Sifu Aims For Authentic, Culturally Accurate Martial Arts Experience, Says Dev Sloclap

When Sloclap, the studio behind the technical martial arts brawler Sifu, set out to build its game, the Paris-based developers were aware of the unsavory story of a Western society depicting East Asian cultures. “Throughout the 20th century, the Western entertainment industry sometimes showed little regard for how it used elements from other cultures in its own productions,” Sloclap said.

With this in mind, the studio brought in both cultural advisers and a kung fu master to ensure that Sifu achieved its goal of being a precise and respectful homage to classic martial arts and action movies. Game Rant spoke to Sloclap to explain how the development team achieved this goal.


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Sifu appealed to the Chinese games industry for design advice

sifu club menu

Sifu takes place in an environment clearly inspired by both oriental martial arts films and Hollywood action films: gritty industrial areas, neon-lit nightclubs and glittering cityscapes. To accurately capture the game world, Sloclap said it conducted content reviews with consultants from Chinese game studios. These reviewers gave feedback “on things like displayed text and environment design details”.

The environment was not the only part of by Sifu design that cultural consultants helped. The player character design is also based on feedback from Sloclap’s Chinese partners.

“The Chinese character artists gave us some interesting feedback and we learned a lot about how facial features are perceived in China.”

The studio then changed the appearance of its main character based on this feedback, while remaining true to the original creative intentions. Sloclap always wanted Sifu have a “sharp and stylized art direction” and a main character whose traits reflected “his status as an anti-hero driven by rage and revenge”.

For the game’s score, Sloclap worked with Beijing-based composer Howie Lee. According to the studio, localizing the game for a Chinese audience was also important to the developers. Its Chinese partners helped translate the dialogues and supervise the recording of the voice-over in Chinese, thus ensuring efficient and authentic localization.

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Sifu’s Martial Arts Game Got Help From A Real Kung Fu Master

Sifu - Increase multiplier for combos - Player boosts score in fights

Arguably, by Sifu the most important element is its kung fu gameplay. Players are challenged to learn a multitude of moves, dodges, and counters, which they use in a variety of environments against different types of enemies. It’s equally important for players to master smooth gameplay, chaining together combos to dispatch groups of enemies as quickly as possible.

Sloclap’s design team spent “a lot of time and energy” working on the combat system. The studio aimed to “find the right balance between aesthetic and believable gameplay”. Some of that inspiration came from the martial arts films themselves, and for the studio’s creative director, the Indonesian film Lowering was a major point of reference for finding such a balance.

“With Sifu, we wanted to show authentic kung fu in a serious and believable setting. The goal was to achieve an immersive experience as a kung fu expert facing dangerous situations.

Sifu is not “a kung fu comedy” or a movie like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon with a gravity-defying fight,” Sloclap said. The game feels more like the gritty realism of Loweringreplacing the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat with kung fu.

Naturally, Sloclap wanted the actual combat in his game to be as authentic as possible. For help with this, the developers turned to Benjamin Colussi, founder of the Lao Wei San-Pak Mei kung fu school in Paris. Colussi is a kung fu master who studied for “several years” in Foshan, China.

Throughout the development process, Sloclap said it was well aware of its role as a Western studio setting up a kung fu game. “We were aware that making a game in China and focusing on kung fu culture would be a challenge for a French studio,” Sloclap said. “But we have strived to create an authentic and well-researched work.” Still, the developers noted Sifu is a work of fiction inspired by pop culture and is not meant to be considered a “documentary” about contemporary Chinese culture.

As for by Sifu reception in China, Sloclap said the game received “warm reception and accolades”. For the studio, this reaction meant that its goal, to create a respectful homage to classic martial arts cinema, kung fu and Chinese culture, had been achieved.

Sifu is available now for PC, PS4 and PS5.

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