‘Shenmue’ Development Bugs: Cats Walking like People and Empty Streets

Dreamcast fans REJOICE (I’m looking at you, PC)!! For those who remember, Shenmue was an extremely ambitious game for its time (and I’m talking about late-1990’s-time), which included a massive and interactive open world, environments full of people and dynamic activity and a fairly-complex combat system, along with using state-of-the-art graphics. The project was huge in scope, and the game’s director, Yu Suzuki, revealed at the “Shenmue Postmortem Panel” at this year’s Game Developers’ Conference (GDC) that the game’s development didn’t come without its fair share of bizarre development bugs. In fact, according to Suzuki, up to 300 bugs were found EVERY DAY!

First, let’s provide some perspective. When Shenmue shipped, it came as a three-disc game, thanks to the magic of compression. Now, without some form of compression, Suzuki stated (through interpreter Mark Cerny) that ALL of the game’s content would have required 50-60 CD-ROMs — which would have been TURRIBLE (no typo) for your average consumer.  Needless to say, the team behind Shenmue needed to come up with methods to save space, which often resulted in some unexpected results. Unexpected results such as cats walking on two legs LIKE PEOPLE!

One bug in particular came as a result of some programming used to assign daily routines for the game’s non-playable characters (wake-up, eat, work, rinse, repeat…) in the main town of Yokosuka (which involved a combination of scripts and artificial intelligence), which ended up with ZERO citizens to be found in the streets of Yokosuka. Here’s what happened: the daily schedule had directed EVERY citizen to buy breakfast from the SAME store – AT THE SAME TIME!. The store was so jam packed with NPCs that they were unable to exit, leaving the streets empty. Suzuki said that the team “had to increase the size of the automatic door and put a limit on the number of occupants in the store,” and the solution resulted in many citizens being late for their jobs in-game.

As for the cats walking like people, the animation system used for non-player characters was shared as long as the characters had similar skeletons. This was done to save space by reusing animation sets for multiple characters. However, it resulted in man winding up with a female animation set — walking like “Marilyn Monroe” as Suzuki put it — or with cats walking the streets of Yokosuka on only their hind legs. Unfortunately, Suzuki did not show any screenshots or video of these incidents, but thankfully, the internet IS A THING that has been reproducing the cat “glitch” ever since, as shown by one of Suzuki’s own slides in his presentation.

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