Saturday, June 23, 2018

[Part 2/2] "15 Secrets of Shenmue" 1999 interview with Yu Suzuki | Translation

We continue with the second half of our translation of an interview Yu Suzuki held with the media on 18th January 1999. almost a year before Shenmue's Japan release. Several of the themes that Yu talks about today with respect to development on Shenmue III show through in this interview. He also reveals something that I personally had never known - namely that he worked on SEGA's early Laserdisc games when he first joined the company.

 "15 Secrets of Shenmue" 1999 interview with Yu Suzuki

Source article: 12th February 1999 edition of Dreamcast Magazine. This blog topic was voted by Phantom River Stone patrons in the monthly poll for April.

SECRET ⑨ The mystery of the title "Shenmue"

Then a question was sprung that got to the very heart of things: "What is the origin of the title, Shenmue?" However, it would seem that this conceals a secret relating to the theme of the game, and is still a secret.

"Although I may not be able to keep it to myself and give the game away before then [laughs], right now I plan to talk about that in around a year's time from now. Also, the story aspect is all described in the poem-like part that's on the VF3tb special disc*¹, so I probably won't give away any more details than that."
*¹ Note from Switch on the VF3tb special disk: the bonus GD-ROM disc that accompanied the 1998 Dreamcast release of Virtua Fighter 3tb [tb = Team Battle]: an updated version of Virtua Fighter 3 that featured battles between teams of various fighters. The bonus disc contained a video movie about Project Berkley (the code name for the Shenmue project during the early days of its development). The poem section that Yu refers to can be viewed below. 
The "poem" section from the Project Berkley Video

Transcription (translation by Rakim & Kiyuu of the Shenmue Dojo)

As you read the poem below, you may notice that this appears to be an extended version of the story that appears on the blue pamphlet that was distributed at the premiere.

An adventure begins.

A boy thrown into the depths of deep despair.

Sadness wells up from inside the boy like boundless dark waters, washing everything away.
Sadness. Heart.
Before long this sadness will become a swelling anger.
The trembling soul of this young boy will face a single decision.
A vow.
He will make an oath to himself. And then decide.

Setting off on a journey. Heading West.

The boy set off to an as-yet-unseen far-off foreign land.
Hope rushes all throughout his body, becoming just like a heartbeat. At times swelling up to a head and at others almost losing sight and beginning to taper off.
All his memories, everything he's experienced, pulled into a chaotic world. An unknown world trying to suck him in with maelstrom force.
His spirit once again bound by angst.
Anxiety, Expectations, Dreams, Hope.
A boy controlled like a puppet.
Mind. Body. A Vow. Courage. Pride. Love.
Everything begins to fade.

An encounter with a mysterious young girl.

She arrived suddenly, but with tenderness.
The endless lands embracing the two of them.
Tenderness is broad, yet deep.
A new courage is budding.

The ones you love.

A moment of fate.
A battle of life and death
Body. Soul.
Stillness. Movement.
Light. Dark.
Sunlight. Shadows.
Wisdom. Skill.
Friends. Enemies.
Erupting into space and time.
Discover the meaning of pride.
Take hold of doubtless courage.
Companions, Friends and Love.

It was all over.

Or so it seemed.
There is no such thing as the future.
An empty world preventing the soul from breathing.
Love seemed to flicker.
Something little by little flowing into a frozen heart.


Big, deep, filling the entire body.
You are not alone anymore.
You feel a few power, a new sense of courage.
You are not alone anymore.
Those you love.
A brand new journey... begins.
The poem appears to describe Ryo's entire adventure, from his journey to China, to his encounter with Shenhua, and even future events to come in the series.

SECRET ⑩ What new information can be expected at the Tokyo Game Show?

Now that the excitement of the premiere is over, what sort of things can we expect to see at the next public event, the Tokyo Game Show on March 19th?

"I'd like to have something there that you can play a bit. Although it might be something simple, I think people attending the game show would like to try some hands-on play. But, like I said before, with this game I don't want to have any regrets. A spring release might be a little tricky."

SECRET ⑪ The pursuit of breadth & the pursuit of depth

Among the questions asked was the following: "If the setting is too expansive, won't the fun of the game be diluted?" Yu Suzuki has a clear response to that: he knows a way to overcome it.

"Even if the play area becomes broader, I don't think it diminishes how fun the game is. My belief is that the breadth of the play field has nothing to do with how fun the game is. One thing to be careful of in that respect is that density will be reduced as the area increases, but a game that uses this area well, will feel good because of that. I think a game that uses 'breadth' well, just like a game that uses 'depth' well, will be fun! [laughs]"

Yu Suzuki calls himself an "extreme believer in balance". That this belief is not mistaken is something that will no doubt come to be proven with this game.

SECRET ⑫ About character motion and modeling

Yu-san had some fascinating and surprising words to say about the acting performance and motion capture for the characters.

"Normally for something like motion capture, a certain time frame is decided and it is taken over a condensed period. But for Shenmue, it's something that is going on all the time [laughs]. Firstly the script is made, and the actors read it and act the scene out normally. Then, once the OK is given on the acting, we carry out motion capture. Then after that we record the sound. In the beginning I was planning on reusing some motions, but scenes for which they weren't taken started to look inferior by comparison. So we're doing motion capture every week, and each week new data is generated. Right now it's a battle with compressing the data. Next I want to add various facial expressions."

We'll undoubtedly be able to check out the results of that within the game.

SECRET ⑬ QTEs, Laserdisc Games and Yu Suzuki

"Actually, when I first started out at SEGA, I worked on three or so Laserdisc games*² [laughs]". 
*² Note from Switch on Laserdisc games: Yu Suzuki joined SEGA in 1983, and the company released some of the world's first games to use laser disc hardware that year and the following, namely two space games Astron BeltStar Blazer (known as Galaxy Ranger overseas) and a racing game GP World. Another animated space adventure called Albegas (also known as Cybernaut) was cancelled before release.
Game play of SEGA's Laserdisc racing game GP World, which boasted footage of real-life tracks overlaid with sprites.

To the suggestion that some people are saying QTEs [Quick Timer Events] are like Laserdisc-based games, Yu-san had some unexpected words:

"Well you know, as someone who used to make Laserdisc games, take it from me that it will be fine [laughs]. They are of a different quality to Laserdisc games. To take an example, the only difference between a Laserdisc game and Virtua Fighter is the difference in the time durations. With Virtua Fighterfor example after you push the punch button, the next 10 frames (1/6 second) are automatic.

In the same way, with a Laserdisc game too after you make your decision, pictures are displayed for 5 seconds automatically. The difference between the two is in fact the difference in the amount of unplayable time, being either 10 frames or 5 seconds. I can understand wanting to make the comparison with QTEs, but the actual sense of playing is different.

QTEs are not a Laserdisc game with faster decisions, but maybe more like Virtua Fighter that has been slowed down a little".

This sounds like something where a picture may be worth a thousand words...
The QTEs also include scenes like this. You move forward pressing the D-Pad in the opposite direction to your wobbling center of balance. There are a wealth of situations not found in Laserdisc games.
As the name QTE (Quick Timer Events) suggests, rapid decisions are required. This sign-straightening scene is not a QTE.
You won't be able to help wanting to view the failure QTE scenes (left: failure; right: success). Will a retry be possible?

SECRET ⑭ The first drop of the Amazon

"The first drop of the Amazon": these are words that Yu Suzuki uses a lot recently. It's a metaphor for bringing about a momentum shift to the industry; a new wave brought by that single drop. The "taikan" (hands-on, or ride-on style) games that started with Hang On, the 3D fighting games that started with Virtua Fighter... Yu Suzuki's creations have always been groundbreaking for the game industry, and these words reflect his stance towards game creation. What he is looking to do is not a rehash of conventional games; it is to pioneer new markets born through new concepts.

"I feel a bit like I did with Virtua Fighter 1. It would be great if this game can create a new trend in gaming history.

The first stirrings have already started.

SECRET ⑮ After gaining strength with Shenmue, the next game will be a Fantasy!?

"Keep friends, those you love, close to you": Yu Suzuki has the following to say about the main theme.

"It could be that this is, in a word, a 'catch phrase' with no philosophy whatsoever. In fact, the very attempt to simulate the real world may feel a bit underwhelming. However, through making something based on a close study of things in the real world, I've come to a good understanding of how difficult it is to make something that will be popular around the world. But, in order to grow myself, I first draw upon the real world and see how far I can go; in a way, I feel like I've chosen somewhere that has nowhere to hide.

To be honest, I love Hayao Miyasaki's [animated film] Castle in the Skythe story of a boy who goes on a trip with a medieval sword in a magical world is my favorite [laughs]. 

One of Yu Suzuki's favorite films: Castle in the Sky.
One of Yu Suzuki's favorite films: Castle in the Sky.
Everyone may think that I like simulations of the real world, but I'd like to do a fantasy. So that's why I have games like Space Harrier. If I'm able to grow myself by making Shenmue with its real-world theme that allows for no refuge, and thereby gain just a touch of confidence, then next I would really like to make a fantasy work."

These words from Yu-san caught us totally by surprise. It appears he still has many dreams he wishes to fulfill.

Yu-san related that he was interested to read a message on the BBS saying that "snow in Hokkaido [the northern region of Japan] is quite different".

--- End of article. Translated by Switch @ ---

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  1. Castle in the Sky is what made me a fan of Studio Ghibli. Thanks for the Translation Switch.

    1. What's your favorite of the Studio Ghibli movies, JC? I have only seen a few, but love their sense of adventure. I particularly like Spirited Away.

    2. Hmm. Castle in the Sky followed by Kiki’s Delivery Service. If I am ranking only 3, Pom Poko would be 3rd. Many of them are very well done though.

    3. I'm going to look those out, thanks!