Data Mining Resident Evil

For the first time in four years I’ve written a new feature for this site. This one is called Recursive Unlocking: Analyzing Resident Evil’s Map Design with Data Visualization, and it’s about analyzing the layout of Resident Evil‘s map in order to understand better how it was designed. This analysis is based on a data visualization I made based on speed run data. Turns out that, despite being often decried for too much backtracking, Resident Evil is a pretty linear game, with puzzles and items arranged in space so that traversal is focused on “hot spots.” Check out the visualization itself above and then read the full analysis.

7 thoughts on “Data Mining Resident Evil

  1. Great post.

    I was just wondering if Resident Evil is a good example of Recursive Unlocking what games are poor examples and potentially ruin flow, challenge and narrative?

  2. “Recursive Unlocking” is my name for the design pattern that Resident Evil employs. It’s an evolution from classic Adventure game design, in which you have spaces with problems left to be solved and a number of items which must be used in order to solve them. Resident Evil’s approach is much more focused; it funnels the player through the space at a controlled pace, and doesn’t require random movement all over the map.

    Other games may or may not use this same pattern–it’s just one model, certainly not the only model. A linear action game, for example, doesn’t use this stuff at all: it’s just progress progress progress.

    That said, there are certainly plenty of Resident Evil knock-offs that do not do this well. Any game in which item A must be collected before item B can be collected, both are very far away from each other, and B can only be used in A’s vicinity is going to result in lengthy backtracking (the opposite of the hotspots we see in RE).

    Resident Evil Zero changes the formula significantly by removing item boxes and letting you drop things on the floor anywhere. This means that the map design no longer controls the player’s traversal; if they’ve dropped an item far away and then need it, they are going to have to travel all the way back to get it. This changes the game play pretty dramatically, which I mentioned in my review of that game.

  3. Interesting you bring up RE0, because I don’t remember having to backtrack much for loose items (the occasional left behind herb but not key items). Between the two characters you have a larger than normal inventory space and, if I remember correctly, you can put incompleted key items in their puzzles until you find their missing components. I would say it uses recursive unlocking in a more streamlined fashion as there’s no need for an inventor box to stock pile your stuff.

  4. > Bingo

    I’d have to go back and play Zero again, but I remember the lack of item boxes changing the way I progressed a lot. No longer can an item be stored at some point early in the game and then retrieved from a different point later–I remember having to run all the way back through the opening areas (which did actually unlock per Recursive Unlocking) to retrieve a gun I’d left in the main hall near the end of the game. Perhaps I didn’t realize that puzzle items could be inserted early–I was always out of inventory space and had to leave things all over. This changed the traversal for me because the designers couldn’t control where I left items, and thus couldn’t regulate the amount of back tracking I performed.

    I think. It’s been a while.

  5. I don’t see backtracking as an actual problem. Rather an issue made up by gaming press as negative points when analyzing of things they know nothing about.

    The simple “Backtracking” term already carries biased meaning, that implies that games should all be viewed as road leading from point A to point B.

    Pace and flow are about contrastes, about the difference of a place you’re used to and a totally new one. The difference between discovering the unknown, getting accustomed to it, and leaving the known behind when it’s time. Difference in expecting something to happen and something happening actually.

    Silent Hill, hospital, you walk through a corridor, nothing happens, get to a room and collect something, nothing happens, then you go back and the same corridor now has the lights out.

    It’s different than having the lights out the first time, and never going back.

  6. I think the reason people commonly accuse the series of being guilty of backtracking is based entirely on the fact that they find themselves running back through areas to retrieve essential items missed and also to use tools not previously possessed to make progress in rooms already visited. In that case, Resident Evil is very much guilty, as are a lot of survival horror games.

    However, and this is something I praise the series for, the game has a tendency to monitor the order in which you progress and arrange new enemies as obstacles. I really think this adds a level of depth to the game, especially with the handful of optional rooms to explore, risk versus reward married with puzzle solving.

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