Sleeping Dogs Interview: True Triad Stories

By Spencer . April 27, 2012 . 5:05pm

United Front Games explained how they designed the hand to hand combat system for Sleeping Dogs and chatted about the game’s open world. How did they keep everything authentic? The short answer is talking with Hong Kong’s police force and the triad.


In case you missed parts one and 2 –

Sleeping Dogs Interview Part 1: Sleeping Dogs’ Fighting System Inspired By Tony Jaa Action Flick "The Protector"

Sleeping Dogs Interview Part 2:  How Open Is Square Enix’s Open World Game Sleeping Dogs?

When I played the game it sounded like you interjected Cantonese slang while they were speaking English. Can you tell us how you found actors to fit this role?


Jeff O’Connell, Senior Producer: We were really fortunate to have a large number of our core cast be people who speak fluent Cantonese. We are targeting a largely Western audience with this game, but even those characters still need to switch back and forth. Delivering a line in English, delivering a line in Cantonese and subtitling that line. We think that adds something to the game.


There are a few comments out there – Jeez! I want the whole game to be in Cantonese! I think that will be a little tedious for Western gamers, but having those core characters that could switch back and forth was great. We also have a number of actors who may not be as familiar with Cantonese, but we tried to cast them in roles that made sense given the nationality of that character. It could be East Indian. It could be American. There are a wide variety of actors and actresses in there.


Depending on the background of that character, we tried to keep that as accurate as possible with what they naturally speak. When Wei is walking the streets you will hear a mix of Cantonese and English dialogue, just like you would in real Hong Kong. We tried to keep the English dialogue as entertaining as possible.

Wei Shen is involved with the Sun On Yee, but there is another Triad group we heard about, the 18K. We haven’t heard much about them, though. Can you tell us what is the 18K’s role in the story?


Mike Skupa, Design Director: The main story focuses on the Sun On Yee Triad and the political war happening in it. The 18K are basically an enemy Triad of the Sun On Yee. They do play a part in the story, but being an open world game where you have a lot of secondary content you want players to partake in you have to be very careful with how the narrative progresses. The 18K is our "they will always be your enemy gang." In addition to 18K members who tie into the narrative, they are also a more vicious and violent game who are always your enemy.


JOC: When we were looking, way back when, at the reference material in the Hong Kong cinema films, Mike mentioned a couple of them earlier and even in The Departed, some of the most interesting stories center on a single crime family. Whether its The Sopranos or Jack Nicholson’s gang [in The Departed]. For us that was more interesting. The intrigue and characters of a single gang. It felt like the right story to tell, trying to bring down a single organization.


At one point in the game, the 18K put on a hit on Uncle Po from the Sun On Yee so they’re a pretty big rival!


JOC: Without giving away too much of the story, Uncle Po is the head of the Sun On Yee. He’s under threat from within and without. It sucks to be at the top, I guess.


MS: We really wanted to make sure that the game didn’t come across as a bunch of wanted factions battling it out on the streets at all times. It was important for us to do research and make sure to understand how these organizations actually operated.


Obviously, we stylized things and romanticized things in the game. Watching a lot of modern day movies – you have television shows like The Wire and The Shield that get into the subtle dynamics of criminal organizations. It was important for us to make things feasible of how these organizations operate and the political plays that happen and the little things that change dynamics.


By focusing on one primary faction and also adding secondary factions that play a smaller role were key to tell the story we wanted to tell. This also let us have a lot of reoccurring characters and make sure not all of the enemies in the game aren’t faceless villains. We wanted to add some gravity to when you take out or interact with certain characters. There are some characters that start off as enemies, characters that you want to take out. As you get closer you learn what motivates them or who motivates them and your relationship with them may change.



Part of your research involved consulting with former Triad members to develop this game.


JOC: We were really fortunate throughout development to not only have contacts with the police force in Hong Kong, some retired members, but also a couple of – our writer got to interact with a couple of Triad members in Hong Kong. Both the police and Triad were incredibly valuable sources of information for us. One of the interesting things about the Triad is a lot of their operations are not that sinister. Sure, they have human trafficking, gambling, extortion, drugs, murder, and all that kinds of stuff, but at the end of the day criminal organizations are about making money.


In Hong Kong, we learned the Triads are involved with things like the mini-buses ferrying people around Hong Kong. These are owned, operated by or pay a toll to the Triads. It doesn’t seem like that big an operation until you look at a map of Hong Kong, how many people take those buses, and how buses there are. You kind of realize the exponential growth the Triad get from that as the city’s population increases.


There is a lot of stuff we learned from talking to those guys that made its way into the game in some interesting ways. It was not like we showed up to Hong Kong and said is there Triad here? Is there anyone we can talk to? And a bunch of guys raised their hands. It was a long process to talk to a couple of these guys and they would only speak directly with our writer. That was all done through a contact we had in the entertainment industry there who had friends who were in the Triad or had previously been in the Triad. It took many weeks and months for them just to meet our writer. It was not a welcoming with open arms process by any stretch of the imagination. The police, thankfully, were much more welcoming and we got a lot of good information from them, as well.


MS: I think another valuable asset to us is we live in Vancouver and there are a lot of people from Hong Kong that live in Vancouver. There has been a history of Triad activity and violence within Vancouver, not to the extent you’ll see in our game. Growing up in this city, at least for myself, I heard stories. A book I read, Paper Fan, way back when took place in this city. There is a lot of general inspiration around Vancouver. We have Chinatown pretty close to our office. Just seeing how people from Hong Kong behave and operate. It was good for us to shatter the over the top romanticized notions we may have had from cinema and take the research we had to amp it up.


JOC: There were stories about the Triad that spooked us. One of them, Mike, myself, our executive producer, and our art director were in Hong Kong with our key contact over there Eddie. Eddie was taking us on a tour of the Island the day after we arrived and telling us about a radio station personality who spoke poorly of the local Triad bosses. That night or that week he was chopped by one of these Triads. They were waiting for him outside of the studio and they chopped him up with cleavers.


I guess one of the MOs of these attacks is to leave the victim alive, but mortally wounded so they recover and are left as a mark – if you see them don’t mess with the Triad. Eddie no sooner told us this story and we were driving down the street and Eddie points out, "There he is! There’s that guy!" Sure enough, this guy was walking down the street on lunch break or whatever. He was clearly maimed and it was five years or after or something.


MS: That was one of the interesting things that we found out when we were research Triad crimes is there isn’t that much gun violence. We focused on, in our storyline, the violence starts off mainly hand to hand, fisticuffs, not that severe. It escalates as this war occurs. People start bringing guns to the situation. It amplifies into this all out war. That was another key thing for us. Trying to take the true nature of the crime there and trying to create the intense scenario we wanted to build up to in our game without saying, "Hong Kong the streets are littered with assault rifles!" It also allowed us to have a nicely paced structure.

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  • aoihana

    I skipped some parts of the interview, because it seemed to spoil some elements, and I like to be surprised in games.

    That said, it sure seems like, no, it’s apparent that United Front poured in a lot of their efforts to make Sleeping Dogs as authentic as possible. From the accents, and voice talent, to the character designs and Catonese-English dialogue on the street. 

    It’s pretty amazing the amount of detail that went into this, and I can honestly say that I admire United Front’s research methods and research methods, and from the looks of it, it sure paid off! (◕‿◕✿)

  • Göran Isacson

    Interesting- never knew Vancouver had links to Hong Kong and the triads. It’s neat they managed to find out how organized crime is connected to small-time business over there. After all, ALL places with organized crime have them sinking their tendrils into way more than just obviously criminal stuff. Here in Sweden the club scene and a lot of restaurants are often connected to organized crime, because you always need places to launder money and give you side-incomes from. Have to admit, this sounds more and more intriguing the more I read about it.

    • PoweredByHentai

      Wherever there is a sizable Chinese community of Cantonese speakers, you will find the Triad not too far away.

      There’s actually a district in Hong Kong that you basically want to stay the hell away from, especially at night.  All I remember is that the Red line goes through that district as well.

    • Aoshi00

      A lot of people from HK immigrated to Vancouver (it was either to the US, Canada, or Singapore before 1997).. They always say if you want authentic and delicious Cantonese food, you could get it in Vancouver or Toronto, short of going back to HK..

      The amount gone into researching about the police and gang sounds amazing..  reminds me of Shenmue but more brutal and real :)  nice they have actors who are fluent in Cantonese, it bugs me when they have some random guys speaking other provincial dialects pretending to be Cantonese in movies..Not really a fan of Cantonese cursing though, sound very vulgar to me, don’t like Mandarin cursing either :(..

  • Terminator_GR


  • ShadowWolf

    holy crap, they actually got members of the Triad to help them with the game?

    thats pretty risky……….but the priiiiiiiize.

  • s07195

    Even the minibuses have connections to the triads?

    My whole life has been a lie…

    • PoweredByHentai

      Yeah, every once in a while, you’ll see an oji-san who looks like a nice guy wearing tank-tops who has some crazy-awesome dragon tattoos and driving a minibus around from an MTR station over to wherever his route goes.

  • Good to see they put it efforts in it… I expected they would made up the whole cop vs triad story… I’m also interested how they implement English/Engrish and Cantonese together in the game… Hurray for Cantonese spoken…

  • pressstart

    Totally stoked about this game. I’m glad they sprinkled in Cantonese in there. I won’t be able to read the Chinese, but at least I can understand Cantonese when it’s spoken, mostly anyway :)

  • please put the ferry and mtr back in this game and ill buy it

  • Wow that’s awesome to have Cantonese voice. I don’t know if this is Square Enix’s effort or not (probably not) but Deus Ex also have Chinese voice and I really appreciate it even it wasn’t that many. Uncharted was great too for adding some Indonesia language for Eddy Raja, that one was really funny.
    I hope in future we have more voice/accent based on the characters’ ethnicity even it doesn’t have many lines.

  • … I want the whole game to be in Cantonese =) I can understand every day conversation, but it would have been nice to be able to expand my vocabulary with the types of things my grandma doesn’t talk about with me =P

  • I would love for there to be a full Cantonese audio option, but I know it wouldn’t be worth it from a production standpoint. I just hope the dialogue that IS in there at least sounds like a HK native is speaking it.

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