Saturday, August 1, 2020

Shenmue Forest Demo (1999 Digitaliland Event Promotion)

Shenmue Digitaliland Event Demo Software (1999)
Digitaliland event flyer, with screenshots from the software demo.
Image credit: James Brown

In an earlier post we covered the extravagant Shenmue promotional exhibition, which was named "Shenmue Forest",  at an event called Digitaliland at the start of May in 1999.

Related Post:
The Digitaliland event came just a month and a half after the 1999 Spring Tokyo Game Show (at which Shenmue was also promoted), but a lot of forethought and planning was put into making this this exhibition something that would dazzle attendees. Yu Suzuki and team even went as far as to build a special software demo that allowed the public to virtually experience what the upcoming exhibition would be like. Full-color flyers announcing the event were distributed using screenshots from the demo (see the title image)

In today's post we will look more closely at this special "Shenmue Forest" demo.

About the Shenmue Forest Software Demo


The Shenmue Forest hands-on demo appeared at the SEGA booth at the Tokyo Game Show in March '99. as a way to fan excitement for the upcoming exhibition, and ran on Dreamcast hardware.

The concept of the demo was simple: it allowed the player to navigate (as Ryo Hazuki) around a three-dimensional virtual model of the yet-to-be Shenmue Forest exhibition.
"The virtual space of 'Shenmue Forest' was able to be played on screen at this game show (TGS '99). Amazing!"
"A virtual recreation of 'Shenmue Forest' was able to be played on screen at this game show (TGS '99). Amazing!"

Shenmue Forest Demo: Entrance


Let's explore the virtual exhibition with the help of screenshots published at the time.

As Ryo approaches the exhibition entrance, he moves past a wall of monitors that show off the high-quality graphics of the game. (In the real exhibition these would show videos, but based on the screenshots it appears these were static images in the demo).

Past the monitors is a reception desk, and while there aren't any members of the public roaming around inside the demo, who should be on duty but Shenhua! It's not clear whether Ryo was able to interact with Shenhua in this demo.

Approaching the entrance to the exhibition.
Approaching the entrance to the exhibition.
In front of Shenhua is a sign reading "Information" and a stack of pamphlets. On the wall behind are two pieces of well-known Shenmue promotional art: one of Ryo in Hong Kong, and the other an excerpt from an image of Shenhua on a horse.

Left: Shenhua on duty at the reception desk. Right: detail of the poster images.
Left: Shenhua on duty at the reception desk. Right: detail of the poster images.
Comparing the demo to the appearance of the real exhibition held later, it can be seen that it was a remarkably close match - the color and style of the Shenmue logo being one small difference.
Photo of the actual exhibition held later in May 1999.
Photo of the actual exhibition held later in May 1999.


Shenmue Forest Demo: Busts & Art Gallery


After Ryo passes through the entranceway next to the reception desk, he finds himself surrounded by trees and bushes - as befitting the name "Shenmue Forest", and evoking the mountain forests of Guilin. Sitting on several pedestals are a number of illuminated character busts in transparent display boxes, representing the physical models that were created during development of the game.

Character busts on display in the Shenmue Forest demo
Character busts on display in the Shenmue Forest demo
Various pieces of Shenmue art are also on display, and Ryo is free to wander around and inspect them.
Some of the Shenmue art on display in the deom: Ren, Xiuying, Chai and Niao Sun.
Some of the Shenmue art on display in the demo: Ren, Xiuying, Chai and Niao Sun.
Here is the same area at the actual event:
Art gallery area at Digitaliland
Art gallery area at Digitaliland

Shenmue Forest Demo: Dreamcast Console Area


The largest area of the Shenmue Forest exhibition would be devoted to a space fitted out with Dreamcast consoles, where attendees could try hands-on play of Shenmue or even go online and view the Shenmue website.

This is all reproduced in detail in the demo (although without any interactive element), down to the Dreamcast controllers sitting on the tables. Signs indicate the various kinds of Shenmue gameplay that could be tried such as "Battle QTE" and "Gamble", as well as consoles dedicated to online activities in the "Internet" section.

The hands-on area of the Shenmue Forest demo
The hands-on area of the Shenmue Forest demo
Magazine photo of the same area at the actual event.
Magazine photo of the same area at the actual event.
Further interior screenshots from the demo (with "Free" and "Shenmue Goodies" section names).
Further interior screenshots from the demo (with "Free" and "Shenmue Goodies" section names).

The demo at Tokyo Game Show
The demo at Tokyo Game Show

Shenmue Forest Demo: Giant Screen


Another feature of the exhibition Ryo can visit in the demo was an area of seating with a giant screen.

The giant screen, showing a frame from a Shenmue II trailer (bottom right).
The giant screen, showing a frame from a Shenmue II trailer (bottom right).

Shenmue Forest Demo: Merchandise Corner


The demo even goes as far as modeling a merchandise area, complete with items on display. There are even boxes of merchandise on the floor behind the counter (although it would seem it is unstaffed).

Left: the merchandise area can be seen at the back on the right. Right: Ryo contemplates what to buy.
Left: the merchandise area in the demo (at the back, on the right). Right: Ryo surveys what's on offer.
Looking more closely at the right-hand screenshot above, a line of dark green carry bags can be seen on the right, likely modeled on the ones that were distributed at the Shenmue Premiere events. In front of Ryo is a number of Shenhua CD singles, and on the left what looks to be Shenmue mugs and some boxed items, possibly posters or calendars.
Shenmue merchandise: Niao Sun mug (left), Shenhua CD single (center) and carry bag from the Shenmue Premiere (right).
Shenmue merchandise: Niao Sun mug (left), Shenhua CD single (center) and carry bag from the Shenmue Premiere (right).

The Demo In Action!

A very brief glimpse of the demo running at Tokyo Game Show can be seen in a Japanese TV program called GameWave, where the presenter hijacks the controller from an attendee!

Above the booth is "Network Jungle II", referring to the upcoming Digitaliland event
Above the booth is "Network Jungle II", referring to the upcoming Digitaliland event

In Search of the Demo


This is a one-of-a-kind software demo that was created specially by AM2 for promotion of the Digitaliland exhibition, and it has a unique place in Shenmue's history that is crucial to preserve. But I know many in the Shenmue community are dying to know if a copy of this demo still exists anywhere. Could it still be lying somewhere in SEGA's vaults, or at the home of one of the former developers? I have not come across any information at all on its fate.

If anyone has information to share about the demo or may be able to help find out about its fate... leave a comment below! It would be incredible if more could be discovered about this demo, and a playable version of it could one day be located.

Sources:
  • Dreamcast Magazine features (1999 Vols. 15, 16, 16 Extra Edition)
  • Archived pages from Shenmue.com
  • GameWave TV broadcast 7 April 1999
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