By Shaan Khan (02/04/21)
Back in the abysmal year of 2020, gaming wasn’t spared from its gloom; with video games being delayed, too few triple-A’s to name & the topping on this elephant dung of a cake—The Cyberpunk 2077 Disaster.
While gamers were just a month away from getting their hands on the buggy mess that was Cyberpunk 2077, a trailer of a mysterious video game from China had surfaced on major media outlets & word spread fast.
Following The Footsteps of Cyberpunk 2077
The enigmatic game in question was Black Myth: Wukong. Many were blown away by the graphics & gameplay that had Triple-A status oozing all over it! Surprisingly, this wasn’t the works of a Sony, Rockstar Games or a Naughty Dog. Instead, a band of 30 indie devs in China under the label ‘Game Science Studio’.
It’s uncanny territory for an indie game trailer to reach over 8 million views with such a highly positive reception—garnering 285k likes!
The trailer was pulling in numbers in the same ballpark as Cyberpunk 2077’s first gameplay trailer back in 2018—a game developed by the world-renowned brand of CD PROJEKT RED, who was coming off the success of Witcher 3 at the time.
But with the disappointing release of Cyberpunk 2077, it has me & others questioning—how valid are modern game trailers at depicting the games we will play on release? Are we overhyping Black Myth: Wukong like many did with Cyberpunk 2077?
Firstly, Black Myth: Wukong shares lots of the same game-design DNA as CD PROJEKT RED games. At the surface, it’s an ARPG with graphic fidelity akin to Cyberpunk 2077.
However, if we dive deeper into the core DNA, outside of the marketing & visuals and into the story & gameplay—there are stronger links found with The Witcher franchise.
Black Myth: Wukong is based on a Chinese fiction novel, Journey to the West. Similarly, The Witcher series also was based on a fiction novel, albeit of Polish origin. What both novels & games share is the medieval backdrops & the protagonists’ capacity to yield an array of abilities.
The Witcher 3 is able to pull this off stupendously with flushed-out animations & without breaking the game. *ahem* Cyberpunk 2077? What happened, mate?
By going off the trailer, Black Myth: Wukong protagonist’ Sun Wukong displays a wide range of abilities that came across as fun additions to the game; instead of seeming convoluted, tedious or overly choppy. The braggable ability that stands this game apart from most is being able to transform into animals of mass proportion. Another exciting tidbit to mention is the novel boasts that Sun Wukong acquires 72-methods of heavenly transformations!
But here I go again, a gamer setting my expectations high on possibilities, then reminding myself of the missing features shown in Cyberpunk 2077 trailers like the elaborate police system or ‘not dumb’ NPC’s.
So to focus on the facts, what has been confirmed by Game Science in the follow-up to the trailer’s release?
In an article from IGN, the devs have said they aim to have at least more than 15 hours of playtime, which can be seen as a dampener to some if it’s not reaching the 50+ hour mark like The Witcher 3. Still, if it’s anything like God of War that takes an average of 20 hours to complete the story—then it could be far from underwhelming.
The game is not confirmed to be an open-world game, instead, broken up into levels, which would justify a shorter playtime than expected without packing in a bunch of side quests found in the open-world formats.
There are plans of including 100 enemy types and a variety of bosses, which such depth has been a selling point for The Witcher & Dark Souls series, yet it doesn’t confirm if the AI will be up-to-par with those star examples.
If we’re going off the devs words at this point, then what makes them trustworthy?
Similar to Game Science Studio, CD PROJEKT RED started as a 15-person development team—opposed to Game Science’s team of 30.
The first game in the works by CD PROJEKT RED was, in fact, The Witcher. The small team of Polish developers were tasked with representing a widely popular Polish novel in a video game that does the world & lore justice.
The Level design coordinator of the project, Peter Gelencser, expresses in an interview conducted by PC Games that an important goal was to be deeply conscious of the descriptions mentioned in the book & to accurately bring them to life within the game. When explaining the task of bringing the captivating city of Novigrad into the virtual world, he states in his own words that ‘If Novigrad didn’t astonish or amaze, the whole game would have suffered.’
The team diligently handled this hefty responsibility to pay homage to a piece of culturally iconic work that adds to their countries pride.
Now, Game Science Studio sits in this very same seat…
Fortunately, the studio follows the successful method of recruiting more developers, as was the case with CDPR developing The Witcher. So they have the budget to expand, expecting a team of 100, which is the same amount CD PROJEKT RED expanded with—costing them 20 million złoty. Unfortunately, Game Science Studio have not disclosed their budget, making it difficult to have a confident assessment of the game’s potential.
Given that the development team has not gone public on their relationship with the classic Chinese novel the game is based on, one must assess how much this book means to Chinese people.
According to a BBC article, most people with a Chinese background have grown up with the folktale’ Journey to the West, as it teaches people important Chinese principles. With its popularity, there have been modern adaptions from the Western world that are known for ‘whitewashing’ the original story, such as the 1970s series ‘Monkey’ & a remake of the series on Netflix that includes non-Chinese actors which had sparked a public outcry.
Many adaptations have seemingly fallen short at doing justice to the source material & Chinese studies scholar, Jason Zhuang, believes no adaptation can capture the pure storytelling dynamic of the novels’ author.
Game Science Studio is tackling a task that hasn’t been done before with the classic novel by adapting it into an ARPG format. The fears of a public outcry seen with other adaptations could be what motivates them to get it right as CD PROJEKT RED did. It’s also important to consider the adaptation is being worked on by Chinese people who could harbour the same pride for their country & culture as CD PROJEKT RED—which makes for great fuel of motivation.
On Game Science Studio’s about section on their website, they highlight how diligence is at the forefront of their development, going into extra detail in uncovering the methods used in response to many important questions like-
- The difference between a good & a boring level
- What makes an impressive combat strike
- How to build realistic outdoor environments
They outline their answers scientifically, making it seem less like PR talk than other developers that can come across as ‘phoney’. This genuine sentiment was the same case in the interview with the Level Coordinator at CD PROJEKT RED when discussing his approach to designing The Witcher.
Both game developers seem to wear their work on their sleeves when marketing games under their banners—it’s what I believe many gamers found refreshing & admirable about CD PROJEKT RED. Game Science Studio seems to mirror the magic at this early stage of the studio’s life.
But despite how hopeful this all sounds, there has been some glaring information that must be addressed.
Apart from not disclosing their budget, the studio has announced they will go quiet ‘for a long time’ whilst developing the game—leaving gamers in the blue to what comes next. All we know was that after the trailer, the company received 10,000 resumes and that the game should take no longer than three years to make.
Keep in mind, the game has already undergone two years of development, with six months dedicated to creating the level we saw in the trailer called Black Wind Mountain. The level that took months to build is expected for an average player to complete it within 30 to 60 minutes.
Long development cycles like this have become the nature of modern video game development. What speaks this sentiment louder than words is the timeline of video games released by Rockstar Games.
As games push for higher immersion and a more cinematic feel, it means extra time & detail has to be put forth towards capturing & refining realistic or outlandish animation, visuals and mechanics. What these assets translate to is data in high loads that can become hard to manage and stress modern hardware systems. So their need’s to be tons of optimisation, and oh, don’t get me started with bugs!
Not the eight-legged kind, but errors found in the codes of data, and as the nature of high fidelity games; it’s not like finding a typo in a page or two, but more comparable to a stack of pages, and correcting a bug can always create another bug! So it becomes a messy task. A task many current developers of modern, Triple-A games are seemingly struggling with, as was the case for recent games like Cyberpunk 2077, Fallout 76, WWE2K20, NBA2K20 or Anthem.
So time is indeed of the essence, and gamers are coming to expect that, even praising developers who delay release dates to get their games out in tip-top condition. But then Cyberpunk 2077 happened. A game that delayed its release date many times but still failed to package us a polished game they promised.
Taking into consideration the development demands of Triple-A tier games like Black Myth Wukong and the indie company behind it choosing to stay hush-hush for the time being—it doesn’t strike me with confidence in this new era of video games. You know what else doesn’t strike me with confidence? That the founder of the studio has said, he wants people who watched the trailer to ‘‘forget’’ about the footage. But, to be fair, the studio has stated if they bring out another trailer, it will have to be better than the first one. In February this year, they did just that. Posted by IGN, a new trailer of the game showcases various mobs, bosses, and Sun Wukong’ transformations, with one that looks like something out of Resident Evil?
Game Science Studios have developed games in the past, but they consisted of a MOBA & digital card game that doesn’t require near-enough the same amount of resources to develop as opposed to this new ARPG that looks more like an evolution in game design than a game adhering to modern standards.
Maybe the only silver lining is the exposure received from the viral trailer, which could garner Game Science Studio with more fundamental support. Segueing to my final piece of hope for the game, Game Science Studio has confirmed there have been discussions of outsourcing the development of Black Myth: Wukong to experienced developers that have worked on games from Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica.
If this plan goes into fruition, it could be what the game needs, to be the ‘game-changer’ of ARPG’s as we all have seen in the 2020 trailer that took the internet by storm & made some of us with gamer Stockholm syndrome want to throw our wallets at the screen & repeat our mistakes!
To end, if you’re looking for more information on the original story the game is based on, I would recommend this YouTube video by AvenueX, who gives a breakdown on Journey to the West and highlights the cultural references found in the gameplay trailer of Black Myth: Wukong.