Shenmue Dojo Interviews: Ryan Payton

spud1897

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That's right! For our 20th Birthday Celebrations we had the honour of conducting an hour long sit-down interview (well over SKYPE) with Ryan Payton!

Ryan played a huge role in getting the Shenmue III Kickstarter moving and he is a fan just like all of us.

Some interesting tidbits around development, Ryan's Shenmue origins and more were discussed as well!

Catch it here:

 
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I'm listening it to now.

I just had my big moment of "OHHHHH so that explains why the beginning of Shenmue III was weirdly disjointed! Because there was more to it that got cut."

Interesting that he touched on that.

Also, super interesting to hear what type of structure Yu has for the overall story. That the main tier is worked out but everything else is worked out along the way. Man, I just hope it continues.
 
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It's extremely refreshing to hear someone of Ryan's experience lay things out so clearly in regards to:

A) how darn impressive it is that they were able to rebuild all the systems of Shenmue from scratch in a new engine. So much of their dev effort was dedicated to simply getting the base of a Shenmue game up and running which, in my opinion, explains some of the shortcomings elsewhere. He makes an excellent point that, with Shenmue IV, YS Net would be in a much better position in terms of delivering a higher-quality experience, because that groundwork has already been done. This is all stuff us fans have been saying for a while, it's just nice to hear it from an industry veteran.

B) the importance of being balanced in our criticism and staying respectful. I never once bought into the concept of "we have to complain loud and clear so Yu Knows exactly what to change!". Guess what? He was always going to find out what fans and critics thought of S3, without people attempting to amplify their negativity.

I just had my big moment of "OHHHHH so that explains why the beginning of Shenmue III was weirdly disjointed! Because there was more to it that got cut."
Yeah, without the gameplay sections that were originally in between, the fades to black seem like (and are) completely unnecessary transitions. Now it all makes sense.

My guess is that these gameplay sections were tutorial-esque e.g. "Oh Ryo, I sure would love some herbs to take into town". This sort of thing would've made the opening of the game feel even slower than it already does.
 
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spud1897

spud1897

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It's extremely refreshing to hear someone of Ryan's experience lay things out so clearly in regards to:

A) how darn impressive it is that they were able to rebuild all the systems of Shenmue from scratch in a new engine. So much of their dev effort was dedicated to simply getting the base of a Shenmue game up and running which, in my opinion, explains some of the shortcomings elsewhere. He makes an excellent point that, with Shenmue IV, YS Net would be in a much better position in terms of delivering a higher-quality experience, because that groundwork has already been done. This is all stuff us fans have been saying for a while, it's just nice to hear it from an industry veteran.

B) the importance of being balanced in our criticism and staying respectful. I never once bought into the concept of "we have to complain loud and clear so Yu Knows exactly what to change!". Guess what? He was always going to find out what fans and critics thought of S3, without people attempting to amplify their negativity.
What surprised me when speaking to Ryan was the fact they had none of the old source code or at least very little of it. It was an eye opener for me in that respect. I, along with many others, assumed they would have access to this.
 
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What surprised me when speaking to Ryan was the fact they had none of the old source code or at least very little of it. It was an eye opener for me in that respect. I, along with many others, assumed they would have access to this.
Yeah, not that they'd have been able to reuse it, but it would've made for invaluable reference material. From memory, I think d3t had original code for I & II HD, they just couldn't compile it because they lacked the tools used to build the game...I think that was in a PC Gamer interview, but it's been a while.

A part of me was hoping the interview would touch on cut content, specifically the warring factions stuff, as it's been speculated (by me) that this could've been a point of contention with Ryan, as it would've strayed away from the Shenmue experience fans expect. However, I understand that sometimes these things are off-limits, especially if they could still happen in future games. Ultimately it isn't Ryan's place to be dishing out the inside scoop on the development of a game he wasn't really part of on a daily basis.
 
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spud1897

spud1897

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Yeah, not that they'd have been able to reuse it, but it would've made for invaluable reference material. From memory, I think d3t had original code for I & II HD, they just couldn't compile it because they lacked the tools used to build the game...I think that was in a PC Gamer interview, but it's been a while.

A part of me was hoping the interview would touch on cut content, specifically the warring factions stuff, as it's been speculated (by me) that this could've been a point of contention with Ryan, as it would've strayed away from the Shenmue experience fans expect. However, I understand that sometimes these things are off-limits, especially if they could still happen in future games. Ultimately it isn't Ryan's place to be dishing out the inside scoop on the development of a game he wasn't really part of on a daily basis.
Yeah I have to say with what he gave me in the interview he was quite candid about everything. What pleased me was the fact they've clearly been listening to fans about the issues in Shenmue III and how to challenge/rectify these. Ryan is keen to remain involved in Shenmue going forward which is also a massive plus in my book.
 
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Great and very insightful interview, and its great to hear that Yu is so open to suggestions/constructive criticism. This will sound very sappy but this interview really cheered me up today after some rough stuff I'm going through right now. Thank you (y) (it also gave me motivation to work on my S3 Character Database project while listening to it!)
 

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Great and very insightful interview, and its great to hear that Yu is so open to suggestions/constructive criticism. This will sound very sappy but this interview really cheered me up today after some rough stuff I'm going through right now. Thank you (y) (it also gave me motivation to work on my S3 Character Database project while listening to it!)

Hope you're doing ok brother
 
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Really good interview and some great information. I would have loved if you got more in depth about the following-

1.) The potential compromises Suzuki was willing to make without full fledged Shenmue budget. It sounds like a lot of Ryan’s involvement was preproduction and it may give us some insight into what Suzuki thought was the core elements he could deliver on reduced budget. It’s very true and great to get confirmation most of the time, energy and work went on building games foundation and that accounts for lack of content and repetition in story elements. It sounds like Suzuki and team has heard out feedback loud and clear.

2.) Wish we got more in depth on what gameplay elements were removed from opening which lead to disjointed feeling of those opening cutscenes.

Wonderful work.
 
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spud1897

spud1897

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Here's part 2.

It's a quick tour of Ryan's career and more of a precursor to part 3. That said Ryan tells some really interesting stories of his career. He's done it the hard way that's for sure!

Part 3 will be released soon!

You can also get these on Spotify, Anchor, Pocket Casts and Google Podcasts if you're more into the podcasting scene :)

 
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I'd largely agree with his final point as to why Shenmue didn't catch on. Hence why I think you get the constant "Yakuza is Shenmue but better" comments. Because Yakuza is more action based. If anything, Yakuza is and always has been the RPG that maybe people thought Shenmue was meant to be. I know some would disagree with me but Yakuza has always had its foot in the RPG territory at least mechanically speaking.

It's an action RPG at heart. You are constantly gaining XP. Constantly levelling up and unlocking new moves. There are long stretches of dungeon type level design within every Yakuza game. The open world is far more of a hub world for Yakuza. The numerous side quests. Everything about Yakuza has always screamed action RPG and I think that is why people make the comparison that "Yakuza is Shenmue but better"...because in some ways, I think that is the game people expected from Shenmue but didn't get.

Instead they got something that was out of the box. Something that took its time. Something that was less concerned with asking the player to grind levels and instead more concerned with asking the player to simply live, breathe and observe its world.

Although, it is strange because there are still a mish mash of elements that make up an action RPG within Shenmue and especially Shenmue II. I mean, most of the ascent to the top of the Yellow Head building in Shenmue II might as well be your typical RPG dungeon design but rethought. Not to mention leveling up and evolving individual moves through practice in the original game.

I think the thing with Shenmue has always been that people expected one thing and got something that was actively trying to think outside the box. They expected your typical Action RPG. And instead they got something that was at its core an Adventure game with all of these separate elements mashed in to create something almost new and outside of the box. And like most things new, I don't think people were ready to embrace it because it wasn't what they expected it to be.

Maybe a lot like Shenmue III among the fanbase in that sense ;)

Anyways, I think I agree with his take on why Shenmue never caught on in the mainstream.

Also, I'd love to hear more on his perspective as to the mid life crisis of the Japanese gaming industry. To me, the PS3 and 360 generation was really not kind to Japanese developers as the West seemingly took over. I still think there were good things coming from Japan in that era but I do largely agree, that era was not kind to Japanese development as it seemingly hit a wall.

I'd agree with his take on GTA 3 changing the landscape of things. For both better and worse in some regards. Better in the sense that it pioneered the open world game, worse in the sense that it's still the template we adhere to this very day and the sense that the open world game is kind of stagnant as they continue to focus on size over depth of world.

That and I think in the 360/PS3 era, online and more importantly the FPS or Third Person Shooter sensation took off in the West and Japan just couldn't compete. Nor do I really think they were ready for the impact of console online gaming. See how far Sony lagged behind Microsoft on that front.

Japan went through that awkward phase where it tried to copy formulas such as Gears of War to both some success (Vanquish) to decent but still seen as inferior by the broad public (Binary Domain) attempts. Or worse, Resident Evil 6 (I didn't like RE6 but that's just me). I feel like those were the two big instances where Japan went through an identity crisis in trying to keep up but not being able to.

Which makes the somewhat resurgence of Japanese games kind of interesting to me. It's like they kinda embraced their roots a little and went back to doing things their own way and people finally caught on. It's funny to me, Yakuza 0 was the entry point for so many and yet if you really break down that game, it's not that much different to Yakuza games released post Yakuza 3. Maybe just more refined around the edges. It's interesting to me. But to me, it seems the more Japan stops trying to chase the West and embrace their own ideas while maybe taking some influence from the West then the better off they are with the audience.

Certainly Japan is in a better place now than it has been. Just look at Capcom. They were verge of being bought out and now they're almost back in top form.

It's a topic that fascinates me.
 
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I agree with what Ryan's saying. I think it's less about a lack of traditional RPG mechanics, per se, and more about pacing and action. "Virtua Fighter RPG" as a concept sounds action-packed, but even ignoring its VF origins, descriptions of Shenmue as an "epic martial arts revenge story" also make it sound action-packed.

I think for some core gamers of the time, the promotion and hype didn't exactly align with reality. Those are the ones who call it "boring" and "not fun" to this day, because it just isn't for them. They were expecting something different and feel they were duped. That was the beginnings of the anti-Shenmue sentiment that still lingers in some gaming crowds -- why did they "waste" so much money on something that isn't a traditional, action-packed video game?

As for its lack of appeal to the more casual gamer, I think that's a lot more obvious: it's a console game set in 1980s Japan, not a medieval or sci-fi fantasy, or a game with big guns.
 
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spud1897

spud1897

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This is the final Part of our interview series with Ryan Payton.

Here we discuss more around the development process for Shenmue III, changes made, reaction of the community and the future of the series in this hour long interview.

We would like to put on record our thanks to Ryan for taking the time to take part in this interview series. Ryan's dedication to Shenmue helped pave the way for Shenmue III to be realised and we continue down the path to make Shenmue 4 a reality together.

Listen here:


or on Spotify, Anchor and Google Podcasts!

#LetsGetShenmue4
 
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Another great interview (y)

These have been very validating for me personally as Ryan's opinions align so closely with my own :p

Ryan's comments around the budget of S3 illustrates the ignorance of some fans who insisted S3 was poorly managed and should've cost no more than $10 million because Hellblade!! or whatever. Criticise creative decisions all day long, but criticising budget and project management...for a project you have zero inside knowledge of? Maybe question which orifice you're talking out of, mouth or anus.

I agree that, in retrospect, a more compact game would've been better given the limitations YS Net were working with, if it lead to more story content. But as pointed out in the interview, striving for a big, "full-fat" Shenmue experience probably seemed like the right (and possibly only) decision at the time, because that's what everyone hoped for! It's in Yu Suzuki's nature to go big. If S3 was a lot more restrictive and linear, with nothing outside of the main path, I'm sure it would've recieved backlash of a different kind.

Knowing that you were never meant to be able to stay in Bailu after reaching the bell tower makes the unceremonious killing off of side quests make a lot more sense.

This may have been the best one yet! Good job.
 
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