Thursday, March 15, 2018

Yu Suzuki's MAGIC Conference in English | Transcript & Video

Yu Suzuki attended the MAGIC 2018 event held in Monaco on 24th February, and took the stage for a one-hour conference. Topics covered included Shenmue's early history, features of Shenmue III, and the revelation of four new images. Questions were asked in French, with an interpreter present to convey the questions to Yu, and translate the responses back from Japanese.

An official English translation was not provided at the conference, but through the joint efforts of the Shenmue community we are happy to present a subtitled video and transcript of the questions and Yu Suzuki's words at the conference.

Enjoy! Note that the conference proper starts at 4:17 in the video.

Video footage by Peter Campbell (hosted at the Shenmue Lounge YouTube channel)
Translation of questions by Shenmue Forever
Translation of Yu Suzuki's responses by Phantom River Stone.






Q: First of all, good morning Mr. Suzuki. How are you?

YS: I'm fine!

Q: How is Shenmue 3 development going?

YS: We're really busy at the moment, and we've been coming to the office each Saturday and Sunday also for a long while.

Q: We're going to talk about Shenmue 3. Don't worry, we're going to talk about it during this conference. Later too, during the "Crazy Time".

But before that, let's go back a little bit for those who don't know all the details of this saga and how we came to this buzz around Shenmue 3.

First, I would simply like to hear about how Shenmue was born. If I'm not wrong, at first it was supposed to be related to another game you made: Virtua Fighter. Is that right?

YS: At the beginning I was working only on arcade games, which have an average game play time of 3 minutes. With console games, there is no time limit and they allow various forms of expression. So I had been wanting to try my hand at making a game without a time limit. Then I had the chance to work with the [Sega] Saturn, and started to make an RPG for it. That's how it came about.

Q: Are we talking about the mid-90s?

YS: More the '80s.

Q: So, how did Shenmue happen?

YS: Like I mentioned before, I had been doing only arcade games, and I had always wanted to do a long story-based game for a console. Then I had that chance, and started on Shenmue. After a while, new hardware called the Dreamcast was developed and we needed a killer title for it. We decided to make Shenmue that killer title and started development on it.

Q: Can you tell us more about this link to "Virtua Fighter"? Was it supposed to be a variation of this game in the beginning?

YS: It was the first time I'd made a large-scale RPG. You don't feel as confident when you're doing everything for the first time. So I planned out a project that would use the resources from Virtua Fighter. Virtua Fighter had its own battle engine, and also it involved a lot of Chinese martial arts. So I thought up an adventure story using using these, with Akira as the main character.

Q: So it's thanks to this mix and this opportunity, this combination of things, that made the birth of Shenmue possible?

YS: Yes, that's right.

Q: Since then, many games have taken inspiration from the style of gameplay that was developed in Shenmue. Nowadays, it may be hard to realize how many games have been inspired by Shenmue.

How did you create this universe and this way of playing? Was it something you had in mind from the beginning, or was it born out of a process of reflecting on and adapting to the techniques available?

YS: At that time, it was my first time making an RPG. I thought I had better study up on them, so I obtained some RPGs by other companies and played, inspected and researched them. But I couldn't play them the way I wanted to, and they just gave me stress. In which case I thought why not make a game that I would enjoy playing.

At the beginning I wasn't thinking of anything particularly special, I just wanted to put in a lot of the things that I thought would be good to do. I don't really play games much, usually. I have no idea what's the norm for other games. So my comparisons are made with the real world around me instead.

So things like not being able to speak to a character unless you're facing straight at them... in real life you can talk even if you're not facing them directly. We can speak to each other now at this angle, right? In the RPGs back then, you couldn't speak to characters unless you were perfectly facing them, which was really stressful. So I vowed to make a game that would not be like that.



Q: Shenmue's story was intended to be long, certainly more than a single game. Did the story evolve from the time you created the script for the first two games through to today's project?

YS: To make Shenmue, I wanted to make a game that was story-based, one with a proper story. I started out not by writing the game's story, but by writing a novel of 11 chapters. That is the base of the current Shenmue.

And so it's a process of picking out and assembling the parts I want to put in the game from the 11-chapter novel, then turning them into scenarios for the game. Nothing has changed with the story since the beginning.

Q: Are you still working with that original story you wrote back then?

YS: Yes, I am.

Q: Although there is some rearrangement, to suit the game. I suppose you are preciously keeping the original script locked in a safe?

YS: They're inside here! [laughs, pointing at laptop]

Q: The first Shenmue came out in 1999, then the second entry in 2001. What has changed between the first and second game, from a technical and artistic point of view?

YS: I wanted to make an open-world game, but the world of Shenmue 1 is not very expansive. The parts I wasn't able to put into Shenmue 1 I carried over to Shenmue 2.  For example, I added more people and increased the size of the playfield. The things in Shenmue 1 that received poor feedback or complaints from players - the parts that were causing stress - I fixed in Shenmue 2.

Q: Before working on Shenmue, I'd venture to say that you already had two careers: the first when, as you said earlier, you started working on arcade games and the second during the transition from 2D to 3D graphics. What did you learn from those experiences?

YS: That's a difficult one to answer...

At first I was working on "taikan" type games. Taikan games are arcade games that have a moving cabinet. Up until then, a lot of arcade games had been table-type games. There weren't many games where you would ride on them or move them. So I tried making these and turned them into a series. I wanted to try to revitalize the arcades. And they really took off, so I'm happy about that. That was how I got started.

Also around 1991, I think it was,  I made a driving game called Virtua Racing. After Virtua Racing I made a game called Virtua Fighter 1. And this was when I first made an all-3D game. Virtua Fighter 2 onwards used a technology called texture mapping. It lets you put a picture onto a polygon.

After Virtua Fighter 2, the potential of 3D had been demonstrated decisively. Everyone felt that games going forward would be in 3D. I remember people thought that all the games that had until then been in 2D would be turned into 3D, representing a second business chance. It was a time when the industry was really active.

Q: The games you created before Shenmue are very different from each other, when you think about it. There are driving games, fighting games, flying simulations. That said, they have all something in common: the innovation that each one of these games brought to the genre. You always tried to bring something new in the genre, even if it had been covered before.

My question is simple: where do you find the ideas and inspiration to bring innovation?

YS: I don't really play other games, so I don't think about comparisons with other games. My basis for comparison is the real world.

So for a driving game, I see whether it's more interesting than driving my own car or not. And when I made After Burner, for example, I wanted to try flying a plane, so I went to Florida, where there's a place you can pilot a plane, and I tried that. Those kinds of things. When I create a game I always compare with reality to figure out what's best to do.

I've always created games by looking at reality and thinking "I'd like to make something like this".

Q: Did you really used to drive like that? Like in your games?

YS: I tried not to get caught...

Speaking of which, also when I made the game Out Run I went driving through Europe, around here, to gather material. In Monaco there's a state-run Casino over there, isn't there, in a splendid location. A bright-red Ferrari passed by in front of it. I saw it and thought, "This is the car it's got to be". Out Run's red car was decided in Monaco, you see.

Q: In your opinion, is it still possible in 2018 to innovate as much and bring novelty to the video games industry?

YS: Even now, I think it's possible to be innovative, if you have ideas. Video games are evolving together with computers, but the greatest changes came soon after the introduction of computers. So a spate of revolutionary technologies came onto the scene in the period just afterwards. Now much of these have matured, so I think it was easier to produce revolutionary concepts back then, compared to now.

Q: You often have the double role of producer and director of your games. I would simply like to know what are those two roles about?

YS: I don't like being a producer!

Q: That was my next question: which one do you prefer?

YS: A producer has to worry about things like the schedule and the project budget. There are a lot of non-creative things you have to take care of. The jobs of producer and director always clash with each other. They're like enemies, or opponents.

I'm a creator, so I definitely prefer being director. I wish someone would be producer for me!

Q: When you're both producer and director, you can decide by yourself. That's a good thing, isn't it?

YS: It's really tough. It makes me want a shoulder massage. I prefer being a director!



Q: To describe the role of game director, it's easy to think about a movie director or animation movie director; is it pretty much the same? You are the conductor who manages the teams but practically, you are not the one programming the game, correct?

YS: There are a number of kinds of direction, but with Shenmue I have to decide how the world should be portrayed.

For a start, things like: "The main character, Ryo, doesn't say things this way", or "He doesn't behave in this kind of way" and so on. Or, for example, what kinds of costumes do people wear in this location in China - I'm portraying China in 1987, so it's costumes in China in 1987. Or how much a can of soda costs; what kind of daily life do people have. There are all sorts of things that I direct.

Q: How does one build a team that will work with you on a game, and what are the key positions that will determine the style and artistic direction of the game?

YS: People who understand Shenmue are what I look for. I can't make it with employees alone, so I'm also using various freelancers, and forming contracts with them. People who are proactive, who think positively and like to take on new challenges - they are the sort who would be a good fit for our team, I think. It's really good to have people who give their own opinion and say "Wouldn't it be better to do it this way?" or "Wouldn't it better to do it that way?"

Q: Are there positions that can really be considered "key positions"? I don't want to minimize the impact of the people working in a team, but I guess that in terms of artistic direction, scenery creation maybe or animation, there are two or three positions you'll be especially focused on?

YS: Having originally been a programmer myself, my preference would be to make the game distinctive through programming. Also, we're using an engine called Unreal Engine 4, so I think about how to use it most effectively as we make the game.

The most important aspect is the staff. We've been blessed with good staff, and with our current team Shenmue has at last reached a really good state.

Q: The Shenmue saga was revived in 2015 thanks to the fantastic success of the Kickstarter. How did you feel at that moment, when the (Shenmue 3) project was definitely going to have a new start?

YS: At the time of the 2015 Kickstarter announcement, first things like The Last Guardian and FF7 were announced ahead of Shenmue. The cheering was immense, like a huge roar. And Shenmue was going next, so I was really worried about whether it would go well or not.

But as soon as Shenmue's music started playing, there was an eruption of almost like screaming. I was really surprised and relieved.

Q: How does one resume a project that was put aside for more than 15 years? What were the first difficulties you faced?

YS: Well, it's has been tough in a lot of ways: after Shenmue 2 was completed, about 5 years passed and every year fans would ask for Shenmue 3 to be made. I thought that there must be some way for me to make it. I thought about it all the time. The most difficult aspect was the budget and how to find funding.

Then one day a passionate fan of Shenmue experienced Kickstarter and suggested to me that Shenmue might be able to be made using it. Thanks to things like this advice from hardcore fans I made up my mind to do a Kickstarter. If it wasn't for that I wouldn't be at this point now.

Q: Okay, but in 15 years consoles and PC's have fully evolved. Did you have to adapt the project when comparing it to how it would have been conceived if it had been developed right after the first two games? Were you forced to adapt to consoles that have evolved over 15 years, from a technical point of view?

YS: Engines have evolved at a rapid pace, and some really good ones have become available. I'm using Unreal Engine 4, as I mentioned before. You can do various all sorts of things much more easily than before.

But when we were first making Shenmue, we had to develop everything from scratch by ourselves so we knew what was going on in every part. So while it's convenient, when it comes to fine tuning, it can be tricky because everything happens inside the engine.

Q: A simple question: What is the audience for this game?

YS: We got started thanks to the Kickstarter backers and fans, so I’m making it for the fans, for a start. And of course it's a game that is characteristically "Shenmue" and so there will be several new people, apart from Shenhua, who you can enjoy interacting with. I hope you'll like them.

Q: You have said previously that the 3 key aspects of this game are going to be "romance", "characters' lives" and "martial arts". In which proportion, roughly speaking, are you going to balance those 3 elements?

YS: It's hard to give percentages... From the beginning I built it with Virtua Fighter as its base, which uses a martial art style called Bajiquan, so it's a story-based tale that has martial arts as its foundation. But if it was martial arts only, it would lack a theme.
And so I thought it would be better if you meet with someone mysterious like Shenhua
and for there to be a little bit of romance.

Love; Martial Arts; and the thing I wanted to do most in Shenmue's open world: portray the subtle details of everyday life. These 3 things form the pillars of the game. As for their percentages, it's not a case of saying how each is allotted. They are all wrapped up together, you see.

Q: You know, I wanted to ask you if and how one can bring romance into a videogame? I'm really intrigued about that!


How should I put it... platonic love, or rather...

Ryo has a rather brusque personality. Someone who hasn't really gone out with girls much meets a girl from a different culture who has different ways of looking at things and he gets all flustered. Those are the kinds of commonplace little things I'd like to portray.

It's not an over-stated love, that's not what I want to show. When Shenhua is there, if instead of ignoring her, you choose to talk to her a lot, Shenhua might be put in good spirits and you might enjoy a better meal, for example. I think that kind of thing could be fun.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for creating this Shenmue 3 universe? Are there specific locations that are a source of inspiration? You've mentioned China but are there other similar locations or other things that are sources of inspiration?

YS: Shenmue 2 was set in Hong Kong, but Lan Di went on to a place called Guilin. So the setting for Shenmue 3 is Guilin. Guilin has a town on what is said to be the most beautiful river in China. There, in this picturesque town, you meet unsophisticated native people and new adventures develop.

I wish I had some photos with me, but I don't. I have been to Guilin once. It was a long time ago though, so it has changed.

This time, for MAGIC, I've brought along 4 unreleased shots which I'm able to show you. But before that let's have a quick look at the ones we've shown up to now. These are the kind of ones we've shown until now for Shenmue 3... They've been posted online and other places. These ones have already been released.

[Showing several images released last year at Gamescom]

The setting sun looks beautiful.


"The setting sun looks beautiful".


And now... There's only 4 of them, though...

The quality of the characters has improved a little. At first we couldn't get this character looking cute, and started over several times. And gradually we were able to create a cute character. At the beginning stage of Shenmue 3 is a place called Bailu village. That's where this little girl appears.


"Gradually we were able to create a cute character".

Let's look at one more. This is a different town, the second play area. There's a place like a temple ["o-dō” in Japanese]. This is a character you meet there. She's a tomboy, a boyish type.


"She's a tomboy, a boyish type".

This is a bit of a jocular character... he has a humorous personality. He's a martial arts master. He's a really powerful master.


"He has a humorous personality".

This is an enemy, sort of like a middle-level boss. He uses an unusual style of martial arts. If someone is able to guess which style from this pose, that would be amazing!




Q: Amongst the people of which your team is composed, are there people who worked on the first two entries of Shenmue?

YS: Yes, for example, one of them is my Second Director, and there's another on the team who created the main characters. I have great confidence in the people I'm working with.

Q: I wanted also to talk again about the cut scenes since it's one of the characteristics of the game (series). Could you explain to us how you conceive and prepare those cut scenes? Is it correct to call it "staging" the cut scenes?

YS: I think you're asking about the process when we created the real-time movies, so I'll explain a bit about that. I think about how to put it together from the game's scenario, and then storyboard it. After that, we carry out the motion capture, and then using software known as a sequencer we do things such as adding in cameras and inserting QTEs, and set their timings. After that, we add in things like subtitles, voices and sound effects. Then we tune it and it's done.

Q: Let's explain that in a simple way for those who are not familiar with the technique. A storyboard is similar to a comic strip with comments. Motion capture is a technique for recording someone's movements. Then, everything is processed by a computer: textures are applied, the final rendering is applied and finally, sounds and music that go with the cut scene are inserted.

Is that correct, in less technical terms?

In the end, this method looks very similar to what is used in cinema, specifically similar to what is done with 3D CGI animation movies. Could Shenmue someday be adapted to the cinema and become an animated movie for example? Or even, become a movie with real actors (I'm throwing in a lot of questions at the same time)? Did you ever propose going in that direction?

YS: The subject of turning Shenmue into a movie has come up in the past. I think making "Shenmue" in various ways is a good thing, to help the Shenmue brand become better-known and spread the world of Shenmue: whether that be Shenmue music, or an album, or a movie, or a television series. So it's something I'm interested in, and I think it would be great if these kinds of ideas flooded in and got implemented, to give momentum to the world of Shenmue.

Q: In fact, a movie came out in the theaters in 2001 but if I'm not wrong, it was only a compilation of the first game cut scenes, for the purpose of making a link between the first and second game.

Did you personally supervise the "cut" of those cut scenes to make the movie?

YS: Yes, I once made "Shenmue The Movie", which connects together real-time cut scenes and in-game screens. So next time, if I was going to make one, I would start from scratch, either with live-action or full CG. It would be nice if the chance arose to make a proper movie. I hope someone approaches me about it! [laughs]

Q: Could you in the future, become also a cartoon or 3D animated movie director?

YS: I'd want to supervise; I wouldn't want a "weird" Shenmue, one with a different world.

Q: What is in your opinion, the most important thing in order to create a good videogame?

YS: When it comes to quality, I think that perhaps the tuning of the game is the post important. And whether or not it sells depends on whether it contains just what the market is after at that time. If you know that, things will be a lot easier!

Q: You have spent your whole career in the gaming industry. Have you ever thought about what you would be doing today if you hadn't had the opportunity to work in this industry? What do you imagine would be your occupation now?

YS: The first thing I wanted to be was an elementary school teacher. Both my parents were elementary school teachers, so I think it happened naturally from that influence. I quite like my first choice - you get both a summer and a winter vacation.

Q: You probably wouldn't be here with us today, talking about all this stuff.

YS: That's true! [laughs]

Q: So, this conference is coming to an end. We'll see you again later, shortly after 5:00 pm for the Shibuya Productions "Crazy Time". You'll then present to us a few other Shenmue 3 exclusives, if I'm not wrong. See you later for that presentation and thank you again for coming to Monaco.

Thank you for your time and see you very soon. We can't wait to discover how this adventure continues.

YS: Thank you very much.


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