The creator of the beloved open world games says all he had to do was ask. “They felt safe giving me the license to make the next one,” Yu Suzuki told me yesterday. Really, who else was Sega going to give it to?
Usually, when folks want to revive long-dormant video game franchises, they have to struggle through thorny legal and business dealings to figure out who allowed to do what. But to hear Yu Suzuki tell it, it was pretty easy to get the license to make Shenmue III from Sega. “They felt safe giving me the license to make the next one,” he told me yesterday.
I spoke with Suzuki yesterday in a meeting room at Sony’s E3 booth to discuss the surprise announcement of a Kickstarter to make Shenmue III a reality, and to ask him what he wants to accomplish with the game that fans have been waiting so long for.
“I’d always been thinking about how to make Shenmue III,” he told me. “To make an open world game like that you need to have a certain budget to produce it. The question of how to raise the money was always on my mind. And then a few years ago, I learned of Kickstarter and found some fans who knew how to run Kickstarter campaigns. With that and other funding I had procured through my company, the realization that Shenmue III could actually happen is really just hitting me now.”
“My company YSnet, we officially approached Sega a while ago, asking for the approval for the licenses,” Suzuki continued. “I was at Sega when Shenmue was made, as you may know, and they felt safe giving me the license to make the next one. They’re the reason why I was even able to make Shenmue.” When asked if Sega would be getting any percentage of profits from the eventual release of Shenmue III, Suzuki said that he couldn’t talk about the details of the deal he struck with Sega.
Shenmue’s rebirth essentially happened Tuesday night on the stage of the Sony PlayStation press event, during an American trade show and via an American crowdfunding company. Do these things mean that Suzuki feels a need to make Shenmue III with an eye toward western audiences? “No, I don’t think that at all,” he answered. “In Shenmue III, we will have places like Japan and China, of course. Shenmue III paints the pictures of the culture and ideas you can find in eastern Asia. I wanted to make these games to impart these ideas to Western audiences. It can’t be westernized because if we tried it would ruin the whole concept of the game. The thinking that is associated with Eastern philosophies, I wanted to give that to Western audiences with Shenmue.”
That sense of being transported is one of the reasons Western players have loved the Shenmue games so much. “But it’s never been my intention to educate Western people about Eastern culture,” he told me. “From the beginning, it’s always been about how real the game could get. For example, if you have a combat scene, it’s not just about the fighting. There’s a whole spiritual aspect to that.”
“You don’t fight because you want to become strong. You fight because you have specific motives or goals. It’s not that I wanted to have the game be educational; I just wanted to fully express the entertainment value of it but reflecting a certain level of realism.”
Suzuki’s aspiration towards realism extended to the motion-capture sessions that went into the original games. Masaya Matsukaze played Ryo in the series and he wore a jacket during mo-cap. “He wore the jacket because doing so would let him better emulate the actual actions of when Ryo would fight,” Suzuki recalled. “The actions are going to be completely different when you fight with the jacket on or with just a t-shirt.”
That same jacket was up as a reward for one lucky person who pledged $10,000 to the game’s Kickstarter campaign. “Of all the Shenmue memorabilia I’ve amassed over the years, that was the most valuable, the most symbolic of everything that accumulated over the years,” Suzuki told me. Why part ways with it? “It just seemed like a good idea to put it up as a Kickstarter reward. You could say that giving it up represents my commitment to getting Shenmue III made.”