One of China’s greatest epic myths is being adapted as a video game, allowing players to create their own stories as they go on legendary journeys and battle fantastic enemies.
Black Myth: Wukong is far from the first attempt to recreate or interpret the adventures of Journey to the West; the 1980s cult Japanese TV show Monkey and Dragon Ball are just two of the many versions that audiences outside of Asia might be familiar with.
But the next game stands as one of the most outstanding and successful adaptations of the 16th century classic.
The high-quality art, animation and audio shown in test footage released by indie developer Game Science had already led to comparisons to AAA titles.
“It immediately stands out as high quality,” Steven Conway, director of the games and interactivity course at Swinburne University of Technology, told the ABC.
AAA games refer to those with high budgets or quality, similar to a blockbuster movie.
But in addition to providing players with hours of fun, frustration and excitement, the game will help bring new ideas and diversity to the massive industry.
“Just as Hong Kong cinema, then Chinese cinema and perhaps more recently South Korean cinema and television influenced their Western counterparts, I think we will see a new generation of gamers and developers much more deeply influenced by various outside perspectives and mythologies. of the Western canon,” Dr Conway said.
Recently, the video game industry in China has been a destination for outsourcing aspects of Western projects, but is now emerging with its own properties and creative leaders.
Conway said China’s video game industry had begun to distinguish itself as its own creative force.
“Too often in video games we see anything non-Western trivialized as another exotic: alien, primitive or, worse, simply a homogenous enemy to exterminate,” he said.
“Now, with voices from these cultures coming into the industry, we’re seeing much-needed nuance and detail added to these representations.”
Dr Conway said he expected to see “many more” major titles coming from creators in different countries.
“It’s benefiting everyone from the developer to the player,” he said.
“Richer narratives, deeper characters, interesting game mechanics derived from playful activities, toys, and indeed value systems not typical of Western society.
“They all add value to the gaming ecosystem.”
Black Myth: Wukong will be released in 2023 and will be one of the first to use the latest iteration of the Unreal game engine, said to be the world’s most advanced 3D computer graphics game engine.
Gamer and aspiring developer Trent Euman said he was looking forward to the game, especially for its narrative, art style and aesthetics.
“Its focus on 16th-century Chinese folklore will be intriguing to explore, and the realistic graphics will stand out to many players looking to immerse themselves in 16th-century China,” he said.
“From what’s been shown so far, the combat mechanics look fun to get into, the polish (special effects and audio visual commentary) look great, the environments look great, and the folklore embedded in the history will be a pleasure to dive into.”
Euman said there had been a growing interest in games based on different languages and cultures, thanks to franchises such as Yakuza, Shin Megami Tensei and Genshin Impact.
“Even triple AAA games are adopting it, with games like Ghost of Tsushima and Sekiro Shadows Die Twice allowing players to play the entire game in either English or Japanese,” he said.
Globalization and cheaper and easier access to creative tools like the Unreal engine will help drive more “multicultural developments,” Dr Conway said.
“I think we’re not just going to see a change in mythologies and folktales … we’re going to see a change in the values we’re exposed to and the ways we think about how society works, which is really exciting.”
Dr Conway has been working with members of Australia’s Indigenous community to design a game.
“We couldn’t make what I would call a Western game for that demographic and stay true to the indigenous culture,” he said.
From his work with the indigenous community, he found that it was essential to have a type of game that was much more cooperative than what is found in the usual, competitive and combative Western games.
“We’ve seen it in a lot of Chinese and South Korean developments where you see these projects with very different mechanical points and value systems, because they’re not part of Western culture,” Dr Conway said.
Although Black Myth: Wukong is still in the making and its success is yet to be seen, there are other titles from different parts of the world that have become popular far beyond their culture or country of origin.
Last year, Indian developers released the award-winning Raji: An Ancient Epic, available on major gaming platforms and devices, in multiple languages.
It has the hallmarks of an adventure – a sister searching for her brother who was separated from her by attacking demonic hordes – and is set in ancient India.
“The whole game actively and creatively engages with Indian mythology,” Dr Conway said.
One of the most famous and successful recent games, Never Alone/Kisima Ingitchuna, was made in collaboration with the Iñupiat, an indigenous people of Alaska.
“We’ve paired world-class game makers with Alaska Native storytellers and elders to create a game that delves into the traditional lore of the Iñupiat people to present an experience like no other,” said the game developer.
The characters and environments were inspired by traditional art and “enhanced through collaboration with Alaska Native elders and artists.”
“This ensures that the look and feel of the game stays true to traditional styles and provides a unique and inspiring visual presentation,” the developers said.
Chernobylite is a survival horror game that uses recreations of the real world mixed with elements of local folklore.
In it, players assume the role of a former physicist at the Chernobyl power plant.
It features a complex recreation of the area that was meticulously recreated by Polish developers.
“It relates to Eastern European and Russian folklore in all sorts of interesting ways,” Dr Conway said.
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