Meet the hackers behind the Resident Evil 4 HD project that took 8 years to develop

Upon its original release, Resident Evil 4 was nothing short of a revelation for the popular horror series. Combining pin-point, moment-to-moment action with some of the best set pieces and boss fights of the 2000s, RE4 earns its reputation as one of the greatest action games of all time. With Capcom’s stunning remake coming out this year, the original still remains relevant, thanks in part to the fan-made Resident Evil 4 HD Project, a mod that updates the game’s look and feel to modern standards. It’s one of the most impressive works of video game fans of all time, and it’s all thanks to a small team of dedicated hackers who literally traveled the world to achieve their goals.

Albert Marin Garau is a longtime Resident Evil fan who dabbles in game modding. Over the years, he turned a hobby into collecting assets that had appeared in many of the best entries in the series, including music tracks, textures, and pre-rendered backgrounds. He created repositories of these assets mostly for his own amusement. When he first started working on RE4, he found that many of the game’s textures were blurry and low-res. But it wasn’t until the first PC port of the game came out that he realized he could just rip the images from the game. In fact, he could even modify them himself. Now his library had a practical use.

“When the first port of RE4 came out in 2007, I was really impressed by how modifiable the game was,” Marin Garau tells GameSpot. “The textures were simple TGA images, which meant I could go from compiling game content to enhancing it. I created a texture pack for the game that obviously pales in comparison to the HD project.”

Although his early attempts to improve RE4’s graphics stemmed from sheer passion, Marin Garau’s efforts quickly encountered a number of serious obstacles. For one, many of the textures had issues with the 3D-to-2D (UV) mapping process, which required trial and error edits to make them look impressive in HD. (Fixing these flaws, which were obscured by the original’s low resolution, eventually became the main part of the project’s texture work.) Like many gamers, he was disappointed with the original PC port, which lacked basic functionality such as mouse support and correct key prompts for controllers. When he considered how much work it would take to individually fix every HD asset in the game, it just didn’t seem worth it.

Marin Garau eventually encountered another modder, Cris Morales, who was working hard on the same UV mapping issues that Marin Garau had encountered with somewhat more success. Morales planned to release his own texture pack for the Wii version of RE4 and use the Dolphin emulator to patch the game. Shortly after beginning work on the project, however, Capcom announced that an improved PC port of RE4 was in development. Marin Garau and Morales decided to join forces to release a definitive HD texture pack for the popular game for everyone to enjoy.

The outpouring of support from the RE fan base was overwhelming – so overwhelming, in fact, that it completely changed the structure of the project itself. After working on the textures for a year, a co-developer released tools to the community that allowed Marin Garau and Morales to tinker with other aspects of the game as well, including character models, lighting, collision data, and the in-game camera. This allowed the team to envision a more ambitious endeavor: a project that would HD-ify RE4 from the ground up, down to the last detail. One that would be measured in years, not months.

“Most of the tools we use were created by our colleague Son of Persia,” explains Marin Garau. “I would share my research with him and he would create the tools to make things easier to edit. But most of the tools were created from scratch by him, without any help. We really owe him a lot.”

Marin Garau wanted to tackle such a complete redesign from the start, but quickly found that he lacked the technical knowledge to manipulate certain aspects of the game. At the start of the project, he describes spending hours manually editing the game’s hex table in hopes of figuring it out. In retrospect, he now finds that those early efforts were hopelessly inefficient.

“I spent two hours moving a candle flame effect and I didn’t know what the hell I was changing,” he says. “I didn’t even know what a floating point was. Without Son of Persia I would have been completely lost.”

Even with the tools, Marin Garau has made an unusual effort to improve Resident Evil 4’s graphics. During the development of his original texture pack in 2008, he realized he needed to source the source images used to create the game content to do it justice in HD. One day he stumbled across an image of a door on Google image search, which he immediately recognized as one used by Capcom.

After doing some research, he discovered that Capcom had sourced images of famous castles across Europe, including his native Spain. Marin Garau traveled to Seville and later to Wales to personally photograph all of these locations, including doors, windows, walls, decorative carvings and one particularly large rock.

“You can imagine the faces of other tourists as I photographed a wall or floor tile by tile,” he says. “It took me five years to visit all the places I needed to visit in my spare time. Traveling to all of these places was my favorite part of the project, it made me feel like I’d been to all of them just casually seeing them on screen. And I always found more textures than I expected.”

In all, Marin Garau worked on the project for eight years before it was originally released in February 2022. (Morales contributed heavily to the project for about three of those years before leaving for personal reasons.) Marin Garau never expected the project to take this long, but he says it just got too big without him would have even noticed. He especially thanks the fans who provided feedback on minor inaccuracies, as they ultimately made up a large part of his work. “I would estimate that the textures ended up being only 40% of the final project,” he says. “The rest is 30% model revision, 20% lighting and effects adjustments, and 10% for everything else. This is of course only a guess.”

Capcom's Resident Evil 4 remake will add more overt horror elements to the game, judging by pre-release materials.
Capcom’s Resident Evil 4 remake will add more overt horror elements to the game, judging by pre-release materials.

When it comes to RE4’s status as an all-time classic, Marin Garau attributes it to the game’s raw playability and feel that stands out even in today’s market. He concedes that RE4 was indeed a turning point for the franchise – fueling criticism that since it’s not a survival horror game it’s not actually Resident Evil – but overall he feels it was a much bigger one Influencing the franchise had a broader world of gaming than the series itself. Although RE4 didn’t invent any over-the-shoulder third-person shooters, the genre grew far more popular in the years following its release, with games like Gears of War directly were inspired by RE4.

Capcom aims to crank up the horror elements in its upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake. For his part, Marin Garau plans to enjoy the new version but is almost certain that in his opinion it will not live up to the original. Still, he feels there’s more than enough room for both games in the series.

Regarding future improvements, Marin Garau plans to release another patch that will fix some minor issues that he expects to work on this summer. Recent versions of the project have started to include another independent mod called RE4_tweaks, which fixes many of the PC version’s bugs and adds impressive new features, including adjustable FOV and ultrawide resolution support, as well as restoring effects used in later ports of the game . Even if you’re a traditionalist who prefers the low-resolution textures you remember, RE4_tweaks is worth downloading.

Today, Marin Garau works professionally in the gaming industry – in fact, he is currently taking a 3D animation course alongside a permanent job. He says he owes his new career to the Resident Evil 4 HD Project and the fans who made it possible. Even now there is still a lot to do. “We’re not customer service, but we do what we can when we have time,” he says. “Are we perfectionists? are we crazy Possibly both.

Overall, RE4 is one of the most important entries in the storied horror franchise, and a game that is well worth playing today by all means. With Capcom’s remake bringing a new vision to the game, it’s great that these dedicated fans have managed to keep the legacy of the original strong for a new generation of gamers to enjoy.

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