Internet & Tech

Monkey business

Blockbuster game features iconic literary hero


Wukong makes his return

Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, is one of the most iconic figures in Chinese literature. As the main character in the 16th-century novel Journey to the West, he accompanies the Buddhist monk Xuanzang on a pilgrimage of magic and adventure. His story has been adapted to numerous formats, including plays, movies and television series.

Also inspired by the Monkey King is Game Science’s latest creation Black Myth: Wukong. With the recent release of a 13-minute trailer of the game – which featured the Monkey King character retrieve a weapon from his ear – gamers praised the animation work, drawing acclaim from around the world on social media platforms such as Sina Weibo, Douyin and YouTube.

The game is also being billed as China’s first 3A, an informal classification of premium video formats that typically entail large budgets and high production values (they are also called ‘Triple-A’ releases).

Generally, investors in China have been more cautious about backing 3A games, seeing them as riskier propositions. “Overseas companies create 3A games to make big money, and most of their users will purchase the game. But if a Chinese firm pours money into a 3A game, customers might not buy it, while some may find a pirated version or only watch the livestream,” one contributor on Zhihu warned.

In the last 10 years the gaming industry has evolved dramatically. Alongside major advances in gaming technology, the sector in China has also benefited from a growing supply of local talent and independent studios, creating the conditions for a 3A game like Black Myth: Wukong to emerge.

“If this is the beginning of huge Triple-A games coming out of China I am super down with it,” enthused Maximilian, the producer of the biggest fighting game channel on YouTube. “The Chinese side of the games industry has a lot of money, it just depends on getting the right talent together.”

Despite the early approval from fans, Game Science has a long road ahead to make Black Myth: Wukong a major commercial hit. With a team of only 30, the firm must hire new staff, especially technical artists. Games of a similar scale, such as CDPR’s The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings or Larian Studios’ Divinity: Original Sin II, are supported by as many as 100 staff. After garnering good publicity from its trailer for the work-in-progress game, Game Science is already grappling with the challenge of outsiders trying to poach its best talent too. “The pressure is much greater than before,” Game Science creator Yocar told Guancha, a portal. “It is impossible not to be excited but we have not reached the finish line. A successful result is still in the future.”

Black Myth: Wukong has drawn comparisons with Asura, one of Tencent’s most ambitious titles when it was released in 2013. Some of the Game Science developers are former Tencent employees who worked on that project, which took three times longer than the average game to make, but which ultimately failed to generate the commercial returns that Tencent had hoped for.

“As a game that focused heavily on plot, Asura’s limited play content was quickly exhausted by avid gamers. The significant upfront investment greatly increased the pressure to make money too,” recalls Gamersky, another gaming portal.

“We are not treating Black Myth: Wukong as a standalone work,” counters Yocar. “Black Myth is the main title, which means we hope that Wukong, the most famous Chinese mythical figure, can open the world to a fantastical realm from the East. With time, with more products and with the growth of our team, we will make up for what our game currently lacks.”

If that strategy works, Game Science’s trajectory might draw further comparisons with the Warcraft franchise, which was created by Blizzard Entertainment. Warcraft made its first appearance as a video game in late 1994 and since then has launched a total of five core games, all based on the fantasy world of Azeroth. Some of the fans of the initial launch of Black Myth: Wukong have been looking back at Warcraft as a reference point, arguing that it has the potential to expand into a similarly longlasting franchise. Should that be the case, their former employers at Tencent might even be tempted to buy Game Science outright.

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