Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The "AI Battling" Stretch Goal | Shenmue III

The "AI Battling" Stretch Goal | Shenmue III
Phantom River Stone gives a brief recap of what we know about the "AI Battling" stretch goal and clarifies some information given in the English version of the recent Kickstarter Update, based on the Japanese text.
Pledges for Shenmue III, combining the Kickstarter and the Slacker Backer campaign pledges, have grown to an impressive total of $6,901,625 as of the last official update on June 22, 2018 (source:

Total amount pledged to Shenmue 3 as of June 22, 2018
Total amount pledged to Shenmue 3 as of June 22, 2018 (Kickstarter & Slacker Backer pledges combined)
Significantly, a further $100,000 of pledges would take this total to the next stretch goal from the Kickstarter campaign: "Battle System Expanded: AI Battling" at $7 million.

The recent Kickstarter Update also highlighted this stretch goal, saying:
"We are almost at the $7M stretch goal for the AI Battling battle system expansion! This is the last chance for stretch goals and we ask for your continued support!"
Shenmue III stretch goals. "AI Battling" is the next goal to be reached.
Shenmue III stretch goals. "AI Battling" is the next goal to be reached.

What is AI Battling?

As we know, while the first two Shenmue games used a battle engine based on Virtua Fighter, the battle system for Shenmue III has been redesigned and created from the ground up under the new game engine (Unreal Engine 4). "AI Battling" is one of the features that would expand the basic battle system of the game.

Yu Suzuki gave a brief explanation - accompanied by his own hands-on demonstration - about the concept of "AI Battling" in an October 2015 interview with DualShockers:
"Q: Could you explain what the “AI Battling” part of the seven million stretch goal entails?

YS: It’s a system that will make the character respond intelligently to the commands given by the player during battle. With simple commands you’ll be able to execute complex techniques.

At this point Suzuki-san showcased how it’ll work visually, showing that if the player and the enemy are not correctly aligned, pressing the punch button without the system would cause the player to hit the air, punching straight in front of him. With this intelligent system, the character will perform steps to dynamically align with the enemy, coming at them with a hook motion.

Another example shown by Suzuki-san involved a situation with a wall close to the character and the enemy, with the character jumping on the wall and then punching the enemy in mid-air in a movie-like attack."

Video of Yu Suzuki demonstrating the concept of "AI Battling"

In other words, AI Battling will allow intelligent interaction with enemies and objects around the player. This fits with Yu Suzuki's general desire to achieve a more "cinematic" approach to battles with Shenmue III, which he has commented on in interviews such as an August 2017 interview with GAME Watch (read our translation of the interview):
YS: It's a matter of how dramatically, and how cinematically it can entertain the player. I want to make it so that even people who aren't good at fighting games can press buttons - without worrying too much about which, to a certain extent - for the story to advance.

AI Battling Described in Kickstarter Update #84: Official vs Alternative Translation

The English version of the recent Kickstarter Update describes AI Battling as follows:
"This control system lets you automatically unleash the perfect technique in response to the opponent's positioning and distance. R&D for this system is based on Yu Suzuki's concept for players who are not used to fighting games or for those who want a full immersion battle experience. This battle system is highly compatible with the current battle system, and will be implemented upon reaching the stretch goal."
- Official translation
While the basic meaning has carried across from the original Japanese description of AI Battling, some nuance has been lost from the highlighted sentence. Here is my version of the highlighted sentence, trying to stay as close as possible to the source:
"It's a feature for which basic research has been carried out since early on in the development, based on Yu Suzuki's wish for even players who aren't used to fighting games to experience a feeling of immersion in the battles".
- Revised translation by Switch
The key clarifications compared to the official English version are:
  • Research for this feature started from the start of the game's development.
  • AI Battling is intended to make battles exciting and immersive even for players inexperienced at fighting games (but it is not aimed only at them).
Yu Suzuki explaining AI Battling (from DualShockers interview)
Yu Suzuki explaining AI Battling (from DualShockers interview)

Closing Comment

My personal take is that, whether or not the stretch goal is technically reached, there is a good chance that this feature will be included in some form in the game. I base this on the fact that work on the feature has been in progress throughout the project, the existence of Deep Silver as publishing partner who Yu has acknowledged has enabled the game's scope to be expanded considerably (e.g. see Metro UK's interview last year: "Don't worry, I can make the whole game you imagined!") and Yu Suzuki's own stated enthusiasm for incorporating for a cinematic element in battles.

Nonetheless, anticipating the enthusiasm of Shenmue fans and backers in the weeks leading up to the end of the Slacker Backer on August 13th - and with add-ons / upgrades now available - I think we'll see a strong increase in total pledges that will carry us to that AI Battling stretch goal.

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