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 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 ("ashizuka16bit") 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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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Unused Asset: A Second Letter From Iwao to Ryo | Shenmue

In the first Shenmue game, players discover a note addressed to Ryo from his father Iwao, who seemingly had some inkling that his life was in danger. Reading through this letter is a memorable moment for players of the game.

In fact, it turns out that this is not the only that letter Iwao wrote. There is a second, unused version of Iwao's letter to Ryo that can be found within the game files which we will examine in today's post, and see how it compares to the one used in the game.

Iwao's Letter #1 (Release Version)

In Iwao's letter that Ryo finds in the game, his father gives him advice on being true to one's convictions:
"Dear Ryo... those who follow the path of a warrior, must be prepared to die in order to stand by their convictions. Live for one's convictions, die for one convictions. That is how I lived my life. Ryo, it is up to you to discover your path and follow it through."
Letter from Iwao #1 (release version)

Ryo reading Iwao's letter (release version)

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Saturday, May 14, 2022

Poll Result: Patrons' Choice Topic for May 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:

"What's Shenmue Unused Assets: Mr. Yukawa business card variants"

What's Shenmue is the name of a playable demo that was released in Japan 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 former senior executive at Sega) before a deadline.

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

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 website.
The back contains a handwritten clue over the Dreamcast swirl that points him to the next location of interest ("After 4pm, Asia Travel Co.").

While this is the card that is used when playing the demo, in fact among the game files are a couple of other minor variations of the Mr. Yukawa business card that would have been produced during its development but not used, but were left behind. We'll be looking at these in an upcoming post.

Watch for it soon on the blog!

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Saturday, May 7, 2022

Ryo at Miao Guang Temple Entrance

Ryo approaches Miao Guang Temple.

This image is a composite of a screenshot showing content cut from Shenmue 2, and a model of a temple gate & wall present in the released version of the game.

The latest posts in the Miao Village analysis series have more details about the cut temple content:

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Friday, May 6, 2022

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

Welcome to Part Five of our analysis of cut-content screenshots of the mysterious "Miao Village" and temple that were revealed in 2002 on the 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 [this post]
  6. The Original Plan for Miao Village in Shenmue II
  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 will gather together any content to be found among the disc files that may have once been part of the temple location seen in the screenshots.

Name of the Temple

Just as an unused "Miao Village" loading screen was uncovered by fans (see Part Two), a second unused loading screen was also found that provides the name of this temple. If running a build of Shenmue II that has a debug menu, this can be viewed by setting the area code to SMMK:
Debug menu: settings for displaying the temple loading screen

Doing so will display the following loading screen, which has the name "Miao Guang Temple" (as with the Miao Village loading screen, it fails to continue past this point):

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

The area code for this loading screen, SMMK, matches the four-character prefix seen in the filename for the object model representing the red-cover version of the Wulinshu (seen in Ryo's hands in the temple screenshot), confirming that it is the same temple.

Next, we'll look for models of objects or buildings on the disc. You may recall that Part Two's earlier investigation into the village screenshots turned up fragments of village houses actually included in the released game in an unexpected area: the gloomy corridors of the first couple of floors of the Yellow Heads Building. It turns out there are further pieces of scenery to be found there that relate to the temple location.
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Thursday, May 5, 2022

The Shenmue Game Yu Suzuki Wants to Make Next | Excerpts from the Yokosuka Livestream

During the recent livestream talk event to celebrate the release of Shenmue the Animation that was held on location in Yokosuka, Yu Suzuki was asked about his plans or intention for his next Shenmue-related project.

The focus of the livestream was naturally on the anime, but in this post we have transcribed extracts from Yu Suzuki that are pertinent to the topic of the Shenmue video games and any plans for a next Shenmue entry (translations by Switch).

Reflections on Shenmue III

While the focus of the livestream was of course the anime, in the latter half the topic turned to Shenmue III. The MC, Esra Krabbe of IGN Japan, pointed out that, while he had held interviews with Yu Suzuki several times in the period leading up to the game's release, there had not been so much of an opportunity to talk with him about the game in the 3 years after its release.

Yu Suzuki: Through the support of long-time players, the game [Shenmue III] was able to be realized through Kickstarter, and they rated it really highly. That's largely because I put my heart and soul into it with fans in mind, and made it just for them. Their high ratings really gave me a feeling of achievement and I was very happy to see that.

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