Saturday, December 12, 2020

Where Did the Road Past Sumiya-san's House Originally Lead?

Situated as Sakuragaoka is, on the side of a hill, stone walls are a common sight along the roads that lead to and from the neighborhood. However there is one particular wall that feels a little out of place, and that is the wall that blocks off the end of the road that leads up past the house of Sumiya-san (who can often be found nearby, meticulously sweeping a patch of road near her house entrance).

But investigation of some of the unused map data for the game reveals clues that this road was once been going to continue onwards.

Let's have a look at what can be uncovered!

Ryo wonders if he could boost himself over using the trash can

An obvious place to start is to try moving the camera to observe what lies behind the wall. At first glance this merely seems to confirm that nothing of interest lies there, and that the road does indeed finish at the wall. However in the background, a distinct slope can also be noted:

From a higher angle: nothing of note can be seen immediately behind the wall (area in red) but there is a noticeable slope further in the distance.

Next, we'll investigate some of the data files that hold information about the maps for various areas of the game. 

Just before doing so, a quick word on the hacking and modding efforts by the community in recent years. Some brilliant tools have been produced which allow close examination of the assets of the Shenmue games, including those that are unused in the actual game but hold beta or alternative versions of the final areas.

One of these tools, named Wudecon (released by LemonHaze and incorporating work by PhilYeahz), allows full extraction of models from Shenmue I & II. It was thanks to this tool that the discovery below was made and announced by user Glumok who shared it on the Shenmue Dojo forums last year.

The game contain an unused set of files for a beta version of Sakuragaoka, and viewing this  map in a 3D model viewer provides a more conclusive clue about the road:

This beta version of Sakuragaoka shows a clear path for the road. (Model image: LemonHaze)

We can see that in fact the road did continue past Sumiya-san's house, and then turn a corner to the right. While the actual road surface ends at that point in the model, there is an open path remaining that reveals where the road once lay.  

Where things get even more interesting is when we examine a top-down view of the map.

With this version of Sakuragaoka, from above we see that the road was to have run up the hill and enter a large area that is encircled by a ring of greenery textures. There are no scenery objects remaining within, but the area itself is clearly defined.

Top-down view of an unused map of Sakuragaoka revealing the road leading to a large area at the top of the hill. (Satellite image by Glumok).

Looking back down over Sakuragaoka from that location gives a commanding view of the neighborhood, with Dobuita and office buildings in the distance.

Hill-top view (image: LemonHaze).

This leaves a lot of room for speculation as to what might have once been planned for this area, before it was scrapped and the now-familiar wall outside Sumiya-san's house was put in place across the access road. Perhaps it was to have held a completely separate neighborhood that turned out never to be required. Might it once have been where Yamanose and the Hazuki Residence were to be situated, before their final position? Or, it might have made a good location for Ryo's high school, "Suka High," that is mentioned in the game.

We may never know its original intended purpose, but it is fascinating to see remnants of development that are normally not obvious or visible during game play.

Update: we received a reply on Twitter from one of the former Shenmue developers regarding this mystery, who stated that nothing had been planned for this location. Thank you to @Mazin__  for the reply, which is most intriguing - and opens up more questions! Personally it will be hard for me to throw away the idea of Ryo having attended high school there!

Thanks to LemonHaze for providing images used in this post.

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  1. Fantastic article. Would love to know the original purpose of the beta area.

    1. Thanks Segalacious! (I'm leaning towards it being for Ryo's high school at the moment - in real-life Dobuita there is also a high school up on the hill above). I hope we can get confirmation about it one day!

  2. His high school would have been awesome. Wouldn't have even had to have much purpose but would have been cool to have as extra area

    1. Totally. There certainly would have been enough space for a baseball pitch and school buildings.

  3. Wow! it's so intriguing! Amazing discover, thank you!

    1. Thanks Hagner, Shenmue really has so much hidden depth!