Interview

Dan Sochan

Dan Sochan, Sleeping Dogs producer

A top member of the Sleeping Dogs creative team talks to us about creating a sense of place in a playable Hong Kong.

By John Teti • November 6, 2012

Sleeping Dogs was one of the year’s pleasant surprises. It arrived on store shelves with relatively little hype—at least in the frantic marketing echo chamber of big-budget video games—but it impressed critics like Drew Toal and me. What impressed me most about Sleeping Dogs was how, in its own miniature abridged version of Hong Kong, it created a rich sense of place. Just like on the old Walter Cronkite TV series, “You are there,” from the bustling night market in the game’s North Point neighborhood to the dockyards of Kennedy Town.

I asked Sleeping Dogs producer Dan Sochan if he’d talk to Gameological about the game’s ability to create a convincing “there” within the limited resources of a game console, and he was kind enough to oblige. “Producer” is one of those general titles that can mean anything, but in this case, Sochan described his role as “driving the vision” and that he concentrated on the game’s missions and overall flow. He discussed the development team’s adventures in Hong Kong, how he encourages players to poke around in a sprawling world, and the difficulty of finding a voice actor to nail that amateur-karaoke sound.

Gameological: Why Hong Kong?

Sochan: We wanted to set the game in an environment that we haven’t really seen often in previous video games. I think we’ve seen the New Yorks, the L.A.s, the Londons and those kind of cities done over and over again.

What we really liked about Hong Kong is that for a lot of people who’ve never been there, it can give a sense of culture shock. We wanted to really capture what Hong Kong is all about, sort of the East meets West and how those two cultures are intertwined. Having the player be surrounded by—the majority of the people in the world speak Cantonese and Cantonese only. So we also really liked the fact that it has these ancient temples but at the same time has a sky scraper right beside it. So there was a lot of fun gameplay we could build in with that with the free running and the driving aspects of the game.

Sleeping Dogs

Gameological: How did you go about getting a sense of the city? I assume you guys traveled over there.

We took hours of video footage of people walking around the city and interacting with vendors.

Dan Sochan: We did numerous research trips. Anytime there was a [question] of, “What do people normally think of Hong Kong and what is actually authentic and real?” we always went with authentic. Some people were immediately like, “Oh, I would have assumed there would be more people walking around with fans or those lanterns hanging around the city itself.” That was actually some of our early concepts, and we went to Hong Kong and actually did the research and realized that’s not the case. So we took hours and hours of video footage of just people literally walking around the city and interacting with vendors and trying to make those feel as genuine as possible. We’ve had a lot of compliments and feedback from people who are from Hong Kong or who live there now and how much we actually nailed the look of certain areas of the city, the interactions, the different clothes that people wear. So we were really happy to hear that.

Gameological: When you’re watching back these videos that you’ve taken, what details pop out at you?

Sochan: I think it’s a lot of the subtleties. There were a lot of times where, you know, it’s not even a stereotype in any way, but just preconceptions we had about how people would dress or interact, or how certain areas of the city would be. And there was a lot of things even from watching a lot of Hong Kong cinema that we sort of expected, and when we went there we realized wasn’t necessarily the case. And in any of those situations we toned it down and adjusted.

So we had the massage parlors, and our idea was picturing girls on the street corners and trying to lure people in. Actually going there, we realized that’s not the case at all. They’re actually generally hidden away, and they’re not dressed necessarily overly—I guess what we sort of think in North America, like what a prostitute may wear. They actually may have something sort of sexy on, but it’s a lot more subtle. We tried to capture each of those things as realistically as we could.

Gameological: The player starts in North Point. What’s the feel you’re going for there?

Sochan: North Point is like the Kowloon part of Hong Kong. It tends to be very crowded. It’s a different residential area. Lots of old apartment buildings packed in and sort of rickety. It’s a little bit of a poor part of the city itself so we were trying to start the player in that area, and as the game progresses they start acquiring apartments in nicer parts of the city. North Point is probably my favorite area of the game because it feels very rich and authentic. It’s very crowded. And you have the night market as well just sort of jammed in right amongst all these apartment buildings.

Gameological: What about Kennedy Town?

“Wait, hold on. Did you ask about how much we pay our local gangs?”

Sochan: Kennedy Town is the dockyard area. We actually didn’t focus too much of our gameplay in Kennedy Town, but we do have some sort of wide-open space there for scenes and battles as well. It tends to be dockyards and shipyards and things like that that are a little more desolate.

Sleeping Dogs

Gameological: Yeah, Kennedy Town was where I did my first “fight club”-type thing. Did you guys encounter any sort of street tensions like this? Did you get a sense of Triad influence when you were in the city?

Sochan: We did definitely get a sense of Triad influence. We didn’t see any underground fight clubs though. But you definitely had a sense when you went into certain bars and restaurants, which ones were Triad-run or sponsored. Not that we necessarily felt, immediately, a sense of threat.

It’s interesting, one of the contacts we made in Hong Kong who lined things up with us—including meetings with Triad members—he was talking about Vancouver, where we are. And he was interested in, maybe in the future, starting a business here and was just casually running through costs with us. What an average employee makes. What’s average rent, how much do you pay monthly to the local gangs? How much do you pay for hydro?

And we’re like, “Wait, hold on. Did you ask about how much we pay our local gangs?” That’s just factored in there. That’s just a normal monthly cost for them. It’s a tribute. It’s protection. It’s whatever. Even if you’re trying to get into a club, nightclub scene, or something like that that goes into direct competition with them. If you want to start up a fruit stand or a shoe store, it’s sort of a known cost. The Triads have been around for over 400 years. It’s sort of ingrained in their society and intertwined with their culture.

Gameological: That’s interesting because Sleeping Dogs is very matter-of-fact about that payment system from the beginning, too. I think it’s startling to the player, as well, that this is just how it’s done.

Sochan: Yeah. It’s interesting. We have this whole mini-bus mission but a lot of players probably didn’t catch it—and I wish we did a little more exposition around it—but that is a really big deal. Running these mini-bus routes is done independently, and it is a significant source of income, and they tend to be Triad gang-run.

Gameological: The game is mostly in English, but there is some Cantonese in there, and there are some characters who speak only Cantonese. Why was that mix of language important to you?

Sochan: We really wanted the player to not just feel like this is a game done in Chinatown. So it was important for us to get [English-speaking] actors who had authentic-sounding [Cantonese] accents. For the main story characters, we wanted to make sure that their English was very discernible. But for some of the vendors and other characters, we actually did a ton of recordings in California, and then later on, we redid almost all of those ambience and world voice recordings, and did them all in Hong Kong. We thought the accents felt that much more authentic and genuine. The accents were a little thicker. So the English came through definitely not as a first language. Even if that was the case in L.A., maybe to be surrounded by so many English speakers had toned down their accents.

We like the fact that a few characters like Ms. Chu only speak Cantonese, and then some of the other characters sort of intermix it. I love how Joss Whedon does that in Firefly. He’ll kind of mix the two languages together, and he’ll remind you often, this isn’t just English speakers and Cantonese speakers; these people are speaking both.

Gameological: Let’s talk about the street racing missions for a second because they’re a big part of the city. Do you design the city around these race courses, or is it more after the fact, looking at the city you’ve made and saying, “Oh! We could make an interesting course through here.”

It often feels a little forced when all of a sudden the bridge, conveniently, is out.

Sochan: It was planned right from the beginning. Our lead race designer was one of the lead designers at Black Fox and EA for years on the Need For Speed series, so he came over right at the beginning of the project, and he basically worked with our lead world artist and they said, “Okay, here’s landmarks that we need to have in terms of the ferry terminals, and where Central’s going to be, and North Point.” We played around with the overall geography of Hong Kong and even pulling in different aspects from other areas of Hong Kong—not just Hong Kong proper.

They basically, in collaboration, built out this city with race lines planned out, making sure we had easy access from the highways to key areas. All of that was designed from the get-go. As we continued to progress through the game, we would still adjust and decide that we needed to widen some roads, narrow some, add in some alleyways. So it was an ongoing process.

Gameological: A lot of open world games have certain parts walled off at the beginning—the “bridge is out” or something like that. But in Sleeping Dogs, pretty much the entirety of Hong Kong is unlocked from the beginning.

Sochan: Yeah, it often feels a little forced when all of a sudden the bridge, conveniently, is out. And back in the day there were often technical limitations for that as well. You couldn’t have as large a world without gating certain areas. You just couldn’t load it in all that quickly. Now that we’ve been able to get beyond those technical hurdles, we didn’t want to force the player and impose any of these restrictions on him.

We wanted right away, other than the first couple of missions, to not lock you in a certain area. The reason for that being we also didn’t want to drop you into this large world, and you feel overwhelmed not having learned the mechanics. So this was an easy way for us to sort of layer things on. Like, great, learn some basic free-running. Now, learn some combat. Now that you’ve done that, you’re going to be able to go into the open-world and learn some driving. We’ll teach you about shooting.

And what we wanted to do was not allow the player to stop just because they’re now able to explore new areas, but make the areas richer in content as you meet new people, as there’s more side-missions to do in that area. And that’s how we keep unlocking versus “a new district is available to check out.”

Gameological: You also have these quasi-missions with the social hub, like the “clean drive” mission that has you keep driving at a fast clip without hitting anything, for as long as possible. What was interesting to me is that often I’d be driving along, and I’d see my “clean drive” ticker ticking up, and I’d say, “Well, I’m really going to go for it right now.” I’d be doing something else entirely, and suddenly I’d get sucked into this mini-mission. What ended up happening is, I’d do a clean drive for a minute and a half, and then I’d be in this completely different part of the city. It led me to explore places that I wouldn’t have visited otherwise. Was that part of the intent?

Sochan: That was very much the intent. We approached the open world in a different way. Often in open-world games, it feels like there’s these imposed limitations because the world is so big and explorable that story needs to be very light. That the fighting and driving and even shooting feel sort of tacked on. And the open world is fun because of havoc and chaos. But there’s no other real benefit or anything to do.

When you approach it from the opposite side and ask, “What are the main things I’m going to be doing in this world?” We want a good strong story that drives it, but outside of that, we want to have the moments when the gameplay is very fun and exciting. So the free-running, the driving, and the fighting are going to be the main things that you’re going to be doing throughout the world. And we said, while I’m doing these things, and I’m having a fun drive, instead of me just driving around aimlessly, it’s great when you see these stats games pop up to tell you that you did the longest wheelie or the longest clean drive.

All those kind of things make the open world enjoyable. Not just from creating havoc, but actually, sometimes the opposite case of driving quickly and without any accidents throughout the city. It made the open-world aspect a game unto itself as well, and it did encourage people to explore.

Sleeping Dogs

Gameological: We did a feature on Grand Theft Auto III recently, and one of the topics that came up was the radio stations in that game. This is another staple of open world games. It seems like maybe that’s a way for the developers to give the players a sense of their own tastes. Is the music on the radio stations the music that you heard while making the game?

Sochan: Definitely. I think especially—we wanted for the player to feel like they are actually in Hong Kong. So this contact that we met in Hong Kong, who introduced us to a lot of different people, he’s really connected in to the music industry there. So we had a lot of advice from him on what people listen to. What are the up-and-coming trends. If someone’s not listening to J-pop or K-pop, what else are they listening to there? And what kind of North American or Western music would people be listening to? We took all of that as a top priority and pushed those into the game and then asked, okay, what areas did we miss that we personally would like to listen to? Let’s get some more of those in the game.

Gameological: What’s your favorite station in the game?

Sochan: It’s actually gotta be some of the Cantopop. It’s ridiculous ,and it’s not a music style that I would normally listen to, but it definitely reminds me of Hong Kong, and I feel immersed in the world that I experienced. It’s weird, I can sing along to these songs, though I don’t have an idea, at all, about any word that I’m saying. It reminded me a lot of Grand Theft Auto and Vice City, where I’m listening to ’80s music that I would listen to back in those days, and it felt authentic. It wasn’t just listening to what’s possible now. I could be listening to an LMFAO song anywhere in the world. It was music specific to a time and era and a culture and region, and that’s what I really liked about some of those Cantopops.

Gameological: My wife was watching me play, and she asked me how many of the Hong Kong buildings you can actually go into. And the answer was, not many of them. Do you think that as the development of the open-world game evolves, that there will be more attention to the interiors? Because the ones you do have in the game feel authentic—especially the convenience stores, for some reason.

Sochan: [Laughs.] Yeah, that’s definitely gonna be in the next generation of open-world games, because there’s no loading as you go in and out of the majority of the interiors. Whatever’s in that interior has to be loaded at all times and be in the game. We can’t be as detailed as we want or have large interiors that you can really go in and explore.

We do some really clever things with the Bam Bam club and some of those places that are larger. We put a bit of a longer entrance hallway so that we could start loading the interior or the exterior as you were moving in or out of it. But we’re really excited to have future titles think about making much larger environments and interiors that you can go and explore and then seamlessly walk outside and enjoy this very rich open world.

Gameological: Who did the warbling karaoke voice for the karaoke segments? That blew me away. It’s perfect half-good karaoke singing.

Sochan: [Laughs.] It was one of the guys internally that did a lot of them. We ended up getting some of the other songs with higher voices—we had to pay a singer actor to do a lot of them. And I think it was pretty tough for him to—he was very talented guy—to be like, “Okay, that was a little too good. Sing it a bit off-key and really struggle with them.” And then we did a little bit of pitching in there as well and some post-effects. That was a lot of fun to work on. Seeing tough badass Wei Shen singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” was endless laughs and giggles here at the office.

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  • Gameological Society Commenter

    Good interview, John. I haven’t played Sleeping Dogs myself, but you touched on something with your “clean drive” mini-mission question to Mr Sochan which makes me assume that this game is another participant in the worrisome ”gamification of a game” trend you described in your Assassin’s Creed III review last week. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to raise your concerns regarding this trend with a game developer who is actively peddling this trash.

    You definitely wouldn’t have seen this blatant padding out in the classic Nintendo- era games.

    ::wastes years trying to get every coin in Super Mario Bros::

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I think a better example of egregious padding in golden-age games (than collecting every coin in Mario, which wouldn’t be padding as it isn’t mandatory and only a maniac would do it) is the grinding to be found in most 8-bit RPGs, which was calibrated to artificially extend game length and discourage rentals or early returns from people blazing through the game in a weekend.

      It seems, like most things (except REPUBLICANS, amirite? ROCK THE VOTE, Y’ALL!), meta-game goals aren’t an inherent evil, but something that can be applied in an artful or slipshod manner. And the present expectation that every game come loaded with a bunch of meta-game goals (as achievements or whatever) means that a lot of meaningless, irritating ones get thoughtlessly appended to games, rather than intentionally designed to improve the game experience, as it sounds the “free ride” was.

    • fieldafar

      The mini-missions like “Clean Drive” are optional. 

      It is integrated into the ‘social’ aspect of the game, so if you were signed into Xbox Live, PlayStation Network or Steam, your time/count is shown along with the best score out of your friends who have also played Sleeping Dogs. Some of the mini-missions are also tied with achievements/trophies though, so you do bring up a good point.

      • HobbesMkii

         Don’t feed the gimmicks.

    • The Guilty Party

      Huh. I dunno, it sounds like the sort of thing I’d enjoy. I’ve always liked clean driving for its own sake in those kind of games (seeing how close I could cut it, etc) and to have it both noticed and rewarded by the game to some degree, and also used in a design sense to help drive me to new areas of the city is awesome, from my perspective.

  • Pavan Shamdasani

    I’ve lived in Hong Kong all my life, and absolutely loved Sleeping Dogs – I’m not much of a gamer, but it’s the first game I actually finished in years. They captured the vibe of the city perfectly, even if it wasn’t completely accurate (actually, it’d be impossible to do it justice) – I’m desperate for a sequel that offers more districts. Just one thing: North Point is on Hong Kong Island, not Kowloon – not sure if he was referring to the game or real life there, but it’s a fairly middle-class district in the city.

  • ChicaneryTheYounger

    That was the best picture you could get? Really?

    • nummymuffincookoobutter

      It looks like he was posing for his employee ID badge.

  • PPPfive

    This game is so much fun, and the radio is fantastic except for one thing: for some reason they chose the UK telephone lady (the one that tells you a caller is not available or to please hold the line) to speak on the radio, which completely broke the world every time she came on.  The music really is amazing though, I couldn’t believe my ears when Hud Mo started playing

  • fieldafar

    It may not be my GOTY for 2012, but Sleeping Dogs is definitely the most surprising hit of the year. I never paid much attention to its development, even during the “True Crime: Hong Kong” controversy and what not, but ever since trying out the demo, I instantly became a fan.

    I think what really appealed to me was that the Hong Kong depicted in the game was very ‘realistic’ for a video game, especially compared to other open-world games I’ve played like “Grand Theft Auto” or “LA Noire”. Not only from the lack of silly “bridge out” scenarios but also because it actually felt like a vibrant East/Asian city, with so much detail in terms of passenger/car activity, the different districts, even stuff like the in-car radio.

    EDIT: I really, really hate Disqus right about now.

  • Effigy_Power

    The density and vibrant setting (haven’t played, but Merve didn’t shut
    up about the game for a while ^_^ ) only enforces the damn shame that
    was L.A. Noire and the gorgeous wasteland that was GTA4.
    Open Worlds
    still need something to do because if you claim to try and replicate
    reality, you need to leave people choices and give a sense of discovery.
    Noire’s L.A. was so bland that scale became a hindrance rather than a
    benefit. At no point during the game did I want to get out of the car
    for any other reason than to get to my mission or knock over Rusty.

    Sleeping
    Dogs, judging by screenshots, seems to frequently lure you away from
    the road and breaks that bothersome tradition of open world maps as
    nothing but huge, manually played loading screens between “levels”,
    because that’s all they are. The entire Noire map is de facto a loading
    screen that you have to play in order to get to the next sequence, which
    is then played out in a limited area. The fact that Rockstar chose to
    let you skip the travel showed all the confidence they had in their map.
    Sleeping
    Dogs takes the map and turns it from a means of conveyance into a world
    to experience and that’s what Open World needs to be all about. This is
    what Skyrim does, this is what Fallout 3 does and it’s what AC2+ does
    and it’s a good move in the right direction.

    If I can spot
    something off the road and I am interested enough to stop, get out and
    take a closer look, despite being on the way to a mission, that’s a
    success and one worth mentioning.
    I’ll definitely be picking this game up during the Xmas sale.

    EDIT: Disqus is being very unreasonable. Probably overpowered by mentions of “secret muslims” and “teabaggers” nationwide.

    EDIT: And now it’s off… I can’t wait for the conspiracy theories.

    EDIT: Yay.

    • HobbesMkii

       Oh man, Merve. He went on and on and then I bought it and really liked it.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        Consider it a public service. :P

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          Clean Drive master.

  • http://twitter.com/tapirman Kyle O’Reilly

    Sleeping Dogs did a pretty good job of getting away from the “Go here, kill this, come back” style quests of many GTA clones, and it had some pretty great hand-to-hand combat mechanics, not too mention stellar graphics.

    But the way the cars handled in the game was utterly atrocious. I always took a taxi if possible just because driving felt like I was in a large RC car, though I suppose if they were going for an authentic Hong-Kong then they would discourage you from driving as much as possible… Very clever.

    • http://gameological.com/author/mattkodner/ Matt Kodner

      That’s why I like cruising through the city on a vespa at incredibly low speeds. It’s also awesome to launch the little sucker off a ramp. It’s so cute how little air it gets!

    • kevin lau

      I personally had a lot of fun with the driving, some unique features and control with the e brake and the ram button, doubles as a unique vehicle control feature. And then there’s the motorcycles and being creative with launching the bike from a wheelie. Yeah once getting use to and the hang of the mechanics, driving can be really enjoyable, and I adored it.

  • Fluka

    Yay for city games not set in New York or LA…

    (GTA V is back in its version of LA?  Maaan…)

    • NarcolepticPanda

      Perhaps like…Detroit? I will now regale you with the tale of my glorious defeat of that big dude.

      1. Chuck EMP grenade

      2. Run really fast to back right of room and sits behind box

      3. Wait for long time

      4. Chuck another EMP grenade

      5. Couple frag grenades

      6. Jumps from behind box

      7. Say “hello motherfucker”

      8. TYPHOOON

      9. Anticlimatically, Typhoon doesn’t kill

      10. Get punched in face

      11. Shoot combat rifle in knee

      12. Knee shot is the killing blow

      It was made even more fun because I didn’t know you could save midway, so it took me 20 tries to figure out this technique, and 10 more to successfully execute.

      • Fluka

        Jolly good show!  Gotta fully upgrade the Typhoon (unless you’re playing on the highest difficulty setting, where it takes a couple of shots).  *Insert your own shameful bullet to the knee joke here.*

        I *would* like to see another game set in Detroit…

        • NarcolepticPanda

          I am playing on the highest difficulty setting. Currently left Hengsha for Tai Yong Medical place, and am blocked from getting where I need to go by a laser grid, and a chinese-accented black guy and a security camera. Cloaking system it is! Yeah, I liked Detroit quite a bit. Hengsha didn’t do it as much for me, only thought it was okay. Quick question: I missed an XP book in the FEMA facility, if I go back there with an earlier save, nab it, and continue from my current save, will I still get the trophy? I’m guessing probably not, given the 1 playthrough bit mentioned in the trophy. Maybe that’ll give me motivation to go through a second playthrough attempting to kill everyone I come across.

    • Effigy_Power

      Yeah, they could at least have picked up London from the very early GTA version, but I suppose the PR departments don’t think US-buyers dig non-US settings.
      I mean seriously… Paris, Tokyo, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Rome, Berlin, Hamburg, Toronto, Jakarta, New Delhi, Moscow, Athens, Istanbul, Prague…
      Heck, even Boston, Philadelphia, Denver, Seattle…
      No, let’s do NY/LA/Miami in a continuous cycle.

      Again, why make steak when the cow keeps shitting gold…

      • NarcolepticPanda

        I think part of the reasoning behind this may be that many non-US, non-Asia cities don’t try to build tall buildings, and tall buildings allow developers to artificially increase the world’s size.

      • Fluka

        GTA VI: Rapid City SD

        The size of the map would seem realistic for a change!

        (And you could go see the GTA version of Mt. Rushmore!)

        • Effigy_Power

          Maybe cities aren’t even the way to go. New Vegas works just fine without a massive urban environment, Red Dead Redemption is a lot more thrilling than yet another rush hour in NYC…
          I fail to see why this wouldn’t work for driving. Rage failed at it by limiting the “open world” into basically channels, which defeats the purpose. But a massive open world, deserts and  hills and towns here and there, long highways and dirt roads… all that played in the GTA sense would totally work.
          Anyone who has ever cruised along the Chernarus Map of ArmA2 should have to agree that there is no reason to think of rural environment as any less interesting for the regard of these games.

        • http://twitter.com/HttpLovecraft Http Lovecraft

          @Effigy_Power:disqus  , I’d love to see a GTa or Burnout Paradise style game set in a dusty, backwoods area, ala that weird chunk of San Andreas, or an apocalyptic desert.  Maybe running meth & moonshine around?  SOMETHING non-urban.I didn’t mind the ‘channelling’ of the map in Rage so much as the crappy driving physics.  Jumps didn’t feel like jumps, cars didn’t even skid.

        • Effigy_Power

          What bothered me about Rage (well, apart from the intense rip-off-ness of Fallout and to an extend Borderlands) was the fact that the game-posters and concepts showed sprawling deserts all the way up to the game’s launch date. There were pictures of crazy “cars”, stapled together with guns and sawblades, seemingly racing to the horizon and some insane bandit fortress.
          What the game actually turned out to be was a crass disappointment on every level and also just generally dishonest.

        • Aurora Boreanaz

          I want to see more games set in real-world locations that I’ve actually lived in…but Portland, Maine isn’t exactly an excitement-filled city unless you like art, music and seafood.  Grand Theft Artwork, maybe?

  • Maddie Gressel

    ugh North Point is NOT in Kowloon! How could he get that wrong? That’s like saying Hells Kitchen is in Brooklyn. Part of the game look like HK (I live here but I’ve only played it once) other parts….not so much. Thank god there were no fans or lanterns though! The ACs everywhere was a good touch. 

  • Juan_Carlo

    That guy looks like they snapped the photo at the moment of orgasm.

    • NarcolepticPanda

      You are obviously unaware of the debilitating condition of orgasmismasmism. His face ALWAYS looks like that, and 800,000 other people deal with the same problem EVERY day.

  • JokersNuts

    Makes me want to play this game. 

  • Christohper Exantus

    I didn’t care too much for Sleeping Dogs; a lot of it is because it does nothing new in the open world genre, but mostly because there’s this really weird disconnect between the game’s story and the actual gameplay. The “story” features the main character trying to stay alive in the Chinese Underworld while deep undercover, struggling to maintain ties with his cop past but gaining the trust and honor of friends he’s doomed to fuck over. The actual gameplay, on the other hand, features a bland psychopath that murders wave after wave of thugs and goes on random murder sprees with little to no consequences. This disconnect is certainly found in much better titles such as GTA and Red Dead Redemption, but I think they get away with it with engaging characters and a narrative worth digging through.

    On the interview: I guess I don’t see the point of touting how “realistic” Hong Kong looks ingame when that illusion is shattered the moment you see two identical-looking NPCs standing together. It’s not the game’s fault; it is a game after all, but I think it’s pointless bragging how “realistic” the game’s environment is when the character’s interaction with the city (read: not much) calls into question how realistic it actually is.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve
    • TheAngryInternet

      For my money, the “realistic” Hong Kong went out the window once I realized the entire game was set on a single island. I can understand why they might not want to subject the player to the boredom of constantly crossing back and forth, but there’s ways around that: instant warping via ferries or subways, more tunnels for road traffic (in real life there’s three, but I wouldn’t complain if they added a few more for the game), or arranging the missions in such a way that you’d rarely have to cross over, though of course you’d still have the option. I’m not talking about modeling every square foot of Hong Kong with complete accuracy, I’m talking about something which is absolutely key to the geography of the place. A Hong Kong without a harbor bisecting it is like a Budapest with no Danube.

      And as for: “Anytime there was a [question] of, ‘What do people normally think of Hong Kong and what is actually authentic and real?’ we always went with authentic”–well, one of the main things people “normally think of Hong Kong” is that it’s all built-up urban hell when 60-70% of the territory is undeveloped and nearly half is designated as conservation areas. I don’t expect 60-70% of the in-game territory to be undeveloped, but the New Territories are just gone. And they were willing to move Kowloon–as the producer admits, North Point in the game is a lot more like Kowloon than the actual North Point–so it’s not just a matter of “we left them out because we were focusing on Hong Kong Island.” If you’re saving them for the sequel, fine, but then don’t talk about how much more authentic your Hong Kong is than the preconceived notions.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    That “clean drive” stat is both evil and ingenious. Http Lovecraft and I battled over that one for a while. For now, I’m on top at 3 minutes and 58 seconds. (Mwahahaha!)

    I just have to second what John said in the interview: that karaoke voice is perfect. It’s good enough to be decent singing, but not good enough to be vocals recorded for an album. The way the post-processing was done on the voice when the player messes up is great too; it was a lot of fun to hear in the *SPOILERS* where you have to get as close to 0% on the karaoke as possible.

  • twofish

    The screen shots look pretty good, but going into nitpicking mode……..

    1) Hong Kong directional signs are blue not green

    2) Street overpasses are always high to allow for double decker buses.  the bridge in the picture looks too low.  The signs also seem too low since they look like the buses would smash into them.

    3) North Point is pretty middle class.  Also Kowloon has about a dozen neighborhood which run from posh and expensive to relatively run down. 

    4) Kennedy Town has a dockyard?  IRL.  Kennedy Town is a mix of expats and university students.  The real dockyard is over in Tsing Yi and has massive, massive container
    ships filled with toys and goodies for your local Walmart.

    5) Most people in HK are multi-lingual.  You have a mix of Cantonese, Mandarin, and English, and you’ll hear quite a bit of Talagog and Indonesian in Hong Kong from domestics from the Philiphines and Indonesia, and there are enough of them that there are ads in those languages.  As far as English, you have a range of accents.  There are people that will speak English with a “Hong Kong” accent, but also quite a number of people that will speak English with “BBC English.”  In fact, I think you are more likely to find someone in Hong Kong speaking BBC English in conversation than you will in England.

    Something else that happens in HK is that you will have people speak with native accents.  Someone speaks Cantonese then switches to “neutral accented” Mandarin and then BBC English all in the same conversation.  It’s also the case, the most vendors have at least passive knowledge of English, and if all else fails, there’s pointing and calculators.  One other thing with Cantonese is that it changes very quickly, and people that have been away from HK for a few years claim that they have difficulty understanding what people are saying.

    The other thing is that the signs look “off” to me since there is a lot less English than I’d expect.

    6) HK is quite unique even for an Asian city.  Most Asian cities have buildings everywhere, but HK has large areas of parkland which means that you have hyperdense areas right next to empty park land.  HK is also the most “3-d” city around.  There is a architectural book coming out called “City Without Ground”

    7) There are a lot of possible places you would use as a background.  You could have a high class mall, a middle class mall, the offices of an international bank in Central, subways,  the airport, a supermarket, the tunnel, and Hong Kong “Wally World.”  Have a chase in the middle of a typhoon.  The thing about Hong Kong malls is that you have really tiny spaces but they are really tall (i.e. ten stories).

    Trying to make a “realistic scenario” might be hard since neither the police or the triads would allow a public shootout, and there’s very little street crime in HK because neither the police or the triads will allow it.

    On the other hand you could have a “cat burglar” trying to steal something in a safe in a jewelry store.  It’s a setup, the alarm goes off, and now you have to make it down a ten story mall filled with security guards, police, and gang members.  You have a gun, but it’s useless because if you fire it, everyone is going to fire back.  However, it turns out that all the exits are blocked, and the only way out is to break a plate glass window and jump to the next building at which point a gun might be useful.  Hong Kong would make the perfect setting for a puzzle game.

    You can even figure out a way of adding the roller coaster into it (and yes one of Hong Kong’s malls has an roller coaster above the ice skating rink).

    8)  Solicitation, brothels and streetwalking are illegal and police enforce those rules strictly. The places where you find “independent working girls” are extremely low key and mixed in other stores , and the places with big neon signs are usually “legitimate” night clubs.  Also more often than not a place advertising massages is actually legitimate.  Hotels that rent by the hour on the other hand…..

    9) The lanterns look odd since those go up only during holidays.  Is it possible that you arrived during a holiday?  BTW, it would be interesting to have something around Christmas  In December, Hong Kong goes nuts with Christmas lights, and Halloween is starting to be a semi-big thing.  Also people in HK are very cold sensitive, it gets slightly cool and everyone starts wearing jackets.

    10) HK is pretty staid, if you want totally, totally crazy take the ferry over to Macau

  • kevin lau

    I personally had a lot of fun with the driving, some unique features and control with the e brake and the ram button, doubles as a unique vehicle control feature. And then there’s the motorcycles and being creative with launching the bike from a wheelie. Yeah once getting use to and the hang of the mechanics, driving can be really enjoyable, and I adored it.