How Capcom Reinvented Resident Evil 3’s Raccoon City

Here’s what we’ve known about Resident Evil 3’s Raccoon City for over two decades: It’s been flung into chaos by the outbreak of a deadly virus. It’s littered with monuments to ruin and despair — the carcasses of police cars lie helplessly in the street while bodies of the dead and undead alike constellate the pavement amongst pools of blood. Lastly, it’s the site of some of the most significant and horrific events in the franchise’s history.

But here’s what we didn’t know until Capcom announced this year’s Resident Evil 3 remake: Raccoon City is beautiful. Even in its desolation, the city retains a furtive brilliance, visible especially at night when the city’s storefronts glow with neon and release pockets of color. Ignore the corpse here and there and Raccoon City has an almost romantic, noirish atmosphere — though, of course, who knows what lingers down its darkened alleyways?

Capcom’s revisions to RE3’s control scheme and environmental design give the player more opportunities to showcase Raccoon City’s depth and complexity. Advancements in graphical technology have broadened Capcom’s palettes and elevated their creative capacity, including their ability to scare the player in ways that were previously impossible in 1999.

As mentioned above, Resident Evil 3 follows the outbreak of a virus that zombifies much of the population of Raccoon City, prompting city-wide panic and bloodshed. The player assumes control over Jill Valentine, a special agent seeking to escape the city.

Just like 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake, Resident Evil 3 opts for an over-the-shoulder perspective, doffing the fixed camera angles that defined the first three entries of the Resident Evil series. Such a major change is akin to adopting a new filmmaking technology; while it offers its users more creative freedom, it also conveys new challenges. 

The original Resident Evil 3’s jumpscares, for instance, were facilitated by the clever placement of zombies with respect to the fixed camera. Turning a tight corner or entering an unfamiliar corridor meant a quick camera cut, forcing the player to confront an entirely new (and potentially dangerous) scenario. How do you recreate the same feelings of terror and mystery in a game that essentially hands players full control over the camera?

One answer is lighting. From the very first moment you step into the streets of Raccoon City, you’re treated to a panoply of neon signage, scoring the shadowy scenery with streaks of vivid light. “We wanted to make Raccoon City feel alive and maintain certain elements of vibrancy during the early days of the outbreak,” Producer Peter Fabiano said.

The lighting also helps guide the player through the game’s meticulously crafted levels. A lone spotlight illuminates a newsstand in a barren subway platform, drawing the player’s attention to a collectible news clipping. While sidling down a sparsely lit alleyway, the player notices the silhouette of a zombie feasting on a corpse around the corner, a feat of narrative shadow puppetry.

The lighting devices Capcom used in the development of the Resident Evil 3 remake are among the most sophisticated devices featured in a Resident Evil game. “In Resident Evil 3, we used probes for indirect lighting and were able to control the light in twelve directions with just one probe,” Fabiano said. In 3D graphics, light probes determine the way in which light moves through space, including the ways in which it interacts both within static scenery and with moving objects.  

The more comprehensive the lighting probes, the more specific a designer can get with the look and feel of a 3D scene. “That really enabled us to create a deep, textured feel, as well as up the resolution,” Fabiano said. “By comparison, [Resident Evil 7] light probes worked in four directions, and [the Resident Evil 2 remake] and [Devil May Cry 5] worked in six.”

When playing close enough attention to the game’s level design, Capcom’s authorship is palpable. The game utilizes darkness to subtly denote barriers and inaccessible areas, while features like streetlit storefront awnings allude to explorable detours. Yet it’s also palpable in other areas — a devastated city plaza, a lonely subway tunnel — where stark lighting is used to establish artful and moody scenery.   

In addition to the game’s lighting, Capcom also added new dodging mechanics and built upon the AI of the game’s notorious Big Bad, Nemesis. But the heightened environmental effects are responsible for the thin layer of foreboding fear that pervades the game — the sensation of something lurking in the shadows around every corner, even in the face of unlikely beauty.

Resident Evil 3 is available for PC today.

Recommended specs:

  • OS: Windows 10 (64-bit) 
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ i7-3770
  • RAM: 8GB of system memory
  • Graphics card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX 480 with 3GB VRAM
  • Storage: 45GB of available space
  • DirectX: Version 12

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