SPE­CIAL RE­PORT

How D3T brought Shen­mue to PC.

PC GAMER (UK) - - CONTENTS - Shen­mue

Un­til now, the only way to play the orig­i­nal was on the Dream­cast. But thanks to a re­lent­less cam­paign by fans to bring it to mod­ern plat­forms, and UK de­vel­op­ment stu­dio D3T, Yu Suzuki’s am­bi­tious mar­tial arts epic has fi­nally been given a new lease of life. Shen­mue I & II col­lects the first two games in the se­ries, en­abling you to play them in 4K with a few sub­tle vis­ual tweaks in­clud­ing anti-alias­ing and sub­tle bloom light­ing.

“The love and pas­sion that went into these games is clear to see,” says Noel Austin, tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor at D3T, when I ask him why he thinks Shen­mue has such a cult fol­low­ing. “The world is in­cred­i­bly de­tailed and re­searched, and re­ally makes you feel like you’re liv­ing in Yoko­suka in the ’80s. Also, there’s very lit­tle hand-hold­ing. You have to use maps and talk to peo­ple, which is quite re­fresh­ing in this age of con­stant ob­jec­tive mark­ers.”

D3T first re­ceived the Shen­mue ar­chive from SEGA back in Oc­to­ber 2015 and there was a huge amount of data to sort through be­fore de­vel­op­ment could be­gin in earnest. “Ramp-up was slow while we picked through the mas­sive data ar­chive and planned the ap­proach we would take to port­ing it,” re­mem­bers Austin. “Over the life­time of the project, at least 20 peo­ple have touched the code, al­though the peak team size was prob­a­bly around ten de­vel­op­ers.”

“The pres­sure was im­mense,” he adds. “Both from the ex­pec­ta­tions of the com­mu­nity and the im­por­tance of the Shen­mue brand within SEGA. We know how pas­sion­ate the com­mu­nity is about the game, and rightly so. The fans worked re­ally hard in push­ing for this re-re­lease and we were grate­ful to be the stu­dio given the op­por­tu­nity to bring it back.”

But get­ting a 20-year-old Dream­cast game to run at a high res­o­lu­tion on a Win­dows 10 gam­ing PC was no easy task. “It was in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult,” says Austin. “We’ve worked on some re­ally chal­leng­ing projects at D3T, but this was by far the tough­est. There was no source code, so we had to re­verse en­gi­neer from assem­bly code. The Dream­cast had a 32-bit pro­ces­sor, so get­ting it to work on 64-bit CPUs was a mas­sive en­gi­neer­ing ef­fort.”

SQUARE EYES

Cutscenes were also a prob­lem. While the game it­self has been ad­justed to sup­port a 16:9 widescreen as­pect ra­tio, cin­e­matic scenes re­main in the Dream­cast’s orig­i­nal 4:3. “The game was de­signed to run at 4:3,” ex­plains Austin. “This meant many of the cutscenes didn’t work cor­rectly, so we had to main­tain the orig­i­nal as­pect ra­tio and add black bars on ei­ther side.”

Then there was the lan­guage bar­rier. Shen­mue was de­vel­oped by a Ja­panese team, SEGA AM2, which caused even more headaches for D3T. “All the com­ments in the code were writ­ten in Ja­panese, so we had to use Google Trans­late to get a han­dle on it. Then there was the ad­di­tional prob­lem of the game logic be­ing writ­ten in a sep­a­rate script­ing lan­guage, mean­ing all the func­tion names and vari­ables were in Ja­panese, too.”

D3T also no­ticed that when it in­creased the res­o­lu­tion of the game from 640x480, the Dream­cast stan­dard, new prob­lems emerged and ex­ist­ing ones be­came more prom­i­nent. “The orig­i­nal was a tech­ni­cal marvel and was highly tuned for the Dream­cast, which didn’t give us as much per­for­mance head­room as we were ex­pect­ing given the age of the game. Some of the fea­tures of the hard­ware would prove dif­fi­cult to em­u­late.”

SOUND OFF

Mu­sic is one thing the Shen­mue re­mas­ter doesn’t quite get right. It sounds fine for the most part, how­ever diehard fans with a keen ear will no­tice some of the in­stru­ments aren’t syn­the­sised in the same way. “The au­dio on the Dream­cast is mainly driven by a com­pletely dif­fer­ent chip to the main CPU,” says Austin. “It’s loaded with dif­fer­ent pro­grams de­fined by the orig­i­nal de­vel­oper, spec­i­fy­ing things like loop points, re­verb, vol­umes, etc. We didn’t have the source data for this, so we had to re­verse en­gi­neer it.”

Shen­mue su­per­fan BlueMue also no­ticed some vis­ual dif­fer­ences, mainly in­volv­ing li­censed brands be­ing qui­etly re­moved from the game. Glen­fid­dich whisky bot­tles now say Golden Whisky, Ryo’s bank state­ment is no longer from the real-world Su­mit­omo Bank, but the more generic-sound­ing Yoko­suka Bank, and the Timex logo has been re­moved from his watch. With al­most two decades pass­ing since these li­cens­ing deals were first made, it’s un­der­stand­able that D3T had to make these changes.

I ask Austin if D3T found any­thing in­ter­est­ing in the game files. “So many things,” he says. “The moon in Shen­mue II is not a tex­ture but an ac­tual 3D ob­ject in the dis­tance cor­rectly lit by the di­rec­tion of the sun, which pro­duces ac­cu­rate phases. The physics of the ball in Lucky Hit is af­fected by the time of day, weather, and tem­per­a­ture. In cutscenes the game switches to higher qual­ity head and hand mod­els, al­low­ing for more ex­pres­sion. We were amazed to dis­cover this level of hid­den de­tail.”

Port­ing such an old game was clearly a strug­gle for D3T, but it was worth it. This is now the best way to ex­pe­ri­ence Shen­mue, which is ev­ery bit as com­pelling, at­mo­spheric, and idio­syn­cratic as it was back in 1999. “I hope fans can get some un­der­stand­ing of the dif­fi­cul­ties in res­ur­rect­ing these games, and that the new fea­tures have been pos­i­tive ad­di­tions,” says Austin. “On a per­sonal level, I’m still amazed that the game I played so long ago is now avail­able in full HD on a mod­ern gam­ing PC.”

“The orig­i­nal was a tech­ni­cal marvel and was highly tuned for the Dream­cast”

Goro has never looked bet­ter.

FAR LEFT: Cutscenes use higher res­o­lu­tion char­ac­ter mod­els.

LEFT: The new sub­tle bloom light­ing makes a big dif­fer­ence.

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