Friday, December 17, 2021

Yu Suzuki Pre-launch Interview on Shenmue Town (Shenmue City) | 4Gamer 2010

Shenmue Gai (シェンムー街) was a Shenmue spin-off social game developed by YS Net and published by Sunsoft for Japan's largest mobile-based social game network, Yahoo! Mobage. It launched in Japan at the end of 2010, but the service was brought to a halt only a year later.

In November 2010, just before the game's official launch, Japanese gaming site 4Gamer spoke with Yu Suzuki, about the development of Shenmue Town and his aspirations going forward.

Note: leading up to launch, in English-language media the game was frequently translated as "Shenmue City", but in an interview with Gamasutra following the game's launch, Yu Suzuki expressed that the English word "city" felt too large for the game, and that the environment felt much more like a town. In keeping with Yu-san's guidance, we've used "Shenmue Town" for this article.

The translation begins below.

As reported in our recent article, the social game Shenmue Town was launched at the Akihabara UDX Theater in Tokyo on November 15th.

After the event, I had a chance to have a brief joint interview with Yu Suzuki, president of YS Net, who is in charge of the development of this game. In this interview, I asked him about the background to the release of Shenmue as a social game, as well as many other interesting points.
"For this destiny predetermined since ancient times"

"And thus the saga... begins"

4Gamer: Thank you for time today. First of all, can you tell us what inspired you to develop Shenmue Town?

Suzuki: I don't know if this will answer your question directly, but Shenmue is something with an immense and deep background, isn't it.

I do have the desire to create Shenmue III, giving it the same amount of content as the previous games, but getting started again on such a massive undertaking requires an appropriate amount of preparation. And of course, I also get requests from players, including those overseas, who want me to make it. For a long time now, I've wanted to take responsibility for the [future of the] series if I can, in some form or other.
YS Net president, Yu Suzuki.

4Gamer: I see.

Suzuki: I have always said that games are about rules. For example, in soccer, there is fun to be had by competing in a game with rules that prohibit the use of hands, but if the rules are different, there is a different kind of fun.

When we think of games, we tend to look for the best graphics and the best sound, but with different rules, we can take another approach and portray the world of Shenmue from another interesting angle by lowering that bar a little.

4Gamer: And hence you arrived at a social game?

Suzuki: When I first played a typical social game, one called Mafia Wars, I didn't get it at all at first, but after playing a while I found it to be quite fun.

I felt that there is really a lot of potential for mobile, PC, and social network games. If I'm able to successfully turn this into a series, it will create the opportunity to do it again in the future.
"Select a fighter to be your follower." 

4Gamer: I had been under the impression that the scenario for Shenmue consisted of 16 chapters in total, but I was quite surprised during your presentation to hear you say that there are 11 chapters.

Suzuki: I don't remember ever saying that I wrote 16 chapters. I wonder how it got turned into 16. I only made 11 - I think! (laughs).

But all I can do is to seize opportunities, and do whatever I can to make more chances. But I think it's best not to raise the players' expectations by saying too many things like that, and it can sound a bit pretentious.

4Gamer: There's certainly no guarantee that you'll be able to make as many as 11 games, is there.

Suzuki: For example, if I had the chance to do one every five years, I'd be dead before I could finish them all. (laughs) Or if I was to cut down the storyline to some extent and just use the highlights, I could probably complete it all with just the next one. I think it's going to be a matter of taking the "essence" of Shenmue, including the scale, budget, time frame, platforms, etc., and then figuring out how to shape it from there.

4Gamer: Is the amount of story content evenly distributed across the 11 chapters?

Suzuki: It's easier to understand the story and emotions when it's written in the form of a novel, so that's what I use as the basis for the game's script. So it's not in the form of a script or a blueprint that  can be used directly in the game as is.

But of course, I wrote it with the game in mind, so I made some assumptions about what I wanted to do with the game, such as using QTEs [Quick Timer Events] in a certain place, using a certain kind of system for an action scene, or using an algorithm that's like a psychological test in another place. After all, if it's not fun, then there's no point.

4Gamer: The up-coming Shenmue Town service to be launched will be the first chapter in Yokosuka, is that right?

Suzuki: Yes, that's right.

4Gamer: The player is to be a student at the Hazuki Dojo. Will they be playing alongside Shenmue's main character, Ryo?

Suzuki: The game wouldn't work if they were always with Ryo, so they'll occasionally meet him to do something with him, receive advice from him etc as the game progresses.

4Gamer: Essentially, you press the "explore" button and wander the streets of Yokosuka?

Suzuki: Yes, that's right. In Shenmue, new areas opened up when a certain number of "flags" [internal progress markers] had been triggered. In a similar fashion, this game is divided into smaller sections, and once you've cleared an area, you can move on to the next.
"Event: Think of a name for the kitten."

4Gamer: In Shenmue, time was as a limiting factor on your freedom; does Shenmue Town also incorporate the concept of time?

Suzuki: Yes. There is the concept of time, but it's more of a social networking thing than a Shenmue thing. For example, if you don't go to pick up your pay for your part-time job within 12 hours, you won't be able to receive it. Or if you don't go to a certain place within a certain number of hours, you won't get your allowance. In future, there will also be things like "go to pick something up in two hours" and things of that type.

4Gamer: What is Shenmue Town's battle system like?

Suzuki: You summon your friends, train to make yourselves stronger, then take on your enemies. Fights with underlings and fights with bosses are similar to each other. But with a boss, if you can't defeat them, you can't clear the stage, so you can't advance.
"Stray Dog" "Attack / Skills / Heal / Flee"

4Gamer: I think people expect social games and online games to let players to keep on playing without ending - is this the case for Shenmue Town too?

Suzuki:  For a social network game in the style of Shenmue Town, if we weren't to do things like providing new stages, adding new systems or new events, then the end will be reached.

The concept for the Shenmue game itself is that while it has a storyline, it's also fine just to wander around and have fun without progressing. But Shenmue Town isn't the type of game that can be played like that indefinitely, so we have to make an effort to actively manage the game so that people don't get bored.

4Gamer: Yes, I see.

Suzuki: With a game that has parameters, the more you play, the stronger you become. For example, let's say a game has 3 key attributes: at first they will form a small triangle*, but by focusing on increasing the strength attribute to create someone who's specialized for battles, you can give them a distinguishing characteristic. Eventually, once that parameter has reached its limit and can't go any higher, you can increase another parameter to expand the triangle.
Note from Switch: this is likely referring to the shape made when the attributes are plotted on a spider graph such as this:

I think something that makes a good social network game is where you can enjoy playing it a certain way as far as you can go, and then have a different kind of fun by doing something else; taking your time to try different things in turn to discover various fun aspects.

4Gamer: Even so, a limit will be reached eventually, won't it.

Suzuki: I think it's the fate of this type of game that players won't be satisfied unless the results are worth the effort, so it's really difficult.

In the end, the triangle becomes a big one, but if it becomes too big, in most games of this type, you have to add a new field and reset. But that would mean that the game is popular so people would still want to play it even after a reset. If that were the case, then it would mean Shenmue Town has been a huge success.

4Gamer: Regarding the Shenmue Town currently under development for Yahoo! Mobage, is it basically the same as the mobile phone version?

Suzuki: It's being developed in parallel with the mobile version, but right now we're focusing all of our efforts on the mobile version. Previously, I had been thinking of releasing it simultaneously, but I'd like to consider various adjustments while keeping an eye on mobile trends to make it more PC-like.

4Gamer: Finally, for those who are thinking of giving Shenmue Town a try, could you tell us your thoughts on the game?

Suzuki: Within the social network game genre, Shenmue Town is a bit complicated, so that's the only thing that worries me, but it has a lot of elements that make it easy to pick up and play; at the very least, it is very different other games.

For example, if at the mere push of a button the picture changes and someone appears and says something, that alone is fun I think, but in Shenmue Town's case the amount of content will set it apart from others of the same genre. It's quite difficult to incorporate a lot of variety into a social game today due to cost and other factors, but with Shenmue Town we have a lot of assets from the past and don't have to create everything from scratch, so that's something we've been able to achieve.

The fact that it is Shenmue is important, but 90% of the players may not know about Shenmue, so I think the game has to be playable by people without any preconceived notions about it.

Players also have their own preferences, so there will be people who don't care about the story, and there will be people who prefer more action. It's like comparing Japanese food and Chinese food: each has its own merits. There is also the question of how people will accept it, but at the very least, I hope that people will give it a try because it is a new kind of cuisine.

I hope people will include it among the social network games they're interested in, and try playing.

4Gamer: Thank you very much.

"Masayuki Fukuhara: why don't we do some serious sparring today?"

Source: 4Gamer 16 Nov 2010 (Japanese)
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