Project Berkley article translation (Nov 1998)

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Project Berkley article translation (Nov 1998)

Postby Switch » Sun Aug 30, 2015 3:45 am

This is a translation of an article that was published in the November 1998 edition of the Dreamcast Magazine.


This date of this article, November 1998, is the month before the Premiere Event of Shenmue would be held, and the gaming world was buzzing with anticipation. Little had been publicly shared about the game, even its real name - it was known then as "Project Berkley", a name that Yu Suzuki has mentioned elsewhere that he chose because it "had a nice ring to it", as well as matching the name of the famous US University. (Although the spelling used in the magazines differs slightly from the actual university name which is "Berekely" with an extra "e").

It's clear that this article and others like it at that time had little solid information to go on regarding details of the game; but it does include an interview with Yu Suzuki, so here it is for nostalgia's sake.

Related links:
1. Project Berkley - English Subtitled - (video)
phpBB [video]
2. Shenmue Premiere Event video (short version, English subtitles)
phpBB [video]

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Yu Suzuki's Latest Game: Code-name Project Berkley

"At the end of December I’m planning to hold a premiere event, which will be the largest ever held. Please look forward to it!", announced Yu Suzuki on the last day of the Tokyo Game Show, as the general public looked on. The expression on the face of Kenji Eno and the other attendees at the Creators’ Conference in reaction to the words "largest ever" was memorable, but what exactly does Yu mean by "the largest ever"? There’s no doubt it’s something that many, including the many fans who heard it at the event, are extremely keen to find out. In the official notice we received the other day from the AM2 Division, the date of the premiere event is confirmed as 20 December (Sunday), to be held at Pacifico Yokohama. The notice covered these two pieces of information, but didn’t reveal anything more...

Devotion & Passion


Yu Suzuki is extremely busy at the moment. Busier than ever before, even compared to busy periods in memory from the past. Over these past few years, what with holding position as head of the AM2 Division which has greatly grown in staff numbers, as well as director of the Amusement Machine Research and Development Division (currently an executive officer), there were periods when he was not able to find free time to spend in the role of game creator. However, with this latest project, Project Berkley, almost all of the time he has is devoted to its creation. For this reason, being able to meet Yu Suzuki at this present time, as a magazine media journalist, is something that can only be called extremely fortunate. That’s how busy he is. And, this is how much Yu Suzuki is staking on Project Berkley. In his own words, saying it is "the culmination of 15 years" is no exaggeration. The way he pours his passion into this project is inspiring.

Gradual Revelation

For Yu Suzuki it will already be the third generation of Sega home console he has worked with, since the MegaDrive. In this article of Dreamcast Magazine, which has been reborn to target this new hardware, we will be covering how Yu is finding this, including the recent status of the project. It is a game shrouded in mystery. However the game’s greatness is not something that will be diminished even if we set some of the details aside until closer to December's premiere event, nor is it a game that will find itself out-shone by a rival new game sneaking up quietly. And so, given the mind-boggling scale of the game, it's better we don't rush along, but reveal it one part at a time. And so, we would be happy if our readers would pause a little over the next period, to read information that will be revealed little-by-little as we go forwards, such as the premiere event, the newly-proposed genre name and some key words related to the game. This is a moment when the history of gaming is about to change. Such a moment may only come along once in several years, so it’s surely not a bad idea to follow along.

Premiere Event Venue

First, let’s look at the premiere event venue, Pacifico Yokohama. This venue has a capacity of 5000 attendees. In terms of its size, it is about the size of the Tokyo International Forum venue where announcements for games like D2 and Sonic Adventure were held. We asked Yu why the choice of Yokohama:

"Actually, from a transport access standpoint, Tokyo would definitely have been preferable, but we couldn’t find an available venue in Tokyo, for that time. This was a venue comparable to the Tokyo International Forum. Really I would have liked to have held it at the Tokyo Dome" laughs Yu unconcernedly. It’s hard to tell if he is being serious or joking... However, with his affable smile, it doesn’t really matter.

The Pacifico Convention Center in Yokohama
The event venue will held at be the Pacifico convention center in Yokohama. The pie-slice shape of the Intercontinental Hotel in the Minato-mirai area should serve as a landmark to head for. The closest station is the JR Sakuragi-cho station. It’s about 12 minutes from there by travelator, or 5 minutes by taxi; or you could stroll around the area on the way there. There are plenty of places to fill in time nearby like Landmark Tower and Queen’s Square Yokohama. Look for further details in a future issue of Dreamcast Magazine!

"The time of the event, and how many times it will be held, haven’t been decided yet, but the length of the event will be longer than the one for Sonic". The premiere event for Sonic Adventure in August was around 70 minutes long, suggesting the length may be around 2 hours. "Even people who are not interested in games are sure to enjoy what we have in store, so people should not hesitate to come along and bring their friends or girlfriend. And after Yokohama, I’m planning to hold the same event in several cities around the country after the New Year, somewhat like a road show." The candidate locations are still under consideration, and it is also yet to be decided whether Yu himself will be attending the additional events. However, it would be well worth going to see even if Yu is not present. Every attendee is sure to feel satisfied at seeing the kind of images they had not imagined possible. The images are evolving and improving daily with an amazing momentum. This will be something not to be missed.

A New Genre

"I wanted to avoid calling it an RPG... Because what I think of as an RPG, and what other people think of as an RPG, may be two different things. So instead of the genre of RPG, I thought up a new genre name for it".

After considering long and hard, Yu Suzuki came up with the name "FREE". So going forward, the name of the genre for Project Berkley has been revised from "RPG?" to "FREE".

"Starting with Hang-On, I’ve been making games for ten-something years, and this project is the culmination of those years, where I have brought together all those elements. I wanted to try creating something that gives you a lot more freedom than games that have come before; fewer restrictions. In that sense, you can say it is "FREE". It’s also the first letters of Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment. "Full" has connotations of completeness; it’s part of the word "full-scale". And so "Full Reactive" means reacting completely. Eyes – we have one pair, left and right. This suggests such concepts as "having two aspects", "the front vs the reverse side", "positive and negative", or taking it further, "the creator and the user", "reality and surrealism (or virtual reality)", "the past and the future". One of these words by itself doesn’t tell the whole story - they always form a pair to make a complete set. Mixing the two opposing concepts makes them well-balanced. Also, another reason I chose to use Eyes is that the human eyes represent one of the most sensitive and delicate parts of the human body and functions. So the meaning of FREE can be "having extremely sensitive eyes that react to everything around", or "a full-action game having a sensitive point of view".

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Above: The pamphlet that was handed out at the Sega New Challenge Conference II event (front, back). The genre of "RPG" has now been revised as shown below...
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A large cross covers the "RPG" symbol, being replaced by the letters "FREE". "FREE" stands for Full Reactive Eyes Entertainment, a completely new genre.

The meaning may still not be entirely clear even after this explanation, but Yu doesn’t forget an important point: "What’s really important is communicating a message to the people that play, and the thing I’m most afraid of is that the message I want to tell gets disrupted for some reason like the game being too difficult. For this day and age, I want to properly convey to children those precious things that should be held dear. That’s the strong wish I have, and I hope to be able to make that kind of story."

To achieve this, a vast world has been prepared, together with an astonishing number of characters that make an appearance. Once people have seen this, they are sure to grasp the essence of the FREE genre. The pleasant experience of travelling "freely" through a carefully-crafted world: the day when a part of this can be experienced is almost here.

Scoop! The Contents of the Special Disk Supplied with the Dreamcast version of VF 3tb!
Every purchase of the Dreamcast version of Virtua Fighter 3tb will come with a Special Disk. As we have previously reported, this freebie disk contains secret footage about Project Berkley, but now we have been able to gradually confirm certain aspects of the contents: Yu Suzuki will be featuring in it, and will be speaking about the past through to the future. It will be able to be viewed on an actual Dreamcast. Also, you will be able to hear some of the music, which is an important part of the game. Furthermore, the official name of the game will also be announced within. Everything will be revealed on this single disk, on November 27.

Yu Suzuki Speaks About Project Berkley

Even after gathering together the fragments of information available, at the current point it’s likely no one is able to imagine how Project Berkley really is. Conversely, even after viewing the special disk that to be supplied with Virtua Fighter 3tb on November 27, that won’t be enough to understand the true nature of Project Berkley. That’s because, while it does contain some clips, it can be said that they show parts that are not the essence of the game.

When I first heard about the game from Yu Suzuki, I recall an interesting allegory he told me. "Let’s say you are pouring coffee for someone, and you ask them how many lumps of sugar they want. And they answer with one lump, or two lumps. Then you confirm their choice with them, and pass them the appropriate amount, right? Well, present-day RPG games are just like that. There are one or two paths prepared for the player. However, what I want to do is different from that: You want sugar? Sure, here you go – and I want to be able to hand you a whole jar containing many lumps of sugar. Or if it’s milk, rather than measuring it out, I want to grab the whole bottle and pass it across." When I heard this story, I hadn’t yet seen any actual images and couldn’t really imagine what Yu meant, but once you see some of the images from Project Berkley, you’ll understand in a flash. It’s not just a story about a minor counting difference; it’s something applied in a single leap right to the architecture of that world.

Let’s take one more concrete example. Yu Suzuki has said that "With this game, 1 million players will have a million different experiences". Yu goes further on this topic: "For example, let’s say you were on your way to school as normal. On the way, if you happened to see someone at the intersection wearing no clothes, that would definitely make an impression, right? When you get to school, the first thing you would say is ‘On the way to school I saw a weird guy!’ (laughs) And to change to a different topic, movies - it’s often the case that with a movie of say 2 hours, the first 2 hours are entirely preparation for the ending of the movie, right? In a lot of movies, everything that happens until the last scene is preparation for showing the ending. However, I’m not trying to do it that way. It’s true that there exists one main story, but it’s a world where the process taken along the way during the 50 hours or 100 hours of play isn’t there merely as preparation for the final scene. Of course, everything connects together, but excluding a certain world, it’s like being able to experience virtual reality. So, it’s ok not to progress towards the final scene. How can I put it... it’s like Doraemon’s "Anywhere Door" (laughs), so you can visit places whenever you like. And you can do that over and over. It’s like experiencing actual daily life. Like a kind of virtual reality tool (laughs)". You could say that these words sum up one of the characteristics of Project Berkley. However, that’s not all that Project Berkley is. This game introduces a large number of world-first technical initiatives. Each one of these helps to propel this game to be something novel and unlike any of the games that have come before. All the latest technology accumulated by Yu Suzuki over the last 3 years has been ambitiously incorporated into this game, and it is sure to impress anyone who sees it.


As we wrote at the start of this article, Yu Suzuki’s devotion to this project is anything but ordinary, but these technical innovations are now proving their worth, as endorsed by the amazing graphical improvements in Project Berkley that have rapidly occurred recently. If characters such as those seen in the Final Fantasy movie were to be animated in real time... That is something we’d like you to check with your own eyes at the premiere event.

Few Hints

At present, the information made available to us about Project Berkley has been scarce at best. What has been made available is a preview pamphlet announcing the return of Yu Suzuki after 3 years, and an edition of the pamphlet that revises its genre name. There are some minor changes in the background design of the revised version, but "that doesn’t really have any particular meaning" confides Yu Suzuki...

More On the Premiere Event

Regarding the length of the premiere event being longer than that of Sonic, Yu Suzuki says: "The graphical footage for Project Berkley is kept in my room right now on 60-minute digital video tapes, and there about 25 of them on that shelf. Of course, that’s not everything though, but just what’s there is about 25 hours of video (laughs). I don’t know for sure yet, but I’m thinking of showing about 40 minutes to an hour of video at the premiere event". I feel a bit concerned that so much footage will be revealed all at once, but it seems that Yu Suzuki has already made a calm analysis: "If I recall correctly, there was about 7 minutes of Dreamcast footage shown at the D2 event. And I think the game footage shown at the Sonic Adventure event was about 12 minutes. And so, for the premiere event this time I want everyone to be able to see plenty of video compared to those events. I want the content of the event to satisfy everyone who has come along. There may be those who worry that we’ll be giving too much away, but even so it will amount to no more than the equivalent of a preview trailer for a movie (laughs). For example, 1% of 100 hours of footage is 1 hour - so it won’t be a problem. Naturally, if I show around an hour of footage, it will be longer than other premiere events held until now. Also, though it will depend of the number of attendees, for argument’s sake if the event is 2 hours’ long, then no matter how much we try we’ll be limited to holding the event at most 3 times in one day." Ok, then. By the way, for Sonic Adventure the sale of souvenir items seemed to go really well – what sort of things do you have planned for sale this time?

"Details of items are still to be confirmed, but in general there will be things like calendars and post-cards. Also we’ll prepare things like T-shirts." replies Yu. "We have put in a great amount of effort into the music and the text of messages in the game. In particular, I think the music aspect alone will provide everyone with plenty of enjoyment." I have a feeling that Yu’s mention of the planned additional events to be held outside the metropolis being like a "road show" may have some significance. "From the point of view of game fans and their image of me, probably the strongest image they have of me is to do with the game I have put out most recently. So now, my current image is "Yu Suzuki, of Virtua Fighter" or "Yu Suzuki, designer of fighting games". But for me, it’s really not the case at all. (laughs) In fact I’ve also created driving games, and flight games. So from that point of view, for the upcoming premiere event, I’d like lots of people to come – you don’t have to be a fan of Virtua Fighter! I’m sure that even ordinary females who may have no interest in games will really enjoy it. The Special Disk attached to the Dreamcast version of Virtua Fighter tb3 includes a preview of Project Berkley, but by all means people who have not seen seen the preview should also come along. I’ll be happy if lots of people attend, as if they were going to a concert". In any case, with being a game whose wonder can be appreciated from viewing just a small amount of footage, it's well worth marking December 20 on your calendar. And the Yokohama area is an enjoyable place to take a wander over to.

Current Development Status

To finish up, we asked about the current status of development. "Recently things are coming together well. It took quite a while for things to come together, but we’re going at a good speed now. I’d say we’re achieving about twice the speed of a normal project. Our production efficiency is high! (laughs) But the overall amount that needs to be finished off has ballooned. Even though we’re working faster than a normal project, there’s a lot to be done, and that takes time". And at that point, he showed us some previously unseen screens from the actual game. Watch this space...!

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Re: Project Berkley article translation (Nov 1998)

Postby Giorgio » Sun Aug 30, 2015 1:31 pm

Immense contribution as always. Thank you very much, Switch! This additional information about the essence of Shenmue hasn't been shared before, and it is one to progressively reflect upon as time go by.

[...] human eyes represent one of the most sensitive and delicate parts of the human body and functions [...] "a full-action game having a sensitive point of view".

Shenmue is full of and has delicate details for the delicate and sensitive eyes of the player; both the world and the player react to each other; the world reacts to the interactions of the player, and the player reacts to images/messages of the world.
I don't agree with the "full-action" part; Shenmue's aesthetic is generally calm/relaxed immersion in a nostalgic or exotic atmosphere.

"What’s really important is communicating a message to the people that play, and the thing I’m most afraid of is that the message I want to tell gets disrupted for some reason like the game being too difficult. For this day and age, I want to properly convey to children those precious things that should be held dear. That’s the strong wish I have, and I hope to be able to make that kind of story."
(emphasis mine)

The main-stream and the majority of the mass public considers Shenmue as "boring", because of: the slow pacing (you need patient, concetration, focus and you have to wait); the low frequency of fights etc. I wonder if Yu Suzuki never thought of including elements that will entertain the masses. However, I don't think so. I believe he was fully aware, and that is reflected in this interview:
[...] From the very beginning, just with that, they told me that my game will not sell. But we went even further!

Yu Suzuki has a pioneer spirit. For example, he changed the audience in the arcades with Hang On. I believe he wanted to change the market/audience (who plays entertainment software and what?) once again, with a project of a massive scale, in order to impact a certain part of the masses.

Even nowadays the mass public neglects the appeal of Shenmue and ridicules it and its fans. From experience, this happen when something has spirit. And Shenmue has spirit. It's not the game-play that changes people's lives. But the information/messages, emotions, empathy and everything that touches the player's heart, and is not necessarily reflected as data, scores etc in-game. But it's part of the player's psyche and memories.
Yu Suzuki undestood that from the point of view of the players, in this interview, and lately with all the pouring of fans' deep love of Shenmue through the Kickstarter that was also expressed creatively (videos, art etc):
When we made the game, we put a lot of feelings.

Interactive story-telling/narrative/fiction seems to have a long way to go to become one of the main ways for the mass public to have entertainment. But lately things seem to change. And titles like Beyond: Two Souls, Life is Strange, Until Dawn etc are becoming million sellers and critically acclaimed. While general game buffs turn their face to the idea of this, a certain part of the mass public are charmed by the same idea to interact with worlds that is more about to feel empathy with humanness, than mainly having challenges to beat and win.

The words from Robin Hunicke (co-creator of Journey) really reverberate the desires of these underserved players:
“Our culture is one that prides itself on the immediacy of everything, from hamburgers to information. That expectation and hunger for feedback right now causes challenges for game designers who want to encourage players to slow down, think, and feel emotions that are deeper – or at least different – than quick adrenaline shots.”

Giorgio has received 2 thanks from: johnvivant, Switch
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Re: Project Berkley article translation (Nov 1998)

Postby Fenix » Mon Aug 31, 2015 1:08 am

Thanks a lot, Switch.
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Re: Project Berkley article translation (Nov 1998)

Postby Nankeiro » Tue Sep 01, 2015 11:30 pm

Thanks to you, we're able to FINALLY read those interviews, articles, etc. from its original sources. Not only to have these translated but also, to have those magazines!

To you and to the members of this awesome Shenmue site, my complete respect and gratitude.
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