Seven Swords of Shaolin

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Braak

Seven Swords of Shaolin is an epic, kung fu RPG for the…uh, let’s say the XBox and the PS3.  It comes with a “sword” — a plastic weapon that has a rumble pack and a bunch of gyroscopes and what not to keep track of its position.  In the game, you take the part of Zhou Xuan-Yun, a young martial artist who, in his quest to avenge his murdered brother, travels throughout medieval China to learn the secrets of the sword.

The fighting is full-motion interactive.  To use a technique, the player executes the technique; the game keeps track of how close the player is to perfect form.  There are fifteen attacking techniques, and five parries.  Each parry counters three different kinds of attacks; after each parry, three different attacks are available.  In this way, you could cycle through all of the attacks and parries available to your character.

Enemies begin with only one or two attacks available (requiring the use of two different parries).  As they increase in difficulty, several things happen:  the first is that their techniques get faster, requiring you to perform your techniques more quickly.  The second is that they get stronger, requiring you to perform your techniques more perfectly.  The third is that they have a wider variety of moves available to them; the highest-level enemies have all fifteen opening attacks available, and use them unpredictably.

Because the game requires you to get faster and better at your techniques by actually performing them, the only attributes that a player has are might, yin chi, and yang chi.  Yin and yang chi are used for special abilities; yang is used for external special abilities, yin chi is used for internal special abilities.

Might increases the damage from your weapons (various sword upgrades are available, each one doing more damage than the previous).  A 100% successful parry will block 100% of incoming damage — so a player could take on a very powerful enemy, but only with perfect technique.  A 90% successful parry will block 90% of incoming damage — enemies, as they increase in level and difficulty, become more successful with their own defensive techniques.  The stronger a player is, the more quickly he or she can power through an enemies blocks.

(In practice, this means that even a player with strong technique will have a hard time fighting a much higher level opponent, but will be able to beat lower-level opponents very easily.)

Special abilities are triggered by chi gung techniques; ostensibly, a player can use yin or yang techniques indefinitely, but once they’ve burned through their surplus (gained by increasing in level) they use yin or yang chi at the expense of their other abilities:  might, in the case of yang, and health and healing in the case of yin.  As is the case with the parries, the more technically perfect the player is when he or she performs a special power technique, the more effective the result will be.

The final and most innovative aspect of the game is that it keeps track not just of a player’s progress, but of their success rate using different attacks and parries, and then adjusts the enemies accordingly — a player who relies too heavily on one technique will discover that his enemies in the game grow increasingly better at parrying it.  A player whose low parries are typically less successful than his high parries will find his enemies’ attacks gradually weighted to take advantage of it.

The more the player fights, the more the game will push the player to get better at his or her worst techniques.

Seven Swords of Shaolin takes the player on a tour through China’s history and mythology, while simultaneously teaching them kung fu.

  1. John Jackson says:

    Get in touch with Peter Molyneux. He can actually code it to make it work, and probably with more motions than just a sword. Of course, he is pretty much the only actual genius in computer games, so he might not be easy to contact.

  2. Nathan says:

    John: Suda 51, Tim Shafer and Hideo Kojima.

    All as mad as Peter Molyneux and as awesome.

    Braak: Interesting idea but your going to run into the same problems as games like Red Steel, Star Wars the Force Unleashed (Wii version) and Skyward Sword. Namely:

    The lack of physical feedback. (The enemy blocks but your physical sword keeps going.)

    Lag. (This game sounds like its going to get really difficult quite fast. So that second/ half second is going to matter a lot. Granted the PS3 could probably handle it but you would have to use their in house motion controls. Which would be a problem for several reasons [Some of which are listed bellow])

    The integration of movement controls and combat. (From this overview it sounds like you want a two handed sword so you cant use an offhand dongle [Like on the Wii] and the PS3’s controler is too small. So the attachment would actually detract from the combat as a whole as it would mess up your grip on the blade.)

    All that said. I’d probably check this out.

  3. braak says:

    Right, i was thinking about that. To address those questions in reverse order:

    I was actually thinking of using the Jian sword, which is a one-handed weapon — sword in one hand, and then a second, one-hand controller in the other that could have a joystick (for movement) and some buttons (for assorted interactive capabilities). The sword would be a custom controller by itself (like the fancy guitar in guitar hero). I think a custom device could make use of the platform’s pre-existing motion controls and still work pretty well.

    The issue of lag, I’ve also considered, and my solution was, “Well, why I don’t I start making it now, presupposing the idea that by the time it’s finished, the hardware will all be fast enough to handle what I want it to do.” It’ll make play-testing a huge problem, and it’s a little risky (since new iterations of hardware could, in theory, just require a complete change in how you wrote the software), but I think it’s probably worthwhile to make game software with the idea that the systems are going to catch up to you.

    The force-feedback issue is interesting. Obviously, with a custom controller, there is some stuff that you could do — a relatively heavy rumble pack could make the sword almost literally jump in your hand.

    BUT I think it might be better to sort of radically-reconsider what we’re doing with the sword. When you practice a kung-fu form, there’s no forced-feedback; partly because you’re not fighting a real opponent, but partly to train you to cut through an opponent, instead of stopping halfway through a technique. In that case, forced-feedback would actually be kind of a problem, because it would inhibit you from practicing a move to completion.

    Which means that the problem is less that there’s no forced-feedback, and more that we’re instinctively trying to create games that mimic actual sword combat; instead, Seven Swords of Shaolin is a game that mimics the practice of kung fu. And, since it’s a reliable assertion that most people who play the game haven’t been and won’t be in swordfights, an interface in which, when your sword is parried, you still have to complete the movie (and it makes a clang sound and rumbles in your hand) and your Avatar’s sword just skids over the enemy’s weapon and on to the other side, is potentially as viable and interesting an interface as one in which your sword is stopped.

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