Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
November 1, 2014
arrowPress Releases
November 1, 2014
PR Newswire
View All
View All     Submit Event

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Breaking the Mold: Designing a kung-fu game that's not about fighting - Part 1
by Drew Parker on 09/25/13 02:46:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


By Drew Parker, Mark Animation (Ontario, Canada)

Creative Director, Shuyan the Kung Fu Princess, coming this Fall exclusively to iPad

This is part one of a series in which I'll blog about the Making of Shuyan the Kung Fu Princes - Designing a kung-fu game that's not about fighting.

Part 1:  The Search for True Kung Fu - Defining Our Essential Experience

The opportunity to work on our upcoming iPad release Shuyan the Kung Fu Princess was a wonderful mash-up of my love for Kung Fu and video games.

I trained in Wing Chun Kung Fu for four years, and it left a deep impression on me. So from the beginning of our game's development, I was adamant that our game had to be true to the spirit of kung-fu teachings. My kung fu teacher often said things like, "Kung Fu is to have no intention. You have to learn to fight without fighting."  I felt we absolutely could not make a typical button-mashing action game and call it kung fu.

Mark Animation (Ontario, Canada)

We knew we wanted to give players the experience of kung-fu training and authentic kung-fu combat, but had no idea on how to achieve this, or where to begin. I deliberately avoided borrowing designs from other melee combat games, because I wanted our game to be a new and unique experience.

We prototyped and playtested a number of ideas, but nothing stuck. That led me to search for wisdom from the developer community. After hearing Jesse Schell talk at a local interactive conference, I picked up his book and found what was missing. The Art of Game Design provided a blue print and a process for our team in making Shuyan.

Key to this was defining our "essential experience," the overarching idea that weaves into all aspects of design and ensures a unified, powerful gaming experience.         

The most amazing thing about my training in Wing Chun Kung Fu was that 95 percent of it was not about how to hit people, but about how to not get hit yourself.  The vast majority of movements are deflecting movements. But what makes the deflective movements possible is that you constantly give way to your opponent, letting him or her throw all the punches and kicks they want.  You don't try to stop them, you don't fight force with force. Your ability to do this depends on your amount of physical self-control and mental self-restraint, both of which come through diligent training.

Thus our essential experience was formed: "Finding self-restraint through kung fu training, by learning to have no intention to fight," (which leads to advantages in combat). 

Once we nailed our essential experience, our game really took off. It was much easier to decide which ideas, mechanics, or systems should be pursued, and which should be ignored. We simply asked: Does it fit within our essential experience? Does it have to do with restraint, or lack of it? If not, we tossed it out.

At the same time, prototyping and playtesting were critical. It was a very iterative process, where we constructed an idea from our essential experience on paper, quickly built it, and tested it to see if it worked.  We gathered feedback, refined the prototype, and tested again as quickly as possible.

Armed with a unique essential experience and a new take on melee combat, we then began re-evaluating established action-adventure and fighting game genre tropes and trends, as well as design principles for these genres. We followed a convention when it fit into our essential experience, and broke it when it didn't.

Our essential experience wasn’t just part of our game mechanic design. It guided all other aspects of our production.  We wanted an authentic kung fu training experience, so we sought for authenticity everywhere. The 2D backdrops are hand-painted by a local Chinese painter. The comic-book styled cut-scenes are illustrated by a former Star Wars comic-book artist originally from China. And the music features authentic Chinese compositions.

We used our own motion-capture studio to capture authentic Wing Chu Kung Fu movements, which we used to animate our 3D models. The training equipment we worked into the game is also authentic, and we weaved a powerful story into the game that emphasizes kung-fu principles of self-control.

We were really lucky to have backers on this project that supported our direction. Multi-language TV broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television shared our vision for a kung-fu experience that captured the principle of self-control. And we benefited from the favorable funding environment in Ontario, Canada, with support from the Bell Fund, Canada Media Fund, and OMDC Interactive Digital Media Fund.

Back when our essential experience was first defined, it was a big relief.  It gave us a clear vision we could all understand and get behind.

But on the mechanics side, how were we going to translate that into a concrete combat system?  How do you perform combat in a kung fu game that is not about fighting?

Watch out for Part 2 of the series where I'll get into how our team decided on our Primary "Attack".

Related Jobs

Forio — San Francisco, California, United States

Project Manager / Producer (Games)
Infinity Ward / Activision
Infinity Ward / Activision — Woodland Hills, California, United States

Senior Sound Designer - Infinity Ward
Treyarch / Activision
Treyarch / Activision — Santa Monica, California, United States

Multiplayer Level Designer - Treyarch
Petroglyph Games
Petroglyph Games — Las Vegas, Nevada, United States



William Johnson
profile image
I love this idea and am very interested to see how you accomplish what you're trying to accomplish and still have a fun game at the end of it. Looking forward to seeing where this goes :)

Drew Parker
profile image
That's how I've felt the whole time too! A Gamasutra article about thatgamecompany's process of discovering new experiences felt familiar - fail fast and often, until you find what you are looking for. :)

Robert Green
profile image
Sounds like a fascinating idea. When you think about it in this context, it seems interesting that many fighting games have half a dozen buttons for attacking, but only a single, all-purpose 'block' button or parry option.

Drew Parker
profile image
Yeah - and honestly, even though I trained in kung fu a long time ago and have played countless games since then, the idea to focus on the defensive movements didn't occur to me until we mapped out our essential experience.

Remy Trolong
profile image
Really interesting in the approach, I can't wait to see the result! The graphics reminds me of Andy Seto's comic "Crouching tiger hidden dragon" adaptation.
Will the player have the choice of fighting or not, or will the choice be "attacking or dodging"? It reminds me of old Dead or Alive 2 games where my friends and I were not attacking anymore, only waiting for dodging :)
Anyway keep up the good work! Good luck :)
edit: I just saw the vid, it answered me well ^^ Now i'm waiting for it!

Drew Parker
profile image
Thanks Remy! In terms of player choice, much of the game takes place during Shuyan's kung fu training, so the choice is in how to handle the given training situation using your kung fu - which includes choosing attacking, dodging, and some other things.

But we have a few things up our sleeve in terms of situations Shuyan gets pulled into "outside of the ring"... and there will be more factors at play during those moments than just tactical combat choices. :)

Keith Nemitz
profile image
I spent five years training in various Chinese martial arts. I'm really looking forward to reading more and playing the game!

Drew Parker
profile image
Cool Keith! As a trained martial artist, it would be awesome to get your feedback on the game, and how close it comes to capturing that "training" atmosphere and feeling.

Roberto Dillon
profile image
As a fellow Wing Chun student, I'm really looking forward to this!

Drew Parker
profile image
Hey Roberto - I hope you like it! Your take on the game as a Wing Chun practitioner would be valuable.

Romain Aymard
profile image
"Key to this was defining our "essential experience," the overarching idea that weaves into all aspects of design and ensures a unified, powerful gaming experience"
Definitly what every CD need to write down for all the team. And it's actually a life's tip too :)

Thanks for sharing, can't wait to get it on... Android ? ;)

Drew Parker
profile image
Hey Romain - I agree, I think the team was just as relieved as I was when we nailed down our essential experience!

Currently we are an the iPad only, but who knows what the future holds. :)

Drew Parker
profile image
Hey everyone, thanks for all the comments! Parts 2 & 3 are up if you are interested... u_game_thats_not_about_fighting__Part_2.php u_game_thats_not_about_fighting__Part_3.php