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Author Topic: The Fall of Shenmue - A histor y  (Read 11595 times)

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Offline LagunaVII

The Fall of Shenmue - A histor y
« on: July 10, 2014, 10:13:40 PM »
Chapter 1 – The Console Wars

When talking about the history of Shenmue, I think it is important to go back to The Console Wars – Going this far back will help us to understand how close we were to having a different gaming experience today and ultimately understand the fall of Shenmue.

Off course, every console generation has had a console war, but perhaps the most famous and the one you think off when the phrase is mentioned is the battle of the early 90’s, the 16-bit war or the fourth generation war. In one corner we had the Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis in the other, the Super Nintendo.

Im not going to pretend I actually know a great deal about the particular time in gaming history, because quite frankly I don’t. However there are some wonderful books out there that really do shed some light into the period and gives us a glimpse of just how different this was to end.

Now, I was in the corner of Sega, so my views might be a bit biased. But did Sega really do what Nintedon’t? Well that, I think is a matter of opinion, but to me each consoles had there merits.

It was off course Sega who were out of the gates first, releasing the Mega Drive in Japan in October of 88, the US in August of 89 and finally in Europe in November of 90. The delay in the console landing on European soil is often credit to be a success due to the massive library of games that was available on launch day. However in the US things were very different and Sega had a hard time catching up to Nintendo.

That is of course until Alex Kid was retired and a Sega brought in a new mascot. Enter Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic along with a bloody version of Mortal Kombat helped boost sales in the US. Despite this, the console was never really a success in Japan, being out sold by the PC Engine. Because of this Sega stopped production of the Mega Drive in Japan and concentrated production of the Saturn – the turned to be a somewhat disastrous move we shall get onto later

Despite the growing popularity of the Mega Drive in Europe and the US, Nintendo came out on top and the Super Nintendo was the best selling console of the generation, selling 49.10 million unit’s world wide. In fact with games such as Star Fox and Donkey Kong Country pushing sales, the Super Nintendo was still relevant in the fifth generation cycle.

There was change a foot in the early 90’s though – there was a new fangled piece of hardware that entered the worlds – the CD-Rom and it is this piece of hardware that caused the video game generation of today and in all honesty could have made things very different

With the success of the Mega Drive, Sega introduce the first add-on for the console, the Mega-CD, reaction this was very mixed and selling only 2 million units compared to the 20 million Mega Drives out there, it could be argued it wasn’t successful. The Machine itself was rendered obsolete with the release of the 3D0 and Phillips CD. However this did not detour Sega who were not quite finished with the Mega Drive.

Nintendo, themselves, ventured into the idea of releasing a CD based add on for the Super Nintendo. They worked very closely with Sony, developing what was known as the Nintendo Playstation. The contract between Sony and Nintendo apparently gave Sony essentially all control over the titles release for the system, Nintendo pulled the plug. The result was Sony going it alone and producing the Playstation for themselves. The fifth generation was almost upon us!

Sega themselves had been developing there console for the fifth generation since 1992, this off course would be the Sega Saturn and this off course is where the official Shenmue journey begins. However Sega, were not quite done with the Mega Drive and in order to help bridge the gap between 16 bit and 32 bit and also hoping to capitalise on the Mega Drive’s success outside of Japan developed and released the 32x- This would off course be a costly mistake given what was round the corner. Developers were aware of the N64, Sega Saturn and off course the Playstation, Developers knew the console would not keep up and it was a practical dead end as a result not many games were developed for it which helped solidify its failure. As we enter the fifth generation Sega are now supporting two consoles – the Mega Drive and the Saturn. Things can’t look good….

Chapter 2 - Enter the Saturn

The Sega Saturn was finally released to Japan in November of 94, America in May of 95 and Europe in July of 1995. Packaging it with Virtua Fighter is often seen to bring the early success the console reached in Japan. Of course it could also be argued that thanks to the unpopularity of the Mega Drive in Japan, Sega of Japan had more resources than there American counter parts in the promotion of the Saturn. You have to remember – Sega of America, had the Saturn, The Genesis, the Sega-CD and the 32x. the latter of which was being released just 6 months before the Saturn.

The Saturn’s launch in the US could be called disastrous to say the least. It was originally scheduled to be released on Saturday September 02 1995 or Saturnday. However Sega of Japan mandated an early release to get advantage over the upcoming Playstation. At the first E3 in LA Tom Kilinske, CEO of Sega of America, held his keynote event in which  he revealed the stats and price of the console. He also informed that 30,000 Saturn’s had been shipped to stores in the US due to consumer demand.

The surprise announcement upset retailers who were not informed of the surprise release. With one outlet dropping Sega from its line up and due to the early announcement there was only six games available at launch. Virtua Fighters lack of popularity in the West and a lack of released titles along with the fact the Sony’s Key note followed Sega’s and they announced there console was cheaper by $100… The Saturn just could not capitalise in the west. In fact within the first two days of release the Playstation had sold more than the Saturn had in its 5 months. It was clear there was something that needed to be done!

It would take a brave man to try and save the Saturn and here is when our story really begins.

Yu Suzuki was all ready an established figure at Sega and really well known by gamers. His library of games included classics such as Virtua Fighter, Space Harrier and Hang on.

Suzuki announced that he was working on two games for the Saturn and after the announcement the rumours to what these games were actively being discussed with the two popular ones being a fighting game with the characters of Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, with the second being rumoured to be an RPG based on Virtua Fighter. The first rumour off course was confirmed to be true with the announcement of Fighters Megamix, however the second Sega remained pretty quiet on that one.

Off course we all know the second game turned out to be the Saturn’s Killer App – Shenmue – Yu Suzuki has said himself that working with the Saturn was incredibly difficult, especially to get the most he could from it. Despite this he is please with the visual quality he was able to squeeze from the machine.

Ultimately though it was all in vein. The Saturn eventually collapsed and sega put a halt on this epics games production. However work on Sega’s next console was all ready under way and production shifted over to the Dreamcast

Chapter 3 – The Fall of Sega

Now we come to the end. The launch of the Dreamcast – The Sega Dreamcast was released in Japan in November 98, America in September 99 ad October 99 in Europe. The Japanese launch had its problems, but despite this the launch was very successful in the States selling 500,000 consoles in two weeks. Could Sega be on the up?

Unfortunately not – Sony would release the Play station 2 the following year and with its more powerful hardware and built in DVD player a lot of gamers were holding out for this launch. The release marked the beginning of the end for Sega.

Shenmue was finally released to western markets in the winter of 2000. It was actually received high scores and currently maintains a 89% average on Game Rankings. Critics however were divided – some calling it a masterpiece, while others found it uninspiring. The graphics though were always praised by all. The game eventually went on to win Game of the Year by Game Industry News. Unfortunately it was not enough.

On January 31st 2001 a mere 2 months after the release of its killer app. Sega announced that production of the Dreamcast would end. Shenmue would never get a chance to make the sales it needed to. It is said that the game needed to sell twice as many copies than there were Dreamcast consoles out there to be even considered a success – given that production of the games console was stopping. This was never going to happen.

We now get to a dark time in Shenmue’s History, due to the Dreamcast’s production ceasing the sequel would never get a release on US soil for the Dreamcast – it now had a new home the up and coming Xbox – however gamers still imported the Dreamcast version from Europe, where it did get a release. Thanks to the importation of Pal versions and lengthy delays of the Xbox version. Sales for the game were not as good as they hoped and the plans for the sequel were put on hold… and now Shenmue fans are waiting patiently for the hold to be removed.

Chapter 4 – Conclusion

As you can see the story of why Shenmue failed is not pretty reading and can be traced all the way back to the console wars of the 90’s. There is a book out there that actually details this a bit better than I did and goes onto say that Sega could have won the war.

I said it was important to look at that particular was when looking into why we have no Shenmue III – Basically it all comes down to a few companies making the wrong choices that started at the end of the Forth Generation of Video Games…

·      Firstly if Nintendo had stuck out there contract with Sony, we would have had the Nintendo Playstation and we wouldn’t have had the Sony Playstation that dominated the market and helped destroy the Saturn
·      Secondly if Sega had stopped supporting the Mega drive towards the end of its life instead of trying to prolong it, we may have had a better launch for the Saturn
·      Thirdly, what would have happened if the Saturn’s launch was not rushed in the US to try and gain early dominance?
·      What would have happened if Shenmue II was actually given a chance on the US Dreamcast or perhaps the European one was cancelled as well?
·      What would have happened if someone pieced two and two together and worked out why the Xbox version didn’t sell?
·      FINALLY, what would happen if someone just took the chance and released SHENMUE III?

Offline Giorgio

Re: The Fall of Shenmue - A history
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2014, 06:23:07 AM »
Informative post. [Even though it needs a little bit of polishing (correcting orthographical, grammatical and syntactical errors).]

FINALLY, what would happen if someone just took the chance and released SHENMUE III?
At least, the Internet will explode.
« Last Edit: July 11, 2014, 10:21:43 PM by Giorgio »

Offline Shenmue Stare

Re: The Fall of Shenmue - A histor y
« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2014, 09:34:58 PM »
I blame Bernie Stolar.

Offline LagunaVII

Re: The Fall of Shenmue - A histor y
« Reply #3 on: July 11, 2014, 10:17:57 PM »
I blame Bernie Stolar.

That guy is a tool! Fancy saying, at E3 no less, two years after release "the Saturn is not our future" I will have to double check my reference books when I get home, but I'm fairly sure he also went over Sega of Japans head and over priced the Dreamcast effectivly pricing them out of the market - when considering they were the only console at the time was theres to win!