Possibly one of the biggest surprises of the year is none other than TiGames’ FIST (Forged in Shadow Torch), which was a game that came out of nowhere, but surprsingly floored us with how ingenious it was when it came to character design and gameplay (read our review here).
MP1st managed to get some time in with TiGames to talk about the game, its success, future projects, Sony’s China Hero Project, and more. Read on for our full interview with Tao Zhang, CEO and Producer at Ti Games.
MP1st: First off, huge congratulations to the team with the release of F.I.S.T. I know it must have been quite a journey leading up to this point, and I’m glad both critics (including us) and gamers have had high praise for the title. Tell us, what’s it like over there now that F.I.S.T has been released.
Zhang: Ti Games is still such a small team so finishing and launching F.I.S.T. is undoubtedly an inspiring achievement for us. The whole team is constantly collecting feedback from media and players including comments, bug reports, improvement suggestions and further expectations since then. And, we are also working on fulfilling commitments, such as adding more languages, adding new difficulty options, and suiting for more PC hardware.
MP1st: I feel not a lot of people are putting enough focus on the China Hero Project. Perhaps that’s due to how most of the world sees the Chinese market as one flooded with copycats, and this notion has spilled over to gaming as well. What does the studio think of this, and how does this idea get pushed out of people’s minds?
Zhang: Chinese game industry has its own story which is different from the world, and the foundation of the story-driven offline game is weak. Nevertheless, it still is a growing market that players expand their need for high-quality games from all over the world. China Hero Project is a response to this kind of change, making it possible for small developers like us to bring games to global platforms like PlayStation. Our faith is to develop games that could be accepted by players all over the world and letting people realize that Chinese developers are capable of producing high-quality games through this.
MP1st: The China Hero Project has been going on for about four to five years now? How big of an impact has it been for the development of F.I.S.T.? Would you say that PlayStation and partners were pretty hands-on with the project, or was it more so, they liked what they saw and gave the team full freedom of the project?
Zhang: China Hero Project is aiming to aid developers financially and technically since 2016, and F.I.S.T. has been being a part of it since 2018. In the past three years, we work together closely with SIE Shanghai who bring the game to BitSummit, TGS and ChinaJoy to be seen. The possibility that getting technical support from partners like Unreal and CriWare, and accessing PS5 DevKit in the early stage are all attributed to that, which are rare opportunities for an indie game developer. Meanwhile, we have the complete right to design the game of our free will without any intervention from SIE.
MP1st: Let’s talk about the inspiration of F.I.S.T. specifically its art direction. It’s probably my (James Lara’s) favorite part, and what drew me in the most. I see and get a lot of Final Fantasy 7 vibe from it, but what would the team say has been the biggest inspiration for it?
Zhang: The art style of F.I.S.T. is inspired by dieselpunk aesthetics combining the East Asia cities’ landscape including Shanghai, Hong Kong and even Tokyo, and that may be the reason why it eventually has some similarities with Final Fantasy VII which has the similar concept of art. However, if you see F.I.S.T. carefully, you will notice that Torch City presents its great uniqueness for its concept that there are only animal citizens in it.
MP1st: The character designs are fantastic, and I love that they’re all based on animals. What was the reason for picking that over more human-like characters?
Zhang: From the very beginning we realized that any kind of human characters have their own race and culture backgrounds, and none of them could be as universal and acceptable for players from different culture as animal characters. We are making game not just for domestic market of China but also willing to bring it to as much players as possible. From a result, we did see that Western and Eastern players love Rayton and other animal characters equally.
MP1st: F.I.S.T. Is a departure from the team’s last title ( Ancient Amuletor) granted that was the studios’ first title. A bit of a big jump going from 3D VR to a 2.5D side scroller, what made the studio want to make a shift? Is VR still something the studio is looking to continue to venture into?
Zhang: At the beginning of our establishment, we were thinking about bringing players a completely fresh game experience. Back to that time, our team is far smaller than now and a small-scale VR game is a way to keep the development in a reasonable time and money cost. Then we had about 20 people when we made the plan for the second game, which meant making a traditional full-scale game was possible and a Metroidvania could be an appropriate genre for us. We are still looking forward to the improvement of the VR hardware and what it may bring to games in the next few years, and we are always preparing for the next VR game when time is ready.
MP1st: What would you say was the biggest challenge working on F.I.S.T.?
Zhang: The biggest challenge probably is to design a game that has its world, characters and story that could be accepted and loved by players from different culture backgrounds. Ti Games doesn’t have enough experience for that, especially on the narrative and characters designing. So we built the entire history, culture and visual foundation of Torch City and have been revising the story in the three years of development to make it universal. Looks like we did not bad from the current feedback.
MP1st: How has the sales of FIST been so far? Is it what the studio is hoping it would be?
Zhang: We are satisfied with the market performance of F.I.S.T. and the positive comments from players and media all over the world. F.I.S.T. has just launched on Steam in October which could attract more players to access and experience the game.
MP1st: So what’s next for the studio? A new project? A Sequel to F.I.S.T? Post-launch support? We feel there is a ton left to tell in F.I.S.T.!
Zhang: Yes. There are a lot of great ideas of game mechanism that we had to give up when building Torch City, and more story we can’t wait to share, which we are willing to present to our players by various forms. Currently, we are still working on updates of F.I.S.T. as planning, like multi-languages supporting, bug fixing, and PC features adaption. After that, we will put our energy on developing new content, and keep updating the world of Torch City.
MP1st: Outside of Ti Games, another Chinese studio has been making waves, and that’s Black Myth Wukong by Game Science. Do the China-based studios communicate among each other?
Zhang: Of course, we do. The 100 miles distance between us two studios is not very long for China. Some of our developers are years friends with the leader creators from Game Science. We both have been busy on our own projects in the past period though, we communicate on social media frequently. The producer of Black Myth got his platinum trophy after F.I.S.T.’s launch and posted a review on Chinese social media. As friends, we are also looking forward to the successfully launch of Black Myth.
MP1st: Is there anything Ti Games would want to say to the people that have played FIST, and those who haven’t yet?
Zhang: F.I.S.T. is a Metroidvania game and the first game from TiGames. We put great effort to make this charming world vivid, hoping the journey of the protagonist Rayton will bring you a unique experience. We really expect players to try it and we have the faith that it will not disappoint you.
We’d like to thank TiGames for taking the time out of their schedule to talk to MP1st. FIST Forged in Shadow Torch is out now on PS4, PS5, and PC.