At this point, most who've played the wonderful Resident Evil 2 remake agree Mr. X, the relentlessly skulking, foot-stomping, face-punching monstrosity is a terrifying foe for poor old Leon and Claire.
Mr X. pops up as you explore the Raccoon Police Station. You can often hear him coming, his footsteps worryingly close to your location. But sometimes he manages to creep up on you - Mr. X can be remarkably stealthy for such a big boy - before knocking your lights out with a hay-maker to the jaw. And then, sometimes, you'll open a door and he'll be there, his horribly-wrinkled face staring blankly at you. Mr. X makes the Resident Evil 2 remake a proper squeaky bum time - and I love it.
But I've often wondered what's going on behind the scenes. How do the video game tricksters at Capcom get Mr. X to work in the way he does? How does he skulk, exactly? Off camera, what's he up to? How does he find you? And what makes him tick?
To find out, I spoke with Nicholas Chabot, a recent graduate of a level design course in Montréal who recently delved into Mr. X's juicy innards with interesting results.
THERE MAY BE SPOILERS AHEAD.
"I've always been wildly fascinated by methods used by developers to influence an intended experience and trick the players into certain beliefs," Chabot tells Eurogamer, explaining what attracted him to the Resident Evil 2 remake in the first place. "Understanding how games work is part of the learning process as a level designer.
"Resident Evil 2 stands out by giving a fair amount of freedom to explore and roam around its environments while also throwing into the mix an omnipresent menace that must respond to the player's actions at all times.
"And I knew there was something weird with Mr. X because sometimes his footsteps were inconsistent. They would go back and forth between stuttering and being steady. The only way to find out the truth was to force the camera to see the unseen."
Chabot wanted to understand how Capcom created an AI that had the same freedom as the player in terms of moving about the environment, while maintaining compatibility with unloaded rooms far away from the player. He wondered how an AI could be free to go as it pleases, while also having to react to specific triggers and tasks accomplished by the player - even if it was far away. He also wanted to identify Mr. X's restrictions - the rules preventing him from "outweighing" the player. And he wanted to get a handle on Capcom's design and balance choices - not surprising given Chabot's level design background.
But there was another reason Chabot wanted to pull back the curtain on Mr. X: to bust some myths.
Ever since the Resident Evil 2 remake came out, there's been speculation Mr. X "cheats" - that is, rather than stomp about the police department according to the same rules as the player, he teleports so he can be where he needs to be when he needs to be. If this were true, players thought, it would be unfair. Chabot wanted to "get the facts straight" about Mr. X's behaviour.
So, Chabot fiddled about with the PC version of Resident Evil 2, moved the camera to a place where he could see everything that was going on - including both the player and Mr. X's position - and sat and watched. He found something odd. No, Mr. X does not teleport about the place. That myth was busted. But he does sort of cheat. Well, what actually happens is when Mr. X is searching for you he just walks really really fast.
Chabot took to reddit to reveal his discovery, posting a video, below, that shows Mr. X getting his skates on as he moves about the police department. It's sort of funny to watch - I imagine the Benny Hill theme playing as Mr. X looks for the player at four times the standard walk speed.
What's happening here, exactly? According to Chabot, unless Mr. X is in a room adjacent to the one you're in - or extremely close - the room won't load. So, Mr. X can just breeze through rooms without getting clogged up by their layouts.
If Mr. X reaches a room adjacent to the one the player is in, he'll play by normal rules. "So he doesn't really teleport per se unless the room suddenly loads, in which case he'll just quickly spawn at its entrance instead of manually going through the door," Chabot explains, "to hide his odd fast travelling just in case and also probably to recalibrate."
"Simply put, he'll free roam extremely fast, unless a few rooms close to you. So stay safe, he's closer than you think!"
The revelation Mr. X actually travels really fast is interesting enough, but Chabot has discovered other things about the remake that are worth mentioning. It's obvious from playing the game that shooting and running attracts Mr. X's attention, wherever the player character is in the game world (Mr. X breezes through the environments until he reaches our location in this situation). But Mr. X doesn't seem to know your exact location when you make a lot of noise. In one of Chabot's videos, below, he seems to perform a scan of the area the player is in before stopping to work out where to go next (you can see Mr. X hesitate between two doors until the player character moves).
It's also worth noting there's a trigger around the jack handle item in the Records Room that instantly attracts Mr. X. Chabot says he doesn't teleport after this trigger, but he does go straight for the player, even if they're being cautious and silent. This explains why Capcom put a grenade in the same room - to help deal with Mr. X if we get there without any other means of defence.
Chabot also found an instance where Mr. X does teleport, but it's a very specific situation that plays according to a story beat: the infamous Press Room sequence. If Mr. X isn't in the hallway that precedes the Interrogation Rooms and the player has looted the two rooms, Mr. X will teleport and wait indefinitely, wherever he was beforehand. He'll stay there, in position, until we inevitably walk in front of the wall that gets wrecked.
So, how did Chabot go about working all of this out? He used a camera tool designed by a web developer who goes by the name Jim2point0 on Twitter to get an "out of bounds" look at the police department. There was a problem with this approach, however: the Resident Evil 2 remake uses the camera's location to work out what to display, and it turns out it's pretty sensitive. Things will disappear if you're ever so slightly too far away with the camera, which is why Claire and Mr. X's heads are sometimes missing in the videos.
Chabot's solution was to find the "perfect" spot that displayed the surrounding rooms and Mr. X at the same time. "And I also had to wait for Mr. X to showcase his behaviour, including exploring very far away rooms," Chabot adds. "It was a bit random and took me a fair amount of attempts but I finally found a sweet spot."
Once the camera was set, Chabot started recording. "It was just like watching an animal from afar," he says. "All I had to do was watch Mr. X and try a few things. Leaving the room (blindly since I couldn't move the camera much), shooting and running around, and finding new angles to showcase specific behaviours, such as the jack handle sequence."
Chabot admits the fact Mr. X moves extremely fast came as a surprise at first, but he soon realised it made perfect sense.
"It would take too long for Mr. X to catch up with the player at his normal pace should he be stunned somewhere," he says. "He could be stuck browsing the same three or four rooms in the East Wing and by that time the player would already be done with the key tasks. The objective with Mr. X was for him to be omnipresent and menacing, so he must remain accessible and nearby whatever happens. His speed actually allows him to scout the environment while still being around the player if needed all at once. It's actually quite balanced."
Chabot considers Mr. X's general behaviour to be comprehensively covered at this point, but he's keen to find out more about how he works in specific situations. For example, he would like to observe Mr. X's behaviour with the dual Mr. X glitch enabled in the second story.
This glitch, recently discovered, is triggered if you find a way to get out of bounds and thus avoid the S.T.A.R.S. hallway in which Mr. X first spawns until the encounter on the rooftop. Once Mr. X spawns next to the crashed helicopter, visiting the S.T.A.R.S. hallway gives the player a second Mr. X to contend with. "I would like to find out which of the two gets teleported into the Press Room or gets attracted toward the Records Room, if not both," Chabot says.
With his level design hat on, Chabot suggests some interesting ideas for how he'd tweak Mr. X's behaviour - if he were in a position to do so, of course. He says he'd remove the concept of a safe room completely on higher difficulty settings, even though it would probably fuel the nightmare of those terrified of the tyrant. "The line would be a bit thin between a terrifying and frustrating experience though," Chabot says, "but safe rooms can be easily abused and it's always a little bit awkward to see Mr. X's head peek in, him trying to get in, but an invisible force prevents him from doing so."
Chabot would also tweak the Records Room encounter. Inside the Records Room is the mechanic jack handle, which lets you push the book shelves at the Library to open up a path to the Clock Tower. When the player enters this room, there's a high chance Mr. X appears - even if he's lost.
Chabot reckons this is a bit unfair for players who might have stunned Mr. X only to have their efforts reverted in a forced trigger. "It contradicts pre-established rules players probably got to understood by that time," he says, "that Mr. X reacts to noise and he can lose sight of you. With players already stressed out by their first encounter with him, it felt unnecessary."
Chabot feels Mr. X is supposed to be predictable, like a robot he's supposed to answer to a set of rules. His AI generally fits this description, but in the Records Room encounter, Resident Evil 2 chucks the rulebook out the window. "So for him to bypass his own rules and reach the Records Room at all costs feels questionable. I guess Capcom wanted to avoid players to feel too much in control and it creates a stressful surprise and it worked for many, but at the cost of consistency."
Ultimately though, Chabot is on-board with Mr. X's behind the scenes behaviour, saying he understands the inclusion of the fast travelling: "It's necessary," he says. You'd think, then, that for Chabot at least, the Resident Evil 2 remake lost its scare-fest feel long ago. Learning what makes Mr. X tick demystifies him - and inevitably makes him less scary. But Chabot says the tyrant still puts him on edge.
"Despite knowing Mr. X in-depth, he can still be fearsome and dangerous, especially with the adaptive difficulty," Chabot says. "So stay safe, he's never too far!"