Writer Devin Grayson and Perfect World Entertainment's Craig Beers and Jason Varden about Kung Foo (not to be confused with World of Kung Fu) joined us for a quick introduction to Perfect World Entertainment's new slapstick MMO project. As a game whose assets are culled from the wisecracking "Wulin" Chinese IP (think "martial arts meets Monty Python's Flying Circus," according to Perfect World's Jason Varden), the story is being totally rewritten by Grayson, a noted comic book writer (Batman: Gotham Knights, Nightwing). But while the interactive medium of MMO gaming might be new to Devin, readers know she's no stranger to comedy and double entendre - skills that will no doubt serve her well with Kung Foo.
Writer Devin Grayson and Perfect World's Craig Beers
First, Craig explained that the story and dialogue of Kung Foo is now the chief and only focus. "The development of the game is done. At this point we're doing a lot of localization and translation work and setting up the background," Craig explained. Does the feature completeness of the game pose a creative challenge for Devin? "It is challenging, but it does remind me of comic work, where you have something like the character limit constraints - we would have that same issue in a comic panel where you don't want to use too many words and cover up the art.
"Some of it's actually familiar, but I've also been delighted with how much we can do. It just sort of sparks your imagination in a different way than it would if you were looking at a blank page... We've really been relying a lot on our geekitude and the things that we're passionate about."
Despite the bad rap that quest dialog gets, Devin also thinks there's definitely an opportunity to pull players in with narrative. "I think that people slow down for in-jokes and they slow down to learn, and the early stages of Kung Foo are set up to do both those things... There's plenty of cues to slow down and read, and if players decide to do that, we're doing everything we can to make sure it's worth reading. So yea, the interaction is really different, as is the focus; it's really like working in second person."
At first glance at the concept art, the art style and content of the game might look fairly tweens- and teens-oriented, but Devin and Craig insist that the narrative makes for a game for the older crowd and parents too. "We're targeting adults, especially the anime crowd. We'll throw out references that kids can get, but adults can view in a slightly different way. " Craig noted. "I'm not very ESRB friendly, " Devin joked, "but I can be when asked to be, so we're doing the flyover jokes that hopefully the kids won't notice and the grownups will go, 'Wait...'"
As for what makes Kung Foo! kung fu, for Craig it's all about the weapons and action, while Devin shared how the genre can take on life with characters: "For me, instead of being a story crafted around a protagonist, it's crafted around an artform. With that said, there's tremendous room for characterization and character growth. One of the ones I really like is Drunken Master, which is very silly on a lot of levels, but you move away from the jokes and get into this amazing, magical action scene - that feeling of expressing characterization through action is very present there, which of course is part of superhero comics too."
Craig elaborated on character development. "Everyone starts out at level one as a newb, or we're calling them grasshoppers, and at level 10 you're able to choose one of two styles, might or magic. At level 30, you can further specialize." Specialization options Craig mentioned included a tank, a rogue, and healing or damage-dealing mystics ("like you might find in 'Big Trouble in Little China'"), and all classes will have a skill tree system. Level cap will be 60 at launch, and seven of the game's 19 classes (or "disciplines") will be available at launch. Details on the exact discipline names and what makes each unique is being kept under wraps for now, but sadly there are no unarmed disciplines. No matter which discipling you're moving toward, however, Devin noted that there are mystical lessons each character needs to learn (called "Foo"). These lessons are geared to help you figure out who you are, or as Devin explained, "bring out your inner Foo."
Along with lessons, the fading legend who helps an undiscovered talent train to martial arts mastery is a big theme among kung fu movies. Kung Foo players might not have one Mr. Miagi, but Devin shared that there will be mentors with specific lessons who shift with the zones and levels. "There's a very solid skeleton of a hero's journey quest running through the spine of the story... that's where your mentors will be. But I'm playing a little bit with the hero's journey; you start as the reluctant hero with the call to adventure. You come in and you're not sure if there's anything to this kung fu stuff, and hopefully by the end you're feeling like a hero in both funny and meaningful ways."
Kung Foo's over-the-top fantasy setting helps set the game's satirical mood. Devin described five of the ten zones of Kung Foo:
- Panda Province - "It looks at the outset like a traditional Chinese town, but it's surrounded by grasslands full of enticing mobs you have to go after for different reasons. Within that, there are some familiar places like The Inn of the Golden Arches, which is where you get the majority of your quests. Because it's the introductory zone, most of the MMORPG-spoofing happens here, because that's an easy way to guide someone through the game while having them laugh at conventions they already know."
- Snafoo - "Here we're having fun with some of our localization issues, but on purpose. This zone is very pretty, it's very idyllic and serene."
- The Fuzzy Forest - "This zone, as you can guess, has trees in it. Because of that fun anime style, I'm impressed with the evolution of the backgrounds - you really do feel like you're moving through different times and spaces. In this one, we're spoofing the alternative culture and pop culture stuff that we're obsessed with. Disney porn jokes too, furries, ren fair, all the stuff that people uber commit to, in their fandom."
- Zui Quan Village - "You might recognize this one as being the drunken style that we just talked about. This one's got more of the kung fu spoof influence in it."
- The Realm of Darkness - "This is where I finally bust out some of my superhero comic references, because by that time the player has become increasingly heroic and engaged in the adventure as opposed to inner growth."
But the real charm of Kung Foo's setting, seems to be in its quirky, absurd beauty. "It's a very unapologetic game," Devin intimated. There's squirrels in one part, but they're all carrying pickaxes and wearing hats, and nobody really talks about why, but that's what squirrels look like in that world. I love that stuff; I love the unapologetic weirdness."
According to Craig, guilds, crafting, and PvP combat will be a staple of Kung Foo. "Once you're above a certain level, yet to be determined, it's full blown PvP; you can go and gank anybody. So you definitely want to form clans [guilds] and alliances. Clans are guilds of up to 15 people, and clans can form an alliance together. Territory wars between clans and alliances are a PvP feature. There are dungeons in the game too, but we can't go into too much detail on those yet."
Craig also mentioned one aspect of Kung Foo that no MMOs and only a handful of RPGs have explored: an ascension system, whereby your character can be reborn with increased stats. The game's pet system also allows for ascended pets. "Another step that some players might want to take is to create the uber attack pet," Craig explained.
Perfect World Entertainment will pursue a microtransaction-driven, subscription-free pricing model for Kung Foo, but with a twist. Jason explained that the items available for purchase will all be cosmetic or consumable, and none are required to play the full game. But even these items are available for purchase by trading in-game currency for cash-out currency. "Even if you're not willing to spend a single dollar, you still have access to the same content if you put in the time for it."
Look for more on Kung Foo as the game moves into closed beta in 2010, and thanks much to Devin Grayson, Craig Beers, and Jason Varden for their time.
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