Saturday, December 1, 2018

Introductory Letter from Master Chen | Unused Textures in Shenmue

Unused Textures in Shenmue: Introductory Letter from Master Chen

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In this post we will examine some textures relating to envelopes and letters that were not used in the final release version of the game, but which were discovered hiding in the game files.

In particular we will focus on one particular letter that plays a key part of the story: the introduction letter from Master Chen that Ryo receives at the end of the first game, containing the name and address of a master in Hong Kong who will be able to assist him.

At the start of Shenmue II, Ryo starts holding the "letter" (really just a note):

Ryo checks Master Chen's note upon arrival in Hong Kong, at the start of Shenmue II.
Ryo checks Master Chen's note upon arrival in Hong Kong, at the start of Shenmue II.

The Introduction Letter from Master Chen


The introduction letter that Master Chen gives to Ryo in the release version of the game is written on high-quality rice paper, and bears Master Chen's personal stamp in red ink at the bottom left:
The letter from Master Chen that Ryo carries in Shenmue II.
The letter from Master Chen that Ryo carries in Shenmue II.

It contains the following information:
Master Lishao Tao, Room 205, Yan Tin Apartments, South Carmain Qr., Wan Chai, Hong Kong
What appears to be an early, unused version of this note was discovered in the game files, and its appearance is quite different, with lined paper being used.

An early, unused version of the note from Master Chen.
An early, unused version of the note from Master Chen.
In this version, the information reads:
Xiuying Hong
Room 205, Yin Tan Apartments, South Carmain Qr., Wan Chai
Apart from "Hong Kong" being dropped, it is interesting to see that Xiuying's real name is written here, rather than the name of "Lishao Tao." This suggests that this storyline element that was added later in the design of the second game.


The Introduction Letter's Envelope


In the cut scene at the end of Shenmue I, Master Chen hands Ryo an envelope, one side of which (the reverse side) can be briefly seen.

Master Chen holds the envelope containing the introduction letter.
Master Chen holds the envelope containing the introduction letter.
The written characters on the envelope are Master Chen's formal name: Yaowen Chen (陳躍文).

However we are not shown the other side of the envelope, since control is not returned to the player to examine the item in Ryo's possession. At the start of Shenmue II, Ryo is holding only the letter and not its envelope. 

Fortunately, our curiosity as to what is on the other side of the envelope is satisfied, as the texture does exist on the game disc:

The front of the envelope from Master Chen, normally not accessible.
The front of the envelope from Master Chen; normally not accessible.
Written on it is "Master Lishao Tao" (桃李少老師).

This can be recognized as being the front of the envelope since the five red boxes at the top-right are often printed on envelopes in Japan for writing the post code. Thus, during the cut scene we are shown only the reverse side.

It can be conjectured that a decision was made not to reveal this name to the player prematurely at the end of Shenmue I, and hence this face of the envelope was deliberately kept concealed in the cut scene.

An Earlier Version of the Envelope?


In fact, there is a second, unused envelope texture on the disc.

This one is present among the files of the What's Shenmue* disc - even though this demo was set only in Dobuita, various unused files were left on the disc.
* What's Shenmue was the name of a playable demo for the Dreamcast that was distributed in Japan prior to the release of Shenmue I. It was set on Dobuita Street and involved a quest for Ryo to seek out a certain Mr. Yukawa, the former managing director of Sega, before the end of the day. (A fan-translated version of this demo also exists, which we will cover in a future post on the blog).
It looks as follows:

An unused envelope texture is contained among the What's Shenmue files.
An unused envelope texture is contained among the What's Shenmue files.
The address and name information reads:
Xiuying Li
Room 205, Yin Tan Apartments, Hung Hom, Tsim Sha Tsui
Some key differences are immediately apparent.

Firstly, Xiuying's surname here uses a different character (Li: ), from the one in the game (Hong: 红). This indicates that this texture originates from earlier in the project's development, as it uses the early version of her name that we encountered previously when translating an early Shenmue II design document flowchart.

Secondly, the location of the apartment building is given as Hung Hom in Tsim Sha Tsui (which is actually a real location on the Kowloon Peninsula):
Map of Hong Kong showing the real-life location of Tsim Sha Tsui
Map of Hong Kong showing the real-life location of Tsim Sha Tsui, which may have been the location of Xiuying's apartment in the early design (highlighted in yellow). Wan Chai is located on the opposite side of the harbor.
This again fits in with the earlier design, which had the boat on which Ryo travels arriving at Tsim Sha Tsui. So it would have made sense for Xiuying's apartment to be located somewhere nearby.
Lastly, this version of the envelope is stamped with a postmark, as if it has been received at some time by Xiuying, and then has come into Master Chen's possession by some means.

This would have neatly provided Ryo with all the contact information he needs without needing a separate letter inside, but it may have been hard to justify Master Chen being in possession of such an envelope. This may have been why the final design was to have a simple envelope with note enclosed for the released version of the game.


Final Comment


Unused textures such as these give a fascinating insight into the early design process, and changes that subsequently occurred before the final release.

Acknowledgements


The early unused textures on the What's Shenmue disc were discovered and extracted (many years ago!) by LanDC from the Shenmue Dojo. Peter Campbell kindly provided the image of the front of the envelope that Master Chen gives Ryo in Shenmue II.
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