The Deeper Themes in Shuyan

May 29, 2016

One thing we're trying to create with Shuyan is a sense that you're in a world rich with culture and history. We want characters with depth and we want a story that's memorable. To reach these goals, we decided to pull the inspiration for Shuyan from ancient Chinese history, and this includes just about everything from the art style, to the characters, and to its martial arts system.


Let's start with the art style.

The core of classical Chinese art is different from what you find in the West. While painters in ancient Europe aimed for realism and paid attention to light and shadows, Chinese art often used thick lines and focused more on inner feeling.

What's interesting is that (at least on the surface), this style isn't too different from the inking techniques you find with comic book artists. In fact, if you look back on Chinese history, you can even find comic-style art, such as that of Wu Youru or the illustrations you'll find in some versions of classical books like "Dream of Red Chamber."

This is a classic drawing by Wu Youru:



This is one of the illustrations from "Dream of Red Chamber":



We ended up lucking out and got Daxiong, China's first comic book artist, to come in as our art director. His approach pulls a lot of inspiration from classical Chinese techniques, and some of his comics have even focused on characters from ancient Chinese stories like "Outlaws of the Marsh."

Check out some of his work on Deviant art. Here are couple good examples:


The same concept plays into the characters.

As you may have noticed, our main character is a girl. China actually had quite a few female generals, wandering heroes, and warrior princesses.

Just to name a few, there was the 25-year-old Princess-General Zhao of Pingyang who helped her dad overthrow the rulers of the Sui Dynasty.

In the Song Dynasty, there was a female general named Liang Hongyu, whose origin story is actually pretty close to Conan the Barbarian. Liang trained in martial arts and archery when she was young, got sold into slavery after her father won a battle against the Jin Dynasty, was forced into gladiator combat as a wrestler, then went on to command 8,000 troops in the Battle of Huangtiandang and managed to blockade an enemy force of 100,000 troops.

There were a lot of others. You have to remember China has a history of about 5,000 years and there were dynasties that allowed women to serve in the military.

Here's one of our earlier pieces of concept art for Shuyan:


The same goes for other characters as well. The main bad guy in the story, for example, comes from the fictional Guer Empire. We portrayed this kingdom as nomadic invaders from the West, but they're inspired by the small states that ruled northern China from around 300 to 500 B.C.

The different Kung Fu masters Shuyan meets along her journey also pull their roots from traditional Chinese culture, including the master-disciple relationship and some of the Taoist traditions of self-cultivation (which some martial arts can be traced back to).

Even with the Kung Fu moves, themselves. I mentioned before we brought in a Kung Fu master and took photos and videos of him performing his moves, which we then illustrated and used in the animations and combat system. But even deeper than this, we're trying to capture both "hard" Kung Fu and "soft" Kung Fu, which plays into the deeper concepts of the arts beyond just fighting.

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