Gaming Gods: Shinji Mikami

Legendary game producer, Shinji Mikami, has been under the spotlight of our judgemental selves for many, many years. The man is most notable and well known for creating the Resident Evil series or video games, or Biohazard for you Japanese loyalists. Most will know the man solely for his hand in creating a pioneering game of the late 1990’s and won’t know of just how his ideas came to mind, how he created them, and just what he was doing before he became the ‘Gaming God’ we focus on today

Shinji Mikami was born and raised in the Yamaguchi prefecture of Japan in August of 1965. Despite his rather young looking face, Mikami is a 46-year old man who only began working in the gaming scene during the summer of 1990 at the age of 25. Despite growing up with a violent father and failing two years of college entrance exams, Mr. Mikami Graduated from the Faculty of Commerce at the Doshisha University, and was awarded a major in Merchandising.

At that point, a friend of his handed him a leaflet for a Capcom/Nintendo recruitment drive being held at a nearby hotel. Telling 1up that he only decided to go for the free food of a fancy resturaunt, Mikami got talking with the Capcom team and decided to chose their interview day over Nintendo’s which earned him a spot on a task force creating games based on the stories of famous animation company – Disney.

Mikami would become part of a force tasked with creating games based on the concepts of Disney. Using the skills in merchandising, Mikami would play a vital role in three games, Aladdin, Goof Troop and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with the first being his initial major hit. Aladdin went on to sell over 1.7 million copies worldwide for the Super Nintendo while his untitled F1 game was cancelled around 8 months into development.

Finishing up work on Goof Troop, Mikami was unaware that his big break was just around the corner. Just like any young person of the time, a big interest of his was horror movies. Mikami himself often states his reason behind the creation of Resident Evil came from his disappointment with the 1979 movie, ‘Zombie’. As a huge fan of George A. Romero’s gory flicks, Mikami began work on the title to fix the flaws of ‘Zombie’ giving birth to the famed series in 1996.  It probably won’t surprise you to know he is a big fan of ‘The Walking Dead’ too.

With the release of Resident Evil, Mikami found his true break and perhaps found what he was meant to do – scare the living crap out of his players. The man found the perfect mix of tension, fear and combat while elevating the feeling of danger you get when you’re home alone. Shinja found his forté with his new series and took it as far as he possibly could.  The ‘Survival Horror’ genre was created by his game and coined by Capcom during the promotion and launch of the original title. Not many developers can be credited for the creation of a whole new genre of video games.

Just 3 years after his big break, Mikami had already released the third major Resident Evil game capitalizing on his new-found piece of story-telling horror mastery. His series was the first of its kind in the genre and the first to use 3D characters on a 2D plain. For his efforts the man was awarded the place of producer for a new studio, Capcom Production Studio 4. The new found team was made up primarily of those who had worked around Mikami’s survival horror ideas for the past few years and, while experimenting on a dangerously different Resident Evil title, the team eventually created what we now know as Devil May Cry.

Allegedly taking his roots of merchandising to heart, Mikami signed a deal with Nintendo to license the Resident Evil franchise to their new Gamecube system. The deal would include remakes of the original title and its prequel along with the exclusive debut of game changing entry, Resident Evil 4. Resident Evil 0 was finally released to the Gamecube as a new title. The game was long planned for release during the 64-bit days on Nintendo’s N64 system before the team realised a single cartridge was incapable of doing the game justice. Though RE0 was handled by the third Capcom Dev group after Mikami’s departure to his new head role.

Shinji Mikami and Shigeru Miyamoto shake on the Resident Evil Gamecube deal

Creation of Resident Evil 4 had been underway for some time during Mikami’s work on Devil May Cry. Wanting the company to prove they could work without him, Mikami entrusted Hideki Kamiya, the acting director of Resident Evil 2, with the 4th major sequel of the series – Resident Evil 4. Kamiya had been hard at work on the game with his own team with supervision of Mikami himself. During the 2001-2002 E3 shows, the team showcased a completely different version of the game then codenamed Biohazard 3.5 to reflect its transitioning development cycle. The initial ‘Fog’ version was shown during the first year with the ‘Hook Man’ version being displayed at the following show. Both were considered too paranormal for a standard Resident Evil title as they featured ‘Fog’ enemies and various ghostly hallucinations from the protagonist, Leon’s, infection of the Progenitor virus in the story rather than the viral outbreak of a biological virus. The somewhat historical clip below is Mikami himself playing the ‘Hook Man’ build of the game.

A third version of the game was created and included zombies to presumably quell Capcom’s ‘paranormal’ fears, though it was reportedly dropped for sticking too closely to the standard Resident Evil forumla. It seemed Kimiya couldn’t quite please Capcom and Mikami with his mix of traditional-yet-different gameplay causing Mikami to step into the role of Director once more to finish the version of Resident Evil 4 we know today.

Mikami claimed Capcom took him out of the main development role to quickly. Thinking a game developer creates their best work during their 30’s, Capcom promoted Mikami to the role of Producer just as he entered that age window. Often wanting to leave the company for the same reason, he eventually did in 2004 for Clover Studio. For three years, Mikami had a say in games like Viewtiful Joe and Okami. Clover stood by the ideals of Mikami himself; as a small branch group of Capcom, Clover Studio consisted mostly of their own workers who wanted more freedom over their products, an mission Mikami laid out when he created his own studio Tango Gameworks in 2010 following the closure of Clover and his departure from Platinum Games, a studio headed by three major players of Capcom’s best selling titles.

Mr. Mikami speaks after the acquisition of his studio by ZeniMax Media

Mikami isn’t sure just how many more major projects are left in him, but after the aquisation of his studio by media giant, ZeniMax, he knows he will no longer be bound by the practices of Japanese game development. Hoping to train the next generation of devleopers in the future, Mikami has founded a studio with the ideals of giving creative freedom to its workers – something Mikami never truely got when he started his career. The man knows what he wants and what it takes to create something new and revolutionary, and that is why he has earned a spot as this weeks Gaming God.


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