Monday, August 8, 2022

[Part Nine] The Secret of Miao Village: Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events (Cont.)

In this post we complete our examination of the Key Story Beats for the Miao Village arc with the final entries 7 to 10, highlighting conversations found in the recent Game Jam prototype of Shenmue II.

Miao Village Story Arc Recap to This Point, Entries 1-6:

Ryo speaks with Zhang, who claims to be Yuanda Zhu's aide and asks Ryo to retrieve the second volume of the Wulinshu martial arts book from a man named Kongzheng Luo who lives in Miao Village. Ryo volunteers to assist the elderly owner at Sunny Capital Pharmacy by delivering some herbs to Miao Village by bicycle, together with his niece Xiaoqing. After carrying out this task, Ryo then asks passers-by as to Kongzheng's whereabouts and learns that he was killed two weeks earlier.

We now pick up again with Ryo looking for a way to get inside Kongzheng's house, which is locked up, to search for more clues about his death.

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Monday, August 1, 2022

[Part Eight] The Secret of Miao Village: Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events

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.

Related post:
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! Shortly after the prototype's release to the community, the discovery of a wealth of Miao Village related dialogue content on the discs, in the form of Japanese subtitle files for conversations and events, was announced on the Shenmue Dojo forums by veteran Shenmue hacker LanDC (link to thread and discussion) with detailed explanations of several key conversation sections.

It is now possible to piece together a comprehensive picture of the cut story content, and confirm at last what had once been theories and suppositions: how Miao Village was to have been integrated into the main story, details of the bicycle quest with Xiaoqin, and the true meaning of the dialogue seen in the AM2 screenshots all those years ago.

Starting with today's post, we will be presenting as much of the newly-found Game Jam dialogue as possible, and present it in a logical order that reflects the most likely sequence of events relating to the Miao Village content.

  • The conversations shown here have been translated from the Japanese dialogue data extracted from in the Game Jam discs. The original Japanese text is also provided for reference with each conversational interaction.
  • The original dialogue content that remains on the Game Jam version covers only a subset of all the characters that would have once been part of the Miao Village subplot, however it is still substantial enough to draw useful conclusions.
  • Some notes have been added in italics, such as to indicate when a character is pointing, or when new information has been learned that gives Ryo a new objective. These are speculations based on the dialogue context.
  • The Shenmue II order has been followed for the names of Chinese characters e.g. Lishao Tao (rather than Tao Li Shao). 
  • A selection of conversations with various characters has been included, included repeated questioning, to demonstrate the variety of interactions through which Ryo is able to acquire clues.

Miao Village Story Arc: Key Story Beats

Below are the key story beats that can be identified in the cut subplot. They have been assembled into an order that appears to fit the content best. 
  1. Cut Scene: Meeting Zhang & a Mission to Retrieve the Second Volume of the Wulinshu
  2. Searching for a Way to Miao Village
  3. Visiting Sunny Capital Pharmacy & a Bicycle Delivery Quest
  4. Medicine Delivery at Miao Village
  5. Looking for Kongzheng Luo's House
  6. A. The Fate of Kongzheng Luo
    B. Master Yunhai's Friendship with Kongzheng Luo
  7. A. Finding a Way to Enter Kongzheng Luo's House
    B. Obtaining the House Key
    C. Identifying the Boy in the Photo
  8. Talking with Zhengye Luo
  9. Cut Scene: Visiting Master Yunhai at Miao Guang Temple
  10. Delivering the Wulinshu to Zhang
We'll run through each of these in detail.

Starting Point of the Miao Village Cut Content

The first relevant dialogue is a cut scene, that takes place with Yuanda Zhu's aide, Zhang. At this point in the story, it can be assumed that the following events have occurred as they do in the release version of the game:
  • Ryo has met Lishao Tao and discovered the Wulinshu in the library at Man Mo Temple. Inside the book he found a note with the Chawan Sign, which serves as his next clue to locating Yuanda Zhu.
  • After making the Chawan Sign at the Dou Jiang Diner, he has met with a man in a brown suit, who we later find out is named Zhang, who revealed that he serves Yuanda Zhu. However before Ryo had a chance to ask him any questions, several thugs burst into the restaurant and abducted Zhang.
  • A QTE event played out in which Ryo chases after the thugs - dodging a watermelon projectile in the process - and Zhang was rescued, thanks to the invisible help of Xiuying.
Ambush at the Dou Jiang Diner (screenshot from release version)

This brings us to the likely point of the first scene of cut content we will be looking at, in which Ryo talks with Zhang once again after the thugs have been defeated.
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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Weekly AM2 Vol. 6: Interview with Shenmue Design Director, Masanori Oe | 18th Jan 2000

In this series we translate Shenmue content from Weekly AM2, the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 development team back in the day. News and information about the Shenmue series could be found regularly within these pages from the end of 1999 through to 2001 with the release of Shenmue II.

Vol. 6 contains an interview with Shenmue Design Director, Masanori Oe. There is also an announcement for a soon-to-be-released strategy guide book, and an outline of the Network Ranking competition.



Vol.6: 2000.1.18

Hello! This is Takuan.

A lot of people are catching colds, aren't they. Is everyone okay? Let's keep our spirits up this week, and blast our colds away!

This week's contents:
  • Interview with Shenmue Design Director, Masanori Oe
  • Shenmue Strategy Book Information
  • i-mode Gallery Image #2
  • Network Rankings Prizes!
  • Play Shenmue at the World Hobby Fair!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

[Part Seven] The Secret of Miao Village: Content Reborn | Shenmue III

Welcome to Part Seven of our analysis of cut-content screenshots of the mysterious "Miao Village" and temple that were revealed in 2002 on the website by AM2, Yu Suzuki's development team at Sega.

Parts in the series:

  1. Village Screenshots Analysis
  2. Village Content Left Behind
  3. The House in Xiuying and Ziming's Flashback
  4. Temple Screenshots Analysis
  5. Temple Content Left Behind 
  6. The Original Plan for Miao Village in Shenmue II
  7. Content Reborn [this post]
  8. Recently-Unearthed Dialogue Revelations

Traces of Original Miao Village Dialogue

Before diving into the post, you may be aware of the exciting news since the previous part in this series, with a previously unseen Shenmue prototype - known as the "Game Jam" prototype from the event for which it was created - being acquired at auction by a small group of fans and generously shared with the community. Not only does it hilariously contain a Yu Suzuki character model, but a set of conversational dialogue subtitles that directly relate to Miao Village was discovered hidden within the files. These finally allow us to piece together many missing pieces of the puzzle and put to rest certain questions held over so many years.

In today's part, however, we look at how several of the concepts that had been planned for the scrapped Miao Village ended up appearing in partial or reworked form, many years later, in the most recent game in the series: Shenmue III.

Thanks to George & Joe Kitchen for their helpful input.

Bailu Village & Its Inspiration

As concluded in the previous part, Miao Village was to have been located in the vicinity of Wan Chai, Hong Kong. It was not planned to represent the story's Bailu Village, which is located much further north in the Guilin region of China - however, they do share many similarities.

As Ryo travels with Shenhua over the mountains of Guilin in Shenmue II, she talks often about 
Bailu Village, and the various conversations with her during the walk portray a small, closely-knit but isolated village. (A full set of the conversations with Shenhua can be found here on BlueMue's video channel).

Here is a selection of information learned from Shenhua about Bailu village during the journey:

  • Bailu Village is one of the oldest villages in Guilin, existing since the Tang Dynasty
  • It has a population of about 50 people.
  • The village well is the source of drinking water.
  • Most houses are made from wooden pillars and earthen walls. There are also houses made from stone. Glass is not used because once broken, it can't be repaired. Shenhua's house is like a typical house in the village.
  • A picture of a god is placed at the entrance to a house to protect from devils and evil spirits.
  • Most villagers cultivate the fields and own water buffalo or goats. Horses are also kept for transportation.
  • One of the villagers has a huge carp. Carp are cooked on New Year's or when there's something to celebrate.
  • The village also has ancient buildings that housed treasures and rare items, protected by strong walls, built long ago by the nobles from the city.
  • There is a herbal pharmacy but no hospital in the village.
  • Stone lions are placed at road intersections.

Regarding the inspiration for Bailu Village, Yu Suzuki has stated that is inspired by ethnic Chinese villages such as those of the Miao people:
"There are villages called Miao villages that belong to an ethnic minority. Ethnic minorities like the Miao, Iyan or Kam inhabit villages in the interior region of Guilin. I'm creating Bailu Village with those kinds of villages in mind".

- Yu Suzuki (Shenmue Master interview at Gamescom 2017, Germany)  

This would imply that the ideas and designs from Miao Village would fit equally as well in Bailu Village, and there is evidence that this is the case in the rendition of Bailu that made its appearance in Shenmue III.

Yu Suzuki at Gamescom in 2017 (Shenmue Master interview)

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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 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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