At one point during the development of Dreamcast classic Shenmue its cats walked around on two legs, while some men strutted around like Marilyn Monroe.

Series creator Yu Suzuki made the revelations during a postmortem talk at GDC, where he detailed the development of the game.

Its genesis goes back to the mid-90s, where it began life as a Sega Saturn prototype called The Old Man and The Peach Tree. Suzuki wanted to take a break from the quick-fire arcade games he had spent his career developing, and was inspired by classic 80s RPG and adventure games.

The original story was set in 1950s Luoyang, China, and involved a character named Taro in pursuit of a mysterious figure called Ryu.

The prototype evolved into a Virtua Fighter RPG starring series stalwart Akira, was originally codenamed Guppy and was to be a 45-hour adventure. That evolved itself into a game for the Sega's follow-up to the Saturn, which at the time hadn't been set in stone, leaving Suzuki's team to work to estimated specs.

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Suzuki prepared for the game by taking a trip to China in 1993, where he learnt about martial arts and scouted locations.

Upon moving the project to the Dreamcast, Sega realised it needed a new IP to create the console's killer-app, so the Virtua Fighter branding was scrapped and the game became Shenmue. With the help of a team of writers and film-makers - a process Suzuki called borderless development - the game's story expanded to eleven chapters, broken down like a novel.

The development came with its own problems - the scope meant that it in its raw form the game would have to have shipped on 50-60 CD-Roms, so Suzuki and his team worked on data compression to get the figure down.

The open world also proved problematic, as did the scripted behaviour of the game world's inhabitants. One day in development, it was reported that all the people in the warehouse district had disappeared. The cause was a convenience store to which all the NPCs went to buy breakfast, causing severe congestion and leaving a lot of them stuck. Suzuki's solution was to make a bigger front door.

Male characters would also walk like Marilyn Monroe, and there was a cat that would walk around on two legs - thanks to the team taking short-cuts in development and sharing skeletons and animations between the different character models. When Suzuki showed the illustrative slide, translator Mark Cerny was audibly perplexed: "I don't know what this is," he could be heard whispering.

Suzuki ended the session with an open Q&A, and the first question inevitably asked whether Shenmue 3 would be released. "At the right opportunity...." was Suzuki's reply.

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Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

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Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

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