Microsoft hasn’t exactly had a year full of Xbox One exclusives but at least the future seemed to hold promise. There were titles like Seasun’s Project Code: Shift which offered side-scrolling, hack and slash action with a premise that stretched between different time periods. Unfortunately, while speaking to Mike Dai and Roger of Seasun in a recent interview, it was confirmed that Project Code: Shift was delayed indefinitely.
That being said, there’s still a lot more that the developer revealed about the title including its inspiration, approach and the reason for its delay. Keep reading to find out.
"The response we got from the public and media was inspiring, motivating, and exciting. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect."
Could you tell us about journey leading up to Project Code: Shift‘s creation and some of the obstacles you faced along the way?
Regarding the journey, I believe part of this was already answered in the section above. It was really born out of Mike no longer wanting to make anymore Chinese style pay-to-win products.
Mike has always been a fan of console and western games. Aside from producing and designing games, he also enjoyed writing science and fan fiction as a hobby. Moreover, with years of experience making martial arts games, it was really no surprise that for Mike’s first console game he wanted to merge the two genres together. Project Shift is a Wushu-Science Fiction game.
There were many obstacles. For example, no one on the team has ever worked on a console game. Moreover, due China’s 14 year ban on consoles (and other legal reasons), a lot of team members have never even played a console game. In my opinion though, the biggest obstacle is a cultural one: the lack of exposure to science fiction in China. Again, due to legal and political reasons, a lot of western movies aren’t allowed in China, especially when it came to movies and books of the science fiction genre. This lack of exposure presented a big problem when building the futuristic/cyberpunk portion of our world concept. This is one of the reasons why we have 2 Japanese designers on our team (former Konami, Tecmo, and Kojima people) who traveled back and forth between China and Japan to work with us on Project Shift.
What are your thoughts on the response to Project Code: Shift after it was debuted at E3 2017 for Xbox One?
The response we got from the public and media was inspiring, motivating, and exciting. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect. We had no expectations going in. We didn’t even know what the final montage was going to look like or how much was going to be shown. When we finally saw it… it was like, wow to debut on Microsoft’s E3 briefing of all places. Even if it was just for seconds here and there, it was really uplifting and exciting for everyone on the team. When we also saw that clips were also being shown on the expo floor, that was just… I mean, everyone worked so hard and to see that… it was definitely highlight of the year for us.
We were actually not prepared for the type of response we were going to get. Our social channels, like YouTube, were actually created after the E3 briefing. Plans were fully drawn out to create these channels, as well as slew of content, weeks beforehand. However, everyone was just so busy (small team) preparing material for E3 that everything just kept getting pushed back and lost in the shuffle.
What can you tell us about the story of Project Code: Shift and why you chose the hack and slash genre to convey it?
“Project Code Shift” is actually just a working title. We haven’t even decided on the final name of the product. More importantly, after E3, we received an overwhelming response from the public about how difficult it was to search for our product on the internet. The current name is just too generic. Guys from the platform side also echoed the same sentiment about the name. One of our ideas was actually to get the community involved in naming the product.
"One of the first obstacles we encountered during the animation process was the movements for combat didn’t feel right."
In short, the “story” of Project Shift (first game) is one of revenge. Our hero will travel between the parallel worlds (futuristic and ancient) in search of vengeance. In this journey, he will unravel mysteries, solve puzzles, meet companions, and even fall in love. The reason I mentioned “first game” is because we’ve also been building a universe (world concept) for a story that we want to expand into a series – as opposed to cramming everything in one game. And no, this game isn’t going to be episodic and gamers wouldn’t have to “purchase” further stories. All planned DLCs were for new modes, multiplayer maps, and skins.
The 2.5D side-scrolling hack-and-slash genre was chosen because most of the guys on the team are old school gamers who are fans of this genre. Moreover, they also felt that this is a classic “tried and true” genre that is timeless and crosses many borders and cultures. Wrapping a Wushu (Kung Fu) + Science Fiction theme around this genre seems like something refreshing for the market. The team also felt that the story and product had enough innovation to put a new spin on this genre for this generation of gaming.
When it comes to the 2D side-scrolling hack-and-slash genre, there is also only so much story you can try to cram into a game without ruining the flow and tempo of the game (this is another reason why we want to spread our story out over a few titles). For combat, the team felt this was the perfect genre for displaying the Wushu the way it is presented in classic Chinese martial arts movies – you know, how they fight in midair and walk on water. Project Shift is an explanation for that type of mythology (that all the aerial combat and walking in the air was actually through the use of a certain technology).
Project Code: Shift‘s art-style is very intriguing, almost appearing to be animated. What can you tell us about the visuals and the work that went into optimizing them for high speed combat?
Wow! I can go on forever about this. In fact, we even have plans to release a book or a developer’s diary about the process we went through for the art-style and animations. However, I will try to keep it short and provide the necessary highlights.
It is an animated style created from 3D. We want to do a mix of cell shading for everything in the foreground and characters. In our “discovery” phase, we went through various styles. From full out anime to a more western feel. In the end, the rules and guidelines we established was more of a middle-ground because we wanted something that felt unique upon first impression. I shouldn’t say “middle-ground” actually because it’s not as if we did a mash-up or moved some sliders, but rather we preserved certain styles for certain elements that we felt gave us the look we wanted.
One of the first obstacles we encountered during the animation process was the movements for combat didn’t feel right. Visually, everything was fine – but there was something really off about the animations once you attached a controller to it. It wasn’t a frame rate issue or how fluid it looked, but rather it didn’t feel authentic. So what Mike decided to do was make all the animators take Kung Fu lessons, specifically, the “Baji Quan” martial arts because that’s the style our hero uses. Being located in Beijing (China’s capital), the team was able to visit the national “Baji Quan” association of China to inquire about any available private classes/instructions. Mike and his team presented Project Shift to one of the Grand Masters of the association, and – to everyone’s surprise – after the presentation, the Grand Master was willing to personally help teach our animators and be a consultant on our game.
"Aside from balancing platforming and combat elements, we also wanted to make sure we did so in accordance with the story and level/environment."
After many lessons, the animators finally understood how the body generates force and power, how the weapons are wielded, and at exactly which points of the animation should the frames be controlled to emphasize the force being exerted. It worked! With the help of the Master, the animations of movement in combat felt more powerful and authentic. In fact, while we were at ChinaJoy (China’s largest annual game convention), one of the players that played our demo even commented on the accuracy of the moves!
The combat itself appears very combo-heavy. What kinds of special abilities will players be able to pull off? Are there additional weapons to pick up in the game?
The core combat experience is centered on combos. In our latest build, achieving a high combo count will also evolve the attack and effect of the weapon. Players also will be able to perform offensive and defensive counter attacks and execute fatalities on single or groups of enemies. Perhaps the most important ability is what gives our product its working title: the ability to shift between parallel worlds. Currently, there are no plans to let any characters pickup new weapons during gameplay. However, we have explored introducing other traditional weapons from Chinese martial arts into the game in the way of skins – buying skins can be boring nowadays right? But what if we packaged it with new weapons?
How does the shifting mechanic work? Are there areas inaccessible in one time period that thus prompt shifting to another?
We’ve made a lot of changes since E3 on the shifting mechanic. We have a few working models at play now. One of them is our hero will be able to scan a direction to detect physical layouts of the parallel world (allowing the player to see if an area is accessible). Another one is to place certain limits, either timed limitations or inaccessible areas. Another model is it requires more player input whereas an imperfect input (or even getting damaged during the process) will shift our players in between (or stuck) parallel worlds (that’s the background seen in the demo, looks like something from Tron). There’s a lot of debate about this on our team.
Platforming seems to be a rather strong mechanic in the gameplay. When designing the levels, how did you balance between the platforming and combat elements to ensure the best flow?
Aside from balancing platforming and combat elements, we also wanted to make sure we did so in accordance with the story and level/environment. This was one of the way we try to control the flow of the game. Most of the scenes displayed in the trailer are “single platforms” with few obstacles. This was done on purpose to fully display the quality and amount of layers that went into the scenes. However, we do have some levels that are more platform and obstacle heavy, such as some of our futuristic/cyberpunk levels. When introducing enemies into these types of scenes, it’s a challenge to make sure combat blends in seamlessly and doesn’t become an annoyance when mixed with platforming or parkour events.
Project Code: Shift will be coming to Xbox One and Steam but it seems to be skipping the PS4. Will it arrive on Sony’s console at some point and if not, why?
Actually, Project Shift will be coming to Xbox, Steam and PlayStation (possibly Switch as well). The reason we could not comment on PlayStation during the events leading up to E3 (and after) was because there were some things on the business side of things that needed to be taken care of first.
"Early in the development, one of our concerns was whether players would be able to tell the visual difference because of the animated art style and the camera distance from the action."
Given the complaints about the name being generic, have you settled on an alternative name for Project Code: Shift or will it stay the same?
Hah. No we have not. But we will definitely have a different name. Project Code: Shift is actually just a working title. Feel free to submit your suggestions! If we use it, we’ll credit you for it.
The game will be receiving Xbox One X support. Is native 4K and 60 frames per second on the cards?
Yep. The game is native 4K and 60 fps. That is one of the reasons why we aimed for the Xbox One X launch / Winter 2017. Nothing is being upscaled. On other platforms that cannot handle those specifications, it will still be HD.
What is the resolution and frame rate of the base Xbox One version?
1080p, 50+ fps.
In terms of pure hardware perspective, the picture is clear. The Xbox One X is far ahead of PS4 Pro in terms of GPU and memory bandwidth. The differences in ROP counts and bandwidth are public knowledge. As a developer, who is the face of pushing visual boundaries, what is your take on the differences between the two and do you think this difference will be visible to the general audience?
Both Microsoft and Sony are pushing the visual boundaries. Even with Nintendo, we can see that visual boundaries can be pushed with more creative ways to utilize hardware (a less powerful one too). From a development perspective, the Xbox One X is such a big leap that I’d have to say it’s Microsoft now.
Early in the development, one of our concerns was whether players would be able to tell the visual difference because of the animated art style and the camera distance from the action. So we’ve taken steps to make sure we utilize the hardware in as many ways possible and pull some tricks from our own sleeves to make the game stand out more on machines with more powerful hardware.
What are your thoughts on the Xbox One X’s 6TFLOPs GPU? What kind of advantage this has given you while developing this game?
Most of the advantage so far has been the visuals, effects, details we can put into the environments, 4K resources, frame rates, and much more. It’s a beast. If you think that’s something, the Dev Kit is even more impressive.
"Remember how Gears of War 1 pushed the 360 to its limits early in its cycle? I don’t think we’ll see that any time soon – full potential that is."
The Xbox One X features plenty of RAM too. 9 out 12GB is available to developers…which is undoubtedly more than the average found in gaming PCs. How has this helped you?
It helped us create the size and scale of the levels and scenes that we envisioned in our concepts. We have a large future level with all kinds of things flying around in the background and to see that entire scene loaded and zoomed out at the same time is marvelous. For Project Shift…each level can zoom out pretty far. Due to the aerial combat nature of the game, some stages can be about 16 x 16 screens. So to have enough power to run it all so smoothly is so sweet.
Do you see games using the full potential of the Xbox One X, especially given that developers also need to support the older Xbox One?
Remember how Gears of War 1 pushed the 360 to its limits early in its cycle? I don’t think we’ll see that any time soon – full potential that is. However, I can only speak for smaller development teams, like ours. One of the reasons for that is exactly what you said, spending time and resources on supporting the older Xbox
Is there anything else you want to tell us about the game?
Yes. Perhaps, at this moment, using this opportunity with Gaming Bolt to issue this announcement is appropriate. Unfortunately, due to internal politics with our investor, Project Shift will not be able to make its target launch date of Winter 2017. The Shift Team wanted to make this announcement sooner, but on-going internal discussions, legal issues, and investment deals prevented public discussions at the time.
While the Shift Team continues to look for new investors and partners, core team members will resume working on Project Shift (in a limited capacity) with their own time and resource.
When exactly can we expect the game to launch? What’s left in the development process to iron out?
The fallout between Project Shift and its investor began even before E3. After E3, a lot of resources were put into preparing material for investment purposes. Thus, production on most of the game ceased for about 4 months now. This is why the Chinajoy build was pretty much the same as the one featured in E3 and no new material was being published online like we planned.
We are currently in discussion with many possible investors and a lot of business with our previous investor has now been finalized. Until we find new investor(s), Project Shift is delayed indefinitely.