Though many developers look at Shanghai as a great location to find cheap art outsourcing solutions, some companies have founded studios there to fully develop titles for the Western market. Notably, Ubisoft pioneered in this area -- and now, many of its experienced developers, both Westerners and Chinese, have put down roots in the Shanghai scene.
Two examples of that are Larry Herring and Jing Yu Zhu. Herring, who worked at Ion Storm in the '90s before moving to Ubisoft, is now environment director for the Iceland-headquartered CCP. He's at work on CCP's first console project, Dust 514 -- a fascinating console shooter announced at GDC Europe last year which actually affects in-game territory wars in its popular MMO, EVE Online. Jing Yu Zhu is the game's lead level designer. He also has a Ubisoft background.
Here, the two developers -- one a seasoned veteran of the U.S. market and the other a home-grown talent -- discuss what it takes to make Western-targeted games in China, and what the scope of the local development scene looks like.
There's also a look toward the future of development in Shanghai, which is quickly becoming China's hub for console game development, despite the lack of legitimate availability of those platforms in the local market.
Was the CCP Asia studio founded specifically for the Dust 514 project?
Larry Herring: No. I would say that the studio was primarily founded for administering EVE in China -- and, by the way, let's see if we can do some game development, down the road.
It seems like a pretty ambitious leap, though, to go straight from administration to a multi-platform shooter, right?
LH: We had people in place in China that were ready to go. Our creative director had been in communication about it. So, the idea was always there, but the primary focus again was on administrating. We've got game masters here for you, online, in China. Actually, the starting of this office was actually the springboard to get EVE into China. There's a lot you have to do to make it work in China.
Jing Yu Zhu: It seems like the players number reached a very high level in China, and then dropped a lot. Because of the Chinese government rule, it's not so easy to have a game in China.
LH: Developing Dust was kind of always in the vision, but it wasn't the primary focus at first.
One of the things that interests me a great deal about Dust is the fact that it ties into the MMO. That seems like a really tough design challenge.
JYZ: It depends on who designs.
LH: Yeah. My feeling on that is that I don't think it's as much of a design challenge as it is an implementation challenge, really. We can work out a lot of theory, but until we really get to the point of knowing -- we're actually getting there now, with actually knowing what we can and can't do.
JYZ: Compared with the single player games, an MMO game, the hard work is on a different side. In the single player game, we should focus a lot on storytelling, a lot of script, and basic controls. On MMOs, we need to focus on balance and how to make people have fun with other players. It's not like we designed everything for players, something that will be explored by themselves.
But Dust has got both those things going on.
LH: One thing to note is that the two design teams have worked very closely over the last year and a half to really iron out what can be mutually beneficial and at the same time what will have less negative effect on both as well. I think that's important. There's a lot involved even outside of game design with actually writing back story and figuring out where Dust fits into the universe.