There’s no doubt about it: this year’s fashionable destination is Hong Kong. Probably thanks to its pretty unique new attraction: an authentic internship infiltration among the Triads. Buying influence, organized racketeering, kidnapping, treachery, vengeance, Kung Fu moves and excessively sharpened blades everywhere: things that should cut the visitor’s breath, or more if you’re out of luck. Beyond a playground for bad boys, the virtual theatre that is Hong Kong is unveiled in an unprecedented manner in Sleeping Dogs. We asked Dan Sochan, producer at United Front Games, to guide us through this fascinating urban jungle.
Sleeping Dogs was first publicly known as True Crime : Hong Kong – published by Activision then – before resurfacing with a new editor. Have there been some changes during the switch?
It was actually a new IP before anything else. It was like that for two years, until it was rebranded True Crime: Hong Kong. Then with the editor change to Square Enix it was renamed Sleeping Dogs. However nothing really changed besides the name: it was the same story, characters, and voice actors all the way through the development.
The driving parts of Sleeping Dogs allow some specific moves I did not see in a game before. Can you tell us about them?
That’s an important point. One of the most unique is what we call “Action Hijack”, which is inspired by popular Hong Kong action films. You see the hero standing on top of a motorcycle while still driving, then he jumps to another vehicle. You can do the same thing from one car to another. It’s a a great way to escape if you are being chased by someone, like jumping to a vehicle going in the opposite direction. We also have missions where someone is trying to run away from you. You drive, then you jump to the car, get inside through the side door, knock him off, kick him out of the car then you move over.
And what happens when you are wandering around Hong Kong on foot?
We added a lot of contextual moves which let you interact with the scenery of HK’s streets: for example, the player can grab an enemy, put his face into a BBQ grill or throw him in a trash container or a telephone cab. Obviously, when it comes to hand to hand combat, we took a lot of cues and influences from martial art movies, so we looked closely at the Jet Li and Jackie Chan’ stuff. John Woo’s work is also an influence for the shooting and cinematic approach: we use slow motion at specific times which really helps putting an emphasis on the action.
What is your inspiration in the gaming world? I have the feeling that you wanted to combine elements from both western games and eastern games.
That’s very true. We looked at action games like Stranglehold. There were some really cool elements in that game, since John Woo himself contributed to the project. On the other hand, we looked at the open world genre. The sandbox formula is popular, everyone enjoys the freedom to play the way you want. But we thought there was still room for improvement, especially in the main mechanics of driving, shooting and fighting. We also looked at the games which have done a great job in hand to hand combat and we liked the fact that things generally flow easily: with just a couple of button combinations you can do impressive attacks and moves.
Then, we get inspiration from Asian games, especially role playing. You care more about the character when you got to customize them. It’s not a matter of just putting different clothes on them. In Sleeping Dogs, you gain experience by doing missions and side quests. For example, if you find the Jade Statues that were stolen from a martial arts master and return them to him, he will teach you new moves. You’ll find a lot of elements in the game that will make you gain experience and learn new abilities. Making the character stronger and continually evolving is what encourages the gamer to keep moving forward.
When I talked about eastern games, I was especially thinking about Yakuza and Shen Mue. Have you played these games ?
Definitely, and I’m a big Shen Mue fan, I played it a lot on my Dreamcast! Those were great games because they’re so immersive you got to learn a lot about the culture. In Shen Mue, people around you were speaking japanese, it felt totally different and the attention put on the details of the streets and the interiors of the houses were amazing. In our case, the majority of the voice recording was done in HK so you’ll hear lots of people speaking Cantonese. It gives the players a kind of cultural shock. They may have never been to HK before, yet through the game they can experience the city in some ways. I have never been to Japan before Shen Mue but while playing it, I thought I was there. It’s nice to learn about the culture and history while you are just lying on the sofa.
One of the best undercover stories of HK’s cinema was Internal Affairs, which served as the inspiration for the Hollywood remake by Martin Scorsese called The Departed. What can we expect from the story of Sleeping Dogs?
You’re Wei Shen, an undercover police officer in HK. You grew up in HK, but because you got involved with gangs, your parents got worried and moved you to San Francisco where you became a police officier. Eventually, because of your ties with triades when you were younger, you have been asked by the HK Police Department to join a task force so you are back home. Some of the guys you used to know become your friends again, like Jackie. He’s a nice guy, he cares about Wei and himself. But he’s at the wrong place at the wrong time. Should you arrest him? You have to deal with this conflict: your day to day job is to serve the law, but to achieve the goal you are continually crossing the lines. You do illegal activities, but at the same time, you have to actually arrest some of the people you became friend with and put them in jail. This dilemma is reflected in the gameplay: through each mission, you can either gain more cop points or triad points depending on the way you play.
I see food everywhere in the game. What kind of HK meal do you prefer ?
When it comes to asian food, chinese fried rice. It’s like the absolute comfort food for me when I am not feeling well.
Nice, can I find some in the game?
Actually, no. We have noodles, duck, pork buns and other meals though. In the game, my favorite is fried pork buns. It gives you at least a 5% health increase. Maybe in a sequel we’ll get some fried rice as well!
Sleeping Dogs – Square Enix. Available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.