Innovative Gadgets

How Singer Studios and Lucy Liu introduced forgotten historical past to life


I had a favourite rising up (Anita Yuen within the 1998 Taiwanese TV collection). I obsessed over Chinese language interval TV collection like , and . I think about myself pretty well-versed in Chinese language historic figures, particularly these represented in ‘90s and 2000s leisure in Asia. So after I discovered {that a} UK-based studio had made a VR sport known as The Pirate Queen based mostly on a forgotten feminine chief who was prolific within the South China Sea, I used to be shocked. How had I by no means heard of her? How had the Asian movie and TV trade by no means coated her?

I acquired to play a little bit of the sport this week, which was launched on the Meta Quest retailer and on March seventh. The titular character Cheng Shih is voiced by actor Lucy Liu, who additionally government produced this model of the sport with UK-based Singer Studios’ CEO and founder Eloise Singer. Liu and Singer sat with me for an interview discussing The Pirate Queen, Cheng Shih, VR’s strengths and the significance of cultural and historic accuracy in video games and movies.

Cheng Shih, which interprets to “Madam Cheng” or “Mrs Cheng,” was born Shi Yang. After she married the pirate Cheng Yi (often romanized as Zheng Yi), she turned referred to as Cheng Yi Sao, which interprets to “spouse of Cheng Yi.” Collectively they led the Guangdong Pirate Confederation within the 1800s. Upon her husband’s dying in 1807, she took over the reins and went on to grow to be what South China Morning Put up “historical past’s best pirate.”

A screenshot from The Pirate Queen, showing an ornate ship with a warm glow emanating from its windows. The ship is on a body of water that has some floating lanterns on it.A screenshot from The Pirate Queen, showing an ornate ship with a warm glow emanating from its windows. The ship is on a body of water that has some floating lanterns on it.

Singer Studios

How did Singer Studios study Cheng Shih and determine to construct a sport (and upcoming franchise together with a movie, podcast and graphic novels) round her? In line with Singer, it was by phrase of mouth. “It was a pal of mine who first informed me the story,” Singer mentioned. “She mentioned, ‘Do you know that essentially the most well-known pirate in historical past was a lady?’”

Cheng Shih had been loosely referenced in earlier than this, just like the character Mistress Ching within the 2007 movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s Finish and Jing Lang in Murderer’s Creed IV: Black Flag. As Singer identified, Cheng Shih had additionally appeared in a latest episode of Physician Who.

Singer mentioned that her crew began growing the mission as a movie on the finish of 2018. However the pandemic disrupted their plans, inflicting Singer to adapt it right into a sport. A brief model of The Pirate Queen later debuted at Raindance Movie Pageant, and shortly after, Meta got here onboard and supplied funding to finish improvement of the sport. Liu was then approached when the total model was prepared and about to make its look at Tribeca Movie Pageant 2023.

“The remaining is historical past,” Liu mentioned, “However not forgotten historical past.” She mentioned Cheng Shih was by no means actually acknowledged for being essentially the most highly effective pirate. “It appears so loopy that within the nineteenth century, this lady who began as a courtesan would then rise to energy after which have this fleet of pirates that she commanded,” Liu added. She went on to speak about how Cheng Shih was forward of the time and in addition represented “a little bit of an underdog story.” For the total 15-minute interview, you’ll be able to watch the video on this article or hearken to this week’s episode of The Engadget Podcast and be taught extra about Liu and Singer’s ideas on VR and know-how during the last 20 years.

Capturing the historic and cultural particulars of Cheng Shih’s life was paramount to Liu and Singer. They mentioned the crew needed to create ladies’s fingers from scratch to be represented from the participant’s perspective in VR, and a dialect coach was employed to assist Liu nail the pronunciation for the Cantonese phrases that Cheng Shih speaks within the sport. Although I’m not fully sure if Cheng Shih spoke Mandarin or Cantonese, the latter looks as if the extra correct selection given it’s the lingua franca within the Guangdong area.

A screenshot from The Pirate Queen, showing a scroll depicting a woman, with Chinese characters below it, as well as an English translation saying A screenshot from The Pirate Queen, showing a scroll depicting a woman, with Chinese characters below it, as well as an English translation saying

Singer Studios

All that added to the immersiveness of The Pirate Queen, through which gamers discover themselves in an atmospheric maritime setting. The Meta Quest 3’s controllers served as my fingers within the sport, and I rowed boats, climbed rope ladders and picked up gadgets with relative ease. Among the mechanics, particularly the thought of “teleportation” as shifting round, had been slightly clunky, however after about 5 minutes I acquired used to how issues labored. You’ll should level the left controller and push the joystick if you’ve chosen a spot, and the scene adjustments round you. This in all probability minimizes the potential of nausea, because you’re not standing nonetheless whereas watching your environment transfer. It’s additionally fairly typical of , so those that have expertise enjoying will doubtless be conversant in the motion.

You possibly can nonetheless stroll round and discover, after all. I scrutinized the corners of rooms, inspected the insides of cupboards and extra, whereas trying to find keys that might unlock packing containers containing clues. A variety of that is fairly normal for a puzzle or room escape sport, which is what I used to play essentially the most in my teenagers. However I used to be significantly taken by sequences like rowing a ship throughout the ocean and climbing up a rope ladder, each of which precipitated me to interrupt a gentle sweat. Inside Cheng Shih’s cabin, I lit a joss stick and positioned it in an incense holder — an motion I repeated each week at my grandfather’s altar after I was rising up. It felt so lifelike that I attempted to wave the joss stick to place out the flame and will nearly scent the smoke.

It’s most of these actions that make VR video games nice automobiles for training and empathy. “We didn’t wish to have these fight parts that conventional VR video games do have,” Singer mentioned, including that it was one of many challenges in creating The Pirate Queen.

“It’s good to see and to be taught and be a part of that, versus ‘Let’s flip to web page 48,’” Liu mentioned. “That’s not as thrilling as doing one thing and being actively a part of one thing.” If you play as a historic character in a sport, and one which’s as immersive as a VR sport, “you’re dwelling that particular person’s life or that second in time,” Liu added.

Whereas The Pirate Queen is at present solely accessible on Quest gadgets, Singer mentioned there are plans to convey it to “as many headsets as we probably can.” Singer Studios additionally mentioned it’s “extending The Pirate Queen franchise past VR right into a graphic novel, movie and tv collection.”



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