Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A Mini-Map Was Once Considered for Shenmue I

Players of Shenmue II will be familiar with the mini-maps feature in that game, being displayed onscreen in Hong Kong, if Ryo has purchased a map for the area, and also later in parts of the Guilin section to mark Ryo and Shenhua's progress along the mountain paths.

Something that may come as a surprise is that a mini-map had also been considered for the first game of the series as well at one point in the development. This discovery was reported by user Mestre Ziming on the Shenmue Dojo forums in 2016.

Arriving at New Yokosuka harbor with the mini-map feature in place might have looked like this (mock-up)

The evidence for this lies in remnants left behind in the game files of the released Dreamcast version of the game. 

The area in which the mini-map would have featured was the New Yokosuka harbor, which makes sense as it has numerous buildings and roadways to navigate. The game files contain a complete mini-map image of the area, as well as a separate image for the red positioning dot.

This is the entire map image:

Yokosuka harbor mini-map image. (The filename is NAVIMAP.SPR, located in the folder Scene/02/MFSY of Shenmue's second & third discs).

Close examination of the map reveals small differences that match with earlier beta versions of Shenmue, most notably the shape of the submarine positioned alongside the warship at the top of the map (see our previous post for more information about the submarine's existence in pre-release versions of the game).

Inside the game's binary file, a few debugging text strings can also be found referring to the image file:

Loading NavigationMap : %s/NAVIMAP.SPR
UnLoading NavigationMap
Ryo with extra confidence in his step, thanks to the mini-map (mock-up)

However there is no other trace remaining in the game's logic. While it had been assumed that no further traces remained in the game code, an unused snippet of code that makes reference to the navigation map image has been unearthed by LemonHaze during an investigation of the Japanese Dreamcast version of the game!

An unused snippet of code showing a reference to the NAVIMAP.SPR file (image courtesy of LemonHaze)

If we consider why the mini-map was not kept in the game, one reason might have been to enhance immersion and keep a sense of realism in the investigation; rather than having a convenient map on screen, players would instead need to make use of the map signs posted around the area and the warehouse numbers painted on the roads.

Reality: Ryo ponders over one of the map signs at the harbor

Or, when it comes to Ryo's forklift job, having the mini-map would also have removed much of the navigation challenge for the routes - Mark's carefully-drawn map he gives Ryo at the start of each job might largely have gone unused!

So, overall, the decision not to keep it seems a sensible one.

Small traces in the game files such as this give us an interesting glimpse of some of the ideas that were considered - and potentially even fully implemented - during development, but ultimately were not included in the final version of the game.

Would you have liked to have seen a mini-map in the first game, or would it have been detrimental to the experience? Let us know!


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