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Suzuki & Shenmue – Stories, hopes, speculation

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There was a videogame personality back in the 80 and 90. A man that loved to make the history of videogames. He is japanese, born in 1958. In my opinion he is the most important person in the history of this industry. There are those who puts Shigeru Miyamoto a step above him, but I disagree with it. I have always considered Yu Suzuki better than Miyamoto, because with his games SEGA could compete with a sacred monster as Nintendo in the home console market (for a little while, in a single market, but it was happening), and also because Suzuki has always experimented much more genres in his creations. He worked on titles that range from Space Harrier to Shenmue, passing through Virtua Fighter /Racing/Cop , and always keeping such a high standard that is almost inhuman.
One day, for example, he decided to take advantage of Ferrari license obtained from SEGA and he built around it an arcade cabinet that is more of a simulation than any other acclaimed productions of today (without mention what he pulled out of the poor Dreamcast with that game, technically speaking).

But it is with Shenmue that Yu showed to the world just how much he was ahead of his time, as that game already had everything that today we can only hope to find in a game, but sadly he never managed to complete his great masterpiece… Can anyone letting me know WTF is he doing now?

Actually we do know what is he doing nowadays, but it is almost unbelievable (or rather, it is a damn shame) that someone like him must be relegated to a corner with his YS Net Inc, doing free to play smartphone games. How is it possible that nobody wants to put this man on a decent tool/platform and let him create real videogames? There are game designers who are at the limit of the decency (and I don’t mention anyone to not fall in the repetition, but whoever know me knows who am I referring to) that until yesterday still received lots of trust in spite of the things promised and never realized, or others who continue to repeat the same game year after year and pass it as new one. In the current state of the industry don’t you think that a man like Suzuki will be able to do something that goes above the average product? Perhaps even a little?

A small anecdote that I want to share: I was in full playthrough of The Last of Us and I don’t know why, I had a craving for replaying Shenmue; so one night I re-installed and fired up my Dreamcast (forgetting about being almost at the end of TLOU) after more than three years; the last disc of Shenmue II was still in the console. Immediately swapped it with the first disc of the first chapter and restarted the experience. I also want to add the fact that playing with the last SEGA console reconciles you with the world, regardless of the title. And now I have enjoyed each polygon of the masterpiece signed by Yu Suzuki for the third time, and I had yet another confirmation that Shenmue is without a doubt my favorite game with it’s intense story, the beautiful OST, exploration, fighting and the all the freedom: there isn’t another game in the history that is able to bind all these elements in such a homogeneous and natural way without ever falling in repetition, also thanks to the practically perfect pace of the game.

Just a few hours ago, Yu Suzuki talked in a postmortem on his masterpiece (video complete at the end of this article). A talk that many have been waiting for – who for a reason, who for another- and that did not disappoint the expectations of those who admire this man and loves his works, but I will tell you more: even for those who were expecting an announcement or a nod on the resurrection of Shenmue cannot and must not be disappointed. Then we will see why, now let’s go with order.

Most of the people and the fans of Shenmue know that the project had to be a RPG of Virtua Fighter with a young Akira as protagonist, and that would be due out on Sega Saturn. But the very first prototype of the game was titled ” The old man and the peach tree “.

This was the original concept of Shenmue: a protagonist named Taro is in search of a certain Master Ryu. A martial arts master promises him to reveal the place where to find Ryu only after it has received a peach. The first time, the protagonist returns with an apple, but the master ask again a peach. At the end of game, while the protagonist is on its way back from this master, he sees the man launching stones in a lake, and every time those touched the water surface a fish was afloat with belly up. It was thus that the protagonist know that Master Ryu was in fact the one who sent him in around to get a peach.

With the results from the prototype, Suzuki was ready to schedule his first game for an home console, and the idea was to exploit the Virtua Fighter brand to create an RPG with Akira as protagonist. A younger Akira on a mission to avenge the death of his father. He goes on a journey that takes him to China, looking for the murderer.
The graphic engine would have to be the same as Virtua Fighter game, with battles 1 vs many, and that’s how the guidelines of the game were created.

Development continued and 11 acts were written for the story, ready to be assembled and sold to all owners of a SEGA Saturn. But then SEGA notified AM2 team to be in the process of developping of a new console, and the project is immediately moved to the newest and more powerful machine. Suzuki assumed the new machine specifications and begun to modify the project to make it even bigger.

The hardware change brought a lot of other changes, including the name of the game: from Virtua Fighter RPG – Akira’s Story, Suzuki decided to call it Shenmue. Leaving behind one of the many brand that bear his sign (probably the most important of that era) to give to SEGA and its Dreamcast a new IP to exploit with the new hardware. And the game we all know was born. The last work of Yu Suzuki. Or at least the last important product, since just after the Dreamcast death (and pretty much SEGA with it), Ryo Hazuki has been trapped inside a cave together with Shenhua for more than twelve years.
The fanbase of Shenmue, however, it is still very wide and active, and it is still waiting and hoping for the third (and final) chapter of this extraordinary saga.

It is not a secret that even Suzuki would like to finish the job, but hopes has always been few since the game copyrights are still in the hands of what remains of SEGA. The opportunity to get more information about this arrived in the Q&A session of postmortem, where at the question “when Shenmue III will be released?”, the reply translation of Suzuki was a laconic dot dot dot, to be understood as a “…” (I don’t know answer/i cannot respond), but the real answer of Suzuki was:”I would like to make it, with the right opportunity“. After the postmortem, this Ali Novin seem to be able to speak with Mark Cerny (PS4 architect and “special” postmortem translator) and it seems he said that Suzuki is trying strongly to find a publisher who will help him to close the story.
After reading this, i remember an answer of Tony Warriner (Revolution Software) when we interviewed him, saying that the long pause of the team was derived from the fact that “was very tough for small or medium sized developers to get deals that were actually worth signing“, and the problem of Suzuki could be just this: Is there a publisher willing to finance him without putting limits on what Shenmue should be? We don’t know, but i hope that Suzuki does not compromise with anyone.

But Fans can help, and they’re already doing it: every third day of each month there is a Twitter marathon (Tweetathon) where those who care the future of the saga send a Tweet directly to SEGA, publishers and console manufacturers with the hashtag #SaveShenmue (which replaced the previous #GiveYuTheShenmueLicense). The initiative is gaining a lot success and visibility (the 3rd of March the hashtag reached 10 million people), and many personality of the industry have noticed it. It all started from a group called Team Yu, that in addition to having invented this marathon, brings to the fans attention all the surveys where Shenmue (and/or any aspect of the universe) are in need of votes.

A year ago, in March 2013, a GDC organizer Twitted this:

Mark Cerny (taller) is Ps4 hardware “architect” and former SEGA employee, while the other is the mother (cit. ) of videogames Yu Suzuki.
Due to the fact that Shenmue III rumors come up every year, many haven’t believed a signle word of it. But i doubt that a personality like her can make this kind of joke. Perhaps I am in denial but I want to believe that it is true.
At this point, I would add to this hopeful Tweet some facts that feed the hope to return in Ryo Hazuki’s shoes as soon as possible:

-Seems that Shenmue I & II remake are ready, but seems that SEGA is taking those in the drawer.

- Recently Sony Computer Entertainment seems to give much weight to what players desire, as shown by a number of initiatives. Among these a very large one has been entrusted to SCE Third Party director Gio Corsi, which asked all gamers which brand we would have liked to see on the new PS4 console creating the twitter hashtag #BuildingTheList. And Shenmue got more requests than any other brand.

- Mark Cerny is an important man of Sony Computer Entertainment;

- During the japanese ad for the launch of PS4, at 00:16 seconds and 00:25 seconds appears something that could link to the Yu Suzuki game (I leave it to you to find the clue)

All of this, taken as a single big clue, send me straight in a preemptive and totally non-justified frenzy mode, because that Tweet by Meggan Scavio could be a marketing move in future perspective (Suzuki and Cerny have never denied that though).

Shenmue (I & II) is one of the few games where the ambition of the creator is felt through the whole screen and through the joypad, created without any cuts due to the costs and the development time. Ambition that unfortunately contributed to the failure of SEGA, which from that moment is pretty much dead. Without any cut to the ambitions of Suzuki, SEGA led to a far worse general beheaded that has obviously cancelled also the last part of the amazing story of Ryo Hazuki, and of what is my prototype of a perfect videogame.
Now i find myself wondering what could Yu do with a new-gen console. Well, we can get an idea of it while reading the letter that he published on the site of his team, that we give to you translated into English from japanese thanks to our powerful and expensive tools that the entire world envy us:

“I like cars, motorcycles, clocks, wine, paintings, billiards … You may wonder why i do not mention games. Not because i don’t like to play games, but the real world is more fun and I haven’t so much time to play. However, i like to create games. The most beautiful moment, when i create video games, is the moment of the discovery. The fun is in overcoming the limits and devising new ways to play, to offer a valid product to all users. In short, create is fun, but what was really wonderful is see that people choose our games. This is the reason for which i never stop to make games.”

And now, the postmortem video (with Q&A session)

Dreaming costs nothing, so……goodnight.

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