Thursday, December 14, 2023

Two Pre-Release Screenshots of Langhuishan Village in Shenmue 2 | Analysis

Today we will examine two early-development screenshots of Ryo's arrival in Guilin from a Japanese magazine from the time of Shenmue II's development, showcasing the charming riverside village of Langhuishan.

Accompany an article about Shenmue in Japan's Famitsu DC magazine in February 2001, these images offer a fascinating glimpse into how its design changed during the game's development.

Langhuishan (Feb 2001 image 1)

Langhuishan (Feb 2001 image 2)

Analysis of Langhuishan Image 1

The first image depicts Langhuishan's village square, overlooking the tranquil river. A comparison with the final release version of the game reveals some intriguing differences:

Langhuishan view towards river showing a stall in the early screenshot (top) that was relocated in the release version (bottom)

The background mountains and dock are almost unchanged in the release, but the pre-release image features an additional element: a vegetable stand beside the dock, facing away from the river.

Interestingly, this stand's placement aligns nicely with the map of Langhuishan that is displayed on the game save screen if the player has saved at this location. This map is not shown during actual gameplay, however, and exhibits some differences compared with the actual layout in the final release of the game (as introduced in this previous post).

Based on its position in the image, the vegetable stand would be the one indicated on the map below.

Map of Langhuishan (pre-release layout): the stand that can be seen in the first magazine image is indicated in red.

As can be seen in the map above, in the original design there was a group of four stands arranged in the central part of the main square. It would seem that the two stands near the dock were moved to the side, perhaps because they obstructed easy navigation for the player after their arrival at Langhuishan.

In the release, the stands that were in front of the dock are at the side.

The two children seen in the pre-release image appear to be the same as those in the final release, but the shopkeeper wearing the white hat and dark apron has been replaced with a different model.

Release version: the same two children (left, center) but a different shopkeeper character model.

Who might the original character model be? Despite the poor resolution of the magazine image, Stuart who runs the fascinating Shenmusings blog has identified a likely candidate in the character of Hoi Song Tam, a cook at Fortune's Eatery in Aberdeen in the release version of the game. Based on the colors of his clothes and shape, it certainly looks to match exactly:

The pre-release screenshot (left) shows a vegetable stall owner whose appearance looks to match that of Hoi Song Tam (right) in the release version of the game.

Additionally, in the background of the pre-release image, we spot a large wooden structure adorned with colorful clothing – this, we can recognize, is the boat on which Ryo arrives, still docked. However, in the release version, the boat sets off on its journey once Ryo begins exploring.

In the pre-release image (top), the boat remains docked, while in the release version (bottom), it is visible only briefly in the cut scene as Ryo disembarks before continuing on along the river.

If the boat were originally to have remained at the dock rather than departing, this would nicely explain why the boat itself is a part of the Langhuishan map:
The boat is present on the early Langhuishan map.

Analysis of Langhuishan Image 2

The second image showcases the Langhuishan shops surrounding the square. Below is a comparison  of the view from a similar angle in the final game. Although certain elements remain consistent, such as the Langhuishan banners, wooden crates, and the "Langhui Shop" building on the right, there have been several adjustments made since the pre-release version was created.

This image also helps to explain how the child wearing shorts whom we saw in the first image is positioned: he is standing on a crate in front of one of the stands on the right.

One notable difference is that the start of the path leading on towards Bailu Village has been made much more obvious in the release version, which would help players to make find their way onwards. It also runs up a slope which gives better visibility, a characteristic that doesn't appear to be present in the earlier version.

Final Comment

Once again, Shenmue showcases its meticulous attention to detail through numerous minor differences and changes, which contribute to the creation of an immersive world for Ryo's extraordinary journey.  

These early-development screenshots of Langhuishan provide a captivating insight into the village's design evolution, and it's satisfying to connect them with the early map. They add another layer of appreciation for the game's development process and the passion behind its creation.

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