Yesterday, the Sleeping Dogs team at United Front Games discussed developing the game’s hand to hand combat system and how a fight scene from The Protector was a source of inspiration. But, Sleeping Dogs isn’t Streets of Hong Kong Rage. It’s an open world game and since we’ve only seen demo missions I asked the developers about the scale of Hong Kong in the game.
You said Sleeping Dogs is an open world game, but how open is it. Will we be able to ride the Star Ferry or take the MTR1? What parts of Hong Kong will we see?
Mike Skupa, Design Director: It’s a full on open world game. We really wanted to focus on what the main character would do and what would be really fun. We had a lot of things in the open world in the beginning that basically allowed the player to use numerous types of transportation and teleport around the world such as taking the MTR or the Ferry. We actually had those things functioning.
We removed that stuff because it was taking away from the player’s ability and fun factor of utilizing the action hijack mechanics, leaping from car to car, and driving around the world. While it is a full open world game, there are primary missions, secondary missions, and a lot of ambient and dynamic content that pops out of the blue. We tried our best to ensure that it all fits within the pacing and action based core we wanted to have in the game and not make it feel too much like a simulation or have a lot of things in the game just because there is something you can do in the open world.
Everything we have in there caters to the story and lifestyle of our main character and also the mindset that the player would have as the main character. There are a lot of secondary diversions that aren’t serious or tied to the core narrative, but these are all things our main character would partake in.
Jeff O’Connell, Senior Producer: We went to Hong Kong and it sounds like Spencer you may have been there maybe more than we have. We have been there a couple of times doing research. When we came back we compared notes and we came up with a list of things for the core game. It could be shopping, it could be food, it could be gambling, karaoke or massage – things that really felt fun for us. You’ll find those things throughout the open world, as well as the secondary combat Mike mentioned. It can be collectibles, ambient fights, there is a variety of stuff.
It is a full open world game, even though we’ve spent a tremendous amount of time making some of our core story missions feel more like a layer. We use interiors and spaces that are custom built. The reason why we did that, is coming back to The Protector, is we felt that gave us a good amount of control to create action movie moments or let the player create their own action movie moments in these interior spaces. That’s not to say every core story mission uses a custom environment, a lot of them use the open world as well. There are car chases, bike chases, fights in the streets, shootouts in the streets, all kinds of those things. One more cool thing about the open world is the famous Hong Kong red taxis are in there as a teleportation system if you do want to get where you’re going a little bit faster.
MS: I think gamers are going to be quite surprised at how open world the game actually is. It’s something we contemplated and worked heavily on when releasing our demos to the both the media and public. It’s how open world do we want to showcase? They are very, very tricky games to demonstrate. Because a lot can go wrong and there is potential for people finding reveals that we don’t want to get out yet. A lot of what we showcased focused on the action based set piece moments in the game. There is quite a wide array of secondary diversions and freedom of choice of how you want to pace your progression through the main storyline.
1The Star Ferry is a Hong Kong landmark that brings passengers across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and vice versa. The MTR is Hong Kong’s subway system.
Since we’re talking about choice will Detective Wei Shen be able to choose between being say a heroic officer or dirty cop?
MS: From the beginning we toyed with the idea of making a multi branching storyline. Working with the writer and our creative vision, we felt in order to tell the story we want to tell we want to craft that narrative so that no matter what the player is always going to be doing good things. It’s not a black and white or a good versus evil tale.
Based on a lot of our reference material, movies like Infernal Affairs and the Election series, we really wanted to give the player a lot more choice on how dirty or how extreme they want to go in the gameplay and having the gameplay reward that instead of changing our cutscenes around. There is a lot of choice. There is a lot of flexibility of how the player wants to play the game. The story experience in different areas will reflect that. We have a lot of stats in the game and we put a big focus of showing players how they are playing.
That’s something Square has been really good at – pulling all the elements of how gamers play games and what type of patterns they have. Not just something you compare to yourself when you’re playing locally, but also with people around the world which also brings a community around the title.
Going to back to the scale of the city, could you give us an idea of what parts of Hong Kong can we see. Will Wei Shen go clubbing in Lan Kwai Fong? Will we walk around Mong Kok or visit the big Buddah on Lantau Island?
JOC: The island itself [Hong Kong Island] is the main focus of the action. There are maybe one or two small islands also. We haven’t included any of Kowloon. We just limited it to the main island itself, which is a fantastic setting for a game. You have a mix of very dense urban environments, which have a different flavor to Hong Kong’s night markets and fish markets areas that feel different from the skyscrapers of Central. We have four different neighborhoods which sort of represent the diversity of Hong Kong. Central, North Point, which is more modeled after Kowloon, perhaps, than the real North Point in Hong Kong.
We’ve got Aberdeen with the famous waterfronts and our version of Jumbo’s restaurants2 and Kennedy Town as well. It goes to Victoria Peak with its winding roads. We tried to create a version of Hong Kong Island that we think is representative of the real thing, but we really built it for gameplay. Given right down to the road layouts, we have a lot of team members not just from Rockstar, but from EA. Guys who worked on the Need for Speed franchise. These guys built a lot of racetracks into the street layouts as well and there are a variety of races and car chases. In terms of the Island itself, it’s representative of the real thing, but really turned for gameplay.
MS: Being an open world game, that has a very strong focus on on-foot mechanics and vehicular interaction, also combining the two, it was crucial from the beginning to layout the progression of the game. We were quite selective of the environments and locations from Hong Kong we focused on.
We wanted to start the game off on-foot where you don’t have a vehicle, at the time, you are a low level gangster. That allowed us to set up the initial location to be a lot more ground based, but also not too complicated while they’re getting used to the free running ability to not be overwhelmed. We really set up the complexity of the environment into our game progression and that also reflects the social standing and economic growth of your character as he’s moving through the Triad, as well. You start out in a lower class neighborhood and progressively make your way around to the Island into fancier neighborhoods where you are dealing with upper end Triad bosses, higher end clothing stores, better vehicles, and all of that.
2An elaborate floating restaurant built in the style of a Ming Dynasty palace with Las Vegas lights.
Jeff and Mike will be back tomorrow with Triad tales (to keep the source material authentic, did you know they consulted with gangsters?) and to tell us about Sleeping Dogs’ story.