Answered by: Teemu Mäki-Patola, CEO of Virtual Air Guitar Company, project lead on Kung-Fu High Impact
1. Kung-Fu High Impact is the first interactive game of its kind for Kinect on Xbox 360- Can you tell us a little about what users can expect from the game and how this will establish Kung Fu High Impact as unique to other games in its genre?
In most Kinect games, you control a 3D avatar with your moves. In Kung-Fu High Impact you are integrated into the game as yourself making you literally the hero of the game. The playing is very intuitive: the moves you do happen exactly as you do them and there is no noticeable lag. The game feels very reactive: right as your arm reaches the end of your punch, you hear the sound of the hit and see your enemy flying away, which is very satisfying.
To make you feel even better, we are making the player more capable than he is in real life: he can jump much higher in-game, do somersaults, shake the ground, slow down time, shoot arrows, grow into a giant for a while and even shoot lightning from his hands. Each hit has a strong effect e.g. as tossing your enemies through the air. We have also integrated the player with the physics engine allowing you e.g. to kick boxes and trashcans towards your enemies.
One of the difficult issues with camera games is moving inside the game world. If you simply walk, you are quickly out of the camera view. We have created several solutions for this: each punch and kick moves you forwards, you can jump over your enemies or from one platform to another with a somersault without actually doing one (triggered by jumping and tossing your hands up and to the side as if starting to make a real somersault), you have a power called Power Punch, which dashes you a good distance forwards and allows you to attack from distance and you can even fly by spreading your arms as wings in up-drafts. As a result, you can cover distance easily and control your position in the levels and the levels are freed from having to be small. In Kung-Fu High Impact the levels come in varying sizes ranging from a basement to a large forest and you can platform and move with ease.
The pace of the game is nicely fast. There is no waiting for action and you don’t have to spend much time in the menus.
Each story section lets you act as the lead character. The game takes photos of you in different suggested poses and expressions and places them inside a 2,5D story comics and tones them to look drawn. It is rather fun to see yourself in the story.
2. In what ways does Kung-Fu High Impact appeal to different types of users – Is this a game everyone can try out and enjoy in different ways?
In short, it is your personal Jackie Chan moment. You get to experience being a capable Kung-Fu Hero yourself which I feel to be highly satisfying. Playing is very intuitive and suits people from adults to kids.
Kids usually get a huge kick of being able to jump and run around defeating the enemies. And they are not shy even in front of other people. They lose themselves easily in the game. Older people get more kick out of doing something cool (like a jump kick, super power or just an impressive combo) and being capable.
The game has two difficulty levels: normal and hard. The normal one offers challenge but is not too hard and suits well for social and casual playing. But there is also more depth in the game mechanics for the more hardcore players. On hard, the enemies block more and you have to duck, dodge and use combos and counter attacks. And you need to learn to use your powers in a smart way.
Also, the range of different game modes support a range of playing situations. I like to play also the story mode with friends as you can switch player just by jumping in and out with a new person. But if you want simultaneous multiplayer, that is supported as well. And if you want to fight a specific kind of fight, you can create it in the Mayhem Designer and if you want a tougher challenge and to compete for score also in the online leaderboards, there are several survival modes for earning some bragging rights or to great a great daily workout.
I have seen the game being used also for exercise and for training fighting moves. It’s very satisfying in that respect as well as if you are more athletic, you can do cool tricks and be physically creative in beating down your enemies. All in all, the phase of the fights is intensive, being more capable feels great and the more you give into it, the more you get out as well. So don’t be shy, release you inner Kung-Fu master and get your endorphins running.
3. Kung- Fu High Impact projects an image of the user into the game - How do you think users will react to seeing themselves on screen as an active element within the game?
When new players try the game, the reactions usually are excited: first they see that they are standing inside the game environment, try out a few moves and break a smile in response. The next smile comes from the first punch to an enemy and the one after from doing some power like shooting lightning or shaking the ground. And when they see themselves in the story for the first time, most people laugh and really seem enjoy that.
The mood of the game is over the top and humoristic. We are playing to the clichés and making you appear epic but with a humoristic twist. It is entertaining and satisfying and fun to watch as well as play, at least if you don’t take yourself too seriously.
4. Can you briefly explain how the Kinect technology functions in this game and why this works so well for Xbox?
Kinect is the perfect interface for this game. It offers a robust background removal that works regardless of lighting due to the depth camera. This is really important as the usual livingroom lighting can be quite dim. The player tracking works also very well and due to the depth camera people behind you or even next to you do not interfere with the playing. This is the kind of technology we always wanted and tried hard to make ourselves. But you cannot compete with the advantages the depth camera gives even with the smartest computer vision algorithms.
We use the depth information for making the background removal and use the skeleton mixed with the silhouette data for pose and action detection as well as collision detection. As the collision detection does not rely just on the skeleton data, the user can actually pick up everyday items such as foam sticks or toy weapons and beat the enemies also with those. Personally I like this feature very much. The game does not require you to hold anything and has been tuned for bare handed fighting but we allow and recognize items to give you more variety if you want to try that. Of course you should be careful then.
5. What exactly does the Kinect device allow users to experiment with in terms of movement – Is this something users will be able to explore freely or are there any restrictions?
We build the game to support total freedom of movement. Any style works be it crane, tiger, monkey or your very own. You can even do real somersaults. And as mentioned before, you can pick up items and use those as in-game weapons if you like. Any move deals damage as long as it is fast enough. There is a specific set of special moves that trigger super powers but no limits for your fighting moves.
6. The functionality of the hardware was questioned when the game was released on other platforms, with several people feeling that it let down the game. Do you think those criticisms were fair? What measures have you taken to ensure this doesn’t happen with the Xbox release?
As said before, with the previous game we tried to create the same kind of functionality that Kinect offers using just 2D cameras. But the depth information the Kinect hardware offers is rather invaluable. We came close to pulling it off when used in good and well lit environments but most livingrooms are quite poorly lit. When a normal camera sees no color difference between your pants and the sofa behind you, it is impossible to fix this with even the smartest algorithms.
The criticisms were valid in the sense that the background removal and tracking of the previous game did not work satisfactorily in many environments. And if those didn’t work, the whole gameplay was heavily affected. Also shadows were a big issue previously. We were also a bit naïve in thinking that people would use a manual calibration mode for solving background removal problems. Players just want to play and not have to spend time setting up and trying to figure out how to get something working well. It needs to work well just out of the box. If it doesn’t you are in trouble.
Luckily, helped by the considerable hardware advantage, Kinect works just out of the box and is robust no matter the environmental conditions. The depth information also makes the tracking more accurate. So on Kinect, the game just works. No matter where you play it. The pose detection is also more accurate and the high quality tracking allowed us to make features that were previously impossible such as the augmented bow weapon or even robust gestural menus.
You need to understand the huge amount of research and technology that has gone into developing Kinect. Then it is not a huge surprise that it offers a range of improvements and competitive advantage.
In addition to the technology working well with Kinect, Kung-Fu High Impact is a brand new game. The story is completely new, the levels are totally new and most of the characters as well. Gameplay is longer and there are many new features. The visual approach and the environments are more varied and of higher quality. There are new super powers and power boosting bonus objects such as the augmented bow weapon, super punch, giant growth etc. The enemies are able to climb and pathfind and instead of constant boss fights, there is a more clear division between boss enemies and easy-to-kill enemies. Personally I also like the new archenemy character much more than the previous one.
7. The side scrolling screen and graphics give this game a really retro feel - Can you talk us through the decision to include a side scrolling screen as a feature?
We have been inspired by games such as Mortal Combat, Street Fighter etc. And we have been visually inspired by Kung-Fu comics and classic kung-fu movies, where you could often see a good part of the fight from the side giving you a better view of the moves as the quick takes from changing angles the current movies use. We liked the idea of doing something like Mortal Combat but replacing your character with yourself fighting with actual kicks and punches.
Also, the side view offers a wider view of the fighting situation allowing you to move backwards and forwards and to see enemies coming from all directions. Jumping somersaults and fighting back and forth within the same second would be very different e.g. with a first person view.
8. Kung- Fu High Impact has several game modes including a story mode – Can you tell us a little more about this and how it might appeal to users who are looking for other dimensions to the game?
The story mode is an in-depth single player campaign that takes you on an epic journey and pits you up against everything from small evil creatures to 4-story tall giants. It contains 14 levels, 15 story chapters and 15 different enemies. It is you personal journey to Kung-Fu mastery to being the hero that saves the world. Even though it is basically a single player campaign, I enjoy playing it with friends in a social setting taking turns. As the playing gets quite physical, switching players after each level offers you to catch your breath as well. And it is much more fun and social to watch compared to watching some button smashing game being played.
A feature called Mayhem Designer allows you to create any kind of custom fight you want. Choose a level, set the amount of rounds and either add enemies into the rounds one at the time or choose from premade sets of enemies. You can even tweak the fight parameters: amount of movement exaggeration, enemy speed and powers and bonuses in this mode for some surreal fights that challenge your abilities to the limits or that simply offer something different you want to try out.
Then there is a multiplayer versus mode that enables up to five players to brawl it out in an all-out battle. Up to four players can pick up the Xbox 360 Controllers and fight the fifth player on screen. This is especially excellent for e.g. the kids in the family grouping against their father on camera and seeing his trouble in live action.
There are also several games modes that we call survival modes. These are never ending modes that get more and more difficult the further you survive. They are excellent for a good daily workout or for earning some bragging rights and competing for score.
9. This seems like a really sociable gaming experience - Can you talk us through the multiplayer options?
As mentioned, the multiplayer mode enables up to four players to pick up the Xbox 360 Controllers, choose the in-game characters they want to control and fight the fifth player on camera. It is indeed very social as you see each hit you deliver in the expressions and reactions of the camera player.
In addition to the actual multiplayer mode, its good fun to play the story mode or the survival modes together with friends taking turns fighting. You can change a player instantly by jumping out yourself and having your friend jump in. He is recognized right away and the fight does not have to pause even for a second. Or maybe you want to create harder and harder custom fights or very specific challenges and see who can survive till the end.
10. Do you have any memorable anecdotes from development to share with us?
Right now, as it has not been long since them, I tend to remember the long nights fixing bugs and testing the game like crazy. We spend some full nights at the office jumping, kicking and punching around in search of bugs and issues. It’s probably easy to believe that the jokes got a bit strange and the mood surreal on those sessions.
The motion capture with actual martial artists was interesting. People jumping flips in a dark room clothed in black spandex with reflecting spots glued around the body was a strange sight but the moves were beautiful.
Our audio lead joked around by recording also a few profanities by the voice actors. It was quite a surprise to suddenly hear something rather unexpected from the enemy characters as you were beating them down. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) those had to be removed from the final game.
Thank you for your time!
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