The Prelude to Shenmue: How Yu Suzuki’s history help shape Shenmue

For hardcore Shenmue fans, the day is rapidly approaching where the events of Shenmue occurred. Personally, for me to discuss about Shenmue, it’s important to discuss about Yu Suzuki’s history in game development prior to Shenmue. Because if it weren’t for certain games, Shenmue might not of conceived. After all, Shenmue is a melting pot of all his prior experiences put into one enormous game.  Taking bits and pieces of those games and combing it into one conglomerate.

Yu Suzuki, the man highly regarded as Sega’s Shigeru Miyamoto is responsible for many Sega classics, including Outrun, Virtua Fighter, and Shenmue. In the first place, Yu Suzuki started off at Sega AM2 as a programmer back in 1983. During his first year, he programmed Champion Boxing released in Arcades and SG 1000 the same year.

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Champion Boxing, Yu Suzuki’s first game at Sega in 1983

The Super Scaler Days

But it wasn’t until 1985 when his career began to kick off. His interest in Motorcycles would pay off in the development of his first arcade hit, Hang-On. Suzuki, a man who combines both a business and creative perspective to games by making them appeal to both the casual and hardcore audiences, by developing a cabinet that would emulate the experience of riding a motorcycle. The game would be the beginning of AM-2’s success. The game also debuted the Super Scaler series, which displayed pseudo-3D graphics which were 2D sprites being scaled. So, it would seem but Yu Suzuki clarifies his intentions on how the Super Scaler games worked, “My designs were always 3D from the beginning. All the calculations in the system were 3D, even from Hang-On. I calculated the position, scale, and zoom rate in 3D and converted it backwards to 2D. So I was always thinking in 3D.” This would foreshadow the trends that were to come.

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Following suit, Yu Suzuki returns to the drawing board shifting of reality and taking a sci-fi approach for his next game, Space Harrier. However, the game’s original direction was to use Jump jets, a concept used in a future game. The game takes inspiration from The Neverending Story, Space Cobra, and the artwork of Roger Dean. In addition to be a Super Scaler game, this also introduced the first time that an analog flight stick used for movement which became big in PC gaming.

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Next, Outrun, the first driving game debuted almost a year and a half after Space Harrier. To clarify, Outrun was the accumulation of Cannonball Run using Europe as the main inspiration and a Ferrari Testarossa. The object of the game was simple, driving around 6 gorgeous tracks before time runs out. The game was unique for not only being a super scaler title, but additionally offering a radio station prior to starting the game which was unheard of at the time and its cabinet based off a Testarossa. The game’s legacy is still being seen today as it’s influenced many racing gaming including Gran Turismo, Forza, and Daytona USA.

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Then in 1987, After Burner II debuted worldwide. Why talk about the second game rather than the first? Because the first saw release only in japan and the latter worldwide. One way to summarize the game is Top Gun the video game. This game debuts the Sega Board X succeeding in many ways that Hang-On and Outrun Boards could not. A technical milestone debuting in After Burner was the sprite rotation. The game’s premise was to survive 18 stages of enemy fighters and landscape obstacles using your wits, machine guns, or lock-on missiles on your F-14. The game influenced many titles, including Star Fox, Panzer Dragoon, and Rez.

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Afterwards, deciding to take a break from flight simulators he returned to driving games with Power Drift in 1988. This kart racing game that predates Mario Kart has players driving on tracks with many hills and bridges, the camera rotates with the player as they turn corners. This is one of Yu Suzuki’s underrated titles as this don’t not see as many ports in the US but immensely popular in Japan and Europe.

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Trending New Nerritories

However, before developing his next arcade hit, he decided to make a short turn into the console gaming scene for a multi genre RPG, Swords of Vermillion on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. In this case, Yu Suzuki was the producer of the game and took a different approach than use the traditional RPG formula, foreshadowing one of his future games. There are several different modes in the game, Town mode where the player roams around in your typical RPG fashion, dungeon mode akin to Phantasy Star, Battle View where the player engages in free combat against enemies, and boss mode where the player fights the boss in a side scrolling perspective. The game being a big player in the early days of the Genesis used in the Genesis does what Nintendon’t campaign.

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Once Sword of Vermillion finished, Suzuki returned to the arcade scene with G-LOC in the start of the 1990s. In general G-LOC, refers to G-force induced Loss of Consciousness, can be the spiritual sequel to After Burner, using the premise of destroying enemy fighters with a Harrier, the game is famous for using pre-rendered 3D graphics and heavy sprite rotation similar to its spiritual predecessor. The game also featured a cabinet that rotated 360 degrees known as the G-LOC 360.

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The Beginning of 3D

In light of Suzuki’s experience in game development, he was also a great hardware engineer. Wanting to enter the realms of 3D, Sega began researching the capabilities of 3D gaming with Namco and Atari already setting foot. Yu Suzuki and AM2 began developing for their own 3D capable arcade of their own. Under those circumstances, teaming up with Fujitsu using their TGP MB86233 DSP developed the Sega Model 1.

Furthermore, with the development of the Model 1 needed some games to coincide with it. In 1992, Virtua Racing debuted to arcades on the Model 1 setting a milestone in 3D gaming for its constant 60 fps, amazing 3D graphics, offer multi-cabinet support to play against others, and multiple camera angles. As Suzuki describes it, it’s a classic F1 racing game which also serves as a predecessor to future racing games to come.

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Suddenly, a year has passed and Yu Suzuki has generated another technical marvel, Virtua Fighter. In retrospect, Suzuki wanted to create a fighting game that would beat Street Fighter II. Rather than using traditional 2D sprites, AM2 decided to go for a 3D approach using several techniques they learned with the Model 1 already, “3D graphics in games were very primitive. You could only make models from triangles, which didn’t even have textures. … There wasn’t the opportunity to make graphics that were really beautiful, and because of that I decided to spend all my efforts to make character movements correct and realistic.” For the most part, Virtua Fighter was the grandfather of 3D fighters due to its almost lifelike movements and building the mold for future 3D fighters including Tekken and Dead or Alive. The game also the inspiration for Sony to move forward with 3D graphics on the PlayStation.

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Virtua Fighter is considered to be the pioneer of 3D Fighters and what helped inspire Shenmue

 The Model 2 days

Regardless of the success that Sega was having with the Model 1, time was limited before someone could produce a Virtua Fighter/Racing killer and take over the 3D market. Already having some of the ingredients for their next arcade board, Suzuki teamed up with Lockheed Martin, a company that’s known for making military equipment for space and aerial technology decided to buy to the chips to see how they would come into play in video games. Originally set for the Model 1, adding in the technology from Lockheed cut short but eventually added on to what now be the Sega Model 2. One of Sega’s most popular arcade boards introduced texture mapping, filtering, and anti-aliasing. This was undeniably a powerful graphics card on the market being equivalent to a PC graphics card in 1998.

Correspondingly, there needed to be games to display the capabilities of the Model 2. Though Daytona USA paved the way for what the Model 2 was capable of, Suzuki’s debut game would not be until 1994 with Virtua Cop. In fact, it was one of the first 3D light gun games released at the time, which advertised as the “world’s first texture mapped, polygon action game.” The game revolutionized the genre with headshots and positioned body targets influencing not only Light games, but First person shooters, particularly Rare’s Goldeneye.

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Virtua Cop is what influenced Goldeneye during development as many figures in Rare have stated.

Shortly after Virtua Cop, Suzuki and his team concurrently developed the sequel to their arcade hit, Virtua Fighter for their new arcade board. Virtua Fighter 2 not only improved the mechanics of the game, but as well as the technical aspects of the game, including 60 fps and motion capturing which prior to its release, used primarily in the health care industry.  The game was a massive success with ports released on the Saturn, Genesis, and PC that could not even match the graphical capabilities of the arcade version.

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Virtua Fighter 2 still looks great today.

Striving Ahead of the Game

Immediately, Sega returned to the drawing boards and preparing for its next arcade. Once more, teaming up with Lockheed and Mitsubishi to create the best 3D graphics on any gaming platform, the Sega Model 3. Despite many delays during development, this was the most powerful gaming system out there! The board was a huge success and releasing more Sega influential arcade hit.

As an Illustration, Virtua Fighter 3 was one of the games that debuted with the Model 3 back in 1996. The game introduces multi-level areas (like DOA 2) and a dodge button, but graphically is where the game shines! The game’s praise focused on graphics that compared to the CGI graphics used at the time.

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Virtua Fighter 3 was a massive leap in terms of graphics and better than any other video game at the time

Where does AM2 go from here?

All things considered, it’s because of the games and hardware that Yu Suzuki worked with is where he could combine all those efforts into one giant masterpiece.  Not only that, but because of how capable Suzuki and his team were it was only right to keep pushing the limits of what was possible in the realm of video games. Though AM2 would finally see the true challenge in making video games right after making Virtua Fighter 3 when they returned to the console gaming market to make one of the most ambitious and influential video games yet.

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Sources:

http://segaretro.org/Sega_Model_1
http://segaretro.org/Sega_Model_2
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Fighter_3
http://segaretro.org/Hang_On
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Fighter_2
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Fighter
http://segaretro.org/Space_Harrier
http://segaretro.org/Outrun
http://segaretro.org/After_Burner
http://segaretro.org/Model_3
http://segaretro.org/Sword_of_Vermillion
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Racing
http://segaretro.org/Virtua_Cop
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=712
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=713
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=698
http://www.system16.com/hardware.php?id=717

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2 thoughts on “The Prelude to Shenmue: How Yu Suzuki’s history help shape Shenmue”

  1. This was a fantastic post. I always knew that Yu Suzuki was a pioneer in the industry, but I had no idea how many games and genres he’s influenced over the years. I really hope that Shenmue 3 is everything he wants it to be.

    Like

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