Kung Fu Panda
Developed at Luxoflux
Released June 3, 2008
My Role: Senior Game Designer
Transcending Typical Movie Tie-In Products
The interactive nature of a movie game has the ability to set it apart from the other types of movie tie-in products. A game lets the player experience the movie's universe first-hand, and step into the shoes of the film's protatgonists. Furthermore, it is an opportunity to expand upon the universe and let the player see even more of it, reinforcing interest in the movie.
Working closely with DreamWorks, we discovered that we could create an "interest loop" where someone's who's played the game will want to watch the movie, and vice versa.
In addition to experiencing key moments from the movie, we set out to give the player an opportunity to experience a greater part of the Kung Fu Panda universe, and see places and events that the movie may have alluded to but did not have the time to fully explore, and interact with a bigger cast of foes. For example, we gave the player a chance to visit Oogway's descendants in the Lotus Lake, and sent the player on a quest for relics in the legendary WuDang Mountains.
Setting the Course
As the project started, chief creative officer Joby Otero held a series of company-wide meetings to distill what everyone's thoughts about what the game should be. This was an excellent thing to do, as it made sure all departments were heard and thus vested in the creation of the game. This method was already proven to be a benefit in Shrek 2, and again it worked wonders here.
I was granted the opportunity to work closely with Joby and lead designer Chris Hewish to shape and map out the overall structure of the game and its mechanics, taking into consideration the input from the rest of the team.
We came up with the High Concept document to distill the game's vision to a couple of pages. At a glance, anyone can see what we were aiming to create. This short but important document galvanized everyone's efforts moving forward. We set out to do a 3rd-person action game with an ensemble of characters, and it would be mostly a brawler, but have unique elements of traversal and other mechanics that emphasized Po's rotund nature.
Nailing down the scope of the game was key to getting it finished on time. We looked at all the possibilites: (hot-swappable characters, cooperative play, etc.) but our decision to focus the single-player experience primarily around Po and make the other members of the Furious Five playables in cameo segments worked out very well.
My next order of business was to create a fighting system that was easy-to-learn but not a button masher and deep enough for growth.
We came up with these very basic rules:
Po and the other Furious Five characters you play in combat can do all of these things, and on top of that each character has at least one special ability. Foes encountered throughout the game have a combination of the attack and defense types, culminating with Tai Lung, who has all attacks and defenses, and a few more tricks up his furry sleeve.
The unique nature of having a rotund main character gave us the opportunity to design some very funny and original mechanics. In addition to the must-have belly-slam (a.k.a. "Panda Quake"), we came up with some funny ideas that actually made it into the movie, including the Iron Belly, a defensive attack where an incoming melee attack is deflected back to the attacker with full force by Po's ample belly, the Panda Stumble, an attack/movement mode in which a clumsy Po trips and goes rolling along like a boulder to roll over his foes, and the Panda FunBall, a counterattack where Po goes bouncing off of enemies in turn like a billiard ball.
We were able to draw from the movie's rich pre-production concepts to create levels in places that Po in the movie did not get to go. Some levels that I especially enjoyed creating were the WuDang Temple, and the Lotus Lake of Tears.
For the WuDang Mountains level, I wanted to design a level with a nemesis who pestered the player from beginning to end, culminating with a satisfying fight with the nemesis and a chance for the player to put down the nemesis. From the concept art in pre-production of the movie, we got to see many fun characters who were not featured in the movie, including these goofy but tough looking gorillas. We decided to create Great Gorilla and his minions be the main foes of the WuDang Mountains, there to plunder the riches of the sacred site and to leave it in ruins.
By having the Great Gorilla pester the player throughout the level, fighting and defeating him at the end of the level is made especially satisfying.
There were other nemeses levels I designed in the game, like the Crocodile Queen Chase, who chomps at Crane and Po as they race to save a baby Turtle: