Monday, June 7, 2021

Suka Pass New Release: How We Restored "Nozomi's Messages"

The latest version of Suka Pass, the fan-made Shenmue Passport, has just been released! I thought I'd talk through some of the new changes that the team has made this time, with a few thoughts and comments about what was involved with putting together the update this time.

Quick-Glance Summary Cards

After you've upgraded to a new version, we thought it would be helpful for the app to highlight the main latest features for those who don't dig into the details of the release notes. So we've added small "at-a-glance" summary cards like the one below, which pop up the first time you open the app after installation.

Eri's Camera (Screenshots)

Just like the original Shenmue Passport on which it is based, Suka Pass gives access to a lot of extra detail about characters and places not to be found in the main game, such as the official character biographies. 

The new Screenshots feature makes sharing any of the content in the app even easier. Just tap the camera icon, which is positioned initially at the bottom of the screen, at any time you would like to share the current app screen with other Shenmue fans or your followers of social media, then choose the sharing destination. The app will pop the image into a draft tweet / email / message etc, ready to send. It will even create a short text message that is tailored to the current screen you are on. The camera icon can also be moved anywhere on the screen if it ever interferes with viewing content. (We originally had a standard-looking camera icon, but decided to make it an instant-camera style icon, in keeping with the one Eri has!).

We've already started planning out some fun ideas for building on this feature in future versions.

Main Menu Updates

If you've been using the previous version, you may notice a minor revamp to the main menu items with some new entries we'll be covering below (Urgent Messages! and Nozomi's Messages) and some reordering which brings it even closer into line with the original Shenmue Passport. The Music Page can now be accessed by tapping on Tom's red stereo which now sits at the bottom right of the screen.

The Suka Pass menu screen

The original Shenmue Passport menu screen

Speaking of the music page, a number of music tracks have been added for your listening pleasure, including Nozomi's Confession - they'll all be marked with the "New" label. The track Borrowing Naoyuki's Bike is sure to conjure up the cut scene of Ryo calling in at Naoyuki's house late at night on his urgent rescue mission. "Don't drive too fast!"

New Section: Nozomi's Messages

Now we come to the main new feature of this release, which is restoration of the Nozomi's Messages section. Before now the app used to have a section with the same name with the app update notes, but  now its original use from the Shenmue Passport has been restored.

In this section, players could access clues and information from Nozomi to help them through the game. The Passport would know from the player's save file data how far through they had progressed to the story, and would detect whether they were truly "stuck" or not - presumably based on how much time they had spent wandering around without advancing the story - and Nozomi would offer a helpful clue or more information about items and places they had encountered.  

As with much of the content on the Shenmue Passport, for some reason the text clues and information were only available through an online connection, and so became inaccessible after Sega shut down the Shenmue Passport servers a few years after the game's release. Happily, after examining the various Japanese guidebooks about Shenmue the team had at hand, we discovered that one of them - the World Guidance - faithfully archived all the text entries.
Shenmue Chapter One ~Yokosuka~ World Guidance (Famitsu, May 2000)

The first step was for us to translate the entries from the guidebook into English...

The Information and Clue entries in Japanese are packed in densely-filled pages. I wonder how many players ever saw the original Information and Clue entries when the Passport was online.

Once this was done, we then turned it into a data file that the app could process. Together with obtaining the text, as with other areas of the app we extracted the original graphical and sound assets from the original Passport, and also added our own higher-resolution images to each of the original text entries to spice up the experience a little!

Rather than restricting access to certain entries based on progress like the original Passport, in Suka Pass we took the approach of making all items browsable - with a few safe guards to avoid spoiling the game for new players.

In the Information section, Nozomi will tell you all about places and people. The entries are generally grouped together by geographical area, but we've also made a separate "Plot Spoiler" section to avoid spoiling too much through casual browsing.

For the Clue section, in place of the app analyzing a user's save file, we've provided a "goal selector" which allows you to indicate your progress through the game by selecting Ryo's current objective. Nozomi may or may not have a clue to offer at each step - she may have one, two or zero clues.

If a Clue button is available, this can be tapped to display Nozomi's clue in a visual-novel style.

Although many fans will have completed the first game (many times over), we hope you enjoy browsing through these entries as they have some fun little details and extra lore that disappeared almost without trace all those years ago, and is not to be found elsewhere. 

If you have a favorite entry, why not share it out with the screenshot feature!

So where have the app release notes gone? They can now be found inside another new section, called Urgent Messages. The Shenmue Passport used this for messages about Shenmue-related news such as upcoming events or online competitions. We've retained the same layout (and music track) and placed the app release notes under an Updates page, which contains details about all the changes. There's also an archive of the earlier release notes, just for nostalgia's sake.

App release notes can be found on the Updates page.

The Topics page is reserved for future use, but we'd like to use it for live updates of some kind, such as Shenmue news bulletins - watch this space.

Finally, we have added a few quality-of-life enhancements to the app, such as most screens now "holding your place" when you go back to them. For example, the Music page will remember the playlist, song and play settings you had selected so it will be in the same state when you go back to it.

Download Here!

As always, Suka Pass is completely free and this latest version is out right now for Android and iOS devices.

Download Suka Pass via the app's official website.

Suka Pass Video Walkthrough

Suka Pass co-founder & co-creator SkillJim has put together a fantastic video walkthrough covering all the new features discussed above, as well as the features of the rest of the app. It's a really good and fun overview, and I highly recommend giving it a watch!

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