Saturday, August 22, 2020

Ryo's Bicycle Riding Ability - Part One | Cut Content

Ryo's Bicycle Riding Ability- Part One | Cut Content

Ryo makes use of various modes of transport to move around the world of Shenmue, including buses, motorcycles, ships and ferries - not to mention forklifts. However, one ability which had been widely anticipated but turned out not to be present in the final release is the ability to ride a bicycle.

Anticipation had been fueled prior to the release of the first two games with teases in game magazines and even promotional video footage that Ryo riding a bicycle around his neighborhood. But in the end this feature did not eventuate in either of the games despite development having seemingly been well-advanced.

We've gathered together as much information as we can find and over the course of two parts we will build up a picture of what may have been planned for this feature. 

Ryo's Bicycle Riding: "What's Shenmue" VHS Promotional Footage

In June 1999, a 30-minute promotional video tape named "What's Shenmue" (not to be confused with the game demo which was confusingly given the same name) was distributed in Japan ahead of the game's release, introducing some of the game's main gameplay features.
What's Shenmue VHS tape
What's Shenmue VHS tape

It is within this video that public was treated to an extensive clip of Ryo riding a bicycle around Dobuita. As the accompanying narration explains, the feature allowed Ryo to adjust his speed, and even to free-wheel down slopes:
"Shenmue provides more than just the town and its people. Various forms of transportation are also provided. This is one of them. Let's talk about the bicycle. The bicycle is no exception in the game's pursuit of realism. When going fast, you pedal standing up. Naturally, on a downward slope you travel along even if not pedaling. It looks really enjoyable, doesn't it?"
Watch the bicycle section from the What's Shenmue video below, over which I have laid some matching animations that were recreated from the game data - we will look at some more of these in the next section.

As can be seen in this clip, wide range of interactions had been developed, including raising the kick-stand and getting on, pedaling at both normal and fast speeds, steering, cruising without pedaling, looking around while moving, braking and dismounting.

It appears that Ryo was able to steer freely around the streets, or to stop and abandon his bicycle where he wished. It is interesting to consider whether the intention was for Ryo to be able to ride down to Dobuita from his house - or perhaps even at the harbor, if he found a bicycle there to borrow - but no such footage has been uncovered of him riding elsewhere in the first game.

Ryo's Bicycle Riding: Other Animations on the Game Discs

Given that it was highlighted as part of a promotional video as late as June, when the game was released in Japan at the end of the same year, it points to the bicycle riding feature being removed at a late stage in the game's development.

And indeed, a set of unused data for Ryo's bicycle riding animations is present in the game files. With the help of modern tools, we can view these animations today.

As well as the animations seen in the previous section, there are many others covering all sorts of possible situations. Below is a sample of some of these (which I posted a few years back on the Shenmue Dojo forums).

(Mounted) Ryo rests on the handle bars:
(Mounted) Ryo rests on the handle bars

(Dismounted) Ryo moves the bicycle to the side:
(Dismounted) Ryo moves the bicycle to the side

(Dismounted) Ryo turns his bicycle to face in the opposite direction:
Ryo turns his bicycle to face in the opposite direction

(Mounted) Ryo turns his bicycle to face in the opposite direction:
(Mounted) Ryo turns his bicycle to face in the opposite direction

(Mounted) Ryo waits idly:
(Mounted) Ryo waits idly

Why Was the Bicycle Riding Removed?

When the first game was released, the missing bicycle riding ability did not go unnoticed by reviewers and players.


Comment from AM2

A brief official response from AM2 was published in a Dreamcast magazine following the release, although they played their cards close to their chest:
Dreamcast Magazine: In the video that was distributed during last summer's "What's Shenmue" promotion, Ryo could be seen riding a bicycle in the video, but upon actually playing Chapter One, it seems this isn't possible. What happened?

AM2: "Unfortunately, the ability to ride a bicycle in Chapter One was removed. You will be able to ride a motorbike when going to rescue Nozomi from being kidnapped, so please enjoy that".
The journalist added a note after this to say "Fingers crossed for the second game" (which unfortunately also did not come to be!).

Q&A with AM2
Above: a magazine journalist's comment on the fact that Ryo is not able to ride a bicycle in the game: "Characters like Wang from Manpukuken Ramen and the noodle delivery person can ride, but not Ryo... I'll buy you a soda if you'll let me have a quick ride!"

Fan Theories

In the months and years that followed, fans speculated on bulletin boards and forums about possible reasons the feature might have been withdrawn, such as:
  • Technical limitations - for example, with the graphical processing required to handle movement at speed within an environment full of other moving characters and vehicles.
  • The inclusion of an area jump feature from Ryo's house directly to Dobuita made a bicycle unnecessary.
  • Time constraints: while the bicycle was in an advanced stage, with the pressure of releasing the game as soon as possible, there might not have been enough time to resolve all the issues in a satisfactory manner. Aspects that would need to be solved include how to smoothly handle the bicycle's behavior on steep slopes in both directions such as between Ryo's house and Dobuita, or the traffic congestion Ryo could cause by leaving his bicycle in the middle of a busy street!
  • Impracticality: you would encounter many obstacles such as other riders and pedestrians as you navigated through Dobuita, forcing you to stop time and time again.


Interviews with members of the original development team have shed some light on the reason for its removal.

Yu Suzuki commented during the Q&A session at GDC 2014 that it was a feature he had really wanted to include, but "gave up" on the idea of including it but is something :

Q: A long time ago, there was a video of Ryo riding a bicycle in Yokosuka. I never found it in game and was wondering did it ever get cut.

YS: Certainly, there were so many things that I had to eventually give up trying to get into the game. In Shenmue, for example, taking the bicycle or hopping onto a transportation vehicle would get you from Point A to B quicker, so that’s something I really wanted to do but, in the end, you know, we can’t get everything into the game. So there’s a lot of things we had to give up on.

While the above words are from the interpreter, there was a detail missed from the Japanese where Yu stated (without giving specifics) that the reason was they "ran into various problems" with it.

Yu Suzuki at GDC 2014
Yu Suzuki at GDC 2014

Lead programmer Tak Hirai indicated in a 2014 interview his recollection that the core reason was that it simply was not required in the end:

"I personally think that we had to cut this feature out from the game because there wasn’t a significant enough advantage for the player to ride a bike through the city over simply running around in Yokosuka."


Bike Bros (Mod)

The bicycle was surely never intended to be ridden between Dobuita and the harbor, but thanks to BlueMue's creative modding skills, we can see it zipping along the highway as Ryo is rescued by Goro and taken safely back home (wait... what?).

Final Comment

A lot of development work was clearly put into the bicycle feature, even if it was scrapped before completion. It is amusing to imagine the motion capture being carried out at the time for the many bicycle-related actions - a quick count of the more easily-identifiable animation names reveals 36 of these at least. At the same time if it would not have brought a great benefit, in the first game at least, then the decision to remove it was probably for the best.

Ryo rides past Tony and Smith (What's Shenmue VHS video still)
Ryo rides past Tony and Smith (What's Shenmue VHS video still)

This is the end of Part One, but our investigation will continue in a second part, as it turns out that the bicycle riding feature was actually created initially for inclusion in Shenmue II. We'll look at what had been planned for it next time.

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