Mark Animation’s Drew Parker Talks Transmedia Kung Fu

shuyan_comic_art_4Fan Expo Canada 2013 will always hold a special place in my heart. The event marked a brand-new beginning from me and will forever serve as a personal landmark in regards to my passionate pursuit of Journalism and my long suppressed dreams. Attending the convention I witnessed all facets of the industry intermingling in a natural and very honest way. Finally able to see the transparency lent a sort of cosmic confirmation that my dreams and aspirations were tangible things and not some misguided mirage.One of the first booths I had the came across was for a game called Shuyan – The Kung Fu Princess.

The game was presented by cheerful representatives of Mark Animation who happily displayed the title to me as I passed by. Immediately after peering into the screen I was taken aback by the beautiful comic book art style of the cinematic which showed off the games’ female protagonist of whom the game is named after. When I finally did jump into the action of the game I was assured by the staff that it was still a very early build; but it really didn’t matter as the games light combat and puzzle solving were solid from the start.

Months have passed since that memorable excursion, and I’ve developed further as a writer; and in turn Shuyan – The Kung Fu Princess has progressed as well. I reconnected with Mark Animation’s Creative Director Drew Parker to catch up on the project, as well as talk about the cross-media spectrum that the studio is pursuing.

Brian Sharon: Hello Drew, thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Drew Parker: Hey Brian!  It’s my pleasure – I’m always happy to talk about Mark Animation and Shuyan the Kung Fu Princess!

Mark Animation are a fairly new company, would you please enlighten those who perhaps are unaware as to who Mark Animation are and what you do?

DP: Mark Animation started as a Toronto TV production studio specializing in animation, which eventually broadened out to games.  The founders are Chinese-Canadians with a deep respect for traditional Chinese culture, so this element tends to appear in the characters and stories we create. We’re now a fully cross-media production studio. We look at multiple media platforms simultaneously when we design our properties and story worlds.

You have had some pretty successful partnerships in the past in regards to funding.
How have these partnerships impacted you as a studio?

DP: Our funding partners the Canada Media Fund (CMF), the Bell Fund, and the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) have been a critical factor in our success and growth as a studio. Our projects are also backed by multi-language television broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television. There are some excellent games that have been made by one or two people with no budget, but for most games, no budget means it will just take way too long to produce, it’s a question of whether it ever gets finished, and many games can’t be produced at all.  And with TV in particular, you just can’t do it without a proper budget.  So having the support of our funders has been key.

We’re also extremely fortunate that our funders give us full creative control of our projects.  Everything starts with a proposal and a clear vision which is reviewed, and then if you are lucky, is eventually approved.  After that, they allow us to execute on it.  They give us valuable feedback and input, but never impose any creative changes on us.  Basically their common attitude is, “We like your vision (that’s why we funded it), and we can’t wait to see it come to life!”.

From a creative standpoint, from a game design or a writer’s standpoint, having that power to ensure your vision remains consistent and can come to life from the sources that originally inspired it, is a dream come true. Our funders also help us with countless other things, like hooking us up with industry events, industry contacts, or bringing to us new opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I’ve worked on decently sized creative projects before without any outside support, and it is very, very hard.  So I guess I have something to compare to, and really value these partnerships we have now.With our broadcaster, NTD, obviously they have a major stake in how the product takes shape, but we’re fortunate here too in that they are fully behind the vision for Shuyan. This was the case from the outset and that’s made it a lot easier to navigate the changes that inevitably come up in the creative process, because the goal has always remained in sight.       

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Speaking of Partnerships you joined up with CMPA to mentor upcoming transmedia talent.
Why was this important to you as a team?

DP: First of all, the CMPA really provides an outstanding mentorship program. It’s not just the financial support, but they line up some top-notch training and networking opportunities for the interns as well. This allows a studio the opportunity to not only bring in someone to do the work, but to invest some time and energy in building a future leader. With a limited budget, it’s hard to otherwise set aside the time and energy that’s required to do this.  

When did you as a team decide to take Mark Animation down a new path, pursuing the development of video games rather than strictly animation?

DP: Part of this is a business decision. The market demands cross-media content, so it’s either you develop the capacity to make this yourself or you outsource this to someone else and lose some creative control and perhaps financial potential too.

Another part is ideological, though. Mark Animation really believes that television is not just television anymore and you really need to think cross-media to engage with your audience. With platforms like the iPad you can directly reach your audience without relying on distributors and broadcasters. If you say, “I’m just a TV producer and I don’t make games” and you don’t consider opportunities for interaction when you design your property, then you’re really missing an opportunity. And if a game is made based on your property later, and you didn’t really think about the interaction aspect from the beginning, then it’s going to be a lot harder to make that game stay true to the story world you’ve designed and be meaningful for the audience.

As Mark Animation has evolved, it has become less about making TV and making games and more about just engaging audiences with our story world in meaningful ways; the interactive part comes right up front. There’s consistency too because the same concepts that inform our game mechanics for Shuyan (self-control over hostility) also inspire the themes of our television content. The television content will be available in 2014.

Your newest project titled Shuyan the Kung Fu Princess is slated to be released this fall. Would you care to share any information about the game?

DP: Shuyan is a kung fu action/adventure game for the iPad that is a completely new kung fu experience – you play as Shuyan, a princess stranded because of an explosive temper.  The only way home is find redemption through kung fu training, and to learn the essence of true kung fu – to fight without fighting.

What makes the game so unique is everything about it revolves around ancient kung fu principles, where the emphasis is on self-control and resolving conflicts with as little force and hostility as possible, as opposed to defeating everyone by whatever means necessary. In Shuyan, as your kung fu master continually guides you, you learn more and more about “soft kung fu” and that true power comes from letting go, instead of constantly fighting for what you think you want.

Shuyan’s mystical and painful story of seeking redemption through kung fu training unfolds over a series of dramatic episodes, featuring moving classical Chinese orchestral compositions and beautiful comic book artwork.

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Upon release, which platforms will Shuyan the Kung Fu Princess be available on?

DP: At launch Shuyan will be exclusively available on the iPad, and we support iPad 2 and every generation afterwards, including the (newly announced) iPad Mini.

What is it about the iPad specifically that makes that makes it the perfect platform for the game?

DP: The iPad is an amazing new platform with a brand new user interface, so people come to it with less preconceived ideas as to what a game should be like.  This is a perfect match for Shuyan, where we are doing a lot of innovative things in terms of gameplay that sometimes go against commonly established trends for action/adventure games on other platforms.

Also the iPad is just so easy to use.  All the barriers are gone now.  If I had an awesome experience from a videogame I wanted to share with a friend or family member, it was just impossible before if they didn’t already have a long history with video games.  They couldn’t even figure out how to hold the controller for a console, or make the character move and look with a keyboard and mouse on a PC or Mac.

With the iPad, they just touch and swipe the screen and off they go. So for Shuyan, we wanted to share the rewarding experience of kung fu training with as many people as possible.  It’s the iPad’s extremely intuitive and easy-to-use user interface that allows us to do that.  We spent a long time refining and adjusting our control scheme, so new users could pick it up right away, while making the controls nuanced enough so people with more of a background in games could really get into it.

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions Drew. If people are interesting in finding out more about Shuyan where should they go?

Brian, it’s my pleasure – thank you for your interest in Shuyan and Mark Animation!
To find out more about the game please go to http://shuyangame.com/. There people can watch the trailer and signup for exclusive access and news about the game.