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Kung-fu game Sifu will be singleplayer only, all about ‘mastery through practice’

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The announcement of Sifu was the surprise highlight of the week for me. It’s a kung fu bat coming out later this year from Sloclap, the studio behind the excellent online fighting game Absolver. In some ways, Sifu looks similar to this game, but the trailer leaves a lot of questions unanswered: is it just single player? How does the fight work? What about the aging system? Sifu executive producer Pierre Tarno didn’t answer all of my questions, but did share some key details this morning, including the identity of a real kung fu master helping with the game.

Initially, Tarno confirmed to PC Gamer that Sifu will be a single player. The Sloclap team will do more online projects in the future, he said, but for this one they wanted to “put all development effort into the gameplay” without having to worry about the technical complexities of online game development. The result is a “linear adventure” that is just as inspired by martial arts films, as suggested by the trailer’s corridor straight out of the Oldboy.

“The fantasy we want is that kind of Jackie Chan movie fantasy where it’s one on many,” said Tarno, “while Absolver was very 1-on-1.”

Also in the style of Jackie Chan, always near a ladder due to a fundamental property of the universe, you can use your surroundings to your advantage, climbing ledges, throwing objects, pushing furniture and picking up makeshift weapons, and so on.

Waging these fights is a story about a kung fu student who seeks revenge on the five assassins who murdered his family. This says something about Sifu’s structure: we will beat up thugs on the way to the hideout of every assassin, and she will act as bosses. (Tarno insisted that we only beat up the villains because they are in the way. The assassins are our real targets.)

(Photo credit: Sloclap)

One strange thing we see in the Sifu announcement trailer is that it is possible to come back to life if you die along the way, but there is one catch: the character gets older every time. That made me speculate that Sifu might have some kind of rogue structure, but Tarno says that’s not entirely true. He wasn’t ready to go into details just yet, but did point out that in the trailer, the character is getting up from where he was knocked down. He also said that the character doesn’t get any weaker as he gets older – he eventually becomes an old master.

Tarno answered another big question I had: whether or not Sifu will include something like Absolver’s Moveset customization system. The “short answer” is no. Without going into details, Tarno said that the character’s movements will evolve as the game progresses, but that there won’t be an Absolver-like combo editor or other martial arts styles to choose from. Actually there will only be one specific fighting style: Pak Mei Kung Fu. That is an integral part of Sifu.

The real Pak Mei Kung Fu

The word “sifu” refers to a master, and there is a real kung fu master involved in the game. Jordan Layani, Creative Director of Sifu, studies with Sifu Benjamin Culos, a master of Lao Siu Leung Pak Mei. Culos worked with the studio on both their struggles and authenticity issues (e.g., where to put the incense in the trailer’s meditation scene).

Tarno counts both the “movement” and the “values” of Pak Mei Kung Fu as inspirations for Sifu. In terms of values, he didn’t want to reveal too much about the story, but hinted that it might not be an easy revenge story. He pointed out that the word “kung fu” really does not refer to combat, but rather to “mastery through practice,” like the gongfu tea ceremony. “Is One Life Enough to Have Kung Fu?” he asked. The aging system is part of the answer to that question.

At the same time, Sifu is about beating up guys, and it’s easy to see how “mastery through practice” can relate to our progress in the game. Tarno confirmed that the issue applies to the difficulty of the fight. “If the game wasn’t challenging enough, you wouldn’t feel like you were a champion,” he said.

What difficulty options will or won’t be available is uncertain – Tarno currently has no definitive answers on this topic – but Sifu definitely isn’t going to pump the player up with Batman-like strength and stamina. Dark Souls was one of the inspirations for Absolver, and if perhaps in a more subtle way, it shows up here again in the sense that “mistakes cost money”. Tarno wondered if the trailer should have shown that the player needed more spanking to get this across.

Sifu doesn’t have an exact release date yet, but is expected to be released on the Epic Games Store in the fall.

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Robert Dunfee