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Resident Evil - The (un)Expanded Universe

Resident Evil burst on to the scene just over ten years ago and like the fictional T-Virus that initially zombified the Umbrella mansion-inhabitants, has continued to evolve and prosper. Devouring each new technology as it arrived, Capcom’s classic now features approximately 20 titles over twelve different formats.

The back catalogue of Resident Evil spinoffs and merchandise is also considerable. Three live action movies, an anime, comics, novels, action figures, energy drinks...the list goes on. Factor in all the expanded universe content – from fan fiction to YouTube homages – and you have a truly vast franchise.

Yet to some the extent of RE’s non-game ventures is an unwelcome one; Like all fans, we are precious of that which captures our imagination. And while some enjoy exploring caveats in characterization and story-telling via fan-fiction or cos-play for example, others such as myself only appreciate the purity of the original story and believe non-official endeavours to be typically only an indulgence.

Pondering these divergent philosophies, I spoke to creator of the webs’ most comprehensive and accurate Resident Evil canon timeline, John Nicholson. Featured on leading RE fan-site Biohaze.com, the timeline is now over 350 pages long (considerably longer than any of the canon or non-canon novels). Nicholson, in the final phases of uploading all the information gleaned from RE5, happily took a moment to give me his thoughts on the appeal of the RE universe.

(Barry Burton - Whatever happened to thid old Pervert, find out here)

Neek: What is it about the RE universe that captured your imagination (and held it since)?
JN: The characters and scenario of the first games were awesome. They managed to take a B-movie haunted house scenario and turn it into this deep-rooted conspiracy with a huge back story involving this evil corporation. It’s pretty clichéd now but back in 1996 for a video game I thought it was pretty fresh.
It’s been following the fates of those characters since which has kept me interested in the series.

Neek: What made you want to write a timeline focused on the Resident Evil storyline?
JN: Basically I thought the back-story of the games found in various in-game documents were very interesting. It helped you piece together this whole conspiracy around Umbrella. But with some games being remakes, prequels etc it was a little hard to follow the story.

So I began with the release of RE3 Nemesis. With it being set both 24 hours before and after the events of RE2 and covering the Raccoon City disaster I just began to make some notes so I could get the chronological sequence of events for the whole incident correct.

It just sort of followed on from there.

(Evolution of Evil 1)

Neek: Does the timeline include any non-game data? I’m talking books, magazines, films etc.
JN: I have only used material directly from Capcom, so everything is canon. Things such as the live-action films, SD Perry novels and so on are completely disregarded. Beyond the games themselves I used Capcom's source book the Resident Evil Archives, and official documents such as the Wesker Reports which came directly from the Capcom writing staff.

There are plenty of ambiguous events in the RE world, though. Many of the documents found in the games are undated and so you have to make educated guesses. The biggest example is probably the Outbreak games. Between them they have ten scenarios all of which take place in Raccoon City. None of them are dated. I have had to guess where they fit based on the situation of the characters and their environments; the files found in RE2 and 3 helped a lot in this regard.

Neek: What are your thoughts on non-canon or non-direct game related source material such as the novels or fan-fiction, and how did it affect your own writing?
JN: It is the topic of big debate in the RE community. Some people believe the spin-off games such as the Gun Survivor Series and Outbreak are not considered canon whilst many others believe them integral to the overall storyline.

General consensus is though that the films and comics etc are basically an 'alternate' universe and so can be ignored. For example, people who have played RE2/3 will know it is impossible to fit Paul WS Anderson's Resident Evil Apocalypse into the timeline because it contradicts what has gone on in the games themselves.

As for fan-fiction, again, they are interesting to read but what’s important for me are the true facts of what went down. Fan-fiction doesn’t influence my writing at all because I know I won't include them.

Neek: Have you ever considered doing a Resident Evil fan-fiction of your own?
JN: I have always wanted to do a script based on the first Resident Evil. A proper, gritty horror about the STARS team at the infamous mansion, which, if done well I believe could be a genuinely good film. But scripts are very hard to write, so instead I decided that my timeline would be my ultimate contribution to the RE world.

(Evolution of Evil 2)

Neek: What has been your most rewarding and the most disappointing experience writing the timeline?
JN: The most rewarding by far is every time I come to write it I discover something new about the story I never knew before. The research tells you things you can never find in the individual games. For example, using the evidence, you can work out that the T-Virus was created on September 19, 1977. Not one document or character tells you this in any of the games. Playing detective like this is very satisfying.

The most disappointing thing is that I’ve learned you can't please everybody. Everyone has their own opinion and no matter how I write it not everyone will agree with my portrayal of events. I’ve not had any nasty emails or anything, just people pointing out that I may have got an entry wrong or an event mixed up. It’s positive criticism like this which helps me improve on each version. 95% of the people are very positive in their feedback and tell me I have helped them understand the whole universe better, which makes the whole thing worth doing in the first place.
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About Neeklusone of us since 2:56 PM on 03.23.2009

I am a UK based gamer and film-maker with a long history of gaming and Tom-foolery.

I currently co-host a Podcast about various mental topics called Words of Crom (available on Facebook and iTunes).

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