Tag Archives: Sega AM2

Earth and Sea: The Review of Shenmue

Shenmue, Sega’s most ambitious game and Yu Suzuki’s magnum opus. A game with a strong cult following in the years following its released and one of the killer apps on Sega’s swan song, the Dreamcast. The game meant to save Sega from impending doom eventually factored in Sega’s departure of the console wars with its $47 million budget. Furthermore, Shenmue is one of those games that people either love or hate, as a result of how detailed the game’s world is and mesmerized the player with the world. Often regarded as the pioneer of modern games inspiring the likes of Resident Evil 4, Grand Theft Auto, and Sleeping Dogs. Shenmue is accredited for the push in making open world games with its luscious world, NPCs that interact with you, and night and day systems.

Development of Shenmue

Development of Shenmue started back in 1993. As Yu Suzuki traveled to China in order to research for Virtua Fighter 2 As a result of his fascination with Chinese culture,  it inspired to keep those items that interested him aside. After the release of Virtua Fighter 2, Suzuki decided to embark on his biggest project.

Even more, he states that the purpose of an arcade title is to grab the player’s attention for 3 minutes, but Suzuki wanted to see if he can develop a console game that would grab the player’s attention for a longer length of time. With this in mind, frustrated with the flaws he noticed with the JRPG genre and combined with his research in China he began playing 80s adventure games and early 90s JRPGs to steer him in the right direction.

As a result, set with what he wanted to do with his next title, a JRPG. So much that, he decided that the platform that would suit his needs would be the Sega Saturn where it did great in Japan but disappointing in the US and Europe. Above all, he needed to test out what the capabilities of the Saturn in full 3D something that several developers struggled to accomplish on the Saturn. In the end, he named this prototype, The Old Man and the Peach Tree.

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Set in 1950s China, Taro asks an old man if he knows a Master Ryu. The Old man tells him if Taro can give him a peach, he will tell him where Master Ryu’s location is. In the end, after the trials that Taro goes through he realizes that the old man might possibly be Master Ryu himself.

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Eventually, Suzuki confident with all the research in The Old Man and the Peach Tree decided to fully embark with his vision. For this reason, a proposal for a full 3D RPG based on the Virtua Fighter series using the game’s engine with the objective of having fully-voiced cut scenes, the ability to fight multiple opponents, and have a cinematic approach would eventually be titled, Virtua Fighter RPG: Akira Story.

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The overall goals of Virtua Fighter RPG

With this intention, Suzuki began working on the plot and approach different ways to develop his masterpieces, he created a 4-step process. For a start, Suzuki divided the general theme of each plot in 4 different acts. Next, he wrote a 4-orchestral suite in order to suit the game’s overall mood and brought in composers to critique his work. Afterwards, instead of bringing in game developers which he believes would make the game too literal, he instead brought in screenwrights, film directors, playwrights, and others for something he titled, Bordered Development. Eventually, the game’s general direction arranged by both the developers and additional resources Suzuki brought in and concluded to illustrate the 4 general plots in 11 chapters and illustrate each of them.

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The concept art of the 11 chapters of Virtua Fighter RPG

Incidentally, the footage released of the Saturn Virtua Fighter RPG is amazing! The prototype displays what could have been the true capabilities of the Saturn in full 3D in real time. Yes, the Saturn whose full 3D capabilities developers underutilized. Indeed, the game is great and worthy to be the Saturn’s killer app which would have spanned across 8 discs for the first chapter.

Unfortunately, due to the low sales of the Saturn outside of Japan, the other branches of Sega discontinued support for the system in the late 90s and this caused Suzuki to switch his game towards Sega’s next console, the Dreamcast. On another note, seeing that the next console met the requirements of Suzuki’s next game, he demanded that Yamaha, the makers of the sound chip for Sega’s new console upgraded from 32 to 64 channels and he contributed to the development of the Dreamcast and its arcade counterpart the Naomi. In the end, this brought along Guppy.

Overall, Guppy’s goal to offer 45 hours of gameplay is a combination of cut scenes both cinematic and real-time, exploration, and combat. Realizing that this might have been too ambitious for the player at the time, Suzuki forced to cut back on his goal and decided that each of the 11 chapters of the game split into individual games. Therefore, in order to make this game the killer app for the Sega Dreamcast, deciding to switch the premise of Virtua Fighter RPG into a new IP, Project Berkley aka Shenmue ~Chapter 1: Yokosuka~.

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The Ship in the end of the game is called Genpuumaru, a tribute to Guppy.

With this in mind, in order to show off the capabilities of Sega’s new console at its unveiling, Suzuki sent 5 of his team members to make a tech demo for the event.  As a result, the stunning audiences amazed to see the tech demo produced by AM2, The Tower of Babel, which used 1 million polygons running at 60 fps.

Afterwards, The Dreamcast launched in Japan in 1998 with Virtua Fighter 3tb being one of the launch titles. Not to sway off topic, but this wasn’t a true port as AM2 did not work on this, but left audiences with a surprise, a bonus disc that included a preview of Project Berkley.

During this time, AM2 working on getting the final touches into the game. Additionally, there were several delays to the game due to several critical flaws in the game, including several NPCs stuck inside a building at one time in the game since several of them are programmed to follow a real schedule like people would in real life. Additionally, the animals suddenly become bipedal and that should be a sign that maybe a there needs to be more debugging.  In the end, after the long wait, Shenmue stepped into the ring to show off the Dreamcast’s capabilities.

The Main Review

Shenmue was released in Japan on December 29, 1999, the US in November of 2000 and a month later in Europe. Shenmue is an open-world game where players take control of Ryo Hazuki in his quest to enact his revenge on Lan Di for the death of his father. The game takes place in 1986 Yokosuka, Japan, where players explore the city throughout the day and night looking for clues on Lan Di. During his quest Ryo, can partake in numerous activities including exploring Yokosuka, playing games in the arcade, perfect his martial arts, beat some thugs, engage in quick time events, and spend his money on gambling and cute figurines.

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Concept art of Ryo, the main protagonist

In terms of content, Suzuki emphasized that Shenmue is not an RPG but FREE. Yes, FREE which stands for full reactive eyes entertainment. But the game seems similar to a noir PC point and click adventure game that transited into 3D that featuring elements of beat em up, quick time events, and racing into the mix. The game is highly revolutionary for the time for its highly-detailed world and how it lets players engage so well in this world which gave non-Japanese players an insight of how life in Japan during the mid-80s. Still to this day, the game blows my mind away at how much detail was placed onto 3 GD-Roms!

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An example of the detailed world of Shenmue

As mentioned before, Ryo’s main goal is to search for his father’s killer, Lan Di. But there are several subplots that occur throughout the game. First of all, he needs to find any info about the car Lan Di drove, if anyone received any information regarding the vehicle, searching for anyone in the area that is fluent in Chinese, earning some money to go to Hong Kong, stopping some thugs that are terrorizing the harbors, and what is behind those Dragon mirrors.

In terms of gameplay, its simple the overall premise is to look for clues by doing certain tasks, talking to certain people, and looking around the city all this being written inside Ryo’s journal as a reference guide throughout the game. The fighting engine in this game is top notch and feels similar to those who have played Virtua Fighter. The forklift racing and motorcycle segments are straight out of  Virtua Racing and Hang-On. Finally, the quick time events credited towards a non-AM2 game, Dynamite Deka/Die Hard Arcade.

There are several great segments in the game that often show off the best of what Suzuki intended during the game’s lengthy development, including how much emphasis placed into the player by letting them explore even the smallest of details. The driving forklifts whether it be for racing or for working were also among some of the memorable parts of the game. Wasting time playing Space Harrier, Hang on, Darts, and QTE boxing. Even how Ryo can interact with the NPCs even though they can be quite rude, but Suzuki states he wanted to have the players experience each NPC differently, “What I did not want players to experience while having a conversation with an NPC is repetition. Getting the same answer to your question over and over is boring. And that is what happens in some games. In Shenmue, the conversation system is adjusted accordingly,” he concludes. Finally, the best portion of the game is the fighting segments, including the 70-man battle near the finale of the game.

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Easily one of the best parts of the game, 70 man battle

In contrast, there are multiple parts of the game that might turn off several players including myself who at one point was not convinced to finish the game. In spite of all the praise Shenmue deserves, it features several flaws that outright making this unplayable for some. Particularly in the beginning portion of the game features mundane task that Ryo needs to accomplish that might turn off players so it’s recommended to find a guide to finish the beginning part of the game quickly. Asking people if they know Chinese or if they’ve seen sailors? These would of worked in 2D point and click adventure games, but not in this type of game. Not only that, but the world might be too realistic for others, though this is a subjective complaint since a fraction of people might enjoy this sense of realism.

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One of the cringy parts of the game

Graphically, the game looks amazing, especially in VGA mode where it shines as one of the Dreamcast’s finest gems. The models in the game still look great and I cannot complain at this point. The buildings, environments, and people might look sharp around the edges, but it’s no concern of mine.

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Then, the controls are great overall though, at the moment it seems awkward when trying to turn around as it seems slow. They are amazing when it comes to the fighting scenes where they’ll feel akin to the Virtua Fighter series. The controls in the driving portion of the game are also a great feeling akin to Hang-On and Virtua Racing especially with the analog stick.

Finally, the music is atmospheric but it suits the game very well! Being composed by a plethora of composers, including Sega legends Takenobu Mitsuyoshi and Yuzo Koshiro. When composing the music, Mitsuyoshi mentioned this, “What I tried to achieve for Shenmue was not Takenobu Mitsuyoshi’s music. Rather, I tried to find the melody that lies in the sound effects themselves, something that used sound effects for melody and rhythm… With Shenmue, I’m creating the total opposite. It’s music that you do not notice, but if it wasn’t there, the scene would feel barren. It’s very nuanced, detailed work, and very challenging in many ways. But in part of the large scale of this project, it did afford me several of opportunities to experiment. As a composer, I feel like I leveled up in a way.” Indeed, it does feel that way transiting from Arcade music to console gaming since the overall soundtrack to Shenmue is fantastic. Koshiro on the other hand felt very honored to be among the presence of Suzuki and Mitsyoshi as he noted, “I had met Koshiro once before when we shared the stage at a Roland event. After that Suzuki asked me, “Do you want to try working with Koshiro?” And of course, I did! I’ve long admired Koshiro and thought he was cool. I’ve followed his work closely for the last 10 years.” Even the symphonic arrangements of the tracks are beautiful. They truly convey the atomsphere the game is attempting to display to the player.

The game does not stop there as there were a plethora of content released prior and attached to the game. Prior to the release of Shenmue, Sega released What’s Shenmue? This serves as an additional demo of the game. The plot begins with Ryo looking for Mr. Yukawa, Senior Managing Director of Sega at the time where he saves him from thugs who wanted a disk from him. Only in the end, to realize that Mr. Yukawa, dreaming the whole time needed to ship all these Dreamcast units for the sake of Shenmue. Additionally, the game came with a Passport disc, which includes an assortment of goodies, including a sound test to listen to your favorite tracks, an insight look at all the people that you’ll interact with in the game named after random employees at Sega. Eigo Kasahara, Planner for Shenmue added this, “With the Shenmue Passport players can learn about the details and connections that we couldn’t show in the game. There’s a great deal of hidden relationships, for example.” Going to show how far the development team wanted to go with the game and how the players interacted with the each of the NPCs.

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One of the things one could of done in the Passport Disc

 

Shenmue’s Connection with Suzuki’s previous work

As mentioned in the previous article, Shenmue is a melting pot of numerous Suzuki’s titles. This comes into play when considered countless gameplay mechanics seen throughout the game. First, the Virtua Fighter series playing a significant role in terms of the characters and fighting mechanics since this began as a Virtua Fighter spin-off. Following suit, Virtua Racing plays a role in contributing to the racing portion of the game specifically the forklift races. Then, Hang-On plays a role when Ryo uses the motorcycle to rescue Nozomi near the end of the game and appearing as one of the games you can play in the arcade. This next one will be a bit peculiar to understand at first, but trust me it works, Swords of Vermillion plays a role in possibly influencing the multigenre aspect of the game as both games try to deviate themselves from the typical RPG norms. Finally, Die Hard Arcade, the only non AM2 game, plays a major role in QTE as during certain portions of that game, there were QTE that the player did.

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There are still elements of Virtua Fighter still present in Shenmue

The Legacy of Shenmue

Lastly, Shenmue contributed to multiple norms still seen in today’s gaming. In theory, it’s the game that brought together aspect of the retro gaming and began filling in the molds of modern gaming that were slowly being set at the time. Notably, the magic weather system unlocked after beating the game which used actual weather data from Yokosuka during 1986.

Let alone, its responsible for making QTE more acceptable in gaming as we’ve seen in titles like Resident Evil 4, Asura’s wrath, and Heavy Rain owe they’re thanks to Shenmue.

Moreover, the game is responsible for making an open world/Sandbox games become the norm when games like GTA 3, Just Cause, and Batman Arkham series feature an open world for the players to explore every crook and cranny.  To say nothing about having fully dialogue NPCs would not give Shenmue credit it deserves.

On the other hand, it has additionally earns the honor of making sure developers know what sells and what does not as the game is infamous for being the utmost expensive game of its time utilizing over $47 million budget, which might have put the final nail on Sega’s coffin back in the early 2000s despite it selling 1.2 million copies.

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Shenmue quickly popularized QTEs

 

Conclusion

Altogether, Shenmue is an experience that requires several hours of patience. For those willing to stay until the end, their patience rewarded in realizing the effort put by Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2.  The game is an absolute masterpiece and a marvel of its time. As a result of the tremendous effort put forth by a multitude of people throughout its development, inspiring a new generation of gamers and developers to follow in Shenmue’s footsteps and do something as ambitious that will pull a player away for a bit to seek a story filled with adventure, emotions, and excitement that several people look for.

Shortly after, Shenmue II released on the Dreamcast in 2001 only in Japan and Europe, which fixes several flaws of this game. The game also uses the player’s save file from Shenmue I that benefits the player throughout the title. Sadly, U.S Shenmue fans there was no US version thanks in part of the unexpected discontinuation of the Dreamcast in 2001. Hence, several people importing copies from Europe. But, not until 2002 when released on the Original Xbox that US Shenmue fans felt a bit rejoiceful.

On another note, after a long delay, on July 2015 Shenmue returns with the third game being developed thanks to the vocal fanbase that kept pushing for the return of Ryo and finish the story.

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The legend continues with the Third part of the game being funded by fans and setting the world record for the quickest Kickstarter

The game itself is still affordable but in the aftermath of the announcement of Shenmue III, the prices of the first game rose but stabilized after the hype calmed down a bit. Currently, it goes for around 25-40 dollars online as of the time of this review. In essence, it’s worth purchasing if you’re the type of person interest in Kung fu movies, history, retro gaming, and Sega’s attention to ambition. In the end, Shenmue is a game that will leave a lasting impression for those with strong patience. Hypothetically speaking, it’s an inspiration for those willing to go above and beyond the norms and willing to go forth with their dreams.

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Sources (Shoutout to the Shenmue Dojo for it’s dedicated contribution to the history of this game being archived online)

https://flemzytwopence.wordpress.com/2015/07/18/the-troubled-history-of-shenmue/
http://shenmuedojo.net/new/history/shenmuesaturn.html
http://shenmuedojo.net/new/history/timeline.html

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Shenmue / Project Berkley [Saturn – Cancelled]

Shenmue / Project Berkley [DC – Beta / Tech Demo]

Yu Suzuki’s GDC 2014 Postmortem

 

 

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

For hardcore Shenmue fans, the day is rapidly approaching when 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 have existed. 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. During his first year in 1983, 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.

Furthermore, 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. 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 with 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. After Burner II‘s mechanics would inspire future titles including Star Fox, Panzer Dragoon, and Rez.

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Afterwards, taking a break from flight simulators he returned to racing games with Power Drift in 1988. This kart racer 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 seenas 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 is 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. 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 deciding to buy chip using their latest technology 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 outdoing  PC graphics cards until 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 Virtua Fighter 3 where they return 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

How Virtua Fighter Saved PlayStation’s Bacon

What is G-LOC?

Magical Sound Shower: Outrun Retrospective

Cars, one of man’s greatest creation. Some prefer something affordable, accommodate families, or show off stating, “Hey, I received a  load of money or just borrowed an unconsidered amount to buy this and now acquired massive debt.” Come on, don’t tell me you’ve never dreamed of owning a luxurious sports car? But have to push that dream aside simply because being an adult means you have a great amount of responsibility in your shoulders.

Can you imagine it, The dream car, your best friend in the passenger seat, and not a single worry in the world? Driving around the world from the comfort of your car. The American pastime seemingly long forgotten.

Luckily, there’s a game that helps remedy this certain itch! 30 years ago, Sega made this dream into a reality. A game that not only inspired people to take a glimpse into the sweet life while raising the standards of driving games. Whether consumers wanted to pass some breezes, splash some waves, or enjoy the magical sound of rain showers. There’s only one way to remove this bothersome itch, Outrun.16032101

Released in 1986 by Sega by the extraordinary talent that is Yu Suzuki and Sega AM2. Previously responsible for Hang-On and Space Harrier a year before. The 3rd game in Super Scaler series, Outrun revolutionized the racing genre since it’s début back in 1986.

History

Inspired by the film The Cannonball Run, where individuals compete in a cross-country race across the US. Planning to unofficially adapt the film into a game,Suzuki met some unfortunate setbacks as someone ruined  the fun and mentioned that the scenery in the USA was dull, which is a clearly deceptive on their part. As a result, focusing his attention to the scenery of Europe. Driving across Europe and recording the scenery during his drive. Thus, serving as inspiration for the world of Outrun. “I started out from Frankfurt, where I hired a rent a car, and I installed a video camera on the car. Driving around Monaco and Monte Carlo, along the mountain roads of Switzerland, stopping in hotels in Milan, Venice, and Rome, collecting data for a fortnight.” Suzuki, a sports car fan, caught glimpse of something over at Monaco, a Ferrari Testarossa. The latest model of the luxury Italian automobiles from Ferrari.

Astonished by this discovery, Yu Suzuki returned to Japan to test the vehicle out himself. According to certain sources, members of AM2 squeezed to a privately owned Testarossa to record and take notes programming every bit of data into the game.

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Ferrari Testarossa

One of Outrun’s attractions was the game’s fantastic soundtrack. Composed by the legend Hiroshi Kawaguchi, the game offered players with 3 different radio stations which was unheard at the time. “Passing Breeze”, the fusion influenced song that’s the overall mood inspires a laid back ride across the world. “Splash Wave”, the popular rock influenced song for those who enjoy extreme speed and a sense of adventure! Finally, “Magical Sound Shower”, the Latin based song for those who want something a little refreshing while driving around.

 

 

 

In addition, Yu Suzuki emphasizes that Outrun is not a racing game, rather a driving game where players simulate experiencing driving a sports car across luscious tracks. Likewise, it’s understandable to refer to it as such. The objective is to drive across 5 different stages before the clock runs out. Yet, the challenge derives from the player’s driving abilities. At the end of each level, the player can turn left or right at the fork. The left side being easier to complete and the latter poses a grander challenge. There are 5 endings to the game depending on where the player travels too. Punishing players that drive recklessly with a quick game over.

Coinciding with other arcade titles, Outrun’s captivation relies on simplistic gameplay. Yet, mastering will take time and money (well back then).  Hence, requiring a sheer amount of memorization in order to finish the stages as quickly as possible. Making sure players avoid other drivers along the road and efficiently turning to avoid hitting obstacles.

Alongside other Super Scaler titles, Outrun offered multiple cabinets to differentiate the player’s experience. From the deluxe cabinet based off a Testarossa, moving alongside the player turns. But good luck finding a working one these days! Next, the standard cabinet offers a Ferrari without wheels, and the upright cabinet features a mere steering wheel and shift stick which is possibly what’s left of the working cabinets. I won’t lie, I simply love the time and effort Sega put into designing their cabinets. Further indicating  that Sega genuinely cared about the player’s experience making sure they’d return for more.

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Deluxe Cabinet

Home Versions

After all, the game’s success caused Sega to release many home versions. Depending on what the consumer owned, they were either blessed or received some poor excuse of a port. Starting off with some honorable mentions before moving into the highly regarded translations.

First off is the Master System port, a suitable place to start for those looking for an excellent racing game on the Master System. The roads in the game are choppy due to the weaker hardware in comparison to the System 16. Additionally, offering players with an FM-based soundtrack requiring modifications to the Master System.

Next, the PC Engine port is an impressive port considering being on a non-Sega system. Also quite possibly the best 8-bit port out there (16-bit/8-bit who cares it’s personal preference on what the PC engine was) having the full features of the arcade faithfully ported over. One minor issue I have is a humming noise from the engine while driving undoubtedly irritating, but thankfully turning it off remedies this complaint.

Following is the Genesis/Mega Drive version, which for the time was a regarded port. This version offers a new music track exclusive to this version “Step on the Beat”. There are some major issues in this port, including the decision to use a dark color palette, making it seem like the developers did not understand the Genesis/Mega Drive’s architecture or were instead careless enough not to improve this. Besides this also based off the Japanese version, ironically though, the PC engine port features the Overseas layout. How exactly did that happen? Thankfully the color issue improved thanks to Pyron, releasing a patch making the colors brighter hence, bringing this closer to the arcade original. Releasing this to a plethora of platforms, including the Sega Smash Pack for PC, Wii Virtual Console, and Steam.

Moreover,moving into the 128-bit generation, there is a satisfying version included in Shenmue 2, Yu Suzuki Game Works, and Outrun 2. At first glance, setting itself off as an excellent translation of the game.Unfortunately, this is not the case as the audio is off due to issues with the emulation. Even more, the Ferrari logo changed into a generic logo due to legal reasons. Other than that, I think this version of the game plays fine. However, if you happen to come across this version go ahead and give this a try if the sound and the minor graphical changes does not bother you.

Finally, the ports released on the Saturn and 3DS among the best, if not, the definitive options to experience Outrun at home or on the go. Beginning with the Saturn version developed by Rutubo Games under the SEGA Ages collection is the definitive home version. Not only is this arcade perfect, the developers went out of their way to make this a fulfilling experience featuring the option to choose between the Japanese and Overseas layout, a wonderfully arranged soundtrack, and smooth 60 fps mode. Yes, 60 frames per second! Enabling this is pure eye candy. However, the U.S version does not include the arranged soundtrack  being packed along with Space Harrier and After Burner II into a single disc.

All things considered, the Saturn port is stunning, at the same time the 3DS version is on par if not, surpassing the Saturn version. Developed by M2 under the 3D Sega Ages collection. Obviously, M2 were not intending to release a cheap port as member regarded this as “the climax of the series”. M2 included a great amount of time and quality into reintroducing Sega’s classics for a new and returning fans alike. Giving players a multitude of options to experience the game in different formats including: 16:9 widescreen, original 4:3, or emulating the deluxe cabinet, rotating screen, noise, and etc. Additionally, the game has a garage mode where players can customize their vehicle to their liking and choosing from the Japanese or Overseas layout like the Saturn port. Returning from the Saturn version is the ability to choose between the original 30 fps or 60 fps. Finally, a highly regarded addition to this version are two NEW songs. “Cruising Line” composed by  Manabu Namiki (Battle Garegga, Castlevania Rebirth, and DoDonpachi Daioujou) is my favorite of the new tracks feeling like a follow-up to Passing Breeze and feeling like a scrapped idea from the original release. “Camino a Mi Amor” the other track having Latin influenced setting  also sounding reminiscent of other mid-80’s Sega arcade titles including Turbo Outrun, Shinobi, and Thunder Blade. Unfortunately for purists, the Ferrari Testarossa is no longer there since Sega no longer has the license to use Ferrari vehicles at this time.

Equally as important is an unofficial version for the PC, Cannonball, a modest homage to the movie inspiring the game’s conception is essentially an emulator that fixes the bugs from the arcade ROM. Enabling certain features like faster frame rate, scanlines, and Japanese/overseas layout. Though the sound emulation is a little off, a fine choice for those craving to experience Outrun on the PC. By the way, did I mention this is free?

Aftermath

All in All, 30 years later, Outrun is one of the utmost influential racing games of all time. There’s something about its simple yet diverse mechanics. Profound than nearly a majority of the competition at the time. Letting the mind wander off and play pretend. Becoming one of Sega’s more well-known IPs, receiving many spin-offs and sequels throughout the past 30 years, some in particular including Outrunners, Turbo Outrun¸ and Outrun 2. Yet there hasn’t been a new entry in the series in well over a decade. Indeed, a punishable crime for neglecting fans of such an incredible IP! To Yu Suzuki and the wonderful folks over at SEGA AM2, thank you for creating such a wonderful game that has inspired countless memories over the past 30 years.

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Outrun 2, the official sequel released nearly 20 years after the original.

Sources:
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/05/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-1/
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/06/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-2/
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/09/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-3/
http://blogs.sega.com/2015/03/10/sega-3d-classics-3d-out-run-part-4/

http://www.nowgamer.com/the-making-of-outrun/
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2015-03-22-out-ran-meeting-yu-suzuki
http://segaretro.org/OutRun
http://www.retrocollect.com/News/cannonball-an-enhanced-engine-for-the-classic-arcade-racer-outrun.html