Hi, please introduce yourself to our readers.
John Fuhrman, Director of International Development, E-Pie Entertainment, Beijing
Can you tell us what the game is about?
Well, I suppose I should say that Shanghai Dragon is ultimately about assassinating a Japanese commander in wartime Shanghai, which is definitely true, but the meat between the beginning of the game and that grand finale is a whole lot of urban warfare, 1930s style. To get to the commander, first you've got to take out flying sword-wielding ninjas, armed officers and soldiers, mutant chemistry death squads, spies, and suicide bombers, and if you're in the mood, you can dump innocent civilians, too, which can be fun but is kind of a waste of ammo.
What was the attraction of 1930s China as a setting for a game?
If you look at the selection of games on shelves, it seems like there are a fair number of titles that deal with WWI or WWII, but rarely do you find a game for those time periods and events set in East Asia. So it seemed like there was a void there in terms of setting.
What has your company done before Shanghai Dragon?
We did Militarism (Freedom and Honor in some areas), Great Qin Warriors, and, after a couple years of work, are very close to releasing a new fixed-position FPS set in wartime Vietnam tentatively called, Vietnam War: Ho Chi Minh Trail.
What makes this game different from other shooting/adventure games available?
Last I heard, Shanghai Dragon is the only game to be set in 1930s Shanghai, an era when the city was really rocking until the Japanese invaded. On top of that, you'll find that the street scenes and buildings have been put in the game like they were in real life. That took time but it wasn't terribly hard, because we not only had documentary materials to consult, but also the city's street layout and some of the buildings are basically the same today as they were years ago. So the location and appearance of stuff was easy to get right. We went down there to photograph streets and video buildings and there we had it. Also, Shanghai Dragon is different from many games as far as gameplay goes, with an arcade feel to it that takes the player from scene to scene and moves you through the game automatically.
What kinds of weaponry can you use in the game?
In the current downloadable demo, Jackie Hua, the player, has a Mauser semi-auto handgun, Mauser 7.92mm rifle, and a tommy gun. The full version will give Jackie grenades, a Maxim 24 machine gun, the Czech ZB-26 machine gun, and a bazooka. If I remember right, the tommy gun and bazooka weren't actually around until a few years later, but what the hell.
Why did you choose an arcade style of game rather than a more complex control style?
We wanted to create a game that had a little bit more of an easy-going feel to it, a bit less taxing on the brain, and had relatively broad appeal as far as shooters go. So we looked at the offerings in the market and decided that an arcade-style scrolling shooter would be more appropriate than an FPS where you do any sort of planning or puzzle-solving, wind up getting lost in labyrinthine hallways, stuff like that.
Do you have any plans to add a multiplayer section to this game in the future?
Multiplayer wouldn't fit into Shanghai Dragon because it's a scrolling shooter with a predetermined path through the city, kind of arcade-style.
How did u work out the designs for the levels?
Well, it was pretty much a straightforward process of making a full-function level editor, giving the storyline to the editors, and then turning them loose to let their imagination do its thing.
Did you use historic plans of Shanghai as your basis for the terrain?
We not only consulted historical documentary resources, but also sent folks down there to take photos and make videos of downtown Shanghai, its hotels, older tall buildings, small lanes, and the famous Bund waterfront. On top of that, since we even have folks on staff whose hometown is Shanghai, it was a snap for us to put together scene re-creations with high fidelity. In fact, if you have been to Shanghai you may even recognize some of the scenes.
Is the game based on your own engine or a pre-existing one?
We used our own home-grown engine called Angelica. It supports bone and skin-based animations, quad tree-based large terrain LOD algorithms, and light map-based lighting algorithms for realistic shadows and lighting. Model objects synchronize SFX and GFX automatically, which frees up programmers from manually adding special effects. Meteorological and other natural phenomena such as particle-based smoke and fire are easily created with the tools that accompany the engine. The engine's collision detection algorithms also make for realistic physical collision processing.
What are your plans for the future?
E-Pie is a relatively new developer as far as the history of the industry goes. We hope to crank out some titles that are really kick-ass and fun to play that the gaming world loves and thus build up a bigger name for ourselves.
Do you see China as a major base for games development in the future?
On one hand, I think China definitely has the potential to become a base for game development. The talent here is very bright, knows how to learn and can therefore keep pace with new technologies, isn't afraid of hard work or long hours, is motivated to do a good job, and simply loves gaming. Put those together and you've got a solid foundation for a good team. Plus operations in China tend to have lower overhead than other parts of the world with competing developers, so that's a more tangible competitive advantage. On the other hand, I think that generally speaking, it can be said that when a region is a leader in a particular content-creation field, it also tends to be a region with high end-user consumption of that content. Right now China doesn't compare with some regions in terms of per capita PC or console ownership. Of course there are exceptions, but according to this line of thinking, China would be a more likely game development base if there were more gamers here and the market were healthier -- that is, less piracy.
Closing, anything else you wish to add about Shangai Dragon?
It was a fun project for us and we're happy to give gamers a fun scrolling shooter with an Asian twist. We hope people find its overall feel and style refreshing and have a good time with it. Enjoy!