benefit from the inclusion of an actual story.  In either case, I started to brainstorm what kind of narrative Secret Weapon could have.

I eventually decided there existed an opportunity to adapt several story ideas I’d had for years that never made it past the planning stages.  One was called Whisper of Destiny, a medieval fantasy story that entailed a female college graduate (Sahara Flowers) being whisked from her modern world into this fantasy realm to become one of its champions.  The other untitled story revolved around a vampiress named Alicia who declared war against a royal family for unexplained reasons.

I also threw in another character of mine, a shapeshifter named Gisselle, with no relation to either of the above stories.  She would be one of two characters who players could choose as their avatar.  The other would be Jason, a modern day thirty-something businessman who took the place of Sahara.  Building up intros for both Jason and Gisselle helped me flesh out their characters to some degree.  Over the course of designing their introductions, I felt that the name Gisselle didn’t fit the character and it got changed to Morrigan.

When it came to Jason, I wanted to create a scenario where he was working late at the office when he’s compelled, via a mysterious disembodied voice, to jump from the roof into a portal that transports him to the medieval realm.  For Morrigan, I decided she should be an enslaved arena fighter (rendered incapable of shapeshifting) saved from a fatal match by a magic academy instructor who sees promise in her.

Designing the opening cutscenes for my two playable characters presented more than a few challenges.  I ran multiple tests for each to weed out problems.  For Jason, I had to tweak his movements quite a bit; if I had him move too far in one direction, he would get stuck against a wall or railing and the scene would fail to progress.  Even more challenging was the bit where I had to simulate him falling from the side of a building.  I don’t know how to accurately describe what I had to do to get the effect to play out the way I wanted.  But it ended up looking really good to me.

I finished up Jason’s cutscene by having him interact a bit with a female character in this medieval world.  That’s currently as far as I’ve gotten with him.  My focus has since been primarily on building up Morrigan’s story, which will be entirely separate from his.

When it came to designing Morrigan’s intro, I decided I wanted to have a scripted battle in which the player had no control over how the fight went.  This presented its own set of challenges.  I have it set up so that Morrigan and the orc she’s fighting deal random amounts of damage to each other, but neither was intended to die before the scene played itself out.  During a handful of my many playtests, either the orc or Morrigan would get killed unintentionally.  I’ve had to tweak the settings to avoid these outcomes, but I’m still not sure I have it entirely accurate.

As I’ve continued to develop Morrigan’s narrative, I’ve deleted some of the prior map layouts I’ve made, particularly the various rooms of the castle and almost all of the first dungeon.  I’ve come to realize it may be better to build up the environments as they’re needed for the narrative.  I’ve gone from having at least twenty-five rooms for the castle to just six that are necessary for the start of Morrigan’s story.

In addition to the story and world building, I’ve also been designing in-game items to utilize and set up a system where the player can obtain random potions, weapons, or armor from treasure chests or other characters.  I can see there’s a lot of work to be done before I have a complete game – map/world building, character creation, monster creation, sound & music design, and item/weapon/armor design.  I even aim to create my own artwork, particularly when it comes to designing creatures to combat.  But I am hoping to have a demo put together soon from which I can derive helpful feedback from some online acquaintances of mine.

All in all, I am loving all the progress I’ve made so far.  And I imagine I’ll continue to take joy in putting together my newest creative endeavor.