Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Phantom River Stone's Interview with Yu Suzuki on Shenmue 3 | Tokyo Game Show 2019

While Yu Suzuki gave many interviews to the press and media at Tokyo Game Show, I had the honor of interviewing Yu Suzuki as a representative of the Shenmue fan community. Within the strictly-regulated time slot of 20 minutes, my goal was to hopefully uncover one or two little facts or anecdotes about the game that may not have been covered in other interviews, and especially to communicate to Yu-san the appreciation we have as fans for the very fact that the game has been brought into existence.
And now, onto the interview!

Phantom River Stone: Thank you for your time today. To start with, could you please update us on where the development is at now? I believe you have mentioned play testing, for example.

Yu Suzuki: Right now we're working on tuning, brush-ups and bug fixes. That's the focus at the moment. We're doing that while play testing as well as tuning parameters.

PRS: Could you talk about the background of the rather unique owner of the hotel in Niaowu?

The rather distinctive Niaowu hotel owner introduced in Kickstarter Update #69
YS: In Shenmue 3 I've created these kind of characters "as is" with those kind of personalities. They don't have the kind of detailed backgrounds that we made in Shenmue 1.

PRS: I see. How would you describe her in terms of her personality?

YS: She's quite blunt. Not exactly rough, but not subtle. However she's a good person at heart. It's just that her actions are a bit crazy.

PRS: I look forward to seeing Ryo's reaction!

YS: Ryo's a bit taken aback by her. [smiles]

PRS: We've heard that Ryo will be able to change his costume.* How about Shenhua?
* Alternative costumes for Ryo have been announced as DLC pre-order bonuses, for example the Kenpogi training outfit with the PS4 Day One edition on the PlayStation store.
"Kenpogi training wear" costume (a DLC pre-order bonus with the PS4 Day One edition)
YS: Yes she will, but not in the main game. I wonder if I can say more. It's DL... something! [laughs]

PRS: Last year, you visited the English voice recording studio in Los Angeles. Could you give your impressions from the visit?

YS: The voice of Ryo is played by Corey Marshall. It has been 20 years, so his voice has become a little more mature, a little more refined, if that's the right word. So my direction to him was to add a slight "wild" touch, to sound like the Ryo of old.

For the other main character, Shenhua, this time it is a different voice actress than before who newly auditioned for the part. I was able to find someone whose voice is almost identical to that of the Japanese voice actress, Haruka Terui. Her name is Brianna Knickerbocker.

Yu Suzuki in the Los Angeles recording studio with Brianna Knickerbocker (left).
So the Japanese and American voices of Shenhua are very similar, and both gave skilled voice acting performances. I was able to locate someone who really fits the part. Her voice captures Shenhua exactly.

PRS: Do the English Shenhua and Japanese Shenhua express their emotions in a similar way?

YS: Yes, that's the ideal I aimed for.

PRS: Actually Brianna Knickerbocker was interviewed earlier in the year on Phantom River Stone, and I can't wait to hear her in the full game.

YS: Her voice is spot on - you couldn't find anyone closer.

Related links:
PRS: While you were at the studio, did you also meet Corey Marshall's daughter, Katana [who is also voicing for Shenmue III]?

YS: I didn't meet her at that time. She plays the voice of a small child.

PRS: Would that be the child who draws pictures in the dirt [at Bailu village]?
The little girl from Bailu village who is found drawing pictures in the dirt in the Shenmue III demo.
YS: No, it's not Rin, the child drawing pictures. It might be one who plays hide-and-seek, but that part's not in the Shenmue III demo.

PRS: Various vintage items of Shenmue 1&2 merchandise were part of the Kickstarter rewards, such as CD cases, figurines and so on. Where was it all stored for close to 20 years?

YS: Of course... it was in Warehouse No. 8! [smiling]

Some of the vintage merchandise (Kickstarter Update #93) - where did it come from?
PRS: I see! So it was held by Master Chen. [laughs] 

Is there something a Shenmue fan has done recently that has left a strong impression on you?

YS: There was a little girl of about 4 or 5 years old on YouTube, saying "Yay, Shenmue!" and running a "Shenmue shop". I think her father was probably a Shenmue fan! Seeing a child like that supporting Shenmue really makes me feel warm inside. It makes me extremely happy.

PRS: Regarding Ryo's forklift job, what goods will he be transporting this time?

YS: He'll carry all sorts of things. He'll move things like refrigerators, as well as statues.

There's also a special one: an Astro City, which is a SEGA sit-down style arcade cabinet. If you carry that from the ship to the warehouse, it will be set up in the game arcade the next day. At the arcade, you'll be able to play the game you've carried.

Promotional pamphlet for the Astro City cabinet from SEGA, released in the 1990s. Arcades often placed low stools in front for players to sit while playing.
PRS: That sounds fun! By the way, were any of your own games that you developed released in Astro City cabinets? 

YS: I have released games in Astro City cabinets. Astro City is one of SEGA's standard cabinets which can hold various arcade games inside.

If you beat the games there, you'll get something in return. So if you transport a lot of games over from the ship, and play a lot of games at the arcade, there will be a lot of fun things that happen.

PRS: Do you also transport goods in the other direction, from the warehouse to the ship?

YS: Yes.

PRS: Are there other forklift drivers working with you, like in Shenmue I, or do you work by yourself?

YS: By yourself, this time round. There's also a time limit, which you have to keep an eye on. If you complete your quota within your allotted time, you'll get a wage increase.

PRS: If you're careless, is it possible you can drop the goods?

YS: That won't happen, but you have to set them down in the specified place, or it won't count. You also have to consider the order: for example, you can't place a crate on top of a statue, but you can place a statue on a crate. It's not a problem at first, but as you get towards the end you have to think about where you'll place things, and in what order.

PRS: That sounds like a fun challenge. In Shenmue I, all the crates were all flat and easy to work with.

YS: Yes.

PRS: Could you tell us about how the cute mascot called "Choubu-chan" features in the game?

YS: The town of Niaowu has a lot of shops, and she's hidden inside them.

PRS: Does finding Choubu-chan work like a collection?

YS: Yes, they form a collection. There are various series, such as a Florist series. Or, for example, one for the four or five greengrocers stores. And one for Drugstores. If you complete a collection, you can get a Technique scroll by exchanging at a pawn shop. It's really fun.

PRS: Fans had noticed Choubu-chan's presence in several screenshots during the development period, and everyone had been wondering about it.

YS: Many people think that she's a chick, but she's not a chick, or a chicken. She's a cormorant.

Cormorant fishing on the Li River at Niaowu.
A cormorant.
PRS: And... she's yellow?

YS: She's yellow. I know a real baby cormorant isn't yellow, but the reason is... I love the color yellow! But in any case, she's a cormorant.

Related link:

PRS: Are there any plans for making a Choubu-chan toy?

YS: No, there aren't. But if Choubu-chan becomes famous in Shenmue III, then maybe for the next one.

PRS: She's cute so I'm sure she will be!

The next question is about motion capture, which I believe was used in parts of the game. Which parts in particular did you use motion capture for?

YS: It has been used in all sorts of places. Not just in certain parts, but we've used it widely. The motion capture this time is something that we can do inside YS Net - not only at the office though: we also rented a studio. Motion capture is used all over including battles, conversations and for cut scenes.

PRS: You also used motion capture back at the time of Shenmue I, didn't you. I remember seeing some footage from the time.
Motion capture recording for the original Shenmue I.
YS: Yes. The first time I used motion capture was for Virtua Fighter II.

PRS: Do you feel any differences in the motion capture process of today compared to back then?

YS: There have been various advancements in motion capture technology since then. Previously we captured using a large-scale system, recording for example once every 3 months, but now with our current system we can choose to do so every week if we want to. With these advancements, this time around we're able to do it ourselves.

PRS: What factors affect the prices of goods sold at shops?

YS: These days, information spreads quickly on the internet, so if the prices didn't change, everyone would end up only visiting the cheapest shop. I wanted to avoid that, so in Shenmue the shop prices change from time to time, for all the shops. So the player can check the prices at shops occasionally and stock up on items when the price is cheap. It would pay to put aside a little more money than usual for that.

PRS: Does the timing of the price changes occur on a daily basis, or some other timing?

YS: Some other timing. If it changed daily, it would make it hard to remember [the prices]; it's something to look forward to when playing.

PRS: Thank you very much for the interview today.

YS: Thank you.

-- End of interview --

While the interview time was limited, just hearing Yu Suzuki's talk about the game definitely had me itching to grab a controller and start playing the full game.

I felt that Yu Suzuki's sense of humor shone through during the interview, especially in places such as his answer of "Warehouse #8." And perhaps his favorite color of yellow is the reason why Shenhua's clothes have taken on a lighter shade compared to the darker shades seen in Shenmue II...

Shenhua's costume in Shenmue II (left) vs Shenmue III (right; work-in-progress image)

Communicating Our Support 

I had brought along with me a special item to ask Yu Suzuki to autograph, which would have been familiar to him: a photo collage presented to him as a framed gift in 2016, of Shenmue fans (in the classic "Shenmue III" pose) demonstrating their support. It felt a very fitting item that highlights just how far the project has come since then to reach this current point, just before its release

By a stroke of luck, earlier in the day while on the event floor at the Tokyo Game Show, I was able to briefly meet the VA who has played the Japanese voice of Ryo Hazuki for all the games in the series, Masaya Matsukaze. He put his signature to the collage, adding below "芭月涼" (Ryo Hazuki) - along with a note to everyone in the community:

ありがとう! (Thank you!)

I now asked Yu Suzuki if he could add his name to it also.

He nodded and took up the pen, and as he signed I took the opportunity to express how excited all the fans are for the fact that the game has come to fruition; to pass on best wishes from the whole community for a successful launch; and to assure him of our continued support moving on to (we hope) develop the next game in the Shenmue series.
Photo collage of Shenmue III fans, autographed by Masaya Matsukaze (left) and Yu Suzuki (right).The kanji character in the center means "friends".
And so, the interview came to an end.

There are now under two months to go until the game's launch on 19th November, with events such as the backers' trial demo and MAGIC Kyoto (for which Yu's attendance has been confirmed) to come even sooner. It is worth pausing to reflect on this special point in the game's history, and the amazing fact that Shenmue III will soon be in our hands to enjoy at last.

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