Shen Mue at the Game Developers Conference
April 4, 1999
A few weeks ago I went to the Game Developers Conference at San Jose, CA. It is the most important convention for the people who make video games (in my opinion, it is more important than E3, unless you work in marketing, retail, or are a producer). I was really looking forward to Sega's keynote speech because I wanted to see Shen Mue, at least on video. I was already a little disappointed because, even though they had many Dreamcasts available for us to play, they didn't have Shen Mue.
The keynote speech began, and Bernie Stolar started to speak. He seemed professional enough, although we was exaggerating a little. The Dreamcast is not alive. They showed videos of many games: Sonic Adventure, Sega Rally 2, Power Stone, Geist Force, and so on. So far the only new videos that impressed me were the ones of the Basketball and Football games. I am not a sports fan, but they looked very good.
I was beginning to loose hope, but at the very end, they finally showed a video of Shen Mue. They are bastards, but I would've done the same thing. First they showed a cruise ship. It was very detailed, on high resolution, with many textures and polygons. It was sunset, and you saw the sky changing colors. Impressive, but it was nothing I haven't seen the Dreamcast do before.
Then they showed some cities. They were very detailed, like before. The city did not look "perfect," like they usually do in RPGs. It looked dirty, like San Francisco or New York City. At one point it started to snow. Again, it looked pretty, but I was beginning to get nervous. I want to see some humans!
Next, the video focused on some nature shots. That's when my jaw really began to open. They showed a cherry blossom with many petals. Some were falling to the ground. It looked almost photorealistic, but then, as the camera moved, I realized that I could "see" that the branches only extended along a limited number of planes. The tree was obviously modeled by a human. It still fooled me for a second, though. Then it began to rain. I could see the drops of rain falling to the ground and making puddles. Then they showed a panoramic view of mountains, rivers, forests, and waterfalls. All looked very realistic. It made me forget about seeing humans for a while.
Then the camera moved inside some rooms. Again, everything was very detailed. Then I remembered: Hey, show me the humans! A reasonably good artist can make good architecture, but only a great artist can model and animate humans properly!
Then they showed the humans. First they showed the leading man walking across the town. Now I was really getting impressed. He walked very realistically and didn't seem stiff at all. His body seemed to be very detailed, but he was shown from a relatively far distance. Not to worry, considering the shots that came next.
Next came some interaction between the leading man and the leading woman of the game. This time, the camera was close enough to see that the polygon count was very high. You really could not see the polygons. And they were running through a forest which was as detailed as the one I have seen before.
Finally, they showed the fights. That's when I really could appreciate the quality of the human figures, since there were some close-ups. The humans looked slightly better than the ones in Virtua Fighter 3, with more polygons, better textures and no seams.
The leading man could fight against more than one opponent, like on Streets of Rage 2 or Die Hard Arcade. And it seems like the fights were like the ones in Virtua Fighter 3, not like Dragon's Lair. The camera angles were very exciting also. For the record, I heard from other sources that the "Dragon's Lair" gameplay is actually no more than 5% of the game.
After that, it was over. The audience clapped. I was so excited that I called my co-workers and tried to describe what I saw, saying that I could not describe it properly over the phone. In summary, this is the most beautiful video game I have ever seen. It will sell Dreamcasts, at least in Japan. The only way they can possibly mess up Shen Mue is by giving it a bad plot or bad control. I might buy a Dreamcast just for Shen Mue.
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