Taiwan based game developers CGCG (Creative Games Computer Graphic) created a compelling and captivating action 2D side-scroller based on true events in the 19th century that chronicles the life of a folk hero named Liao, Ting Ding. I get a chance to talk with co-producer of The Legend of TIAN DING, and CEO Chun-Wei Wang as he talks about all that went into letting the world know about his legacy while also giving gamers around the world a chance to get a perspective of Taiwan during that era.
DAXAVIER: Gamers from various regions get the privilege and opportunity to play and learn about a hero unknown to many outsides of Taiwan. What influenced you all to want to create this game?
Chun-Wei Wang: Taiwan is an island country in East Asia which features integrated cultures. In addition to its indigenous culture, since the 17th century there has been an influx of Spanish and Dutch culture as well as Chinese culture coming from mainland China. Taiwan was colonized by Japan at the end of the 19th century.
During this colonization period Taiwan had an astonishing cultural diversity. At that time, on a regular day a person in Taiwan could see traditional Asian farming villages and the latest technologies coming from the west inspired by the Industrial Revolution. There is no better way for players to experience such an amazing Taiwanese history than through a game featuring Liao, Tian-Ding.
Liao, Tian-Ding, the protagonist in our game, is the most controversial character during the Japanese colonization era.
He was a criminal, but he is also a Robinhood. His heroic stories have become famous folktales that circulated through every corner in Taiwan. We increased the authenticity of this game by looking into many historical facts and legends about Liao, Tian-Ding. We want our players to impersonate Liao, Tian-Ding in the game as they walk through places and events he actually did in history.
As the game unfolds, the objects our players acquire and NPCs the players encounter are all based on historical facts. We want our players to not only enjoy the game we design but also get to know more about Taiwan’s rich culture.
DAXAVIER: How long did this project take to develop?
Chun-Wei Wang: The project started in 2019/4 and finished the content for both PC and Switch around 2021/10, so it takes 2 years and 6 months. Average in nine people are full-time working on this project.
DAXAVIER: What was the biggest challenge in developing this game?
Chun-Wei Wang: Budget and time are always the biggest challenge; we would like to make more content if we have enough budget and time to do so. But the truth is we were struggling with funding from investors during development and it ended up they decided to divest and dismiss the team. Luckily our team is faithful to this project and found the fund to finish it eventually.
DAXAVIER: The Legend of Tianding takes from a variety of 2D side scrolling play styles while creating its own signature form of gameplay. What were some of the 2D games you were inspired by that helped mold this game?
Chun-Wei Wang: Ori and the blind forest inspired us to make an outstanding visual 2d platformer. Hollow Knight teaches us the importance of music. And Our combat system learned from Guacamelee and Shank. All above with our idea of creation to fit the image of thief.
DAXAVIER: Were there other game genres that you all wanted to develop to create this story or was action 2D side scrolling the primary idea?
Chun-Wei Wang: Yes, 2D Side scrolling was our primary idea. Because our co-produce Maso Lin used to make a prototype for the story of Tainding by Flash alone for his master thesis 17 years ago and its work is great.
DAXAVIER: In terms of gameplay styles “The Legend of Tianding” plays to the strengths that best describes Liao Tianding’s characteristics such as using the “Tanto” mechanics to steal and use the enemies’ weapons against them. Were there other play mechanics you wanted to use in the game for Liao Tianding?
Chun-Wei Wang: In order to make the player believe Liao is good at Kung Fu, we try to make modern mechanics like perfect dodge and combo with all the skills as you like in this game. Players could attack with knife and Kung Fu skills that contain movements to fight with styles.
DAXAVIER: What was left out of the game that the developers wanted to put in the game?
Chun-Wei Wang: A lot... Let’s list the top three that I personally wanted to put in the most.
The Boss fight of fake priest was designed with more skill like summoning the false god to attack or curse the player with debuff …etc.
The second generation of Zhongshan Bridge was a very beautiful landmark. We want to make a level with it.
The sidekick of Laio is the Red Turtle and we have so many ideas about it…
DAXAVIER: The game is based on true stories and events that occurred in 1909 Taiwan. Aside from the mystical and spiritual aspects of the game, how much was focused on the true history as opposed to the liberties taken from the true events and characters involved?
Chun-Wei Wang: The chapter is based on the crime record and newspaper about Liao and the title of the chapter was all from the front page of the newspaper. Every character with full name was referring to some historical figure, like Boss Wang was the one who got robbed in the real event, Boss Shimada Yunoshin, Major Shimada, the commander who ordered the Yunlin massacre…and so on to the rest of the characters.
Many of the buildings we made in the game are still in the streets of Dadaocheng today in Taiwan, for example the Taipei Xiahai City God Temple is a very popular temple for blessing of seeking relationships now. The Collection items all really exist in the past and we repaint the images along with description.
DAXAVIER: The game is a bit of a short story consisting of 6 chapters (including main and side missions) leaving players wanting more. Where there any attempts to add more to the game?
Chun-Wei Wang: Sure, there's more to tell in the generation and adventure for Liao but we’re a small team struggling with the cash flow, so we will try to make more content once we’re good at the finance part.
DAXAVIER: We see other action 2D side scrollers like the recent Metroid Dread that focus on challenging gamers rather than just enjoy the narrative that some games provide while games like “The Legend of Tianding” gives us the power to choose our difficulty level to enjoy it the way we want to. What is your philosophy on that in terms of how a gamer should enjoy a game experience?
Chun-Wei Wang: We didn’t have the difficulty option until the 80% of the game was done, the reason why we added it is when a player who was not good at action games, but they might still want to know the story of Laio, like many friends of ours. The goal of our team is to promote Taiwan by making games so that our game should be accepted by more people than just action players.
DAXAVIER: The character design and manga style presentation played very well in that it allowed us to become immersed in the timeline of Taiwan in the 1900s’.
Can you talk about the process of getting the right look that would capture the feel of the time as well as the choice to do it in the form of a manga (comic book)?
Chun-Wei Wang: We need a great idea for art style is the first question we list on the board. After a few weeks of searching, our artist just came up with the idea of making it look like manga, and we don’t want to be identified as Japanese or American manga, which are already a lot of games doing it, we would like to do the Taiwanese manga. But there’s not much reference so in the end we use Honk Kong manga to be our goal. And then the gameplay, UI, cutscenes all follow this art style.
DAXAVIER: What do you want fans to experience from playing the game overall?
Chun-Wei Wang: Our goal is to make a high quality 2D action platformer game that brings players back to 1909 in Taiwan, experiencing the adventure of Laio Tainding and learning more knowledge of Taiwan. Hoping one day they can come visit the modern Dadocheng.
DAXAVIER: Chun-Wei, thank you for taking the time for this interview and thank you and your team for bringing awareness to such an intriguing figure in Taiwanese (and world) history in the form of a very solid and action pack game.
Chun-Wei Wang: Thank you for interviewing us.