Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for July 2022

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"Sega's Patent Application for Magic Weather & Magic Rooms"

Magic Weather

Revolutionary when featured in Shenmue, the "Magic Weather" system controls the ever-changing climate and weather conditions experienced during play.

In the "Making Of" documentary about Shenmue produced by NHK in 1999, the narrator introduced it as follows:
"The game contains a system that realistically recreates the weather and other natural phenomena. That system is called Magic Weather. In the game, the weather changes as time passes: fine, cloudy, rainy. These changes are based on the long-term weather data for Yokosuka, the town in which the game is set.

"Let's consider a case in the actual game where it is, say, fine one day and rainy the next. The weather conditions encountered by the player will differ depending on how they go through the game. For a player that moves ahead rapidly, they may visit a certain house on a fine morning. On the other hand, a player who plays more slowly may end up visiting the house the following night in the rain."

Famously, the first game even includes historical data for the actual 1986/87 weather in Yokosuka, which can only be enabled after clearing the game.

Yu Suzuki highlights the weather system at the Shenmue Premiere in Yokohama

Magic Rooms

The second system, "Magic Rooms", refers to the use of a set of rules to automatically decide the layout of furniture across a large number of rooms. Its use in Shenmue II can be famously seen in the rooms of the buildings in Kowloon.

Yu Suzuki once described Magic Rooms as follows:
"When we were making Kowloon Walled City, I wanted to put everything in the rooms we made. There were thousands of rooms, and I wanted all of them to be free to roam. The designer told me it was impossible, so I thought there was no use in entrusting that task to him (laughs), and that’s when I thought, we could just make the program create them itself."


Examining the Patent Application

In 1998, Sega Enterprises filed a patent application outlining a number of new algorithms, with Yu Suzuki listed as the inventor. Although the algorithms were not given a specific name, two of them - Magic Weather and Magic Rooms - can be recognized from the details given.

In this upcoming post, we'll examine relevant sections of the patent and see how they were described and perhaps learn some more about how the systems work behind the scenes.
A chart from the patent application, specifying changing weather conditions

Coming soon to the blog!

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Monday, July 4, 2022

"Soccer Bingo. One game, 100 yen." | Real Life Smart Ball

Players of Shenmue III will be familiar with the many locations at which Smart Ball game machines can be found throughout the town of Niaowu.

This example of a real-life Smart Ball machine shows how accurately it was recreated in the game. On this machine, called "Soccer Bingo", completing a bingo line in any direction releases one of the capsule toys that can be seen through the transparent panel at the top.

The cost for one play is a Shenmue-friendly 100 yen!

Soccer Bingo

Smart Ball in Shenmue III (left) vs the real-life Soccer Bingo machine (right)
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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Unused Assets: Mr. Yukawa Business Card Variants | What's Shenmue

What's Shenmue is the name of a playable demo that was released in Japan in August 1999, shortly before the full release of Shenmue. It took place in Dobuita Street and involved a short quest in which Ryo has to to locate Mr. Yukawa (a real-life former senior executive at Sega) before a deadline at the end of the day.

During the quest, Ryo visits the You Arcade where he obtains Mr. Yukawa's business card...

The business card Ryo receives of Hidekazu Yukawa

Details on the front of the card include the SEGA logo, Mr. Yukawa's full name and title (Hidekazu Yukawa, Former Senior Managing Director), his company (Sega Enterprises) and a link to the Shenmue.com website.
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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Photo Report: Shenmue The Animation Promotion in Yokosuka

For the last two months, a promotion to celebrate the release of Shenmue The Animation has been running in Yokosuka. I went down to check out each of the eight stores participating in the promotion. This post has a selection of photos from the visit.

Four of the participating stores were on Dobuita Street itself:

  • Dobuita Station (tourist center)
  • MIKASA Vol.2 (Sukajan jacket store)
  • Taisho (embroidery & patches)
  • KANMANIA Yokosuka (souvenirs & cafe)
  • Kakita (military clothing)
While the others were located nearby:
  • HONEY BEE restaurant (on Route 16)
  • MIKASA Cafe
  • Hanamatsu flower shop

Inside each participating store, Shenmue-related artwork and sketches were on display, and they also had Shenmue anime postcards to give away with a purchase of 500 yen. The owners were all very friendly and welcoming to Shenmue fans, and I managed to persuade some of them to strike a pose for the blog photo!

Arrival in Yokosuka

I arrived at Yokosuka-chūo train station, on the Keikyu line, handily located about a 5-minute walk from the Dobuita Street area.

East Gate of Yokosuka-chūo station

The Yokosuka city tourist information center can be found immediately to the left as you exit the East Gate of the station (it has moved in recent times from "THE PRIME" shopping center building). With the newly-updated Shenmue The Animation themed version of the Sacred Spot map, and a leaflet detailing the current campaign, we head in the direction of Dobuita Street.

Left: the cover of the Shenmue Sacred Spot map. Right: a leaflet about the current promotion, known as the "Anime Celebration Project"

Main road near the station
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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Famitsu Interview with Yu Suzuki, Masaya Matsukaze & Yu Kiyozono | Shenmue Anime Release Commemoration

Shenmue the Animation commenced online distribution in Japan in weekly episodes from April 2022, and on the TOKYO MX television channel in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area from the beginning of May.

To commemorate the anime's release, Famitsu.com conducted an interview with YS Net's Yu Suzuki, creator of the Shenmue series and supervising director of the anime; Yu Kiyozono, producer of the anime; and Masaya Matsukaze, the voice actor who plays the main character Ryo Hazuki in both the game and animation.

The interview was held on 29th April 2022, on the day of the livestream talk event that was held in Yokosuka. Our translation of the interview starts below.

Yu Suzuki's Supervision Started With the Roof...

This was the first time I had spoken with Suzuki and Kiyozono since our online interview about the announcement of the anime adaptation.

Kiyozono: So we meet at last in real life! [laughs]

Q: Matsukaze-san, how did you hear about the Shenmue animation adaption?

Matsukaze: If I calculate backwards, the anime project must have already been in the works since the production of Shenmue III, but I didn't know about it when I was working on the game.

Thanks to the fans, and the efforts of Yu-san, Shenmue III had been released at last. Just as I was reflecting how lucky I was to be alive, and that it was truly a miracle, I was approached about the anime adaptation. It was well after the project was underway.

Following on from the release of Shenmue III, I was thrilled that the miracle of Shenmue was not over yet! I was thrilled.
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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Shenmue The Animation Photo Report: "Xuhe Hall" Restaurant Closes Its Doors

15th May 2022 sadly marked the closure of a restaurant that will have special meaning for fans of Shenmue as having been a potential stop on any "Shenmue the Animation pilgrimage" for a few short months.

The restaurant's exterior and interior served as models for the venue seen in Episode 3 of Shenmue the Animation called "Xuhe Hall", which is visited by Lan Di in order to extract information about the whereabouts of the mirrors from the owner.

Xuhe Hall exterior (Shenmue the Animation)

Xuhe Hall interior (Shenmue the Animation)

The real-life restaurant's name is Heichinrou and was the flagship store for the chain throughout Japan. It was the oldest existing restaurant in Yokohama Chinatown, and is closing after more than 130 years in business.

News outlets initially suggested that plans for a possible relocation were being considered, but a more recent news item has reported that this main branch of the restaurant has filed for bankruptcy after struggling through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, so reopening would appear unlikely.

However, to capture the last days of the restaurant while still in operation, I went along just before opening time on the last day to take some on-location pictures. The manager (I don't think he was the one in the anime!) kindly granted permission for me to also take some of the interior.

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Monday, June 6, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for June 2022

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"The Secret of Miao Village: Shenmue II Game Jam prototype"

Recently, a previously-unseen Shenmue II prototype was successfully purchased at an online auction and, thanks to the generosity of the group behind the purchase, it was shortly afterwards released to the community. This discs were marked "Game Jam," which was the name of an event that occurred in April 2001.

Initial analysis showed that the prototype contained numerous interesting differences in textures, cut scenes and gameplay (including the hilarious discovery by LemonHaze of a character model for Yu Suzuki, leading to his release of a special version in which the player controls Yu Suzuki in the place of Ryo).

But perhaps one of the biggest questions at the forefront of the minds of many fans was whether the prototype would help reveal anything more on the topic of the legendary Miao Village that had been cut early in development - and this proved to be the case!

The discovery of a wealth of Miao Village related subtitle content was announced on the Shenmue Dojo forums only a few days after the prototype's release  to the community by veteran Shenmue hacker LanDC, who extracted and translated several key conversations and pieced together from the clues the likely sequence of events that were to have taken place.

This amazing finding has at last allowed confirmation of what had only been theories and suppositions until now on the topic of Miao Village, Miao Guang Temple and the bicycle quest with Xiaoqin. With contributions from others in the community, further relevant conversations were also found, building an even more comprehensive picture of the cut story content.

In this upcoming post, as an extension to our existing Secret of Miao Village series, we will walk through the many pieces of dialogue found to highlight the story progression that had once been planned for this part of the game.

Watch for it to come on the blog.

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Former Sega Executive Hidekawa Yukawa Has Passed Away

It has been reported that Hidekazu Yukawa, a senior Sega executive during the Dreamcast era, passed away last year from aspiration pneumonia. He was 78 years old.

An iconic figure to Shenmue fans for his promotion of the game, he starred in the What's Shenmue demo and had an easter egg cameo in the main game as well (see here for more details). Fans were even able to meet him in person at the Shenmue Premiere event that took place before the game's release.

News article (Japanese)

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