Early Development | Resident Evil™ 2: The Board Game

Still reeling from the T-103 Tyrant’s assault? We don’t blame you. It’s the most fearsome foe you’ll encounter by quite a margin! If you missed out on the last entry of our Boss Highlight series, or the recent Production update you can find them here

Today we’re going with something different. Over the next couple of updates, we’re going to take you behind the scenes, and back to the earliest days of Resident Evil™ 2: The Board Game’s development. Hopefully these updates will give you a little more insight into the design process, and provide interesting reading for those wondering how we went about building the game when we started out…

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Resident Evil™ 1.5: The Board Game

Travelling back in time to our first meetings with Capcom, Resident Evil™ 2: The Board Game looked very different. Because we knew it would likely give you guys a fascinating insight, we dug out our old pitch. You can read some of it below:

The Umbrella player puts the first playing tile onto the table, a street scene from Raccoon City, and then places a number of corpse models onto the playing tile. Whilst the Survivors place their models at the entrance to the street, the Umbrella player sets the scene…the Survivors must make their way to the police station before the sun goes down. The clock is now ticking!

As the Survivors pick their way through the street the Tension meter rises as the Umbrella player waits for the right time to reanimate the corpses. In a side-alley next to the police station, the Survivors discover a locked door. At this moment, with the Survivors hemmed in tightly, the Umbrella player strikes and uses the Tension previously built up to change a number of corpse models into zombies who start shuffling towards the Survivors.

The Survivors quickly split into two groups; one of which is desperately trying to get the door open, while the second group carefully picks off the advancing horde with their limited ammunition. Several tense moments later, the door finally opens and the Survivors rush through into the darkness of the police station.

The Umbrella player smiles as he looks at the special event card he has ready for just this moment…

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As you can likely tell, very different, with a lot more of an RPG feel to it. There were some elements which were super strong in this version, and that really made it unique. The idea of a hybrid RPG board game set in Raccoon City had a vibrant appeal, especially to our Creative Director, Mat Hart. As a long-time Dungeons and Dragons veteran, he really wanted to see if we could push the game into this unexpected design space.  

It also held drawbacks, however. We loved the player agency and freeform style, but really didn’t want to force anyone to play as the Umbrella player. For seasoned D&D players it might work, but we definitely knew we’d have a lot of first time gamers as backers – and this group in particular might not have either the experience to enjoy the format, or the inclination. After all, the best thing about playing games is having a winner, so why force players against one another when they can all work together?

With this in mind we began designing a system which could support an automated Umbrella player, remaining as close to the original brief as we could. This was the beginning of what later became the Tension Deck and Enemy Reaction system, where we attempted to bridge the gap in the two philosophies. But to see the real changes, let’s look at the action phase which comes before – because that’s where the most significant revisions were made.

In our early build, Resident Evil™ 2: The Board Game was far more open. Players moved around on a wide playing area with cars, furniture, and burning wreckage strewn across it. Smaller locations such as alleys or rooms connected to this, but were much smaller areas which prompted an event card or encounter rather than encourage exploration. We didn’t envision scenario or campaign driven gameplay as much as a standalone experience, focussing on only a limited aspect of the game. Players drew cards at the start of the session which dictated their objectives to win, and could choose the best way to go about achieving them.

This early iteration was fun, especially when a player found themselves trapped in an alley and needed their allies in order to fight their way free. And the closer environment allowed us to spend a large amount of what our designers affectionately call ‘complexity points’ – areas where gameplay could be less linear and more involved, made possible because streamlining and simplification is occurring elsewhere. Two good examples of this were NPC characters (the origins of Robert Kendo!), and multi-wound zombies which could be knocked down and waited for survivors to move nearby.

But... the more we tested this, the more we concluded it wasn’t terribly indicative of Resident Evil™ 2. It certainly felt like a zombie game, but without searching for items, backtracking through levels, or resource management, it didn’t quite hit the survival horror theme. The same was also true of the pacing, which felt satisfyingly methodical but definitely lacked the urgency we wanted to emulate.

After several weeks of design, we decided it was clearly time for a change. The prototype we had was entertaining and allowed us to introduce some interesting elements – but ultimately, we knew we could push the game design further if we changed direction. Time to shelve our build for a rainy day and begin again.

Sound familiar to you guys? The irony wasn’t lost on us, either.

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The Crazy Person In The Room

Our initial action was to move up several steps from core design, and get a better overview of what the game both looked like at the time, and where we wanted it to go. After listing everything which we liked about the current build, and everything we felt best encapsulated Resident Evil™ 2, we soon came to an interesting Venn Diagram. The game mechanics for automating the Umbrella player sat in the middle… and honestly, not a lot else!

It was time for us to inject more G-Virus into the game, so it better reflected the experience we wanted. We earmarked level design as a crucial point. Having players staking through the streets of downtown Raccoon City worked on an abstract level, but didn’t really lend itself to anything recognisable, and absolutely had to change. We wanted to translate that same nostalgia high we experienced when we found out we were going to work on this project. And that meant specifics.

Its about now we’re going to embarrass Sherwin by telling you how excited he was, producing a clutch of crumpled and ink-stained maps which he’d drawn the night previous. After he’d calmed down enough to be coherent, the rest of the team quickly realised he might be onto something – we could make scenarios which accurately represented the different areas of the game, by using a set of specially shaped tiles... and suddenly, a whole new world opened up before us.

More on that next week, when we talk about the scenario and level design which came out of that meeting!