Saturday, November 19, 2022

Interview with Shenmue Martial Arts Advisor Tetsuya Hattori and Masaya Matsukaze (Feb 2000) | Translation

Translation of a four-page feature interview from early 2000 with Tetsuya Hattori, Bajiquan master and martial arts director for Shenmue, along with Masaya Matsukaze, the Japanese-language voice and motion capture actor of the game's protagonist Ryo Hazuki.

When younger, Hattori had studied under Bajiquan grandmaster and friend of Yu Suzuki, Master Wu Lian Zhi, and went on to found his own Bajiquan school within Japan called Kaimon Kensha.

This topic was selected by the Phantom River Stone blog patrons via our monthly poll on the Phantom River Stone Patreon and was available for early access. Thank you for your support!

Tetsuya Hattori and Masaya Matsukaze: The Two "Ryo"s Talk About What Makes Shenmue Great


Tetsuya Hattori, martial arts supervisor for the huge Shenmue project, and Masaya Matsukaze, who plays the leading role - two people for who you could say the story's main protagonist, Ryo Hazuki, is like their other self - talk about what makes the world of Shenmue so captivating and about what lies in future.
Instructor Hattori corrects the stance of the Elbow Assault.

The photo above shows how Hattori taught Bajiquan (Japanese: hakkyoku-ken) during Shenmue's development. He also took part in a number of other activities, including the motion capture for everything relating to Bajiquan and Chinese martial arts, checking the form of moves, adjusting the game's battle system, and creating the scenarios and descriptions for all move scrolls in the Shenmue Passport. Despite this, he is usually a very mild-mannered person. He is also a big fan of the Sakura Wars series.

About Tetsuya Hattori


Born in Tokyo in 1959. He has been interested in martial arts since his youth and began practicing Chinese martial arts, mainly Xingyiquan, in his early 20's. In 1986, he commenced training in Bajiquan under the 7th generation master, Wu Lian Zhu upon the master's first Japan visit, and studied the Wu family's Bajiquan in Mengcun, China. In 1996, he founded Kaimon Kensha, an association specializing in Bajiquan, under the official approval of Master Wu Lian Zhu. In Mengcun he was certified as an 8th generation master of Bajiquan and is currently the only Japanese official disciple of Master Wu.
Tetsuya Hattori

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Thursday, November 17, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for November

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"Weekly AM2 Vol. 7: Mini-Interview with Eigo Kasahara"

The topic selected this time is a translation of the next issue of the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 team back in the day, the Weekly AM2. This magazine published content about the Shenmue series from December 1999 through to around the release of Shenmue II in 2001, and a link to issues of the Weekly AM2 thereafter became a regular feature of the Shenmue.com website.


This edition, from January 2000, features a mini interview with Eigo Kasahara, whose chief role was Planning Director of the original Shenmue games. He was also in charge of the Shenmue Passport disc that came with the first game, and many years later was later responsible for the localization of Shenmue I & II.

Coming soon to the blog!





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Monday, October 24, 2022

Tak Hirai Comments on the Shenmue Saturn Version

Lead programmer for the first two Shenmue games, Tak Hirai, has shared some insights into the development of the games in some tweets today. Since they were in Japanese, we have provided English translations.

When asked about the legendary Shenmue Saturn version, he responded:

"The rendering was created by me with much effort. The program was quite revolutionary with a branchless structure. The source code - as well as the graphics - is something I'd love to show the coders of the day".

He also shared a photo of himself during development of Shenmue around 1998 / 1999 at age 27. As lead programmer on the project, Tak said that his dev environment was sizeable but the air conditioning didn't work properly (note the paper fans ready for use!).

Regarding the Shenmue Saturn version, Tak Hirai's prefaced his comment with a light-hearted note that he thinks the "statute of limitations" (on discussing the Shenmue Saturn version) should have expired by now - so hopefully we will be able to hear more from him in future on this topic.

Source tweets: Tweet1, Tweet2


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Monday, October 10, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for October

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"Tweeted anecdotes from former developer on the original Shenmue project, Morio Ashizuka"

"Morio Ashizuka" is the pseudonym used on Twitter by a former developer who was deeply involved with development of the first two Shenmue games, in particular character animations and motion capture. He tweets prolifically about video games, SEGA and other topics - along with occasional fascinating insights and anecdotes from the day.

Some of the amazing details from Morio Ashizuka's tweets that we have included here on the blog in the past include:

Cover of one of the "The Legend of Akira" script books (Chapter Four: Guilin) tweeted by Ashizuka. Source tweet
In this upcoming post we'll be translating a selection of other Shenmue-related tweets from Ashizuka that shed further light on the game's development process.

Watch for it to come!
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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Shenmue Anime Real-life Location Photo Report: Yokosuka Arena

The depiction of the high school karate tournament that Ryo attends in Shenmue The Animation was based on a real-life multi-purpose sporting venue known as the Yokosuka Arena. Previous posts on this blog have shown how remarkably closely the stadium interior and building exterior were reproduced for the anime.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Yokosuka Arena and obtained permission to go inside the main hall itself. I was pleased to discover that even minor backdrops in the anime such as the stairs leading up to the seating were faithfully portrayed in the anime, as you will see in the additional comparisons below.

Although this view was not shown in the anime, the Yokosuka Arena complex consists of several buildings, with a futuristic elevated pedestrian skybridge joining separate areas together. The main stadium, where the karate tournament took place, is at the far side behind the skybridge:

When I visited, there was a Tai Chi class taking place in the main stadium, which helped to provide a suitable Shenmue atmosphere:

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Saturday, September 10, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for September 2022

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"Yu Suzuki's Dobuita St Visit Video with Esra Krabbe: English Subtitles"

Earlier this year (2022), a promotional campaign was held in Yokosuka to celebrate the Shenmue anime, with a livestream event, guide maps, postcards, merchandise and gacha gacha games.

Yu Suzuki also traveled down to Dobuita to take part in the celebrations, and explored the area with IGN Japan journalist Esra Krabbe. Together they visited several shops in and around Dobuita, chatting with shopkeepers and examining some of the anime art that was on display as part of the promotion.

It is heartwarming to see the creator himself returning to the actual location on which the first game was based, and hear him reminiscing about the creation of Shenmue I and the anime.

As many fans outside of Japan may not be able to follow the Japanese conversations, we'll be working on translating the conversations into English to create subtitles for the video. 


An announcement will follow on the blog once the subtitles are complete!

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Who is Yoshio Goto? | What's Shenmue

The What's Shenmue demo was released in June 1999 in Japan as a preview of some of the characters and gameplay gamers could expect prior to the main game's release. You may recall that it has the simple premise of Ryo having to locate Sega executive Mr. Yukawa somewhere in Dobuita, and to protect him.

Ryo's notebook starts filled with an entry indicating that "Yoshio Goto" (後藤喜男) has entrusted him with this mission, which Ryo also mentions in his short conversation with his friend Tom at the hot-dog truck.

What's Shenmue: the first page of Ryo's notebook (2014 fan-translated version)

Ryo explains his mission to Tom.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Interview with Singer of Shenhua's Theme IOLI | Dreamcast Magazine 1999

In early 1999, to mark the upcoming release of Shenhua's Theme as a CD single, Japan's Dreamcast Magazine featured this interview with IOLI (derived from her surname 伊織 Iori), the singer who performed the moving vocals on the track. She also sang live at the Shenmue Premiere in Yokohama in December of 1998.

There is not a great deal of information to be found about this singer online, even on Japanese-language sites, so this is a short but rare snippet of history.

Special Report! Shenhua Theme Releasing on April 1st (CD Single & Album)!

Shenmue

  • SEGA
  • Release scheduled for this Spring
  • Price: TBD
  • FREE (Full Reaction Eyes Entertainment)

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

[Part Ten] The Secret of Miao Village: Extra Dialogue & Facts Collected

We will come back to examine this image more closely in this post!

Previously in this series, we walked through the entire sequence of events (first halfsecond half) that would likely have taken place during Ryo's visit to Miao Village, based on the dialogue text files from the Game Jam prototype build of Shenmue II.

This time, we will run through extra dialogue and interactions Ryo can have with various characters. These aren't necessarily part of the main story flow, but they shed more light on the relationships and personalities of the villagers.

Note: in some places in the dialogue files, varied responses from a character can be identified with respect to a single query from Ryo. This may indicate where a different response is picked (perhaps at random) each time Ryo asks the same question.

Miscellaneous Dialogue



Miscellaneous Dialogue: Yiming Ke

Yiming Ke is the elder brother of Rong and son of Cuili. Although his character didn't feature in our previous story summary posts, he is one of the most specific in his directions about how to find certain landmarks, adding to our knowledge of Miao Village's layout.

Yiming Ke (character model: YKM)

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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Dissecting SEGA's Shenmue Patent: Magic Weather & Magic Rooms

In today's post we will examine a patent application submitted by Sega back in 1998 relating to the generation of graphics suitable for interactive role playing games (RPGs), with the inventors listed as Yu Suzuki, Takeshi Hirai, Kazuo Kondo and Kazunori Masuda.

While Shenmue itself is not mentioned by name within the document, of course, the concepts described within can be readily recognized as pertaining to the soon-to-be-published game series. This includes two algorithms in particular for the automated generation of in-game content that were designed to save having to store vast amount of data on the limited space afforded by physical discs: Yu Suzuki dubbed these Magic Weather and Magic Rooms. We will focus on these two systems in this post.

The patent document contains 24 pages in total, over half of them being diagrams and flowcharts. 

The US patent document contains 24 pages

As a whole, the patent brings together a number of concepts that describe what we know today simply as the "game engine". The motivation was to ensure that the Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) receives display data fast enough to ensure that the display is updated frequently enough to maintain smooth output. The game prepares and sends a single image, or "frame", to the GPU in a never-ending loop. This means that the game's logic processing must be handled efficiently in the time period between one frame being sent to the GPU to be displayed, and the next.

An English-language version is available in the form of the US patent application document, from which the diagrams in this post have been sourced. The language used in the English version is rather stilted and confusing, so relevant snippets of text have been translated from the Japanese original in preference. Additional color images have been included for illustrative purposes.

Before diving into the patent itself, let's have a brief recap on what these two systems are about.

Thanks to LemonHaze who provided technical explanations and information about the implementation in the first two Shenmue games.


Magic Weather


Revolutionary when featured in Shenmue, the "Magic Weather" system controls the ever-changing climate and weather conditions experienced during play.


In the "Making Of" video documentary about Shenmue produced by NHK in 1999, the narrator introduced it as follows:
"The game contains a system that realistically recreates the weather and other natural phenomena. That system is called Magic Weather. In the game, the weather changes as time passes: fine, cloudy, rainy. These changes are based on the long-term weather data for Yokosuka, the town in which the game is set.

"Let's consider a case in the actual game where it is, say, fine one day and rainy the next. The weather conditions encountered by the player will differ depending on how they go through the game. For a player that moves ahead rapidly, they may visit a certain house on a fine morning. On the other hand, a player who plays more slowly may end up visiting the house the following night in the rain."
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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for August 2022

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"Interview w/ martial arts instructor Tetsuya Hattori and Masaya Matsukaze (Dreamcast Magazine, Feb 2000)"

In this post we will be translating a four-page feature interview from early 2000 with Tetsuya Hattori, Bajiquan master and martial arts director for Shenmue, along with Masaya Matsukaze, the Japanese-language voice and motion capture actor of the game's protagonist Ryo Hazuki.

When younger, Hattori had studied under Bajiquan grandmaster and friend of Yu Suzuki, Master Wu Lian Zhi, and went on to found his own Bajiquan school within Japan called Kaimon Kensha.


The interview translation will be posted up to the blog in the near future.

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Monday, August 8, 2022

[Part Nine] The Secret of Miao Village: Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events (Cont.)

In this post we complete our examination of the Key Story Beats for the Miao Village arc with the final entries 7 to 10, highlighting conversations found in the recent Game Jam prototype of Shenmue II.

Miao Village Story Arc Recap to This Point, Entries 1-6:

Ryo speaks with Zhang, who claims to be Yuanda Zhu's aide and asks Ryo to retrieve the second volume of the Wulinshu martial arts book from a man named Kongzheng Luo who lives in Miao Village. Ryo volunteers to assist the elderly owner at Sunny Capital Pharmacy by delivering some herbs to Miao Village by bicycle, together with his niece Xiaoqing. After carrying out this task, Ryo then asks passers-by as to Kongzheng's whereabouts and learns that he was killed two weeks earlier.

We now pick up again with Ryo looking for a way to get inside Kongzheng's house, which is locked up, to search for more clues about his death.


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Monday, August 1, 2022

[Part Eight] The Secret of Miao Village: Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events

Recently, a previously-unseen Shenmue II prototype was successfully purchased at an online auction and, thanks to the generosity of the group behind the purchase, it was shortly afterwards released to the community. This discs were marked "Game Jam," which was the name of an event that occurred in April 2001.

Related post:
Perhaps one of the biggest questions at the forefront of the minds of many fans was whether the prototype would help reveal anything more on the topic of the legendary Miao Village that had been cut early in development.


And this proved to be the case! Shortly after the prototype's release to the community, the discovery of a wealth of Miao Village related dialogue content on the discs, in the form of Japanese subtitle files for conversations and events, was announced on the Shenmue Dojo forums by veteran Shenmue hacker LanDC (link to thread and discussion) with detailed explanations of several key conversation sections.

It is now possible to piece together a comprehensive picture of the cut story content, and confirm at last what had once been theories and suppositions: how Miao Village was to have been integrated into the main story, details of the bicycle quest with Xiaoqin, and the true meaning of the dialogue seen in the AM2 screenshots all those years ago.

Starting with today's post, we will be presenting as much of the newly-found Game Jam dialogue as possible, and present it in a logical order that reflects the most likely sequence of events relating to the Miao Village content.

Notes:
  • The conversations shown here have been translated from the Japanese dialogue data extracted from in the Game Jam discs. The original Japanese text is also provided for reference with each conversational interaction.
  • The original dialogue content that remains on the Game Jam version covers only a subset of all the characters that would have once been part of the Miao Village subplot, however it is still substantial enough to draw useful conclusions.
  • Some notes have been added in italics, such as to indicate when a character is pointing, or when new information has been learned that gives Ryo a new objective. These are speculations based on the dialogue context.
  • The Shenmue II order has been followed for the names of Chinese characters e.g. Lishao Tao (rather than Tao Li Shao). 
  • A selection of conversations with various characters has been included, included repeated questioning, to demonstrate the variety of interactions through which Ryo is able to acquire clues.

Miao Village Story Arc: Key Story Beats


Below are the key story beats that can be identified in the cut subplot. They have been assembled into an order that appears to fit the content best. 
  1. Cut Scene: Meeting Zhang & a Mission to Retrieve the Second Volume of the Wulinshu
  2. Searching for a Way to Miao Village
  3. Visiting Sunny Capital Pharmacy & a Bicycle Delivery Quest
  4. Medicine Delivery at Miao Village
  5. Looking for Kongzheng Luo's House
  6. A. The Fate of Kongzheng Luo
    B. Master Yunhai's Friendship with Kongzheng Luo
  7. A. Finding a Way to Enter Kongzheng Luo's House
    B. Obtaining the House Key
    C. Identifying the Boy in the Photo
  8. Talking with Zhengye Luo
  9. Cut Scene: Visiting Master Yunhai at Miao Guang Temple
  10. Delivering the Wulinshu to Zhang
We'll run through each of these in detail.

Starting Point of the Miao Village Cut Content


The first relevant dialogue is a cut scene, that takes place with Yuanda Zhu's aide, Zhang. At this point in the story, it can be assumed that the following events have occurred as they do in the release version of the game:
  • Ryo has met Lishao Tao and discovered the Wulinshu in the library at Man Mo Temple. Inside the book he found a note with the Chawan Sign, which serves as his next clue to locating Yuanda Zhu.
  • After making the Chawan Sign at the Dou Jiang Diner, he has met with a man in a brown suit, who we later find out is named Zhang, who revealed that he serves Yuanda Zhu. However before Ryo had a chance to ask him any questions, several thugs burst into the restaurant and abducted Zhang.
  • A QTE event played out in which Ryo chases after the thugs - dodging a watermelon projectile in the process - and Zhang was rescued, thanks to the invisible help of Xiuying.
Ambush at the Dou Jiang Diner (screenshot from release version)

This brings us to the likely point of the first scene of cut content we will be looking at, in which Ryo talks with Zhang once again after the thugs have been defeated.
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Thursday, July 21, 2022

Weekly AM2 Vol. 6: Interview with Shenmue Design Director, Masanori Oe | 18th Jan 2000

In this series we translate Shenmue content from Weekly AM2, the official online magazine published by Sega's AM2 development team back in the day. News and information about the Shenmue series could be found regularly within these pages from the end of 1999 through to 2001 with the release of Shenmue II.

Vol. 6 contains an interview with Shenmue Design Director, Masanori Oe. There is also an announcement for a soon-to-be-released strategy guide book, and an outline of the Network Ranking competition.

-Switch


 

Vol.6: 2000.1.18

Hello! This is Takuan.

A lot of people are catching colds, aren't they. Is everyone okay? Let's keep our spirits up this week, and blast our colds away!

This week's contents:
  • Interview with Shenmue Design Director, Masanori Oe
  • Shenmue Strategy Book Information
  • i-mode Gallery Image #2
  • Network Rankings Prizes!
  • Play Shenmue at the World Hobby Fair!

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Wednesday, July 13, 2022

[Part Seven] The Secret of Miao Village: Content Reborn | Shenmue III

Welcome to Part Seven of our analysis of cut-content screenshots of the mysterious "Miao Village" and temple that were revealed in 2002 on the Shenmue.com website by AM2, Yu Suzuki's development team at Sega.

Parts in the series:

  1. Village Screenshots Analysis
  2. Village Content Left Behind
  3. The House in Xiuying and Ziming's Flashback
  4. Temple Screenshots Analysis
  5. Temple Content Left Behind 
  6. The Original Plan for Miao Village in Shenmue II
  7. Content Reborn [this post]
  8. Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events
  9. Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events (Cont.)
  10. Extra Dialogue & Facts Collected

Traces of Original Miao Village Dialogue

Before diving into the post, you may be aware of the exciting news since the previous part in this series, with a previously unseen Shenmue prototype - known as the "Game Jam" prototype from the event for which it was created - being acquired at auction by a small group of fans and generously shared with the community. Not only does it hilariously contain a Yu Suzuki character model, but a set of conversational dialogue subtitles that directly relate to Miao Village was discovered hidden within the files. These finally allow us to piece together many missing pieces of the puzzle and put to rest certain questions held over so many years.

In today's part, however, we look at how several of the concepts that had been planned for the scrapped Miao Village ended up appearing in partial or reworked form, many years later, in the most recent game in the series: Shenmue III.

Thanks to George & Joe Kitchen for their helpful input.


Bailu Village & Its Inspiration


As concluded in the previous part, Miao Village was to have been located in the vicinity of Wan Chai, Hong Kong. It was not planned to represent the story's Bailu Village, which is located much further north in the Guilin region of China - however, they do share many similarities.

As Ryo travels with Shenhua over the mountains of Guilin in Shenmue II, she talks often about 
Bailu Village, and the various conversations with her during the walk portray a small, closely-knit but isolated village. (A full set of the conversations with Shenhua can be found here on BlueMue's video channel).

Here is a selection of information learned from Shenhua about Bailu village during the journey:

  • Bailu Village is one of the oldest villages in Guilin, existing since the Tang Dynasty
  • It has a population of about 50 people.
  • The village well is the source of drinking water.
  • Most houses are made from wooden pillars and earthen walls. There are also houses made from stone. Glass is not used because once broken, it can't be repaired. Shenhua's house is like a typical house in the village.
  • A picture of a god is placed at the entrance to a house to protect from devils and evil spirits.
  • Most villagers cultivate the fields and own water buffalo or goats. Horses are also kept for transportation.
  • One of the villagers has a huge carp. Carp are cooked on New Year's or when there's something to celebrate.
  • The village also has ancient buildings that housed treasures and rare items, protected by strong walls, built long ago by the nobles from the city.
  • There is a herbal pharmacy but no hospital in the village.
  • Stone lions are placed at road intersections.

Regarding the inspiration for Bailu Village, Yu Suzuki has stated that is inspired by ethnic Chinese villages such as those of the Miao people:
"There are villages called Miao villages that belong to an ethnic minority. Ethnic minorities like the Miao, Iyan or Kam inhabit villages in the interior region of Guilin. I'm creating Bailu Village with those kinds of villages in mind".

- Yu Suzuki (Shenmue Master interview at Gamescom 2017, Germany)  

This would imply that the ideas and designs from Miao Village would fit equally as well in Bailu Village, and there is evidence that this is the case in the rendition of Bailu that made its appearance in Shenmue III.

Yu Suzuki at Gamescom in 2017 (Shenmue Master interview)

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Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for July 2022

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"Sega's Patent Application for Magic Weather & Magic Rooms"

Magic Weather


Revolutionary when featured in Shenmue, the "Magic Weather" system controls the ever-changing climate and weather conditions experienced during play.


In the "Making Of" documentary about Shenmue produced by NHK in 1999, the narrator introduced it as follows:
"The game contains a system that realistically recreates the weather and other natural phenomena. That system is called Magic Weather. In the game, the weather changes as time passes: fine, cloudy, rainy. These changes are based on the long-term weather data for Yokosuka, the town in which the game is set.

"Let's consider a case in the actual game where it is, say, fine one day and rainy the next. The weather conditions encountered by the player will differ depending on how they go through the game. For a player that moves ahead rapidly, they may visit a certain house on a fine morning. On the other hand, a player who plays more slowly may end up visiting the house the following night in the rain."

Famously, the first game even includes historical data for the actual 1986/87 weather in Yokosuka, which can only be enabled after clearing the game.

Yu Suzuki highlights the weather system at the Shenmue Premiere in Yokohama

Magic Rooms


The second system, "Magic Rooms", refers to the use of a set of rules to automatically decide the layout of furniture across a large number of rooms. Its use in Shenmue II can be famously seen in the rooms of the buildings in Kowloon.


Yu Suzuki once described Magic Rooms as follows:
"When we were making Kowloon Walled City, I wanted to put everything in the rooms we made. There were thousands of rooms, and I wanted all of them to be free to roam. The designer told me it was impossible, so I thought there was no use in entrusting that task to him (laughs), and that’s when I thought, we could just make the program create them itself."

 

Examining the Patent Application


In 1998, Sega Enterprises filed a patent application outlining a number of new algorithms, with Yu Suzuki listed as the inventor. Although the algorithms were not given a specific name, two of them - Magic Weather and Magic Rooms - can be recognized from the details given.

In this upcoming post, we'll examine relevant sections of the patent and see how they were described and perhaps learn some more about how the systems work behind the scenes.
A chart from the patent application, specifying changing weather conditions

Coming soon to the blog!

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Monday, July 4, 2022

"Soccer Bingo. One game, 100 yen." | Real Life Smart Ball

Players of Shenmue III will be familiar with the many locations at which Smart Ball game machines can be found throughout the town of Niaowu.

This example of a real-life Smart Ball machine shows how accurately it was recreated in the game. On this machine, called "Soccer Bingo", completing a bingo line in any direction releases one of the capsule toys that can be seen through the transparent panel at the top.

The cost for one play is a Shenmue-friendly 100 yen!

Soccer Bingo

Smart Ball in Shenmue III (left) vs the real-life Soccer Bingo machine (right)
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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Unused Assets: Mr. Yukawa Business Card Variants | What's Shenmue

What's Shenmue is the name of a playable demo that was released in Japan in August 1999, shortly before the full release of Shenmue. It took place in Dobuita Street and involved a short quest in which Ryo has to to locate Mr. Yukawa (a real-life former senior executive at Sega) before a deadline at the end of the day.

During the quest, Ryo visits the You Arcade where he obtains Mr. Yukawa's business card...


The business card Ryo receives of Hidekazu Yukawa

Details on the front of the card include the SEGA logo, Mr. Yukawa's full name and title (Hidekazu Yukawa, Former Senior Managing Director), his company (Sega Enterprises) and a link to the Shenmue.com website.
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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Photo Report: Shenmue The Animation Promotion in Yokosuka

For the last two months, a promotion to celebrate the release of Shenmue The Animation has been running in Yokosuka. I went down to check out each of the eight stores participating in the promotion. This post has a selection of photos from the visit.

Four of the participating stores were on Dobuita Street itself:

  • Dobuita Station (tourist center)
  • MIKASA Vol.2 (Sukajan jacket store)
  • Taisho (embroidery & patches)
  • KANMANIA Yokosuka (souvenirs & cafe)
  • Kakita (military clothing)
While the others were located nearby:
  • HONEY BEE restaurant (on Route 16)
  • MIKASA Cafe
  • Hanamatsu flower shop

Inside each participating store, Shenmue-related artwork and sketches were on display, and they also had Shenmue anime postcards to give away with a purchase of 500 yen. The owners were all very friendly and welcoming to Shenmue fans, and I managed to persuade some of them to strike a pose for the blog photo!

Arrival in Yokosuka

I arrived at Yokosuka-chūo train station, on the Keikyu line, handily located about a 5-minute walk from the Dobuita Street area.

East Gate of Yokosuka-chūo station

The Yokosuka city tourist information center can be found immediately to the left as you exit the East Gate of the station (it has moved in recent times from "THE PRIME" shopping center building). With the newly-updated Shenmue The Animation themed version of the Sacred Spot map, and a leaflet detailing the current campaign, we head in the direction of Dobuita Street.

Left: the cover of the Shenmue Sacred Spot map. Right: a leaflet about the current promotion, known as the "Anime Celebration Project"

Main road near the station
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Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Famitsu Interview with Yu Suzuki, Masaya Matsukaze & Yu Kiyozono | Shenmue Anime Release Commemoration

Shenmue the Animation commenced online distribution in Japan in weekly episodes from April 2022, and on the TOKYO MX television channel in the greater Tokyo metropolitan area from the beginning of May.

To commemorate the anime's release, Famitsu.com conducted an interview with YS Net's Yu Suzuki, creator of the Shenmue series and supervising director of the anime; Yu Kiyozono, producer of the anime; and Masaya Matsukaze, the voice actor who plays the main character Ryo Hazuki in both the game and animation.

The interview was held on 29th April 2022, on the day of the livestream talk event that was held in Yokosuka. Our translation of the interview starts below.


Yu Suzuki's Supervision Started With the Roof...


This was the first time I had spoken with Suzuki and Kiyozono since our online interview about the announcement of the anime adaptation.

Kiyozono: So we meet at last in real life! [laughs]

Q: Matsukaze-san, how did you hear about the Shenmue animation adaption?

Matsukaze: If I calculate backwards, the anime project must have already been in the works since the production of Shenmue III, but I didn't know about it when I was working on the game.

Thanks to the fans, and the efforts of Yu-san, Shenmue III had been released at last. Just as I was reflecting how lucky I was to be alive, and that it was truly a miracle, I was approached about the anime adaptation. It was well after the project was underway.

Following on from the release of Shenmue III, I was thrilled that the miracle of Shenmue was not over yet! I was thrilled.
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Thursday, June 9, 2022

Shenmue The Animation Photo Report: "Xuhe Hall" Restaurant Closes Its Doors

15th May 2022 sadly marked the closure of a restaurant that will have special meaning for fans of Shenmue as having been a potential stop on any "Shenmue the Animation pilgrimage" for a few short months.

The restaurant's exterior and interior served as models for the venue seen in Episode 3 of Shenmue the Animation called "Xuhe Hall", which is visited by Lan Di in order to extract information about the whereabouts of the mirrors from the owner.

Xuhe Hall exterior (Shenmue the Animation)

Xuhe Hall interior (Shenmue the Animation)

The real-life restaurant's name is Heichinrou and was the flagship store for the chain throughout Japan. It was the oldest existing restaurant in Yokohama Chinatown, and is closing after more than 130 years in business.

News outlets initially suggested that plans for a possible relocation were being considered, but a more recent news item has reported that this main branch of the restaurant has filed for bankruptcy after struggling through the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, so reopening would appear unlikely.

However, to capture the last days of the restaurant while still in operation, I went along just before opening time on the last day to take some on-location pictures. The manager (I don't think he was the one in the anime!) kindly granted permission for me to also take some of the interior.

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Monday, June 6, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for June 2022

Every month Phantom River Stone holds a poll among our patrons to choose a topic for the blog in the coming month. After tallying the votes (including accumulated votes from previous months), the winning topic that has been voted this time is:

"The Secret of Miao Village: Shenmue II Game Jam prototype"

Recently, a previously-unseen Shenmue II prototype was successfully purchased at an online auction and, thanks to the generosity of the group behind the purchase, it was shortly afterwards released to the community. This discs were marked "Game Jam," which was the name of an event that occurred in April 2001.

Initial analysis showed that the prototype contained numerous interesting differences in textures, cut scenes and gameplay (including the hilarious discovery by LemonHaze of a character model for Yu Suzuki, leading to his release of a special version in which the player controls Yu Suzuki in the place of Ryo).


But perhaps one of the biggest questions at the forefront of the minds of many fans was whether the prototype would help reveal anything more on the topic of the legendary Miao Village that had been cut early in development - and this proved to be the case!

The discovery of a wealth of Miao Village related subtitle content was announced on the Shenmue Dojo forums only a few days after the prototype's release  to the community by veteran Shenmue hacker LanDC, who extracted and translated several key conversations and pieced together from the clues the likely sequence of events that were to have taken place.

This amazing finding has at last allowed confirmation of what had only been theories and suppositions until now on the topic of Miao Village, Miao Guang Temple and the bicycle quest with Xiaoqin. With contributions from others in the community, further relevant conversations were also found, building an even more comprehensive picture of the cut story content.


In this upcoming post, as an extension to our existing Secret of Miao Village series, we will walk through the many pieces of dialogue found to highlight the story progression that had once been planned for this part of the game.

Watch for it to come on the blog.



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Former Sega Executive Hidekawa Yukawa Has Passed Away

It has been reported that Hidekazu Yukawa, a senior Sega executive during the Dreamcast era, passed away last year from aspiration pneumonia. He was 78 years old.

An iconic figure to Shenmue fans for his promotion of the game, he starred in the What's Shenmue demo and had an easter egg cameo in the main game as well (see here for more details). Fans were even able to meet him in person at the Shenmue Premiere event that took place before the game's release.

News article (Japanese)



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Saturday, June 4, 2022

Air Twister: New Shooting Game from Yu Suzuki Releasing 24th June, 2022


Yu Suzuki and YS Net are back with the imminent release of a 3D shooting game called Air Twister, which is scheduled for release on 24th June for Apple Arcade.

A spiritual connection with Yu Suzuki's own 1980s arcade hit, Space Harrier, can be felt in the trailer and promotional screenshots, with the player flying through a fantastical world, shooting at swarms of attacking enemies.


At times, she rides on the back of a giant swam, evocative of gameplay from Sega's Panzer Dragoon franchise.

Alien enemies revealed in the trailer include those shaped as giant toadstools and the Moai statues of Easter island (both of which resemble objects that appeared in Space Harrier), flying dragon-like skeletons and spiky metallic orbs.

Giant toadstools also featured in Space Harrier
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Friday, May 20, 2022

[Part Six] The Secret of Miao Village: Original Plan for Miao Village in Shenmue II

Welcome to Part Six of our analysis of cut-content screenshots of the mysterious "Miao Village" and temple that were revealed in 2002 on the Shenmue.com website by AM2, Yu Suzuki's development team at Sega.

Parts in the series:

  1. Village Screenshots Analysis
  2. Village Content Left Behind
  3. The House in Xiuying and Ziming's Flashback
  4. Temple Screenshots Analysis
  5. Temple Content Left Behind 
  6. The Original Plan for Miao Village in Shenmue II [this post]
  7. Content Reborn
  8. Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events
  9. Dialogue Revelations & Sequence of Events (Cont.)
  10. Extra Dialogue & Facts Collected
In this post, we'll investigate the original intention for the Miao Village shown in the cut-content screenshots.


Note: an early Shenmue II prototype that was created for the GameJam event in 2001 has just been released to the community, and this holds a lot of potential for new discoveries. This article was completed prior to the release of the prototype but, in anticipation, an eighth part has been added to the current series, for any new findings!

Theories Over the Years


For many years since the screenshots were first made public in 2002, there has been much speculation among players as to where in the story the village (and temple) was to have fit. Some ideas discussed among posters on the Shenmue Dojo forums included:
  • Based on the village's link with the Miao people, who mainly inhabit the mountains of southern China: located somewhere in Guilin, for example on the way to Bailu Village.
  • More specifically, one area that raised eyebrows as a possible location is the transition to the Green Field area just after Langhuishan, as there is a distinct disconnect in scenery (e.g. the path's appearance and mountain shapes):
  • Located near Luoyang.
  • It might have been intended to be Bailu Village itself.
  • One location that was not given a great deal of attention is Hong Kong itself, presumably due to the rural setting of the screenshots.
For many years, little concrete information was available to back up or disprove these theories. It was not until much later, with Shenmue III going into development, that direct references were made by some of the original developers that helped to shed some light on the topic.

The highest profile comment was from Shenmue's main character design artist, Kenji Miyawaki.
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Hidden Yu Suzuki Model Unearthed in Shenmue 2 | "Game Jam" Prototype Release!

 

A Yu Suzuki character model has been discovered among the files of a Shenmue II prototype that has been recently acquired by members of the Shenmue community. He is dressed in Ryo's classic clothing - leather jacket, white T-shirt, jeans and sneakers - but is otherwise the spitting image of Yu-san. The character even has a somewhat (ahem) "girthier" look compared to Ryo!

Although the character is not available by default, after some adjustments made to the game files, it is now possible to play the game proper entirely as this hybrid "Ryo Suzuki"! The effect is hilarious, as can be previewed in the trailer below.


The existence of a Yu Suzuki character was first mentioned in a tweet from a former Shenmue developer back in 2019. It was created by the developers as a fun easter egg, but unfortunately the idea was rejected by the senior manager and did not make it into the release!
"Shenmue often features developers as general NPCs, but Yu-san actually appeared in Shenmue II as a hidden character. I had a good laugh when I was shown it late at night, but the top development manager found it and put it on hold. If it had been released as it was, it would have caused a stir. By the way, he could be discovered if you searched a certain place [on the way to] Bailu Village"
(Note: the original tweet said "at Bailu Village" but the developer clarified this as meaning "somewhere on the way to Bailu Village", which would suggest during the walk with Shenhua.)

This is just one of the findings that has come out of analysis of an early prototype of Shenmue II that is now in the hands of the community thanks to the generosity and determination of a small group of Shenmue fans: the "Game Jam" prototype.

The "Game Jam" Prototype

This prototype was listed on a Japanese online auction site in March 2022 as a set of four Dreamcast discs, and quickly drew attention.

Photos in the listing showed hand-written labelling on the 4 discs making up the set with the words "Game Jam" and a date of "4/11", indicating that it was used for demonstration at Sega's Game Jam event.

Game Jam was an event was held in Tokyo on the 14th and 15th of April 2001, some months prior to the game's eventual release in Japan in September of that year. Yu Suzuki himself demonstrated the game on stage, and was joined by Masaya Matsukaze and Takumi Hagiwara (Ryo and Ren)

A small group of fans banded together to produce a winning bid on the listing, and in this way have saved it from disappearing once more into a private collection where it might never be seen again.

Not only that, but this group has worked together to analyze the contents in detail, carry out reverse engineering to add and unlock special features, and finally to share not only all their findings but to make available the game prototype itself for all of us to enjoy.

The prototype acquisition was brought about thanks to the following people. A huge shout-out on behalf of the whole Shenmue community for their generosity in procuring this valuable and historical item, as well as their hard work on in-depth analysis.

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