With Resident Evil 3 Remake shipping over two million copies, it can only be matter of time before we get a re-remake of the game that started it all.
But the original Resident Evil, complete with dodgy voice-acting and tank controls, has a bloody charm all its own. Released in 1996 on PlayStation 1 (and later on Sega Saturn, PC and Nintendo DS), it has a special place in the heart of many.
And now, thanks to Boss Fight Books and writer Philip J Reed, gamers new and old can take a closer look at this survival horror legend. His book, simply titled Resident Evil, is one of the five deep dives that makes up Season 5 of Boss Fight Books’ gaming series, “Into the Darkness”. Currently on Kickstarter, other Season 5 titles include Silent Hill 2, Red Dead Redemption, Final Fantasy VI and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.
We spoke with Reed, a long-time professional writer, about why Resident Evil has proved so endearing, what went into writing his book, what insights it can offer and more.
Why do you think the original Resident Evil holds such significance, even today?
My very superficial answer is that it coined the phrase “survival horror,” which ended up being applied as a genre across the industry. I think the very fact that it’s connected so strongly with that phrase means it’s always going to be in the public consciousness.
The far-less-superficial answer is that Resident Evil is good. Before sitting down to truly study it for the book, I looked forward to all the fun I could have at the game’s expense. We’ve been making fun of its voice acting almost as long as the game has been around. (But) I noticed very quickly that, acting aside, the game does very little wrong. It has a clear vision of what it wants to be, and it’s hard to find any true instances of it stumbling along the way.
Why did you choose to write about Resident Evil? I gather you weren’t initially a fan.
I hated the game at first. It was the first PlayStation game I’d ever played so I wasn’t used to the controller. And even if I were somehow preternaturally great at tank controls, the game was gross and ugly and obtuse.
“The game both repelled and compelled me… After that first night playing it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.”
The difference now is that I recognise and appreciate as artistic choices the things that at first seemed either sloppy or cruel. With the rare exception of a truly inept game or movie or book, the creators have reasons for what they’re doing.
In 1996, I wasn’t interested in those reasons. I wanted to have fun. I wanted to jump around open areas and listen to bouncy tunes the way I could when I held a Nintendo controller. Resident Evil didn’t speak my language and I didn’t want to learn its language.
The game both repelled and compelled me, though. After that first night playing it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. About the things I’d seen, about the things I might see if I could just get a little farther… about strategies and puzzle solutions I didn’t think to try when I was actually playing it…
It got its hooks in me. Writing this book was a way for me to explore how it did that, no matter how much I wanted to turn my back on it.
What kind of work went into creating the book?
So much! You’ll see in the finished book that the acknowledgements section is pretty long. I ended up working with librarians, translators, journalists, psychologists, actors, fans, a film historian because I needed to get my hands on a rare Studio Ghibli dub starring the voice cast of Resident Evil – yes, really – and all of it made for a much better book.
I’ve been writing long enough that I have a huge web of connections, and I couldn’t possibly be more grateful for that. Whenever I needed something, there was someone I could turn to that I knew could handle it. That’s an incredibly fortunate thing to have.
You’ve also tackled the psychological aspects of the game. Can you tell us a little more about that?
I have experience as a games critic and a film critic, so I was pretty confident I’d have the language and the understanding necessary to discuss what the game itself was doing. But what is happening on my side of the screen?
“The game does something and then my brain reacts to it, and I wanted to learn about that reaction”
A dog jumps through the window and I immediately tense up. The crows (in the portrait gallery) come down to eat me and I panic and forget where the exit is. A zombie creeps out from around a corner and I forget how to use the controls. The game does something and then my brain reacts to it, and I wanted to learn about that reaction.
I used to have a friend who told me he couldn’t sleep in the same room as the box Resident Evil came in. The game scared him so much that he’d have to physically move it out of his room before bed. I think a lot of people have similar stories about how the game continued to haunt them long after they’d turned it off.
Why? I worked with two psychologists – one of whom specifically studies fear – and got some really interesting explanations out of them. If you’re curious about how the programming of your brain is manipulated by the programming of the game, that section will be a great read.
How did you go about getting hold of the voice and live action cast? It’s only recently that someone managed to identify Rebecca Chambers’ live action actor, over 20 years later!
Yes indeed! That was Fred Fouchet who found her, and he did so literally as my book was going through its final edits. I mention that because Fred is one half of the answer to your question. The other is Monique Alves, of Resident Evil Database.
Those two have spent years trying untangle the facts from the fiction when it comes to Resident Evil, and they’ve done excellent work. I would have been foolish not to build upon what they had already accomplished, so I reached out to each of them and let them know about the project.
“I ended up working with every known live-action actor and voice actor for this book… with two exceptions.”
Both of them could not have been more welcoming, accommodating, and warm. I was afraid there might be a bit of pushback (“No, this is my thing, get your own…”), but nothing could have been further from the truth. They welcomed me right into the community, guided me around, shared the information they had found, and helped guide me toward new discoveries. In a few cases where they couldn’t get interviews or information from them, I was able to. That was nice, because I got to pay them back for some of the information they dug up for me.
I ended up working with every known live-action actor and voice actor for this book… with two exceptions. And when Fred discovered Rebecca’s actor, he let me know immediately. She was hesitant about being featured in the book, but she was comfortable enough with him that she passed a lot of information along that way. It worked out great.
Is there anything you wanted to cover that you couldn’t, or had to cut? You originally had a chapter about author Dannelle Perry, who penned seven Resident Evil books.
Those two exceptions I just mentioned were Scott McCulloch, who voiced Chris but passed away a few years afterward, and Lynn Harris. Lynn voiced Rebecca, and I tried my damnedest to track her down. I reached out to folks who worked on other projects with her, I dug through forum posts where people were sharing personal stories about her, I followed every last lead I found.
Eventually a completely different person reached out to me. I won’t say her name, but it was one I recognised as a voice actor from other games. It was an extremely polite email, I want to make that clear, but it said, “Hey, I know you’re looking for Lynn, but the truth is she wants to be left alone and isn’t interested in media contact.” I stopped trying to reach her immediately, of course.
The Danelle Perry chapter was a heartbreaking loss! She wrote five game novelisations, two originals – and she is an absolute delight. I agreed with the cut, in the end. It was something I really loved, but it was something I really loved wedged inelegantly into lots of other stuff that I really loved. I’m so grateful it ended up in the Nightmare Mode anthology, and that the anthology itself got funded. Now it isn’t cut content as much as it’s a free DLC preorder bonus.
Finally, what do you hope people get from reading your book?
I could give you the whole “I’d be happy if one person enjoyed it” answer, but I really wouldn’t be. Out of however many people read this book, if only one person enjoys it I’ll feel absolutely terrible about myself. So, I guess, I hope at least like twelve people enjoy it.
“If only one person enjoys it I’ll feel absolutely terrible about myself. So, I guess, I hope at least like twelve people enjoy it.”
More seriously, writing this book reminded me of the reason Resident Evil made us care about it in the first place. It’s pretty easy to disregard early PS1 games with their teething troubles, and assume that we only ever loved them because they were unlike games we’d seen in previous generations, but the fact is that this was and remains a great game. I hope the book helps people to see that even in this more enlightened era, there’s a lot to appreciate about Resident Evil.
I also hope reading this book helps some folks who don’t enjoy horror to understand that it’s worth letting it into your heart, at least a little bit. Just not right before bed.
Thank you to Philip J Reed for speaking to us. His book, Resident Evil, along with the four other books in Boss Fight Book’s Season 5 series can be pre-ordered through the Season 5 Kickstarter campaign, with a projected release date of December this year. If previous titles in the series are anything to go by, it’s going to be an Itchy, Tasty read.