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.

A Martial Arts Village

During his promotional video interview for Shenmue III, Miyawaki spoke about a village that had been planned for the second game but was cut before release:
"As many fans may already know from the internet, there was a village that was deleted from the final version of Shenmue. The villagers all wore traditional Chinese folk clothing. The setting was like in a Shaolin monastery. Not really all masters, but everyone still learning martial arts. So they would all be on chin-up bars and doing other training exercises, as part of their daily life".

 - Kenji Miyawaki (Shenmue III promotional video interview)

Watch the video clip here, from time stamp 2:17:

With his mention of the martial arts training and exercise equipment, there seems little doubt that Miyawaki was referring to the cut Miao Village.

From Miyawaki's short description, we learned that this village was a place where the pursuit of martial arts was part of the villagers' daily life.

The Bicycle Event Connection

While no direct statement has been publicly made to date about the original intention for Miao Village, the various clues and interview comments over the years allow a reasonable hypothesis to be formed about what had originally been planned.

This is a good point to circle back to the presence of a certain character who can be identified as appearing in all three village screenshots: Xiaoqin Liu.

Xiaoqin featured not only in cut content screenshots of the village, but also another set of screenshots featuring Ryo on a bicycle which we covered previously in Cut Content: Ryo's Bicycle Event in Shenmue 2. The bicycle screenshots potentially hold great relevance, as they were presented in the very same issue of the Muecas online magazine as the village screenshots:

The Muecas page revealed the bicycle event screenshots together with those of the village.

The significance of this may not have been realized at the time, but the evidence gathered since discounts mere coincidence.

As a quick recap, there were two screenshots featuring Xiaoqin in Wan Chai outside her grandfather's store (Sunny Capital Pharmacy). The store itself was originally to have been located on a road that leads to a dead end in the released game:

The second screenshot showed Ryo on a bicycle, with Xiaoqin sitting on the back. Her grandfather looks out from his shop.

While the road finishes at a dead end in the released game, it was implied on the Muecas webpage that the road would have continued. In our previous analysis post we speculated that the road might have originally connected to another area of Wan Chai, such as Wise Men's Quarter.

But a former Shenmue developer who goes by the handle name of まぢん (@Mazin__) subsequently clarified on Twitter that this is not the case; that, on the contrary, the road led away from the city:
まぢん: "It didn't extend towards Wise Men's Quarter, but rather it went straight down. You would borrow the bicycle to travel along a road through a grassy plain."

His comment parallels one made by lead developer Tak Hirai in a past interview, who spoke about a scrapped feature that allowed the player to ride through a rural environment:
Tak Hirai: "We originally intended to begin the game in China, so I made [the bike-riding feature] as a showcase to see how it looked when you rode the bike in a meadow."

While the precise destination of Ryo's bicycle trip seen above has not been publicly stated, thanks to another former Shenmue developer, Morio Ashizuka, we know that this was to have been a quest that Ryo carries out with Xiaoqin:
Morio Ashizuka: "There was going to be an event where you put the girl at the pharmacy on your bike and run an errand. [...] It was along the lines of the pharmacy owner having a bad leg, so Ryo goes for him by bicycle with the girl guiding the way. Ryo wasn't able to ride around freely though - it was a movie scene of him riding"
With the owner's store being a pharmacy, it seems likely that the quest would have involved fetching medicinal herbs of some kind.

Miao Village's Intended Location

We now have several links between the bicycle quest and Miao village, which may be circumstantial on their own but taken together present a strong case for the location of the village:
  • The bicycle quest and Miao village screenshots were presented together on the Muecas webpage.
  • Both sets of screenshots heavily feature Xiaoqin.
  • The bicycle event departs from South Carmain Qr in Hong Kong.
  • Developers have stated that the bicycle event destination was to have been a rural area.
The above all points to the location of Miao Village going to have been Hong Kong (in the vicinity of South Carmain Qr).

Ryo's Bicycle Errand: Potential Sequence

The bicycle event might have played out as follows:
  1. Ryo speaks to Xiaoqin, who standing outside Sunny Capital Pharmacy in South Carmain Quarter, and learns that her grandfather, the store's owner, has a bad leg and is unable to fetch an order of medicinal herbs from a village outside the city.
  2. The owner asks Ryo if he would be willing to obtain them instead, and an on-screen prompt appears for accepting the quest.
  3. If accepted, a cut scene is played: Ryo lifts Xiaoqin onto the back of the bicycle, and Ryo gets on. He rides out of the city, with Xiaoqin directing the way. The road leads to a grassy plain, and eventually they arrive at Miao Village, where Ryo dismounts and lifts Xiaoqin down.
  4. Ryo explores the village on foot. Xiaoqin also walks around the village, never straying far from Ryo.
  5. Once Ryo locates the store (possibly the building shown in the screenshots with banners outside), he picks up the necessary supplies.
  6. Ryo returns to the pharmacy with Xiaoqin by bicycle and delivers the herbs to the owner.

Miao Guang Temple

While comments from former developers have been made regarding the village, there have not been any similar statements about Miao Guang Temple. However, assuming that the temple was also located at the village, Ryo's conversations with village inhabitants during his errand may have served as the means for him to gather clues leading him to the Wulinshu (as hypothesized in Part Four).

A Second Access Road?

A recent post by Peter on the Shenmue Dojo forums mentioned that a second road was also going to connect to the village from the strip outside Man Mo Temple, creating a "looping link" between the two areas.

Early promotional video footage shows Wong calling to Ryo as he leaves Man Mo Temple.
Clip: Sega Dreamcast Preview VHS

Clip: What's Shenmue VHS

The layout and scenery differs from the released version: the road is sealed rather than being paved, and instead of one end being blocked by a wall, instead there is a wooden fence. It is in this direction that Ryo initially heads in the clip above upon exiting the temple gate, suggesting that a route through exists there. At first glance there appears to be no way through, but as the camera moves in the above clip, it reveals that another road runs alongside the fence line.

I have not been able to find documented information about the role such a route might have played, however.

Why the Village Was Cut

Kenji Miyawaki offers the following reason in his video interview regarding why the village was removed:
"The village didn't really fit with the flow of the story, so the village got cut.  Everyone was really surprised about it. But Shenmue was created as a result of just such drastic revisions" 

Miyawaki's interview: the reason for the removal of the village

Removal of content is nothing new for Shenmue, as fans are well aware, and during development it underwent numerous changes. This comment from Peter summarizes up various factors that may have had a hand in making the decision to cut the village and its associated quest:

"It was cut in the end, I assume since it was a bit of a stretch that such a quiet, rural area being a stone's throw from the major city, and was a little implausible. Plus, it's a good bit of scenery to just have tagged onto the side of Hong Kong, when it could be repackaged to purpose as a standalone area. [...] That's what Yu Suzuki means by the cool thing about the Shenmue saga being split into chapters, and that things can be moved about and repackaged to suit the story".

The next post in this series is entitled Content Reborn, so named as we will be examining a location created many years later for Shenmue III that exhibits close similarities with the Miao Village that was cut from Shenmue II, namely: Bailu Village.

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