PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

(Chapter 7 and beyond)

PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Switch » Fri Jun 10, 2016 10:05 am

Welcome to PART 2 of the translation of the Japanese magazine interview with Yu Suzuki that was published in the May 9 (2016) edition of the Bessatsu Shonen magazine.

Go here for PART 1 of the article.

In this lengthier part, Yu Suzuki reflects on last year's Kickstarter launch at E3, and talks about early computer games that inspired and influenced his design decisions for Shenmue; his thoughts on the game industry in Japan vs overseas; his love of innovation when creating games; the evolution of technology used in games; and his desire to ensure that Shenmue III is a game that will stand up proudly in today's market.

Note: this part appears first in the actual article.

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PART 2

The Globally-Anticipated Shenmue III is Under Way

Hello, it's been a while!

YS: Yes, it has! So, it looks like you're now reporting under the name Ikeda for the Weekly Shonen magazine.


That's right. And since development is under way on your latest game, I rushed over to ask you all about it!

YS: (laughs)


As we know, the project for the creation of Shenmue III was announced at the Playstation Experience 2015 conference at last year's E3. The venue exploded in excitement instantly. Looking back on it, how did you feel?

YS: Just before the Shenmue III announcement, several major games like Final Fantasy XV were being announced one after another from the stage, with each prompting thunderous cheers from the audience. So I felt anxious as I waited in the dressing rooms to go on, being overwhelmed at the fervor in the event hall and at the extraordinary atmosphere under which the Shenmue III announcement would be made (laughs) However, as soon as the Shenmue III music began to play... the cheering rang out an octave higher than previously – it was almost like screaming. I was so moved at that moment.


The applause and cheers that filled the air almost broke the hall apart – the passion was incredible, wasn't it. That's when it hit me just how eagerly video game fans around the world had been looking forward to Shenmue III. There was an amazing response through pledges made via Kickstarter immediately after that too, wasn't there.

YS: For the creation of Shenmue III, I used Kickstarter to raise funding towards the development budget from fans and a total of $6,333,296 was pledged by 69,320 people (by the end of the Kickstarter campaign). What's more, two Guinness world records were set: Fastest $1 Million Pledged for a Crowd-funded Video Game and Most Money Pledged for a Kickstarter Video Game. Access by the fans was so heavy that day that the Kickstarter servers went down three times.


Servers that should be able to stand up to heavy global access went down...!? It shows just how many video game fans are placing hopes on Shenmue III, doesn't it.


Shenmue: Building Up Natural Layers

Before talking about the game at the center of everyone's attention, Shenmue III, I'd like to reflect back on the Shenmue series in general. I believe the first game, published in 1999, was "Shenmue ~Chapter One: Yokosuka~". That was your first full-fledged title for a home console, wasn't it.

YS: Until then, I had been working only on developing arcade games since joining SEGA in 1983. With arcade game development you have to focus on cramming in the game's essence and inject a fun experience for the player, within a playtime limited to around 3 minutes. I spent some ten-odd years pushing myself to condense the core attractions of a game into a short period of time. Games for a home console are quite different. They don't have the restriction of brief gameplay imposed by arcade games, and time can be taken in communicating a game's features to the player. For me it started by wanting to be able to express myself as a developer with a home console game, unrestricted by time. But to go back even further to my earliest roots, I was greatly influenced as a student by a computer called the Apple II.


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Oh yes, I remember it! We all dreamed of owning an Apple II as students, but it was something that was far out of our reach.

YS: I also couldn't afford one myself, but seeing those video games running on the Apple II really stirred the imagination, didn't it. Early on, there was a genre of games known as text adventures, which displayed only words on the screen. Following that, as the capabilities of PCs increased, games began to display line graphics together with the text. In "Mystery House", a typical game of that era, the lines were blurry giving them the appearance of full-color graphics. Then in the 1980s the role-playing game (RPG) series "Ultima" emerged, bringing with it 3D dungeons and even sound generation. I witnessed the evolution of these kinds of games, and at the time my reaction was simply "Wow".


Back then was a time when video games evolved at break-neck speed, didn't they, to keep pace with the improving capabilities of PCs.

YS: Ultima in particular set itself apart from the adventure games seen before then whose story would progress in the same way no matter who played; rather, the outcome differed slightly for each person playing. Depending on things like the player's actions and experience points gained within the game, the story develops differently. That's what really got my attention. So for me, RPGs evolved from adventure games – text adventure games that displayed only words. Line graphics were added to these text-only games, followed by the ability to portray color and sound; then the sound-effects became more realistic... To me, the evolution of video games was a rapid broadening of "what's possible". This led to me wondering if I could put 3D graphics on the screen, or include speech. And the result of a natural extension to my thoughts is the Shenmue series.


Within the Shenmue series, what things did you especially strive to do in a particular way?

YS: I'm often asked in interviews with the foreign media whether there is there anything I wished I could have put in Shenmue I but didn't. When I reply "The ramen noodles don't get soggy", a question mark forms above their heads (laughs). In director Juzo Itami's movie "The Funeral" there's a scene in the middle of the ceremony where people start to get pins and needles in their legs and so they rearrange the position of their big toes. It's a situation which shouldn't be laughed about, but you can't help chuckling. It's that sort of everyday little thing that I'd like to portray. That's what gives the Shenmue feeling, and I wanted to include lots of those kinds of things. For example - after 10 minutes there's less steam coming from the ramen noodles (laughs). But at the time of Shenmue I, characters in other games could only move in four directions (up, down, left, right) and in order to talk with other characters you had to stand directly in front of them. And that's the era in which I was trying to portray things cinematically, so I couldn't get understanding from anyone. (laughs)


I think it was in 1997 that you asked me whether I would be interested in becoming the director of what was Shenmue's previous incarnation, "Virtua Fighter RPG". Back then you also spoke about the same kind of things, but at the time I couldn't grasp what you were talking about at all (laughs).

YS: Even when I pointed out to people "In real life you can converse with someone even if you're standing beside them rather than directly in front, right?", no one got it. (laughs) That was common with video games of the time, and taken for granted. When a character ran into a wall or obstacle and stopped, his legs would continue to move on the spot. No-one would listen to the suggestion that when a character can't move any further forward he doesn't keep lifting his feet. I'm sure everyone justified it to themselves with the reasoning "because it's a game". So the Shenmue series took shape from my building up layers of what were, for me, natural things.



The Day Japan's Gaming Industry Lost Domination

What Is Needed for a Come-back?


Shenmue I was filled with revolutionary concepts such as those, but no games appeared from Japan game developers to follow in its footsteps. Shenmue I was released in December 1999, and I believe that is the day when Japan lost the global video games battle.

YS: It's true that Japan's game industry started to go in the completely opposite direction from there.


My feeling is that Shenmue I was somewhat of a difficult proposition from a business perspective, and so the executives at Japan game companies decided that this style of game wasn't going to work out and turned their backs.

YS: But that's because video games of the time, not just in Japan but around the world, were of a style that explored a single theme in depth. For example even Hang On, a game that I designed, was focused on riding with the bike leaning over. A single theme was taken and narrowed down to the extreme – and then it was drilled into with depth. It's the complete opposite of the "able to do anything" style I was aiming for with the Shenmue series.


If Japanese game developers had embraced Shenmue's concepts, we might have been in quite a different situation today. Games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy didn't follow its path either.

YS: Those are products that were created after a thorough analysis of the Japanese market to identify suitable elements for customization to Japanese gamers, with all necessary elements being incorporated into their manufacture.


Conversely the market overseas was energized by the release of Shenmue I. Even the developers behind Grand Theft Auto went so far as to comment that seeing Shenmue I served as strong encouragement for them, saying that it opened up the way forward for them; they saw that evolving in that direction could work.

YS: Looking back on it now, if I had taken the Shenmue I game engine at that time and made it available as a tool for developers, it might have become the equivalent of something like today's Unreal Engine or Unity. But at the point in time of the first game, the game engine portion wasn't fully finished so we weren't able to make a strong pitch about it. I think if the game engine portion had been complete, then it would have been markedly more efficient to develop the second game onwards. Creating game engines or development tools like this is something at which people in the West are particularly adept. Back in 1999 they realized what development tools would be needed to create a game allowing the player complete freedom of action, and went ahead with the steps to get there.


I think more now than ever, with the Japan game industry up against tough times, your words and Shenmue's concepts really stand out. Last year, when the father of Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima, went independent, he said "If we're only focused on the profits immediately in front of us, the times will leave the Japanese games industry behind. It becomes impossible to catch up again." This reflects what has happened after Shenmue.

YS: When Shenmue I was released, reviews were mixed. I can talk about it now as the "statue of limitations" has expired, but originally the Shenmue series was a single story made up of 11 chapters, that I was planning to release in two parts. Then it became necessary to release just the first chapter as a single game: putting together its own opening and ending and adjusting it story-wise to provide an Introduction, Development, Turn and Conclusion. So, if I had to say whether Shenmue I turned out as I had first envisaged, then that's not necessarily the case. My belief is that you must always be taking on new challenges, in order for new methods of expression and game production techniques to see the light. If you only rely on the old and familiar, the day will come when you're no longer able to stand up against the rest of the world.


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Challenges Give Rise to New Advantages

This is my own pet theory, but I think that with video games in America, in the main both players and developers have grown to prefer games that provide entertainment through simulation. I would say that it's for this reason that Shenmue I "clicked" with Americans as being the kind of thing they were looking for; and video games that followed haven't held back on trying new things to improve the quality of the simulation.

YS: The people of Japan are the most versatile among all nations, so I'm sure that in three years time, given the same development tool, we would be able to master them with the highest proficiency. However, while we may be able to become more proficient than anyone else, there is a temptation to stick with those development tools or methods we have gotten used to. Developers overseas, on the other hand, are always trying new development methods and different game engines, and they use these skillfully and efficiently. This approach of trying new things is one that is praised by overseas game fans. And so the approach taken in the West, where importance is placed on new challenges rather than success / failure, is a better and mentally healthier approach for developers.


No doubt your big global hit Out Run was the result of your taking on those kinds of challenges yourself. Out Run was a game that simulates an enjoyable drive in a car down a wide, open road while the trend for race games in the 80s was to race down narrow roads, where hitting another car would cause an explosion.

YS: After all, in real life I have never had an explosion from scraping my car (laughs). And so I thought it doesn't make sense for it to explode. And what prompted me to provide Out Run with a choice of 3 background music tracks was from wanting to change the music to suit my mood when driving my own car.


And then we arrive at the 90s, when 2D fighting games had a great burst in popularity.

YS: Street Fighter II was the king of the fighting games at the time.


Back then, "fighting games" automatically meant two-dimensional fighting games – that was the only kind of fighting games that players and developers knew, wasn't it. But instead of pursuing the same path, you worked on a three-dimensional fighting game, Virtua Fighter.

YS: I had no hope of mastering the controls for Street Fighter II, so I thought I would make a game that I would be able to play (laughs). What I wanted to achieve with Virtua Fighter was that I wanted to be able to move my character the way I wanted, with the fighting based on judgment in the same way as with an actual martial artist. The 2D fighting games of the 90s were a genre where the player is rewarded with a win through skill at timing. However, that means that it is people who can execute the commands at exactly the right instant who are the ones that win. What is really wanted is for victory to be the result of the player thinking "I want to do a somersault kick here" and controlling the character accordingly, right? With real boxing too, even the greatest boxer doesn't watch the action before throwing a punch. His body moves the instant he senses that his opponent will throw a punch. I wanted to make a fighting game that you could play with the same kind of intuition as actual fighters. To achieve that, I simplified the controls and implemented an intelligent processing system to let the player's decisions be communicated directly.


It was a game you packed with innovations, wasn't it - not just 3D graphics but even in areas like the controls.


Video Game Industry's Destiny Dictates Use of Cutting-Edge Technology

I think the reason 3D stereoscopic movies have become established in Hollywood is because entertainment in America as a whole has moved in the direction of simulations, and they have been assimilated naturally. That being the case, would virtual reality be the next area video games in America will target?

YS: We are getting closer to what we used to dream about. Even for simulations, the day may come when the experience will be not be via a TV screen but through holographic images, which is something I discussed back in the days of Virtua Fighter. It is said that almost anything that can be imagined is realizable; for example in the past we used to think it would be amazing if trains could travel inside buildings, but now it's something that exists and is taken for granted. So reality will grow closer to our dreams, I'm sure.


The games of the future we dreamed about as kids are rapidly becoming reality, aren't they.

YS: What bugs me most when I'm playing video games, is that using a controller is such a hassle. I ask myself when it will be possible to play without a controller (laughs). Being unable to manipulate the controller properly is stressful and unpleasant, so I want to have the character move just from thought. Brain waves such as alpha waves can now be detected, so someday a sensor may be realized that gives you control just by attaching it to your body in the same way as "Elekiban" [a brand of magnetic patches sold in Japan].


Actually continuing to attempt to reach those goals, rather than leaving them as dreams, pushes technology to advance, doesn't it.

YS: Even automated driving, which has become a popular topic in the vehicle industry, is a natural extension of the technology used to control the non-player cars in racing games - how to recognize the road geometry, how to make a correction to a deviation from the path of travel. The basic core of automated driving is the same foundation as for the non-player cars we have been working with for more than 10 years. Of course, with an actual car lives are at stake so things like the detection of other cars and measurement of inter-car distance is done with high precision. Racing games, by comparison, are deliberately made to be competitive so that the player can enjoy playing them. Almost certainly some of the technology in racing games forms the cornerstone of automated driving; or to put it another way, I would say the very first incorporation of automated driving was in racing games.


Video games are filled with cutting-edge technology, aren't they!

YS: Military technology contributed to the evolution of computers. Therefore cutting-edge technology is also used in the video game industry built upon them, and furthermore this industry is one whose destiny dictates that kind of cutting-edge technology be actively employed.



Being Globally Competitive as a Creative Work

While experimenting with such new challenges may be fun, at the same time is it the toughest part of video game development?

YS: Quite the opposite, it's the most enjoyable part. Of course, there are tough times too. With the production of Shenmue I, there's no doubt there were struggles, but they were to do with the vast amount of personnel administration and management; areas other than the creative side.


Things like administering the staff and scheduling, rather than the development.

YS: Right (laughs). I hate having time taken up by management and losing time for creativity.


Having clearly-separated positions for producer and director as with Hollywood movies might suit your style of creation better.

YS: If I could dedicate myself to creating the game, it would be painless. But back at the time of Shenmue I, for a developer to speak of making a game where the player is "able to do anything" was taboo territory – it was equivalent to saying that the game would become one that couldn't do anything. The reason for that is simple: if you have say 10 developers, then to implement 10 features you need to put one person in charge of each feature. But if you narrow the scope down to a single feature then all 10 members can devote their energy to it. You could also say that the reason a game of the same type as Shenmue wasn't produced following the release of Shenmue I was due to there being this kind of background.


So it was a game that deliberately challenged this taboo!

YS: That's why when I'm making a video game... I always find new challenges exciting. Also when I was making arcade games, I never felt it to be a hardship. However - and this is something that can be said about all the games I've created up till now - I've never completed one exactly as I wanted it to be. Mostly they end up with around 50-60% implemented of what I wanted to do (laughs).


If the result is the creation of games like Virtua Fighter, then everything you wanted to do was implemented the world would surely be bowled over! (laughs)

YS: The biggest difference between game developers in Japan vs those overseas is probably the system of production. Overseas development companies are based around a production style that includes Hollywood marketing and merchandising. And so it's hard for Japanese developers to try to imitate that. But in a way it's the same for movies: there are many fine Japanese movies, aren't there. Some Japanese movies even win awards overseas. If we can bring out something with an appeal that isn't influenced by differences in budget or production style, then a product can be created that will be well received by the rest of the world. I want Shenmue III to be a video game that can be globally competitive as a creative work.


Translation by Switch

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Peter 蔡 » Fri Jun 10, 2016 11:14 am

Great job, thanks very much, Switch San.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Giorgio » Fri Jun 10, 2016 12:48 pm

Amazing, Switch! Thank you very much for this translation! It was one of the most pluralistic interviews of Yu-san I've ever read. (It seems the length of YS' interviews is based on how much he is inspired by the questions and/or respect the interviewer.)

Some quotes that are my highlights from this one:
YS: It's that sort of everyday little thing that I'd like to portray. That's what gives the Shenmue feeling [...]


YS: No-one would listen to the suggestion that [...]. I'm sure everyone justified it to themselves with the reasoning "because it's a game". So the Shenmue series took shape from my building up layers of what were, for me, natural things.


If Japanese game developers had embraced Shenmue's concepts, we might have been in quite a different situation today. Games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy didn't follow its path either.

YS: Those are products that were created after a thorough analysis of the Japanese market to identify suitable elements for customization to Japanese gamers, with all necessary elements being incorporated into their manufacture.

Interesting description of how these products are formed.

YS: Looking back on it now, if I had taken the Shenmue I game engine at that time and made it available as a tool for developers, it might have become the equivalent of something like today's Unreal Engine or Unity.


I think more now than ever, with the Japan game industry up against tough times, your words and Shenmue's concepts really stand out. Last year, when the father of Metal Gear Solid, Hideo Kojima, went independent, he said "If we're only focused on the profits immediately in front of us, the times will leave the Japanese games industry behind. It becomes impossible to catch up again." This reflects what has happened after Shenmue.

YS: When Shenmue I was released, reviews were mixed. I can talk about it now as the "statue of limitations" has expired, but originally the Shenmue series was a single story made up of 11 chapters, that I was planning to release in two parts. Then it became necessary to release just the first chapter as a single game: putting together its own opening and ending and adjusting it story-wise to provide an Introduction, Development, Turn and Conclusion. So, if I had to say whether Shenmue I turned out as I had first envisaged, then that's not necessarily the case. My belief is that you must always be taking on new challenges, in order for new methods of expression and game production techniques to see the light. If you only rely on the old and familiar, the day will come when you're no longer able to stand up against the rest of the world.


YS: It is said that almost anything that can be imagined is realizable; for example in the past we used to think it would be amazing if trains could travel inside buildings, but now it's something that exists and is taken for granted.


YS: If we can bring out something with an appeal that isn't influenced by differences in budget or production style, then a product can be created that will be well received by the rest of the world. I want Shenmue III to be a video game that can be globally competitive as a creative work.

That's the key to Shenmue III's success.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Yokosuka » Fri Jun 10, 2016 2:31 pm

Awesome work, thanks.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Switch » Sat Jun 11, 2016 4:37 am

Giorgio wrote:(It seems the length of YS' interviews is based on how much he is inspired by the questions and/or respect the interviewer.)

Yes, good observation! It was surprising to learn that his relationship with the interviewer goes way back and that he had even at one time offered the interviewer a place as director on the Virtua Fighter RPG project. I remember in one of Suzuki's other video interviews he expressed his relief at being interviewed directly in Japanese (rather than through an interpreter).

Having some shared cultural background with the interviewer would make it easier for him to get his ideas across too, like when he talks about the movie scene:
In director Juzo Itami's movie "The Funeral" there's a scene in the middle of the ceremony where people start to get pins and needles in their legs and so they rearrange the position of their big toes. It's a situation which shouldn't be laughed about, but you can't help chuckling. It's that sort of everyday little thing that I'd like to portray.

In this scene, the Buddhist priest performs the service for the extended family. The priest's chanting lasts several minutes so after a while the smaller kids start getting bored and start hitting each other, and everyone's legs start to get sore. I think most Japanese people would be able to relate to this and find it amusing. Here's the actual scene which I found on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNO7opG ... .be&t=4541

Also Suzuki talked about the graphics in the text adventure game Mystery House:
Following that, as the capabilities of PCs increased, games began to display line graphics together with the text. In "Mystery House", a typical game of that era, the lines were blurry giving them the appearance of full-color graphics.

A little more information about the game: it was published in 1980 by On-Line Systems (which would later become Sierra On-Line).
Image
Apparently due to limitations of the Apple II's "hi-res" mode, controlling the color of the vertical lines was difficult and so in this game they ended up being green or violet rather than white, like in the screenshot here, which gave them the "blurry" or colorful appearance Suzuki mentioned.
Last edited by Switch on Sat Jun 11, 2016 11:59 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Nankeiro » Sat Jun 11, 2016 11:40 pm

This is... wonderful. Really. A lot. Switch, you're great. I particularly find your translations very impressive and full of dedication, respect and love for Shenmue.

Thank you very much once again for giving us the chance to KNOW. It so great to have people like you here able and kind enough to share.

Thanks!!
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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Shenhua-Nani? » Sun Jun 12, 2016 8:05 am

Thank you Switch, you are an asset for this community.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Switch » Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:39 am

I'm very glad that people find these kind of article/video translations of value!

Yu has so much worthwhile to share, it would be a shame for any section of the Shenmue community to miss out on any of it.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby Anonymous81 » Sun Jul 03, 2016 1:31 pm

Thank-you so much for your efforts at translating these. Awesome interviews.

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Re: PART 2: Yu Suzuki Interview (May 9 Bessatsu Shonen Mag)

Postby RyoHazuki84 » Sun Jul 03, 2016 9:07 pm

The Japanese have come to embrace the Yakuza/Ryu Ga Gotoku series which borrows so much from Shenmue, but does not live up to Suzuki's concepts of FREE. The series has been progressing and as an open world game, Shenmue still excellently holds up. Hopefully in the future when the game is released, a new appreciation for the franchise will be rejuvenated universally.
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