Tuesday, December 17, 2019

[Part 3] Shenmue Discussion with Yu Suzuki & Developers | IGN Japan

This is the third and final part of our summary of a video interview with three key members of the development team for Shenmue III who were also core project members in the earlier titles: creator and game director Yu Suzuki, animation producer Hiroaki Takeuchi and second director Keiji Okayasu. The interview was held by IGN Japan's Esra Krabbe.

If you haven't yet read the first two parts, you can find them here:

Shenmue I & II's Drink Machines

Okayasu recounts that the thing that surprised him the most when he was working on the first two Shenmue games was when Suzuki wanted to put in drink machines. "They didn't have any meaning with respect to the gameplay, you see. You put your money in, the can drops down, you drink it... and that's all."

However, he saw the sense in Suzuki's thinking that drink machines are a common sight for a town, and buying a drink from one is something you might do if you had some pocket change.

"There needs to be consumption in order to create a cycle," explains Suzuki, making a circular motion in the air. "My intention when I created them was to form a cycle by connecting several such small elements together, although in practice I wasn't quite able to reach that point".

Were the winning cans a part of this?

"To some extent, yes, as motivation for players to continue buying cans," Yu nods.

Shenmue III's World

With Shenmue III, has there been any easing or shift from the true-to-life portrayal of its world seen in the first games, towards one where fun is a greater priority?

According to Takeuchi, Shenmue III was about making sure the game is fun and immersive, and expanding the range of things the player can do (according to the Shenmue 'bible' that Suzuki carries inside his head of what is permitted in a Shenmue game and what is not).

Okayasu comments that with Shenmue I and II, the developer team leads were always being told to focus on portraying things accurately, as they actually exist, rather than just treating it as a game. With Shenmue III, that thinking has not completely changed but this time Suzuki's guidance has been that it's fine to include various fun elements, as long as the world's sense of immersion is not broken.

Suzuki explains: "There was a big difference in available resources this time. When it comes down to it, Shenmue is not a real story but a game - not a movie or anything else. It's a game at its core." 

Due to the limited resources, decisions had to be made about how many people to use on what areas. Suzuki says that he focused on apportioning the developer resources - what resources to devote to what aspects: an example he gives is that devoting half the team just to graphics might have had a detrimental effect on gameplay.

"Even if some compromise might be needed on the graphics, I wanted to make sure it had fun gameplay," says Suzuki, adding "With Shenmue, the thing that is an absolute must is that it be immersive. So I focused the resources on that, and creating interesting gameplay."

Motion Capture

"I hear people saying that the movements of the characters look a bit stiff," Suzuki acknowledges. "Of course, I'm aware of what's required for them to look completely natural - with a proper studio set-up, and going through all the steps involved like the other development companies. But if we were to have done that for Shenmue III, I knew we would only have been able to include about a tenth of all the motions I felt were needed. So it came down to a decision to accept 80% rather than going for 100%, in order to achieve this magnitude of difference".

Almost all of the motion capture was carried out at YS Net, says Suzuki, as out-sourcing this would have severely limited the amount of motions that could have been realized. "In the end we were able to achieve something distinctive, so I'm happy with the result."

The Reason Throw Moves Were Omitted

Suzuki talks about the motion capture technology used:

"The sensors we use now for in-house motion capture aren't the optical type. They're ones which contain various accelerometers and gravity sensors, and they're quite large. If they're slammed against the ground when someone is thrown, they could break or the actor might be injured. So, that's why throws were left out!" Suzuki jokes, causing laughter among the group.

He goes on to clarify: "They're something that may be put into the next game. I had to give up on them this time because of resource constraints".

It was a question of obtaining the right balance:

"If we had put in throw moves, the total amount of motion animations we could have included might have been reduced to 10%" says Suzuki.

"The motions improved remarkably over time when I was play-testing", adds Takeuchi. "Yu-san told me that if I found any motions that didn't feel right, they would be fixed up".

Shenhua's Costumes

Among the pieces of early concept art on display on the table in front of the group are some of Shenhua holding a basket of vegetables, with "April" written at one side. What sort of situations do these illustrate?

"Since she's a key character, I wanted to give an idea of the kind of life she lives. After all, unlike some old movies, people don't wear the same clothes all the time. So as an example, I thought I would try designing the kinds of costumes she wears from January through to December. They help to give a deeper understanding of Shenhua," says Suzuki. "This is one of the twelve costume designs - the April Shenhua."

A similar CG image from the 1999 Shenmue calendar
But in the end, these costumes weren't actually used in the games?

"Well, it might be nice to have her wear them, if there's the chance," says Suzuki. "There's something in the latest game for Shenhua to change her costume, as DLC".

Next, a question is put that many fans may have been wondering: what was the reason for Shenhua's change of costume from what she wore in Shenmue II?
Ryo and Shenhua in Shenmue II
"I've made some changes to some of the details of Ryo's clothes too", points out Suzuki. "Back then, hardware limitations prevented us from portraying the fine details of the textures. Nowadays, with physics rendering, it opens up opportunities for more nuanced expression.

"With Shenhua's old costume design, we were only really able to show the texture of the cloth. This time, we have put in details like leather stitching, along with embroidered patterns. I wanted to give her slightly more femininity, so I made some modifications to give a slightly more fashionable Shenhua".
Shenhua and Ryo's costumes in Shenmue III

Story in Shenmue III

Shenmue I and II introduced an increasing number of unresolved story elements as the game progressed. Without giving too much away, does Shenmue III start to address these?

"Okayasu reprimanded me about that," chuckles Suzuki. "He told me, 'Yu-san, you can't go on like this with an ever-growing number of mysteries. They have to be resolved!'"

Okayasu confirms this with a nod.

"He always wants to add more mysteries," he says, gesturing toward a laughing Suzuki. "He loves putting in new ones. Then he tells me, 'I'll leave it over to you to get them resolved'. That won't do!"
Okayasu's good-natured complaint is that Suzuki "always wants to add more mysteries".

Final Comments

Takeuchi: "Reaching the end is naturally a main objective for any game, but Shenmue is more than that. To me, Shenmue is what you might call an 'environment game'. It's a soothing game, and the more you become pulled into its world, the more you realize what sets it apart from other games."

Okayasu: "One big difference with Shenmue III compared to Shenmue I and II, is that this time we had several development staff who were fans of the original games. They gave various presentations to Yu-san to encourage the inclusion in Shenmue III of the parts they loved most about those games. So, in that sense, players who enjoyed the first two games are sure to enjoy the new one also".

Suzuki: "I think of lot of people want to know how the story continues. But I'd feel sad if anyone decided to give up on getting stuck part-way through the game, for example at a battle or on a quest. We're in an era now where you don't need to remain stuck needlessly - you can look for help on the net, or adjust your difficulty in the settings. So for people who get stuck but want to know what happens, you can make use of the Easy setting within the game, and I really hope everyone plays through to the end. Then you can find other parts to enjoy on your second play."

A Message from Master Wu

A frame hangs on the wall behind Yu Suzuki, with the words "Congratulations on Shenmue" written within. Suzuki explains that this congratulatory message was written for him for Shenmue III by his good friend and renowned Bajiquan expert, Master Wu Lian Zhi. They first met many years ago when Suzuki was researching Bajiquan for the character of Akira in Virtua Fighter, and Master Wu also advised for Shenmue 1 and 2.

They met recently at a martial arts event and again enjoyed drinking Chinese liquor together: "He transformed into a Drunken Master!" jokes Suzuki.
Yu Suzuki with Master Wu in 2015
"He visits Japan two or three times a year, and we still meet up from time to time".

This concludes our summary/translation of the video interview. 

Source video (Japanese) at IGN Japan

Become a Patron!

No comments:

Post a Comment