Sunday, November 3, 2019

Nagoshi's Involvement with Shenmue's Release | Anecdote from Sega Management [4Gamer]

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At the end of 2018, Sega's current Chief Creative Officer Toshihiro Nagoshi talked to GamesRadar about his involvement in getting the first Shenmue game ready for release, in particular how he was enlisted by upper management to get the project wrapped up, which he stated he was able to do within a 6-month timeframe.

Not a lot has been reported on this topic in general, so here we share another angle, this time from the point of view of Sega management at the time.

An article published by 4Gamer earlier this year describes a 2012 interview with Hisashi Suzuki who was a senior director at Sega at the time and had formerly been managing Yu Suzuki prior to the Shenmue project. Hisashi Suzuki is the director whose anecdote about Virtua Racing we also translated recently:
The translated excerpt begins below.

According to the testimony of Sega managing director Hisashi Suzuki, the photo below led to the start of a certain big project.

It was taken when top members of the development teams surround a special guest from the US. I'm sure some people will know immediately who it is, but the special guest is Steven Spielberg. Also there was (CEO) Nakayama, although he isn't in the photo, along with Hisashi Suzuki and Yu Suzuki.

Photo description: At the far left, watching the gameplay from over the partition, is Hisashi Suzuki, with Yu Suzuki beside him. Back right is Steven Spielberg, and on his left is Hisao Oguchi. Playing the game are Mie Kumagai and Spielberg's son. At the front right is Mark Cerny, who was formerly worked on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and is also known for being the lead system architect for the PS4. Cerny was not working for Sega at this time, but is likely to have accompanied Spielberg here due to his involvement in one of Spielberg's projects.
Hisashi Suzuki relates:
 "Spielberg did a tour of Sega, I believe when he was in Japan to promote a movie. He himself owned a game company called GameWorks, you see. Nakayama led the way as they walked around the development offices.
"When he showed Virtua Fighter RPG to Spielberg, he was like, 'That's wonderful!' And that pleased Nakayama so much that he gave the direction to start development on it in earnest."
Virtua Fighter RPG was the prototype of what was later released as Shenmue, a software title for the Dreamcast.

Virtua Fighter RPG (slide from Yu Suzuki's talk at GDC 2014)
Yu Suzuki moved to the console game development department to work on developing it, a move that meant he would no longer be working under Hisashi Suzuki.
"With game development, you've got to have someone who to a certain extent understands the workplace - someone who has a real sense of what people are thinking and feeling - to continuously monitor things like development costs and market fit. Doing things with only the creator leads to project bloat.

"People like [president] Nakayama and [vice president] Irimajiri weren't able to manage Yu. Eventually, there was no control from anyone".
Although it lay outside of his jurisdiction, Hisashi Suzuki kept an eye on the state of Shenmue's development.
"No matter how much time went by it was never finished, and no one knew what progress had been made. The size of the development staff went on increasing, and all sorts of preposterous guys joined. I started to think, 'Something's not right. What's going on?'

"This is something I learned a while later on, but apparently quite a large amount was spent on the development on the playable in-game titles like Space Harrier and Hang On".
As Hisashi Suzuki expressed with the words "no control," Shenmue's development was protracted and the project was straying well off course.
"Despite still being in the middle of the development of Chapter One, he'd say there's a total of 16 chapters. I thought, it will never be finished if we go on like this".
A little supplementary explanation is needed to his comment. In my 2010 interview with him, Yu Suzuki stated that he couldn't recall ever saying that he had created 16 chapters, claiming that Shenmue's story had 11 chapters altogether.

However, it does appear to be the case that, at the time, 16 chapters were advertised in the media and elsewhere, and there are probably many people who remember this also.

It's possible that a misprint may have taken on a life of its own, but it seems symbolic of  Shenmue's development, as if the project grew bloated by itself without the man at the top, Yu Suzuki, being aware.
Toshihiro Nagoshi, now Chief Creative Officer at Sega of Japan.
In order to bring Shenmue to completion as soon as possible, Hisashi Suzuki exempted Yu Suzuki from attending board meetings to allow him to focus on development, but despite this there wasn't enough time.
"Yu told me he even checked all the Shenmue TV commercials himself. I thought to myself that this isn't going to work. 'Horses for courses', as the saying goes."
Taking the advice of a certain developer on board, Hisashi Suzuki resolved to bring the Shenmue project to a close.
"One time, [Toshihiro] Nagoshi came to me and said 'If things go on as they are, Shenmue's development will go on forever. Let's stop him'. And so it was brought to an end".
In the end, two games - Shenmue Chapter One: Yokosuka in 1999 and Shenmue II in 2001 - were released as Sega titles but the story remained unfinished.

As many people probably know, Yu Suzuki is currently developing Shenmue III (PC / PS4, scheduled for release on 19th November 2019).
Shenmue III, releasing later this month (Nov 2019).
While he was the one who decided the project's end, Hisashi Suzuki rates Shenmue itself extremely highly.
"Shenmue's concept was wonderful. It was something whose creation was only possible with the Sega of that time. And it's because there was Shenmue that Nagoshi was able to create Yakuza. Yakuza is a Sega-like creation. Sega must always provide something new".
The relationship between Hisashi Suzuki and Yu Suzuki has a feeling like that of one between a father and child.
"The deep attachment Yu had for his content was something out of the ordinary. He's an amazing guy. But he needs to have someone next to him to keep things balanced. Nagoshi also told me, 'Yu needs to have a right-hand man'.

"Even though when it came to arcade games he had been releasing titles every year, from partway through Shenmue he became unable to put out a release. No matter how capable of a creator you have, you've got to ensure they work within reasonable bounds.

"Even now, I consider Yu to be a developer of amazing talent. But I think he needs someone around him that really understands him and who can say to him, 'Hey Yu, that doesn't make sense.'"
-- End of translation --

Source: 4Gamer (March 2019, Japanese)


My take is that project management of such a large project was no doubt immensely complicated and would have been a huge burden for one man to take on in addition to the creative direction. Hence to ensure the game had a timely release, having someone whose role was to drive the project to release is likely to have been justified from a commercial point of view, 

However, something else the extended project timeline points to is the perfectionism that Yu Suzuki sought for the game. The extra time and effort that he and his team spent on creating and polishing the games during development produced the masterpieces that resulted. As related in the anecdote above, it is something that Steven Spielberg sensed immediately when he saw the game even in its early form. And the passionate fan they inspired didn't give up hope on the continuation of the franchise, and led to the dream of a third game in the series becoming a reality.

What do you think? Leave your comments below.
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  1. Hello how about repost?

    1. Nicely-made comparison video! I've shared it on Twitter.

  2. Replies
    1. Although the date of the photo isn't provided in the original article, I'd place it as 1996, which is the year Spielberg founded GameWorks.