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'Unruly Heroes': Forging 'Journey to the West' in the game world

By Li Wenrui | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2019-03-07 09:49

Madcap action, Chinese martial arts, and the Monkey King: If you want to relive the adventures of Journey to the West, Unruly Heroes, a 2D action game by Magic Design Studios in France, is for you.

Like Dynasty Warriors (created by Japanese company KOEI from Romance of the Three Kingdoms and deemed by many as the greatest franchise set in China), the game is another example of international talent meets traditional Chinese culture.

"Creating a game based on the novel, Journey to the West, has actually been my dream since I entered this profession," said Lu Yang, CEO and creative director of MDS. "It is a very dramatic tale set in a vast, legendary world. Every character is depicted vividly."

"Everyone in China knows the story, but in European countries or the US, few people know about Journey to the West. I think such an intriguing story should be introduced to more people," he said.

Members of the  Unruly Heroes team. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Nominated for Best PC Game and Best Visual Art at The Ping Awards 2018, and Most Anticipated Game at the Unity Awards 2018, Unruly Heroes brought home the Best Console Game at the Barcelona Games World. Released in January, the game has received an 80 percent positive reaction on STEAM.

Most of its designers previously worked for Ubisoft on acclaimed titles like Assassin's Creed, Prince of Persia and Rayman Legends. The game features a unique story and cast of characters, where players can alternate between four protagonists: Wukong, Sanzang, Kihong and Sandmonk.

The creative team integrates many Chinese cultural elements into the art design. "The goal of our art design is to introduce Journey to the West to the world, to make the story more relatable, and be accepted by players from different cultural backgrounds," Lu said.

Unruly Heroes, a 2D action game by Magic Design Studios. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The game builds an immersive world of art, animation and a taste of Chinese folk music.

"In my eyes, China means colors like a Guzheng harp, or spirits like a bamboo flute, also rhythm like big drums," said Julian Koechlin, musical designer of Unruly Heroes.

"I really like the old part of Chinese culture, the architecture I think is very interesting," Mary Glaid, the graphic designer, said. To her, Journey to the West is a childhood memory. "My favorite character is the monkey. When I was a kid, I saw an animation movie, I think it was the first animation movie about this story. I loved it so much. I was a really big fan."

Set against lushly illustrated environments and a hand-drawn art style, Unruly Heroes updates the Journey to the West classic tale into an epic adventure that is more colorful, humorous and lighthearted. As Lu introduced, the game differed a lot compared with the original story. "For example, we reimagined White Bone Spirit as the owner of a beauty parlor, so gamers need to destroy her mask to defeat her."

The underworld becomes an amusement park in the game  Unruly Heroes. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The game also subverts the stereotype about the underworld – the dark, spooky underworld is transformed into a fantastic amusement park.

"We add several 'baby' characters as bosses of the Underworld. The Underworld becomes a happy place controlled by babies," Lu said.

Lu believes that Chinese culture has strong potential to reach a broader audience, but it needs the efforts of more companies and creative minds.

"We can integrate Chinese cultural elements into products that are accessible to people around the world. Video games, film and TV series, and other cultural and entertainment products resonate easily internationally," he said.

"I am not a scholar; I simply want to do what I can to present a story I love to more people far and wide," Lu added.

Executive producer: Feng Minghui

Reporter: Li Wenrui

Guest: Lu Yang

Voiceover: Li Wenrui

Subtitles: Ai Ping

Acknowledgement: Perfect World; Magic Design Studios

Contact the producer at liwenrui@chinadaily.com.cn

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