Friday, January 11, 2019

Yu Suzuki's China Interview Report Part Two: Early Game Development Years [YouYanShe Publication Group]

This is the second part of a translation by yuc02 of a recent Chinese-language article reporting on an interview held with Shenmue III director Yu Suzuki and animation producer Hiroaki Takeuchi at the recent G-Fusion Tour event in Xiamen, China. The report was published on

Part Two below focuses on Yu Suzuki's earlier years in game development. Go here to read Part One.

Dialogue with Yu Suzuki On the Birth of Shenmue - Part 2

Original text & images from

Aside from Shenmue, we also talked with Yu Suzuki about stories from his early game development years, as well as his views on the video gaming industry. Although his iconic status as one Sega’s top developers in the 80s and 90s has meant that much has already been written about him, it was still fascinating to hear his views and stories in person.

Prior to working on Shenmue, Yu Suzuki’s work mainly revolved around arcade gaming. At that time many titles were developed from his AM2 studio (Outrun, Space Harrier, Virtua Fighter, Virtua Cop etc.). One can say that he’s worked in, as well as advanced, almost every gaming genre available.

But in actual fact, he was still not fully satisfied, and wished to try more things on the home gaming front. Yu Suzuki explained that “At the time the golden rule with arcade games is that average play times must be limited to 3 minutes per credit, and given the 30 seconds or so for changing between machines, that left around 2 mins 40 seconds for the developers to showcase the game".

Under this tight constraint, Yu Suzuki admitted that he was getting “wearied both in body and mind”. During that period home consoles were far behind arcade machines technically, but had the advantage of not having a time constraint. “The most popular genre for home console games in Japan were RPGs, but there wasn’t anything that was what I envisaged at the time, so I wanted to put all my experience together and create my own home-console RPG game.” This of course manifested itself to be Shenmue.

From today’s viewpoint, open-world games are now the trademark for AAA budgets, although one may argue that some are now growing tired of the genre. Nevertheless it is still the most popular type of gaming experience for gamers and developers alike.

However in the early 90s many people did not understand the open-world concept, so one could argue that Shenmue was truly "something ahead of its time”. Yu Suzuki explained that at the time he never thought about an open world, he only wanted to design a game that gave players a lot of freedom (“free to play”). Perhaps Yu Suzuki’s many decades’ experience in arcade games “gave him an edge” over the design of Shenmue. This level of freedom didn’t just manifest itself in the many different play modes, or the lack of time or story-driven constraints, in fact it was the realism factor that made it close to being a “life simulator”. Nowadays many similar games aim to achieve this goal, to which Yu Suzuki comments:
“A video game is a reconstruction of reality, but it doesn’t mean that the game will be more addictive the more realistic it is. What interests gamers the most will always be the gameplay. Due to limitations in the past, perhaps one way to differentiate oneself used to be by making the game more realistic. However now the aim is to differentiate oneself by making the gameplay more fun.”
One could see his viewpoints from his personal experience. While he was at university, he was very interested in games created on the Apple II computer. Although those at the time were very basic both in graphics and gameplay, he understood the spirit of the creators in trying to convey their ideas despite being restricted by technology. It gave him a “sense of mission” for his future creations.

Yu Suzuki described this sense of mission as a “RPG Roadmap”, of which he is just one of the prime movers for its advancement:
“Even though one may fail experimenting with new ideas, nevertheless we need people to try these ideas. If the developer only considers if the work will be successful commercially, while it’s important to consider, it shouldn’t be the only factor, as otherwise the gaming industry will find itself struggling to advance.”
At the end of the interview, we like many other gaming journalists presented our treasured games to Yu Suzuki-san for his signature, which he generously accepted and fulfilled our wishes.

After so many years, gaming technology and gamer choice have evolved massively. How far will the previously heralded “ahead of its time” Shenmue series advance with Shenmue 3, no one can say right now. However, it doesn’t matter if one sees it as an emotional return of the series for its fans, or as an experiment in the RPG and open-world genre, it will be something worth anticipating.

Extra Content: Hiroaki Takeuchi

Hiroaki Takeuchi used to be a professional Virtua Fighter player in Japan, and he laughingly described himself as “public enemy number one” at high school. It was because of this that he joined Yu Suzuki’s team and started working in the games industry. Apart from Shenmue, he also worked on anime titles such as “5 Centimeters per Second” and “Your Name”.

Shenmue 3’s animation producer Hiroaki Takeuchi showed us the Apple II game “Mystery House 2”, which was one of Yu Suzuki’s favorite games while at university.
Translation by yuc02.

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