Sleeping Dogs: Square Enix 'really helped us'
Sleeping Dogs rises from True Crime: Hong Kong’s ashes with a little help from Square Enix, but can United Front contradict Activision’s damning opinion?
We honestly thought True Crime: Hong Kong would never see the light of day.
Thankfully for United Front Games and lovers of open world narrative heavy games the world over, Square Enix recognised there was something worth saving.
As True Crime morphs into Sleeping Dogs, we caught up with Jeff O’Connell, senior producer at United Front Games, to find out what aspects of Hong Kong brought him to spend half a decade of his virtual – and occasionally actual – life there.
360 Magazine: What’s changed since Square Enix got involved?
Jeff O’Connell: I think, fundamentally, the game is still the same. It’s still set in Hong Kong, you’re still an undercover cop, and it’s still an open world game with action mechanics that are deeper than you’ll find in any other urban open-world game, and that’s really what it was always about.
What Square Enix London Studios has really brought to it is the experience they have with Just Cause and Arkham Asylum, and that lines up just perfectly with what it is we’re trying to do.
They’ve had incredible support and excitement for the game from the moment they saw it. They really helped us tune it up and get it to where it is now.
360: Former True Crime videogames have featured cities accurate to the last fire hydrant. Why did you decide to do a fictitious version of Hong Kong?
O’Connell: We wanted to make it more interesting. One of the things about the True Crime series before was that while that was a neat back of the box feature it didn’t necessarily translate into great gameplay.
What we wanted to do was honour Hong Kong in how diverse it is, and the fact it is an island surrounded by water with a mountain in the middle, it makes for a great setting for an open world game.
You’ve got neighbourhoods all around the edge of it, but what we wanted to do was really take that as our clay and mould it into something that was really tuned for gameplay. So what you’ll see in Sleeping Dogs is an environment that’s all about the gamer, and creating things that are fun to do in the sandbox, rather than just say ‘jeez I drove down that street and I’ve driven down that street in real life.’
360: How did the challenge of recreating Hong Kong differ to other world cities?
O’Connell: It’s a funny question, because Hong Kong is an incredibly dense city, and what we wanted to avoid was what we called the ‘Austin Powers problem’. There’s that famous scene from the first movie when he’s stuck in the corridor, backing up and moving forward, and Hong Kong is so dense and crowded that in some instances we’ve had to open up the streets or sidewalks a little bit, or just adjust the car and pedestrian density so that it doesn’t become an exercise in frustration.
You can drive down a street incredibly fast on a motorbike and enjoy it as opposed to running into a pedestrian every five minutes and having the cops come after you.
360: Did you ever consider doing the entire game in Cantonese?
O’Connell: You know there are some characters that actually speak Cantonese throughout the entire game and all of their dialogue will be subtitled. Those are main characters. The other main characters, if they’re Cantonese, speak a mix of English and Cantonese.
Characters in the ambient world, and the characters you interact with in the markets will often speak Cantonese. I think for practical reasons it never really made sense to do the entire game in Cantonese, but you’ll certainly feel like you’re in Hong Kong.
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