Game Art

Shuyan Saga: bringing the ancient principles of kung fu to an action graphic novel

Shuyan Saga is an action graphic novel that blends elements of kung fu philosophy in gameplay. As creators, we want to meld the concept of 2D graphic novels and 3D combat gameplay to craft a unique storytelling experience that people would enjoy. One of Shuyan’s key features is that the full 3D combat system is built from over 300 animations inspired by a kung fu master.

We invited Longfei Yang, a master of the Shanxi style Praying Mantis Kung Fu from New York to demonstrate some moves so we would have a better idea of how to animate Shuyan’s movements. We used our own motion capture studio to record authentic movements, which we used to animate our 3D models. His techniques served as a foundation of the kung fu moves shown in Shuyan Saga. To achieve this, we also brought on a trained Classical Chinese dancer to shadow his movements to give Shuyan’s character a more authentic feel.

Shuyan Saga: bringing the ancient principles of kung fu to an action graphic novel

Our animators drew inspiration from recorded videos when animating combo finishers and basic attacks. We have over 300 combat animations in total and here are some examples of our earlier animation sequences in Maya:

Shuyan Saga: bringing the ancient principles of kung fu to an action graphic novelShuyan Saga: bringing the ancient principles of kung fu to an action graphic novel


Underlying Kung Fu Philosophy

One of the biggest challenges that we ran into was trying to make a fighting game without fighting in it. I know- that sounds kinda crazy, but we wanted to highlight the values of ancient Chinese martial arts in which the user’s defense becomes an offense. It is a common misconception to think that kung fu is all about fighting with sheer force versus force, but it’s not- it’s about discipline. Our purpose was to weave a powerful and cultural story into the game that emphasized the ancient principles of kung fu.

Our creative director, Drew Parker, trained in Wing Chun Kung Fu for four years, and it left a deep impression on him. So from the beginning of our game’s development, he was adamant that our game had to be true to the spirit of kung fu teachings. He reminisced about the teachings of his kung fu teacher who often said things like, Kung Fu is to have no intention. You have to learn to fight without fighting.”

The most amazing thing about his training in Wing Chun Kung Fu was learning that 95 percent of it was not about how to hit people, but about how to not get hit yourself. The vast majority of movements are deflecting movements. What makes the deflective movements possible is that you constantly give way to your opponent, letting him or her throw all the punches and kicks they want.  You don’t try to stop them, you don’t fight force with force. Your ability to do this depends on your amount of physical self-control and mental self-restraint, both of which come through diligent training.

Thus our essential experience was formed: “Finding self-restraint through kung fu training, by learning to have no intention to fight,” which led to advantages in combat.

We wanted an authentic kung fu training experience, so we sought for authenticity and quality everywhere. The 2D backgrounds are hand-painted by local Chinese-style painters. The comic-book styled cut-scenes are illustrated by our very own art director Daxiong, a comic-book artist originally from China.

Overcoming Hurdles

On the technical side of things, a challenge that we had working within Unity was that we wanted to import more than 1000 hand-drawn and painted comic style illustrations into the game without sacrificing quality, while also avoiding blowing up the file size. In the end, we not only created our own compression algorithm for Unity, but we also created a series of tools which allowed our game designers and story writers to easily visually script an entire scene, laying out entire Unity scenes of just branching path story panels with text and sound cues.


Overall, incorporating and balancing all these different elements into Shuyan Saga is a challenging journey. We feel strongly tied to her story because it is an adventure in the aspects of a rich world that has gone largely untouched in Western fiction. We hope to bring players on a journey showing the true spirit of a lost art.


Shuyan Saga isn’t available to play yet, but you can take a look at it on Steam Greenlight here:

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