Monster of the Week is a three-part series where we dive into the creation of iconic monsters from video games with the game developers who helped bring them to life. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come!
There is nothing scarier than sound. The scariest moments in novels like Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House, or movies like The Descent, lie in what you hear but cannot see. They're rooted in knowing (or not knowing) what's coming next. This year's remake of Resident Evil 2 is built on this idea, and it comes into focus with its version of the Tyrant, perhaps better known as Mr. X.
The Tyrant is a large, fedora-clad man who stomps around Raccoon Police Station like he has a plan: to pop your head like a grape. His skin is graying; he's big and intimidating. The sounds of his footsteps are unmistakable. Nothing gets in his way—not even zombies, which he pushes away with a slight shove. His only goal is to squash you, whether you're playing as Leon or Claire. With whoever you pick on the second route in particular, the Tyrant is a constant threatening presence. He stokes fear like no other, because he is unstoppable, and your only solution is to waste a grenade to stun him so you can scoot past, or run the opposite direction.
"Tyrant is an important character in the Resident Evil franchise, and we wanted to make sure we got him right in the remake of Resident Evil 2," Resident Evil 2 producer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi writes over email via a translator. "Our goal was to balance keeping the core characteristics of Tyrant, what people remember from the original, while making him more formidable with the new technology we have at hand."
Compared to the original PlayStation version of Resident Evil 2, the remake changes up a lot about the game's structure. The environments are divided into three main ones: Raccoon Police Station, the Sewers, and the Lab. Like a Metroid game, you traverse the environments as they slowly fold back onto themselves. The Raccoon Police Station is the biggest of the three, and it's where the Tyrant mostly pursues you.
Rather than popping up in scripted situations, The Tyrant is instead almost always around. You can sense his hallway-length shoulders shuffling in the distance, or close by. Sometimes you can't even hear anything at all, which is almost scarier because you feel like he can pop up at any instant. The Tyrant isn't built that way though; instead he feels like a living thing wandering the halls. He's naturally drawn to noise, so using any sort of weapon always a risk.
"Sound is very important when it comes to fear, and we utilized the latest technology called real-time binaural technology," explains Hirabayashi. "It helps to recreate a sound similar to if the player was actually in the game environment themselves, which naturally adds to the tension and feeling of being stalked down by the Tyrant."
The creation of the Tyrant's footsteps came about through recording a bunch of different sounds and mixing them all together, according to Hirabayashi. Edited together, it went on to become the memorable sound of the Tyrant's footsteps, "[carrying] that level of impact that someone of Tyrant's build would create." The sometimes-named Mr. X didn't get his sound from a warped edit of a normal person's footsteps; it's a Frankenstein'd creation of its own.
The decision to move away from a scripted Tyrant appearance was one made to elevate the survival horror feeling that the Resident Evil series was once built on. "We wanted to make sure Tyrant's presence was constant, so even when players traveled far away from him, Tyrant has not given up hunting them," says Hirabayashi. "We made it so that Tyrant was very sensitive to the sounds of gunfire and other loud noises. Rather than have it appear out of the blue without any context, we felt that it would give weight to the player's actions and make them think twice on making any loud noises."
The Resident Evil 2 remake released back in January of this year was a long time in the making. It was first talked about within Capcom following the 2002 remake of the first Resident Evil, but according to Sony Magazine, series creator Shinji Mikami didn't want to juggle it at the same time as Resident Evil 4. Eventually, long after Mikami departed Capcom, Resident Evil 2's remake was greenlit in 2015.
Even without key creative minds returning like original director Hideki Kamiya and Mikami, the developers behind it are a mix of veterans from the 1998 game and relative newcomers. Resident Evil 2 Co-Directors Yasuhiro Anpo and Kazunori Kadoi, Executive Producer Jun Takeuchi, and Sound Designer Shusaku Uchiyama are a few that Hirabayashi highlights as having key roles in developing the original game from 20 years ago too.
"The original staff members played a significant role in teaching the other staff members the trials and challenges they needed to overcome in the original development, as well as explain to them what they had originally set out to achieve," says Hirabayashi. "In addition to that, it was up to each individual developer to take their learnings from previous Resident Evil titles and bring over the positive elements to inject into the reimagining of Resident Evil 2. You could say that this title was very much a success story in pulling together everyone's experiences into one melding pot."
That pot, a mixture of ideas, is what helped bring Resident Evil 2 to fruition. While Resident Evil 7 pushed the series in a bold new direction in both its first-person perspective and formula, Resident Evil 2 felt like an exercise in injecting those lessons into something decisively "old school," while making it not just feel like a retread of the fan-favorite Resident Evil 2.
"With Tyrant, and Resident Evil 2 as a whole, we wanted to make sure whatever we did paid absolute respect to the original game, and delicately balance updates for modern consoles. In the original installment, Tyrant's setting was that it was a bioweapon designed to hunt and track down its target within city grounds," says Hirabayashi. "However, we felt that the original image may have stood out a bit too much for that given setting. Without losing any of the intimidating and imposing elements, we redesigned Tyrant in a way that made a little more sense if it was walking around the city."
When I ask if there were any ideas for the Tyrant's remake appearance that were left on the cutting room floor, Hirabayashi waves away the subject. A lot of the iterations, he says, focused more on his physical appearance, and getting him closer to how he looked in the original game. The team opted to redesign him slightly, just as it did with Claire and Leon's updated outfits.
Even as 2019 winds down, the January release of Resident Evil 2 didn't seem to dampen talk of it too much. The internet's still stuffed with headlines about the latest mod to change the Tyrant into something funny, whether it's Thomas the Tank Engine or him wearing a thong. Speedruns, too, are a blast to watch; especially with players reckoning on how not just to deal with zombies with inconsistent death rates, but a menacing AI on their trail too. For Hirabayashi, the fact that players are taking away anything from Resident Evil 2's remake is heartwarming (or rather, heartchilling) enough.
"The fact that players felt the same level of fear, if not more, from the presence of Tyrant definitely was a crowning achievement for us. I think we successfully achieved making Tyrant a pervasive force in the game, where players can never feel like they are free of him. He is an important factor in creating the tension players feel throughout the game, knowing he is always pursuing them. The overwhelmingly positive reception from fans makes us developers all very happy," says Hirabayashi. "Every player goes through a different survival horror experience, figuring out how to overcome the challenges laid in front of them, so regardless of the type of encounter that the player had, we hope that Tyrant left an impressionable one that'll be etched in people's memories for years to come."
Not many monsters elicit such stress by just the sound of them lumbering down a hallway. Some monsters are scariest up close, or just through their the actions. Resident Evil 2's Tyrant is a whole other beast, and one of the best video game monsters in recent years because of its never-ending determination and constant presence. Resident Evil 2 is sure to be a lock on many game of the year lists as 2019 winds to a close. And if it's not, naysayers just might get the Tyrant punching open their door, demanding it.
- Monster of the Week, Part One: The Godfather of the Necromorph on Creating Dead Space's Famous Creature
- Monster of the Week, Part Two: How Amnesia: The Dark Descent's Water Lurker Became the Scariest Nautical Nightmare Since Jaws