Saturday, January 11, 2020

Yu Suzuki's Research Trip to China Part 4: Day One (Beijing) | Translation

A continuation of our series on Yu Suzuki's Research Trip to China. This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on Patreon and was available for early access.

In the early 1990s, Yu Suzuki made a seminal trip to China. His objective was to research and gather material for his upcoming Virtua Fighter 2, and this research also influenced his concept for a "Virtua Fighter RPG" which eventually came to be known as Shenmue.

Previous posts in this series of blog posts:
  • In Part One, we translated blog entries about the trip by Kazunari Uchida, the person who accompanied Yu Suzuki.
  • Part Two is a magazine article in which Yu Suzuki gives own comments about his trip, and how his findings would be useful for the development of the Virtua Fighter series.
  • In Part Three, Yu's traveling companion, Kazunari Uchida, talks about how he first met Yu Suzuki and his curiosity to learn about the genius behind the man during the upcoming trip.
In this post, Part Four, we present Kazunari Uchida's journal entry for the start of the trip itself: Day One - Beijing.

Yu Suzuki: China Research Trip Journal

Day One: Beijing

Our Air China jumbo jet departed Narita [the main international airport near Tokyo] at 3 pm and arrived at Beijing Airport slightly behind schedule at 7 pm local time (one hour behind Japan). One might perhaps call it the scent of the continent: on disembarking, we were wrapped in a distinctive odor, like the dry smell of a summer beach mixed with the faint smell of car oil burning.

Waiting for us at the airport was someone who would accompany us and act as guide for the entire trip, by the name of Zhang, and a Beijing district guide - also named Zhang. The Zhang who would accompany us as a guide for the trip turned out to be, unexpectedly, a very young-looking lady.

On entering the city, the first thing that struck me was the large number of cars. In the old days, almost all traffic used to dry up after nightfall even on the main street, but now cars jammed even in the narrow side-streets. Many luxury cars could be seen - Mercedes-Benz, BMWs, and even Japanese models like [Toyota] Celsior - and yellow-bodied taxi cabs were everywhere.

Even Yu-san, who has recently been doing a lot of travel to the US on business, was somewhat flummoxed at this Asian chaos.

The main street bristled with high-rise towers, giving me an impression not too unlike that of Tokyo. On the other hand, once we entered the back streets, they were lined with stalls lit up by light-bulbs under their eaves, and were full of bright activity. Apparently after the introduction of market economics, stalls like these run by individual proprietors increased - and they stayed open for business until late at night. As far as Beijing's appearance went, it made you forget you were in a country ruled by a Communist party.
Yu Suzuki outside his Beijing accommodation (Novotel Beijing)
After we had dinner and were relaxing in our rooms, we had a visit from a Mr Xun. He had started his own software development company in Beijing and had a strong relationship with SEGA, and brought with him his interpreter, Mr Lin. Mr Xun was an expert on the state of Chinese martial arts, and he was in charge of arrangements for one of the highlights of our trip: the Beijing Wushu Team.

We went through an explanation of what research material we wanted to collect, and showed him a video clip of Virtua Fighter. He appeared to be quite amazed at how realistic the movements were, and the variety of characters.

He said that even in China, home console games and video arcades had at last started to become prevalent in cities. In particular, due to the effects of China's one-child policy, competition in entrance examinations was getting fierce, and he emphasized multiple times that releasing educational software would be a sure-fire hit. Yu-san commented that it was exhausting how, no matter where he went, as soon as he showed his business card a sales offensive would be launched.

After they had gone, over Chinese wine Yu started to talk intensely about the trip ahead.

"I can't put into words exactly why, but I'd like to go to see the grave of Li Shuwen.

"Li Shuwen was reputed to be a sacred Bajiquan figure, you see. In fact, I actually based part of Virtua Fighter's Akira on him. He is said to have been legendarily strong, and apparently he took the lives of several opponents in matches. While being someone who mastered the secrets of the art of Bajiquan, he carried a dark shadow with him, remaining single and eventually is said to have been assassinated or lost his mind.
One of the most famous Bajiquan practitioners, Li Shuwen
"I don't expect there will be anything in particular that I'll be able to make use of for Virtua Fighter II, but I have a kind of feeling that, by visiting the grave of someone who dedicated everything to Bajiquan, I'll be putting soul into Virtua Fighter II.

"To tell the truth, I don't even know whether he has a grave or not. But I believe that going to Cangzhou, which is his where he was born and is the birthplace of Bajiquan, has significant meaning.

"Even when I made a racing game, I drove a supercar myself, and actually trying it out on a course made a big difference. Knowing the real thing and not knowing it, is like chalk and cheese!

"Before setting out on this trip, I released a racing game called 'Daytona' , and at the beginning only a few of the development team owned a car, with many of them not even having a driver's license. But they did have plenty of experience at racing games, and hence were selected for the development, you see. After it had reached a certain degree of completion, I had a professional racing driver give it a go. The result was that he completely ripped it to shreds. He told us it was laughable.

"Until then, I had been holding back and leaving it over to them, but at last, they tearfully came to ask for my advice: 'Yu-san, we had had such confidence, and now... we don't know what to do.' So my advice was: buy a car, take it somewhere like Daikoku Pier [a man-made island in Yokohama known for its street racing meetings] and actually experience the sensation of drifting.

Upon which, of the 12 members of the team, three of them took out large loans and bought sports cars! A Supra, a Celica and an MR2. As well as that, two others ordered cars like a Karmann Ghia. And three people who didn't have a driving license started taking driving lessons and got a license. Following that, after modifying the game, the pro driver we had asked to test previously gave his stamp of approval, saying it was markedly more fun.

"The modifications made weren't particularly over-the-top ones like altering the program significantly, or completely remaking the hardware system. It was how if felt. Adjusting the feeling aspect just a little can bring it vastly closer to the real thing.
Daytona USA (two-player version)
"Ultimately, I want to produce the feeling. That's why I have to do things like try driving in a Porsche on an autobahn, a Ferrari through Monaco, a race car at the Fuji Speedway; or meeting with [former F1 racing driver Alain] ProstAnd, on this trip, what I want to do is to go out into the Chinese back-country and visit the grave."

In his ever-friendly laughing face, his eyes were serious.

Continue on to Part 5
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