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Let 'em lie: the ins and outs of Sleeping Dogs

With the August release of open world Hong Kong-em-up Sleeping Dogs fast approaching, producer Dan Sochan talks about the game's key features and how splitting with Activision affected the game's development.

What are you showing that's new today?

We're really focusing a lot on the upgrade system. We're showing how the player at the beginning of the game is very different to how he is at the end, and how it's up to the individual player how they want to upgrade their character through the different skill branches. They can choose to learn a new Triad move or get a new item, sometimes. There's a lot of variety in the ways that people can choose to play the game.

We're also talking a lot more about the buffs system that we have in place. By consuming food or drink items, there's a temporary gameplay benefit. Having an energy drink will improve your shooting accuracy by 10% for 20 minutes. You can chain all these different buffs together and you can see them at the side of your screen. So, you can have three or four of these buffs active at any given point, which can really help you get through a mission a lot easier.

Is there a limit on that, or can you gorge on 20 pieces of food at once and gain ridiculous amounts of buffs?

For each buff you can only consume one at a time. If a pork bun gave you 5% health increase, then you can't eat more pork buns to gain a cumulative effect.

How deep does the character progression go? How many routes through the various skill trees can you take?

You can upgrade your move list. By finding Jade Statues that were stolen from a martial arts master and returning them to him, he will teach you new moves. There's probably at least 20 new combat moves. You can also upgrade on the Triad side and the Cop side: at least 12 upgrades for each of those. There's also six Face upgrades you can get, and you can increase your health by up to 50 percent by finding shrines hidden throughout the world.

Do you have to choose which of these aspects of your character to upgrade, Triad, Cop or Face?

You will get Cop points, Triad points and Face experience points, and you can only upgrade when you get enough to level-up each one.

They're independent?

Yeah, they're independent. It's possible to max out all of them. It's possible to go back and replay missions to get the maximum points for each. There's lots of replayability there.

Gaining Cop points or Triad points won't decrease the other?

No, we wanted to make it possible to have the perfect mission.

Can you tell me about the social features? What are they and why have you included them?

We've got two core social features. One of them is the mission scoring, as I mentioned before. Those scores get shared online and become part of a global leaderboard, so you can see how well you did on that mission compared to the best in the world, as well as against your friends.

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Confused by all these mechanics?
This video introduction may help.

The other part is focusing more on the open world aspect of the game, so you can run around in the world and get a variety of different stats, which we track. Based on these stats, we end up creating what are called stats challenges. For example, the longest wheely on a bike. Or the longest drive without getting into an accident, or the longest police chase, or most consecutive crotch shots. All of those stats are loaded to an online server and shared to everyone in the world. You can also challenge your friends, so if you think you've got the longest wheely that anyone's ever done, you can challenge your friends to beat it. So it's not just a passive leaderboard, there's also a 'challenge and accept' component with friends, which makes for some great rivalry. If one of your friends breaks your record, then you'll receive an in-game notification telling you.

How has Hong Kong cinema influenced the development of this game?

Hong Kong cinema has been a huge influence for us. From a story perspective we looked at Infernal Affairs, which was remade for Western audiences as The Departed by Martin Scorsese. We really liked what it portrayed in terms of life as an undercover cop. The deeper you get in and the more undercover you go, often lines become greyed. You don't know who can be trusted at times and you then have to decide on loyalties. You could potentially befriend some of these gansters that you're trying to build a case against and you start to wonder who the real bad guys are. So we've got a lot of great story elements in there that are inspired by Infernal Affairs.

From an action perspective, John Woo was definitely a big inspiration. Films like Hard Boiled. We went old school too, with Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Films which were set in Hong Kong with lots of high action with some really cool cinematic moments with slow-mo and a variety of different sort of confrontations, so it's not just two guys standing off with bazookas, like we see in some action films. It's one guy against thirty and he's got to use his smarts, his athleticism and his martial arts capabilities to turn the tides and get the upper hand by also using the environment around him. We found that was a great inspiration for us and we incorporated that into the combat props we have in the game. The player has this ability to grab an enemy, put their face into a BBQ grill, or throw them down an air duct. You also have the ability to pick up weapons in the world, like a frying pan or a knife...

So I take it story is pretty important to the game? This is more GTA than Just Cause, for example, in terms of open world storytelling?

Yeah, we have definitely made the storytelling a very important aspect of the game and we are trying to tell a gritty, crime drama sort of story. Keeping it less light and really trying to getting into some dark material. Friends' lives at risk. Serious family issues that have occurred and people dying. It's a pretty heavy, deep story that has a lot of dark elements as well. We think that stuff helps portray the life of an undercover cop a lot more accurately.

Tell me more about these combat props. How violent does it get, exactly?

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Kick, punch, it's all in the mind.
Wait, that was karate - this is kung fu.

We've got a wide variety of combat props in the game. Varying from boxes and air ducts to electical panels, giant oven furnaces, table saws, exposed pipes that you can impale someone on... So, there are definitely some that are on the gruesome side of things. We didn't put them in just to be excessively violent. The goal is to try to reflect a little bit more about Wei, the main character, and his state of mind. He's a bit like a wounded animal and he's fighting for his life at all times. If someone finds out that he is a cop, he and his family could be at risk. So he does whatever he needs to do to survive.

In what other ways have you tried to differentiate this game from other open world games?

I think the key differentiaters would be the story, which we've talked about. The deep combat system, with the upgradable abilities and the buffs. We've also put a heavy emphasis on very detailed mission design. We think we're competitive with any linear action game, with the level of detail, the polish and the complexity of missions. It's not just go here, shoot this guy and you're done. They often involve boat chases, martial arts combat, driving, driving and shooting. We also have action hijacking, so the ability to, while you're driving your car or motorcycle, to jump onto another moving vehicle and hijack that one.

All of those elements take from the expertise and learnings we have at United Front Games about making racing games; we made Modnation Racers, we're shipping LittleBigPlanet Karting and many of the people on the team were at Black Box and worked on the Need For Speed series for years. So all of those elements together have kind of allowed us to focus on the moment-to-moment gameplay and making sure that the open world isn't just a big sandbox, but there's also lots of depth to what the player can do. Hopefully they'll enjoy the driving, the free-running, the shooting and, of course the fighting.

The game obviously isn't out yet, but do you have any plans for post-release content?

We haven't announced yet about DLC, but we may potentially be making some announcements in the future.

What was the thinking behind the name Sleeping Dogs?

Sleeping Dogs is an interesting name. It's one we've been asked about a lot. We wanted to get away from the traditional video game name, where it's very much on the nose. "Undercover Cop In Hong Kong", or something. We liked Sleeping Dogs because it's slightly more cinematic, like what you'd expect from a film name. It comes from the expression "let sleeping dogs lie", meaning that if you continue to poke that bear, they could turn and bite you. The deeper that Wei goes undercover, the more he's putting himself at risk and the more likely it is that he will be revealed as a cop and killed by the Triads.

How did the cancellation and subsequent pick-up by Square Enix affect the development of the game?

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Fighting, racing, explosions. It's got it all.

The development remained mostly unchanged. We started the game as a new IP and a few years into development it was branded True Crime: Hong Kong. At that point nothing changed in terms of the characters, the story or the features. It was always Wei Shen, he was always an undercover cop in Hong Kong. Now, working with Square Enix on the project, it's still the same characters, the same voice actors... Basically we've been continuously working to the same goal, the same game with the same vision the entire time.

Now, working with Square, we do have the additional benefit that they've worked on open world games, like Just Cause and they've also worked on great combat games like Batman: Arkham Asylum. So, with that additional experience, it's really allowed us to polish the game and make it that much more of a tight experience.

So how much has the game changed since being picked up by Square Enix?

We've refined the combat even more. We've put more emphasis on the upgrade system and really integrating that well into the game. It's been a lot of polish and a fresh set of eyes on the project which have given us great feedback and allowed us to work really closely with them to polish the game and get it to where it is today.

Sleeping Dogs releases on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on August 14 in the US, August 16 in Australia, August 17 in Europe.

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