- May 4, 2013
Shinji Mikami sits down in a claustrophobic, makeshift room hidden at the very centre of the E3 video game conference floor in Los Angeles. It's a fitting place for the designer, whose work has, one way or another, influenced the majority of the blockbuster video games that flash and growl at the crowds outside the door. These games all carry third or fourth generation strains of Resident Evil 4's DNA. Arguably the designer's greatest creation, its over-the-shoulder viewpoint was subsequently adopted by games as diverse as Gears of War and Batman: Arkham Asylum, while its aiming system, which snaps the camera inwards to focus on enemy targets with a squeeze of the controller's trigger, is now an industry standard. Mikami's inventions, much like the man in this room, sit at the centre of blockbuster video game development today.
How does he feel, walking the show floor, catching familiar glimpses of his ideas reflected in other people's games? "Maybe I influenced them, maybe I didn't," he says. "But I don't really care about all that. I don't think about my influence in the industry. I just make games that I'm interested in." Mikami's nonchalance and swagger is warmer in person than in transcript. He smiles wryly throughout our conversation and, while his answers are often short and pointed, the eyes shine beneath the off-white baseball cap, inviting engagement. At 47 he has worked in video games for close to half his life, having joined Capcom after he graduated from Doshisha University at 25 years old. But all this Los Angeles stuff with the lights, the screens, the action, was never his ambition.
"I didn't play video games as a child," he says. "I wanted to become a Formula One driver, not a game designer." Mikami grew up in the Yamaguchi Prefecture in the Chūgoku region of Honshū island. "It's most famous for the naval base stationed there", he says, referencing the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, which was bombed by American B-29's the day before the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Mikami mentions Hiroshima twice in his recollections about growing up, but, perhaps out of sensitivity for the soil on which we meet, the translator neglects to translate what he says.