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How Sleeping Dogs Tackles Open World Design
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How Sleeping Dogs Tackles Open World Design

June 29, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

This is kind of interesting. There've been a few significant attempts to do a Hong Kong cinema-style game: there was obviously Stranglehold; there was Rise to Honor that came out of Sony… But it doesn't seem like anyone's quite hit the mark in terms of getting it -- both hitting the nail on the head creatively and stylistically, but also making a huge success out of it. I was wondering if you could talk about that.

MS: I think when we started we had that very same concern because there have been other attempts -- not just set in Hong Kong. Obviously, Hong Kong cinema has influenced a lot of games over the years. So tonally we knew we had to do something a bit different, and that's when we kind of stumbled across the more recent types of Hong Kong movies that have come out in the recent past, from Johnnie To where you have the Triad Black Society series, Infernal Affairs and that.

But, looking at that, we didn't see a lot of games that had necessarily been influenced by that -- at least not heavily. By looking at this style of cinema, we knew that we could have a little bit different tone and tell an authentic Triad story and pay a lot of attention to the reality of the crime in Hong Kong. Obviously, we've sensationalized a lot of it, but that attention to detail and authenticity is important to us.

Jeff O'Connell: Mike mentioned Infernal Affairs, which became The Departed, and won Best Picture just prior to when we were starting. That has served as sort of a general blueprint for our story. That, obviously, was an incredibly well-received film in the West, and for us that's always been considered a touchstone.

We've gone back to that on many occasions from a character point of view and from a story point of view. We really try to make sure that we have that level of -- as Mike said -- authenticity and maturity in the story and likeability among all of our characters. That for us is an important thing.

MS: I think that was the big exciting moment there -- when we felt this won't just be a genre game; we actually have a good story to tell, and we're dealing with subject matter that not a lot of people have been exposed to. Hopefully, when people play this game, they'll do a little research of their own on the themes of the story. I think there's also a real acceptability in melee now with games like Batman being very successful, and even Assassin's Creed to some extent. The massive growth of the UFC worldwide has delivered an awareness of the core audience of melee and fighting. Having that as a key hook for us maybe is another reason why we believe the game will have a strong audience.

There's a little bit of debate as to the best way to integrate story into games, or whether or not to do it at all. But particularly in open world games that are really predicated on a sense of freedom, there can be a real contrast. I was curious about your thoughts on that.

SvdM: If you think about an open world experience as more of a TV show than a movie, and you think about some of the great TV shows like HBO or Showtime -- anything like The Wire or Sopranos or The Shield, any of those kinds of shows -- the approach that we've taken is that all of the characters in the game play a role in the story.

They actually develop a little further, and the open world structure actually allows you more opportunity to get to know them better in the context outside the core story. They may become characters that give you things to do like a story mission, or they may be involved in a case that you do which is not part of the core story but you get to learn a little bit more about them.

The story we wanted to tell from the get-go was a very directed story. We did not want to bring in a whole bunch of branching with people deciding: "Oh, I'm going to do this; oh, I'm going to do that." The story is fairly linear. As you play it, from beginning to end, there's very little impact that you're going to have on the outcome of the narrative.

However, what we take great care to do is to really expand on the characters that you meet throughout the rest of the world so that they become fully fledged; you actually start to care for them, and you understand a little bit more about them. We put them, I think, in a lot of normal situations -- things like weddings and funerals, the kinds of things which happen to ordinary people. I think there's an easier route to understand the characters, sympathize and empathize with them, and become involved in the story.

MS: I think, outside of the core narrative, one of the big aspects of any undercover cop story is you get to go into an organization and see it from the inside. So, in addition to our own character's personal journey, there is a lot of exposure that you get to different characters and different lifestyles; some of those are actually only obtained through secondary content, as well.

While our core storyline is fairly linear, you can really push when and how you want to move it forward as well as flesh out more detail through doing a lot of the secondary content or investigating different aspects of the world -- and that is scalable to each player's different level of experience.

JO: One of the things we try to do on the gameplay side is create a number of custom interiors in the game. Some of them are quite large buildings that sort of have these story set pieces that unfold in these arenas. The reason why we've done that a little bit differently than many urban open world games is because of our mechanics. We feel like the melee, the shooting, the free-running is really well showcased in an environment like that. You can really choreograph an action sequence in there.

We can make some of those experiences more linear for the player, as well, which is an easy way to tell a story and also give some people who prefer a more linear game a taste for that as well. There's definitely the sandbox there, and, as Stephen said, we've integrated characters from the main story throughout that sandbox, but we've also tried to craft action experiences to put finer points on the story using these interiors.

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