Shenmue I and II 's HD remasters released on Steam today, and I've played the whole morning. Yu Suzuki's 1999 adventure game helped set a standard for open world research. The secret is simple: many and many "meaningless" but satisfying interactions.
One of Shenmue s main features was a discernible open world with NPCs meeting and rooms where you could escape. We take this for granted in games today, but when Shenmue was released in 1999, it had not been a 3D game world with so much detail. The series Ultima had many of the same feature signs with daily plans, a day and night cycle, house to explore – but this was one of the first times it had been done with such a fidelity. Many of the finer details seem meaningless by modern standards. What is the use of opening a closet if you are not going to find additional crafts or salable trash? But these seemingly meaningless interactions are essential to making the world of Shenmue feel like a real place.
Protagonist Ryo Hazuki is lumpy to control. He slowly turns and lumbers forward as a tank. In first person mode, it's all but impossible to keep your head shut. The player is never completely in control, but it awkwardly helps you to feel that you are in the motion of a real body. A real body requires real spaces; The Shenmue solution for creating real spaces is to make them dense. You can interact with almost every drawer or door you find in the game. The Ryo bedroom alone has thirteen interaction objects, from the alarm clock to each drawer in their office. Attentive players will find a cassette player, two tapes and a picture of their friends to continue their adventure. Shenmue adore root and encourages players to interact closely with every new place they enter.
This often limits pacing in the end. For example, to take an item from a drawer, players must enter the first person, break the controls to view the drawer, open it, view the item, retrieve the item, choose to take the item and close the drawer. Most of the items you find have no practical use. Yes, there are mysterious keys to find, but the game cares just as much about the countless capsule games you can collect. Things exist in Shenmue for the pure pleasure of existing. The world is secular but intimate. Excessive tangibility helps to rotate the player in the room and believe in the life of the characters.
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Exploring Hazuki Residence feels warm and knowable. You can pick up milk from the refrigerator or escape to Sega Saturn. Sneaking into Iwao Hazuki's room feels like stepping into the father's office space. Shenmue is mostly remembered today for memetastic voting and coining of the term "quick time event". But back to its world – and all its frivolous interactions – reminds me how important it was to establish how to make video games feel real and real.