Sunday, May 27, 2018

Examining the New Shenmue 3 Images in the THQ Nordic Presentation

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Last week on May 16th, THQ Nordic, which recently acquired Koch Media and its subsidiary company (and publisher of Shenmue III) Deep Silver, held a presentation for shareholders, analysts and media representatives. While not directed at fans / backers, it did contain a section on Shenmue III that revealed some new images and information.

Watch the Shenmue III Presentation (3 minutes)

During their presentation, which was called "Capital Markets Day", several in-progress games were introduced, including a 3-minute portion on Shenmue III.

The Shenmue III section of the video can be viewed below. Footage from the game - some seen previously and some new - is shown from 2:14.

Video courtesy of Shenmue Dojo

While much of this footage has been seen before, we will highlight the glimpses seen of new material in the following sections of this post.

Enhanced Character Models

The footage commences with a scene that is familiar from the trailer shown at Gamescom last year. Ryo and Shenhua are walking together, then Shenhua points ahead towards Bailu village as the Shenmue III logo is displayed:

However although the setting is the same, a close look reveals that refinements have been made to the shape of the character models of Ryo and Shenhua, especially their facial features. In Shenhua's case, a decorative pattern has also been added to her top, beneath her collar. The ribbon that was tied around her waist has also been removed.

The differences are more apparent with a direct comparison:

Comparison of the Shenhua & Ryo character models from the 2017 Gamescom teaser (top) and the recent THQ Nordic presentation (bottom).
Facial expressions on both characters are also portrayed much more naturally due to the facial animations, something which is observable in the video.

For example, when Shenhua points ahead, her eyebrows are raised and her mouth parts a little.

An example of Shenhua's changing facial expression
An example of Shenhua's changing facial expression

Even Ryo's stoic expression can be seen to soften slightly as he glances across at Shenhua.

New Bailu Village Scene with Little Girl

At the end of the footage is a brief new scene in Bailu village featuring the little girl whose screenshot was introduced by Yu Suzuki at MAGIC 2018. This time, we are shown the context from which the screenshot was taken:

At first, we see the top of the little girl's head as she looks down and plays on the ground outside a village house:

She then looks up and smiles, and speaks (although this is inaudible as the audio track is music only). A frame from this section was shown as a still shot at Gamescom:

The camera cuts away to show that it was Ryo she was addressing, and she points behind her in the direction of the house:

In another change of camera angle, we see there is a man in a green tunic practicing martial arts in the foreground, and background detail is revealed: a village house surrounded by statues, a bamboo pole running horizontally outside the house for drying clothes, and a strange object resembling the trunk of a tree that stands at the left:

The scene then ends as the girl walks off, waving goodbye to Ryo as he rises to his feet.

The Identity of the "Tree Trunk" Object

The object seen in the background on the left is a wooden practice dummy used in Chinese martial arts training. It is associated with the martial art of Wing Chun and other kung fu styles of Southern China.

Thank you to Shenmue Forever for identifying the device and their kind permission to post up their comparison graphic below.
Courtesy of Shenmue Forever

Wikipedia gives some additional information on the dummy:
"The Wing Chun wooden dummy is the most popular form of wooden dummy. A popular legend says it came about when 108 separate wooden dummies from the Shaolin Temple were combined into one by the nun Ng Mui to make training more efficient and effective. The Wing Chun wooden dummy uses an arm and leg configuration designed to cultivate fighting skill and chi simultaneously."
A reader of the blog has also experienced it first-hand for his martial arts training: "The wooden dummy itself is called a Muk Yan Chong and is often used in Wing Chun (Bruce Lee used it a lot), and sometimes even in some Wah Lum Northern Mantis schools". Thanks to Karan for the details.

What Does the Little Girl Say? Our Attempt at Lip-reading 

While the video contains only a music track with no voice, the little girl's mouth movements are shown realistically and allow an educated guess as to what the girl is saying.

Judging from the video, she is speaking in Japanese, and after careful study of the footage the words she is saying appear to be:
"あ~、お兄さんだ!" (Ā, onīsan da!) 
Literally translated, this means, "Oh, it's big brother!" However in Japanese, young children often call boys and young men older than themselves "big brother", even if they are not actually related.

Furthermore, from these words and her demeanor it would seem that she has already met Ryo before and trusts him. In which case, a natural English translation might use Ryo's name:
"Oh, it's you, Ryo!"

YS Net Staff Size Information

A few other points of relevance to Shenmue could be found elsewhere in the presentation.

One slide contains some information about the current size of YS NET that I don't think has been publicly stated elsewhere. The number of developers is given as 45:

On another slide, Yu Suzuki is shown together with the CEO of Koch Media:
Slide from the presentation showing co-founder and CEO of Koch Media Dr. Klemens Kundratitz (left) with creator and head of YS Net Yu Suzuki (right).
Slide from the presentation showing co-founder and CEO of Koch Media Dr. Klemens Kundratitz (left) with creator and head of YS Net Yu Suzuki (right).

Deep Silver's Stage Gate Process and Shenmue III

Also shared during Deep Silver's part of the presentation was the following diagram which illustrates the "Stage Gate Process", one of Deep Silver's fundamental processes that they have developed to help manage risk for their portfolio of games under development.

A product's development life is divided into several stages, with a "gate" at the end of each to confirm whether the objectives have been achieved before the product may move on to the next stage.

Diagram of Deep Silver's "Stage Gate Process"
Diagram of Deep Silver's "Stage Gate Process"
While the development of Shenmue III was well under way by the time Deep Silver joined as global publisher in 2017, this diagram may give some hints as to how the final current stages are being handled (bearing in mind that they stated that their development for regular titles follows "more informal" processes than their AAA titles).

For example, footage in the video seen in the presentation is marked "Pre-Alpha Footage" and "Alpha Footage", which correspond to similarly-named Editorial Milestones in the Production stage of the diagram.

Following these milestones are "QA Ready", "Beta / Age Rating" and "Closed & Open Beta", while activities taking place during these include "Localisation", "Polish" and "Debug" - recall that "polishing the software" is also the wording used in the official announcement for Shenmue III's new 2019 timeframe to explain how the extra development time will be spent leading up to its release.

Final Comment

Although this presentation was not aimed at backers or fans, it contained a few interesting images and snippets of information that we had not previously seen. Personally, I like the progress of Shenhua's character model and would be happy if the final model turned out to be close to this look. It will also be interesting to see if the lip reading attempt was close to the actual words spoken - hopefully the audio will be present in a future video or the game itself!

Source: THQ Nordic Capital Markets Day presentation
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  1. I absolutely *love* that they put a Wing Chun training "dummy" in the game. Makes perfect sense too.

    As for the graphics, I love the direction the game is headed in. I expect many people will complain that the older (2017) shots look more Dreamcast-like, but the fact is, in modern engines there are so many more facial animation tools, we will never get a face that looks 100% identical to the Dreamcast model(s,) unless there is zero facial animation. In the footage, there are moments where Ryo looks spot on, and others where his subtle facial animations (which are amazing looking for alpha!) change the character of his face slightly. That's just an inescapable reality of modern animation and rigging in games, and I wouldn't want Shenmue 3 to refrain from making use of those tools to go beyond what we had in the originals. But I know a lot of people will never be satisfied.

    1. I'm also really pleased with the improvements we've been shown so far. It was never realistically going to possible (or even desirable) to produce a Dreamcast-era look-alike. It's exciting to think that Yu Suzuki is utilizing an even more advanced modern game engine that should allow him to portray the world and characters even more closely to his vision.