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 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)

Miao Village vs Bailu Village: Visual Similarities

Certain striking visual similarities between the AM2 screenshots of Miao village and Bailu Village as depicted in Shenmue III were noted by fans as soon as the game was released. A number of smaller parallels can also be drawn.

Exercise Bars

The bamboo exercise bars that can be seen in one of the Miao Village screenshots also appear in Shenmue III, in Bailu Village square. During play, we never see them being used for this purpose however, and it seems they have been appropriated by the villagers for use as vegetable drying racks instead!

Top: training bars in the cut Miao Village. Bottom: identical structures in Bailu Village.

Watch Tower

Another feature that can be observed in the Miao Village screenshots is a watch tower, with a long ladder leading up to a platform and bell at the top. Bailu Village also has a watch tower, although it is much more substantial, with a hexagonal footprint rather than a square one, multiple ladders and landings, and a tiled sloping roof.

Top: Ryo running towards the watch tower in the cut Miao Village. Bottom: the watch tower in Bailu Village.

General Village Appearance

When Ryo explores Bailu Village in Shenmue III, the appearance of the paths and houses in certain areas, while not identical, echoes the appearance of Miao Village in the cut content screenshots: the dirt paths through grassy land, wooden fencing, trees and thatched-roof houses.

Top: Ryo approaches a group of houses in the cut Miao Village. Bottom: an area of Bailu Village.

Village Well

In Shenmue II, a model of what may have once been created as the well for Miao Village is unexpectedly present in the Yellow Head Building. The well that is present in the village square in Shenmue III's Bailu Village is very similar, down to design details such as the thin vertical wooden struts holding up the roof, although it has only four main pillars rather than six.

Left: unused model of a well from Shenmue II that may have been intended for the cut Miao Village. Right: the well at Bailu Village.

Good Fortune Tags

In Shenmue II, rectangular tags containing rather indistinct written Chinese characters wishing good luck at the were observed at the entrances of village house models, as well as elsewhere throughout the game. Similar red tags can be found on the pillars of the well in Bailu Village, and while the written characters are not an exact match, they appear to serve a similar purpose. The characters are 吉祥如意 which is a wish for good fortune and happiness.

Left: tags at the entrance of a house model in Shenmue II. Right: a similar tag on the Bailu Village well pillar.

Village House Exterior

One fragment of a potential Miao Village house model left in Shenmue II's game files has a thatched roof held up by wooden pillars and a wooden porch at the front. In Shenmue III, Elder Yeh's house shares many of these same features, including a long grill of wooden slats running above the doorway.

Left: the porch of a village house model in Shenmue II. Right: the front of Elder Yeh's house in Shenmue III shares many similarities.

Village Temple

Just as there exists a temple (Miao Guang Temple) in Miao Village, this is also the case in Bailu  Village in Shenmue III with two temples that exhibit similar features.

Starting with the exterior, certain features of the courtyard of Miao Guang Temple as depicted in the cut content screenshots can be seen in the Bailu Village temples:
  • The Abandoned Temple, past the sunflower grove, has a number of stone grave stones and monuments gathered together in the same way, and the roof shape of the two-level temple building matches closely. 
  • Another temple location, Man Yuan Temple, has a similar paved courtyard with a bamboo growing around.
Elements from the courtyard of the Miao Guang Temple cut from Shenmue II (top left) can be seen in Shenmue III at the Abandoned Temple (top right, bottom right) and Man Yuan Temple (bottom left).
  • The courtyard of Man Yuan Temple also contains stone monuments and lanterns that resemble the ones seen in the Miao Guang Temple exterior screenshot.
Left: models of a grave stone and lantern in Shenmue II, possible remnants of the cut Miao Guang temple. Right: similar objects found at Man Yuan Temple in Shenmue III.

Temple Interior

In the screenshots showing the interior of Miao Guang Temple, large wooden statues in menacing poses can be seen behind Ryo.

In Shenmue III, Man Yuan Temple also contains a large statue of Guan Yu, a general who served a warlord during the Three Kingdoms period. After his death he became worshiped as a deity in Chinese folk religion,  Confucianism, Taoism, and Chinese Buddhism.

Top: a wooden statue behind Ryo in Miao Guang Temple. Bottom: a large statue is present inside Man Yuan Temple.

If you have not yet seen it, this great comparison video by Oregon Pacifist also shows a number of scenes vs the AM2 screenshots:

Miao Village vs Bailu Village: Story Element Similarities

Aside from the visual similarities between Miao Village and Bailu Village, certain story-related elements from the cut Miao Village events seem to have been woven into Shenmue III - or, at least, perhaps provided some conceptual sparks:
  • Terrorizing of villagers by thugs: in the Bailu Village section of Shenmue III, the story has thugs (who we later learn are part of a gang known as the Blue Spiders) ransack the houses of stonemasons. This has parallels to the story element we saw in an earlier part of our Miao Village screenshots analysis, where dialogue at the temple implied that thugs had been looking for an item they believed to be in the possession of one of the village residents: a man named Kongzheng Luo.
Ryo searches the ransacked house of a stonemason (Shenmue III)

  • Herb delivery quest: Shenmue III has an optional quest with Elder Yeh, who asks for your help to gather certain medicinal herbs that she has run out of. Similarly, Ryo's bicycle quest to Miao Village also was to have involved him delivering herbs. Furthermore, dialogue text discovered on the latest Game Jam prototype of Shenmue II (to be examined further in an upcoming post) reveals that the person to whom he was to have delivered them was also to have been an elderly lady in the village.
Ryo delivers herbs he has collected to Elder Yeh (Shenmue III)

The Secret of Miao Village: Next Part

In the next part of this series, we will be exploring the exciting traces of dialogue subtitle text found in the Game Jam prototype of Shenmue II that confirms and clarifies many of the theories around Miao Village, and gives a clear idea of how Ryo would have interacted conversationally with characters in the village as well as his purpose for going there.

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