Thursday, June 17, 2021

Yu Suzuki on Stage at Network Jungle II: Digitaliland

This post is a translation of a report in the May 1999 edition of the Japanese Dreamcast Magazine about the Network Jungle II: Digitaliland event that was held in the months leading up to the release of Shenmue. During the event, a stage event was held in which Yu Suzuki, Hiroaki Takeuchi and Hidekazu Yukawa talked about the upcoming game.

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Recap and Comments from Yu Suzuki's Special Talk

Some incredible images were on show at this event, prompting us to ask ourselves "How on earth did they create that footage?" and wonder how far along Shenmue was in its development. The answers to these questions were to be found in the talk show with Yu Suzuki at 3:00 p.m. Many exciting things were said, including comments by Former Managing Director Yukawa!

Takeuchi: The presentation at the end of last year* made a huge impact, but this event is equally as amazing!
*[Note from Switch] The Shenmue Premiere event, first held in Yokohama in December 1998.
Suzuki: For this one, we put a lot of effort into creating the "Faces" for the four characters. It's not that we've been slacking up until now (laughs), but we wondered how far we could go if we put a little extra effort into it. This was the result. Naturally, as a game, a lot of other things have to be created such as events and so on, but I wanted to really focus on creating characters.

Two of the "faces" that featured on monitors at the event.

At first, I said that I wanted to make 16 of them for this event, but I got anguished cries from the development team (laughs). In the end, we were only able to make four of them in time. But we started making them all of a sudden. The high-res faces for this event were created by modifying the low-polygon ones, which took about two weeks of work to do. The eyes use reflection technology, and they really look like real eyes. However, it takes a lot of development time to make something like this, so I think only the main characters will be able to be taken to this point.

Mr. Hiroaki Takeuchi, famous as his alter ego "Mr. X", was among the panel, with Former Managing Director Yukawa also joining as a guest. Mr. Suzuki spoke with a smile, and divulged some important nuggets of information.

If possible, I'd like to use them in the main game as well, for the main characters.

Takeuchi: You know, it's nothing short of amazing that you were able to create such images on the Dreamcast.

Suzuki: If you're only aiming for a high number of polygons, that can be pulled off with various techniques, but what's difficult is getting the facial expressions right: matching the movement of the mouth and so while talking. For example, this character (a black sailor) speaks in English, and his lips are synchronized with his English pronunciation. And not just the lips, but his cheeks and the other facial muscles are synchronized as well. Generally speaking, usually the mouth patterns are adjusted to fit the voice recordings, but here, the voice data is instantly analyzed and the mouth movements are calculated in real time. In the future, I'd like to make it possible for a character to move as I'm speaking here in real time. If that becomes possible, that would really be interesting. It's all thanks to software technology.

High-res faces on the big screen. Not only do they look beautiful, but they also realize facial expression control.

Also, as of last night when I checked, in Shenmue Chapter One there are just under 200 characters in the residential areas (there are two: Dobuita and Sakuragaoka) alone. The harbor also currently has just under 50 characters, so the game may end up having more than 300 people. And the script is around 30 to 40 times larger than that of a standard movie. If you spend extra time playing games at the arcade and so on, gameplay time will be quite sizable.

Takeuchi: Some people call Chapter One, which comes out on August 5th*, a "prologue," but I wouldn't call a work of this size a "prologue" (laughs).
*Note from Switch: the game's release was subsequently delayed, with the playable "What's Shenmue" demo being made available on this date instead. The game's eventual release date in Japan was December 29th, 1999.
Suzuki: Also, I've been making driving games for a long time, so I've used that kind of technology to include a lot of different types of vehicles. You know, like motorcycles and bicycles (laughs).

An end-of-day commemorative photo.

Yukawa: Incidentally, in summer we'll be adding a camera and microphone to the Dreamcast to enable you to make video calls. We've got many developments planned, so please keep an eye out for them!

Suzuki: I'm also interested in voice audio. We weren't able to arrange it in time for today, but I'd like to do things like giving the audience a microphone and have them talk with Shenhua. I'd like to pursue this kind of technology in the future. With voice technology, the user interface becomes much simpler, you see. I've spent time on making games that are easy to play for the arcade. Voice audio is something I'll be watching closely going forward.

Moderator: Thank you very much for your time today.

Chairman Okawa, who came to the first day of the event, looked pleased with what he saw.

Shenmue and FREE (Journalist Diary Entry)

I entered the venue from the morning of the first day. I was immediately struck by the high-res face demo at the entrance. My companion and I uttered a series of "Hey, hey, hey, this is amazing! Woah!" Then I suddenly felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned around to see Yu-san there. "The faces are where we expended the most effort for today. Please take your time and enjoy it!", he said with a laugh. It goes without saying that, since I was already a bundle of nerves, my nervousness shot up even further. 

Although Yu-san didn't say anything about it on the day, I guess he was inspired by the video of the  recent PS2 presentation. His comment in an interview in the previous issue of this magazine was no coincidence: "I think you can make a high-quality character with 5000 polygons". If this high-end version of Chai uses only 10,000 polygons, then it's entirely feasible for it to be used in the game as well. 

I'm sure many event attendees must have been thinking, "What's the point in arguing about hardware".  However, the greatness of "Shenmue" is not limited to its graphics. Take the scene where Ryo buys a Coke from a vending machine in the city, stares at the label and then gulps it down. Just seeing it made me think "I can't wait to play!".

The games of today are all very similar to each other. There are a lot of studios that have no new ideas, and are still feeding off the legacy of the past. But I don't get that feeling with Shenmue. The scenes that I was able to play through were, as Yu-san promised, all much improved over the versions that had been at the (Tokyo) Game Show, and all of them had reached final-product level. And all of them were exciting and fun. It's hard not to get excited and wonder what kind of game we'll be able to play when all the elements I've outlined* start working together. This was a day that left me with a heightened sense of anticipation for the new "FREE".
* [Note from Switch] The following game elements from the event were highlighted elsewhere in the article: Minigames such as darts and slot machines; Shenmue Goodies VMU animations; the You Arcade; NPC daily schedules; the Shenmue 2 Cave Scene with Shenhua; vehicles in Shenmue; move training and instruction.

One of the new QTEs that was shown for the first time at the event was the "Drunk QTE". You won't be stop yourself wanting to see the fail sequence as well.

-- End of translation --

Source: Dreamcast Magazine 28 May 1999

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