Friday, April 15, 2022

[Part Two] The Secret of Miao Village: Content Left Behind

We will continue with Part Two of our analysis into screenshots of the mysterious village revealed in 2002 on the Shenmue.com website by AM2, Yu Suzuki's development team at Sega, showing content that had been cut from the game before release.

Parts in the series:

  1. Village Screenshots Analysis
  2. Village Content Left Behind [today's post]
  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
In this post, we will gather together models of various objects that may have once been part of the Miao village seen in the screenshots.

Models and other data were extracted from the game discs with the excellent Wudecon converter tool created by LemonHaze. 

Content Left Behind: Miao Village


Over the years, fans have wondered if there are any traces of the village left behind in the game files, and in fact there are several pieces of content left on the disc that appear to once have been intended to be part of the original village content.

Loading Screen


The existence of an unused loading screen for "Miao Village" was first mentioned as a discovery on the Shenmue Dojo forums by LanDC way back in 2003. This loading screen was left in the game files, but is not displayed during normal play.

A simple way to trigger this to display is to run the Shenmue II US prototype that was recently released on the Sega Dreamcast Info site, through the use of its debug menu (Scene=02, Area=SM00, Entry=01):
Debug menu: settings for displaying the Miao Village loading screen

This results in the loading screen being displayed:

The Miao Village loading screen (the time and date are default values)

Unfortunately, the game does not progress further after this, with error messages indicating that required files are not present. Examining the contents of all four discs turns up no map data files for area SM00, so unfortunately the village does not exist in playable form.

Loading of the area is not successful.

Fans in the early days were quick to make a connection between this unused loading screen and the cut content village screenshots that AM2 had shown in 2002, and hence the village in the screenshots came to be known as Miao Village.

Next, let's investigate whether there are any object models left on the game discs.

Potential Remnants of Miao Village: House Exteriors


The village in the screenshots revealed by AM2 shows several distinctive-looking wooden houses with thatched roofs. Although the village may not be present in the game disc files, there are several fragments of house roofs and walls to be found among the object models - or, to be more accurate, partial models - that match the style of houses seen in those screenshots.

The first model, below, shows a wooden facade with a narrow wooden deck and a thatched overhang held up by sturdy wooden posts. A grill of wooden slats runs above two closed doors:

House facade with two doors and a narrow deck.

The second model, which is much larger, consists of two sides of a building. Wooden shutters are fitted to the windows, with some being propped open. Further close-ups of this building follow.

Partial building with a stack of bamboo at one end.

Here is the same building from a different angle, showing a stack of bamboo stored under a shelter attached to the roof:

View from another angle

At the other end of the same building is the entranceway. Of particular note are the two red rectangular decorations or banners that are attached on either side of the door.

The other end of the building

Looking more closely at the red banners, there are Chinese characters written on them. Most are rather indistinct, but appear to include the character 門 (gate) near the start and the characters 安 (safety) and 福 (good fortune), suggesting these are good luck talismans that have been attached to the entrance pillars to protect the household.

Detail: red slips with Chinese writing are attached to the doorway pillars

Unexpected Presence in Kowloon


It may come as a surprise to realize that the above models were not only left in the game files - they are actually visible during play of the released game!

They have been integrated into a dim and gloomy location that is quite unexpected: namely, throughout the first few floors of the Yellow Head Building in Kowloon.

A house facade in a third floor corridor at the Yellow Head Building

This connection was pointed out by Mestre Ziming long ago in a 2003 post on the Shenmue Dojo forums, but this connection has not been the subject of heavy investigation in the past, and is likely to have been largely forgotten.

Why were these models integrated into such an unlikely location? Perhaps the development team did not want their work to go to waste, and after the decision to cut the village had been made decided to add to the atmospheric environment of these floors by strewing around some of the objects that had been built. It certainly gives these floors an unforgettable, creepy vibe.

Barrels


Along with the house exteriors, other objects can be seen on the lower Yellow Head Building floors that are also likely to have been present in the Miao Village. Take these two barrels, for example - two objects of similar color and size can be seen in the background of one of the village screenshots:

Barrels can be identified in the village screenshot


Objects at Shenhua's House


Some of these model elements have also been used in the Guilin section of the game: Shenhua's house also has the same-style wooden window shutters (although, interestingly, these are missing wooden struts to hold them open) and the wooden balcony platform; there is a similar-looking stack of bamboo against the side of her house; and even the two barrels are present.

Very similar object models can be found at Shenhua's house

Further similarities between Miao village and Shenhua's village of Bailu as depicted in Shenmue III is one that we shall revisit later in a separate post of its own.

Potential Remnant of Miao Village: Well


Returning to models found in the Yellow Head Building, apart from the house exteriors, there is even has a full model of a well, complete with overhead shelter, pulley and bucket!

Yellow Head Bldg: a complete well is not something many players would have expected to find inside.

The design is almost identical to the well outside Shenhua's house, but it has slight differences in some of its textures and shapes, notably the roof tiling.

Well model comparison: Yellow Head Bldg (left) vs. Shenhua's house (right)

Even the talisman tags can also be observed in various places in the released game, including in other colors such as yellow and white, for example, at the gates at either end of Dragon Street in Kowloon, and as a small label attached to a wooden box in the bedroom at Shenhua's house:


Potential Remnant of Miao Village: Wooden Fence


Finally, using the area ID for the Miao Village loading screen (SM00) as a hint, a search through the disc files turns up an object with this prefix in its filename, suggesting that it was originally created for inclusion in the village. (Note: technically, model filenames can be named freely, without requiring any reference to an area ID).

The object is a short wooden fence with the name of "SM00SALG". It certainly has a rustic feel and would look right at home in a village environment:

A wooden fence object whose file name suggests it once had a link to the village

Interestingly, this object is configured as part of the map used for Shenmue 2's hidden duck racing event (thanks to LemonHaze for confirming this in the files). Its new-found purpose may be to help define the course by blocking off certain paths, in the same way as traffic cones and other objects are placed - although I haven't yet spotted it during the race.

Hidden event: duck racing in Shenmue II




In the next post on this topic, we will examine another location that bears a strong resemblance to the houses in the Miao Village screenshots. It is the house interior used for the flashback scene of  Xiuying and Ziming when they were children.

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5 comments:

  1. Is it known if a earlier japanese prototyp disc exists? the us prototyp is a realy late one and very close to the release version unfortunately

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    Replies
    1. Currently none that has been shared widely. But an earlier set of Shenmue 2 discs was put up on Ebay recently, for example, so fingers crossed new material may be discovered in the future.

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    2. Even better part two for maybe the mistery in capital letters concerning Shenmue II development. Thanks a lot Switch.

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  2. So heartwarming see these things being analyzed in detail after literally decades haha. Thanks for sharing this with us!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Shenmue fans are in it for the long term, haha!

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