During a touching and pastry-filled two days in November, videogame maker Sega took a select band of invitees and showed them a portion of its 2001 lineup for the Dreamcast. Approximately 30 games were shown, and the mere mention of their names was enough to stir the imagination and spark endless feelings both warm and fuzzy: Sonic Adventure 2, Headhunter, Crazy Taxi 2, Black and White, World Series Baseball 2K2, Samba De Amigo 2000, Floigan Brothers, Bomberman Online, Far Nation, Alien Front Online, Virtua Tennis 2, Ooga Booga, Outtrigger.
Sega called the event its “Executive Games Summit,” and did its best to deliver on the promise of two days’ worth of games glory. Promises were made as to the Dreamcast’s future, with Sega’s Charles Bellfield cryptically stating, “The Dreamcast that ships today will not be the one that ships two years from now.” Secrets were passed, and the attendees sworn to secrecy. Food was served in extravagant proportions, and duly eaten. Bombs were dropped.
The highlight of the event was a surprise appearance by game designer Yu Suzuki. Suzuki, who created such masterpieces as Hang-On, Virtua Fighter and the Dreamcast’s Shenmue, had come to America from Japan to celebrate the release of Shenmue in America; Sega of America pressed Suzuki into action to discuss Shenmue 2. With the aid of a translator, Suzuki spoke at some length about the second installment of his epic series — and when he was done, Sega of America swore everyone involved to secrecy. Now, however, the fog has lifted, and the details Suzuki dealt on Shenmue 2 are now fair game.
“Shenmue 2 is on!” Suzuki said through his translator. The game will feature an increased polygon count, ensuring that the sequel will be prettier than its predecessor, and there will be more characters to interact with. Hero Ryo Hazuki will be able to explore a world that us about 10 times bigger than that of Shenmue, and new graphics techniques have allowed Suzuki and his development team to create 3D skies that will rearrange themselves subtly throughout the course of the adventure.
Suzuki seemed reluctant to show the game to the assembled throng. “The game is only 50% complete,” Suzuki said, “but Sega of America strongly requested I show it.” Despite the man’s initial concerns, he showed off the game’s introductory movie, which recaps the plot for Shenmue; this condensed film, Suzuki said, has been inserted for the benefit of those who missed the first game. It will be, thankfully, skippable — and the footage certainly paled in comparison to what was shown for Shenmue 2.
The lights were dim, but expectations were brighter than the glow from a 100-watt bulb when the trailer for Shenmue 2 was shown. This was the first time ever that this footage was shown, and because the game was in such an early stage of development, the scenes shown often lacked characters. An opening series of swoops and pans showed off the junk-ridden port of Hong Kong and a stolid brick junkyard. As the scene pulled back to reveal a series of brightly lit streets, Suzuki and his translator commented that Shenmue 2 will feature better lighting and more detailed lighting effects. Expect the game’s Hong Kong locale to feature many cramped environments and plenty of winding streets. These streets will be inhabited, of course, by various passers-by — and there will be more fortune tellers in Shenmue 2, Suzuki promised.
Numerous scenes showed off the game’s impressive rendering of the massive Kowloon Tower. “There will be elevators in every building,” Suzuki said, which lends credence to the notion that most, if not all, of the Tower can be explored by eager game fans. Kowloon will be a gambler’s den of sorts, and Suzuki said, “For entertainment value [Kowloon] is more like the Tower of Babel.” In a fit of much ado about nothing, Suzuki also commented that Shenmue 2 will feature floors that, depending on the light scheme, are reflective.
Real in-game footage followed, with Ryo engaging in a QuickTime Event, racing through a forest in an attempt to chase down the enigmatic female Sha Hua (who was seen, but not heard from, in Shenmue). “You’ll find QTE’s as you did in Shenmue,” Suzuki said, “plus [there will be] new types of QTE’s.” This was followed up with a scene where Ryo had to navigate a thin plank, and a breathless chase wherein our hero and the man he was handcuffed to had to sprint down a series of hallways. Despite a series of follow-up questions, Suzuki declined to reveal why Ryo was handcuffed — or the identity of the man he was handcuffed to.
There was more, such as a scene wherein Ryo walked through an open-air courtyard filled with martial artists practicing in unison, to pop the eyes with wonder. Suzuki promised there will be much emphasis placed on gambling, as the hero will need to sustain his cash reserves during the game. The gambling contest shown onscreen was unfamiliar to Sega Radar, and perhaps to all but a select few in attendance, but Suzuki said the American version of Shenmue 2 will feature a thorough explanation as to how to play each and every game of skill. As new characters appeared, Suzuki introduced them as well. A new female character named Joey featured a shock of red hair and a biker’s sort of toughness. Ren (which means “knife” in Chinese) was described as one of the game’s central figures. Sha Hua, of course, was included in this number; Ryo will be able to interact with her in Shenmue 2.
Tantalizing shots of riverboat journeys, gorgeous waterfalls and the briefest hint of a sort of cage-fight deathmatch-type beat-’em-up were shown until there was no more to be seen. A shot of Sha Hua, who excels in her role as the woman who perpetually stares wistfully at stuff, staring wistfully at a yellow-red sunset ended the film portion of Suzuki’s presentation.
Suzuki then agreed to answer a few questions, with the full and complete understanding that there would be some things he just couldn’t — or wouldn’t — discuss (his upcoming Virtua Fighter X was certainly off limits). No release date has been set for Shenmue 2, and Suzuki failed to provide specifics on the game’s play, even when asked to do so. He did say that Shenmue 2 will be faster paced than the original, with more “high-density” excitement included. There will be slight tweaks to the control scheme, and the battle engine has been simplified in some as-yet-unrevealed manner. As far as how much gameplay there was to be had, Suzuki would only comment that there would be the same amount as in Shenmue, or perhaps less with more replay value.
Fittingly, Suzuki himself offered a bit of insightful commentary that could be applied to both the game and the troubled company that plans to release it. When asked if Shenmue would continue on past episode two, he said, “The story will not end there, and if the market requests it, we will continue with the adventure.”