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Sifu Aims for Authentic, Culturally Accurate Martial Arts Experience, Dev Sloclap Says

Sifu Aims for Authentic, Culturally Accurate Martial Arts Experience, Dev Sloclap Says Image
  • Posted on 08th Apr, 2022 15:55 PM

Game Rant talks to kung fu brawler Sifu's developer Sloclap about building a game heavily influenced by Eastern culture as a Western studio.

p>When Sloclap, the studio behind technical martial arts brawler Sifu, set out to build its game, the Paris-based developers were aware of the unsavory history behind a Western company portraying East Asian cultures. “Throughout the 20th century, the Western entertainment industry has sometimes shown little care in the way they used elements from other cultures in their own productions,” Sloclap said.

Bearing that in mind, the studio brought in both cultural advisors and a kung fu master to ensure that Sifu achieved its goal of being an accurate and respectful homage to classic martial arts and action films. Game Rant spoke with Sloclap to talk about how the dev team accomplished that aim.

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Sifu Tapped the Chinese Games Industry for Design Advice

Sifu takes place in an environment clearly inspired by both Eastern martial arts films and Hollywood action movies: gritty industrial areas, neon-lit nightclubs, and glittering cityscapes. To accurately capture the game world, Sloclap said it ran content reviews with consultants from Chinese game studios. Those reviews yielded feedback “on things like displayed text and details of the environment’s design.”

The environment wasn’t the only part of Sifu’s design that the cultural consultants helped out. The player character’s design is also based on feedback from Sloclap’s Chinese partners.

“Character artists from China gave us interesting feedback, and we learnt a lot about how facial characteristics are perceived in China.”

The studio then changed the look of its main character based on that feedback, while at the same time staying true to the original creative intentions. Sloclap still wanted Sifu to have “sharp and stylized art direction,” and a main character whose features reflected “his status as an anti-hero driven by rage and vengeance.”

For the game’s score, Sloclap worked with Beijing-based composer Howie Lee. Game localization for a Chinese audience was also important to the devs, according to the studio. Its Chinese partners helped translate dialogue and supervise Chinese voiceover recording, ensuring that localization was effective and authentic.

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Sifu’s Martial Arts Gameplay Got Help from a Real-Life Kung Fu Master

Arguably, Sifu’s most important element is its kung fu gameplay. Players are challenged to learn a slew of moves, dodges, and counters, which they employ in a variety of environments against different enemy types. It’s just as important for players to master fluid gameplay, too - stringing together combos to dispatch groups of enemies as quickly as possible.

Sloclap’s design team spent “a lot of time and energy” working on the combat system. The studio aimed to “find the right balance between aesthetically pleasing and credible gameplay.” Some of that inspiration came from martial arts films themselves, and for the studio’s creative director, Indonesian film The Raid was a major reference point for striking such a balance.

“With Sifu, we wanted to show authentic kung fu in a serious and credible setting. The goal was to achieve an immersive experience as a kung fu expert confronting dangerous situations.”

Sifu is not “a kung-fu comedy” or a movie like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with gravity-defying combat, Sloclap said. The game more closely resembles the gritty realism of The Raid, swapping out the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat with kung fu.

Naturally, Sloclap wanted its game’s actual combat to be as authentic as possible. For help on the matter, the devs turned to Benjamin Colussi, founder of Paris’s Lao Wei San-Pak Mei kung fu school. Colussi is a kung fu master who studied for “multiple years” in Foshan, China.

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Throughout the development process, Sloclap said that it was well aware of its role as a Western studio putting together a kung fu game. “We were aware that making a game happening in China and focusing on kung fu culture would be a challenge for a French studio,” Sloclap said. “But we put in the effort to create an authentic and well-documented work.” Still, the devs noted Sifu is a work of fiction inspired by pop culture, and isn’t meant to be taken as a “documentary” about contemporary Chinese culture.

As for Sifu’s reception in China, Sloclap said the game got a “warm welcome and accolades.” To the studio, that reaction meant that its goal, to create a respectful homage to classic martial arts cinema, kung fu, and Chinese culture, had been accomplished.

Sifu is available now for PC, PS4, and PS5.

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