How Singer Studio and Lucy Liu brought forgotten history to life

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I was a favorite Growing Up (Anita Yuen in 1998 Taiwanese TV series). I am obsessed with Chinese period TV series , And . I consider myself well-versed in Chinese historical figures, especially those represented in entertainment from the 90s and 2000s in Asia. So when I found out that a UK based studio made a VR game called Pirate Queen Based on a forgotten female leader who flourished in the South China Sea, I was shocked. How had I never heard of it? How come the Asian film and TV industry never covered her?

I got to play a bit of the game this week, which was released on the Meta Quest Store and On 7th March. The title character Cheng Shih is voiced by actor Lucy Liu, who also produced this version of the game with Eloise Singer, CEO and founder of UK-based Singer Studios. Liu and Singer sat down for an interview with me to discuss Pirate QueenCheng Shih, The Powers of VR and the Importance of Cultural and Historical Accuracy in Games and Films.

Cheng Shih, which translates to “Madam Cheng” or “Mrs. Cheng”, was born Shi Yang. After she married the pirate Cheng Yi (commonly Romanized as Zheng Yi), she became known as Cheng Yi Sao, which translates as “Cheng Yi’s wife”. Together they led the Guangdong Pirate Confederation in the 1800s. After her husband’s death in 1807, she took over the reins and became South China Morning Post “History’s Greatest Pirate.”

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

Singer Studio

How did Singer Studios learn about Cheng Shih and decide to build a game (and an upcoming franchise, including a film, podcast, and graphic novels) around him? According to Singer, it was by word of mouth. “It was a friend of mine who first told me the story,” Singer said. “She said, ‘Did you know that the most famous pirate in history was a woman?’”

Cheng Shih was loosely mentioned Prior to this, as the character of Mistress Ching in the 2007 film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Jing Lang In Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. As Singer pointed out, Cheng Shih also appeared in a recent episode doctor who.

Singer said his team began developing the project into a film in late 2018. But an epidemic interrupted his plans, leading Singer to accept him into the game. Short version of Pirate Queen It later debuted at the Raindance Film Festival, and shortly after, Meta came onboard and funded the full development of the game. Liu was approached when the full version was ready and scheduled to appear at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2023.

“The rest is history,” Liu said, “but history is not forgotten.” She said that Cheng Shih was never recognized as the most powerful pirate. “It seems so crazy that in the 19th century, this woman who started as a courtesan would then rise to power and then have this fleet of pirates that she commanded,” Liu added. She went on to talk about how Cheng Shih was ahead of his time and also presented “a bit of an underdog story”. For the full 15-minute interview, you can watch the video in this article or listen to this week’s episode of the Engadget podcast to learn more about Liu and Singer’s thoughts on VR and technology over the past 20 years.

Capturing the historical and cultural details of Cheng Shih’s life was paramount to Liu and Singer. They said the team had to create female hands from scratch to represent the player’s perspective in VR, and hired a dialect coach to help Liu pronounce the Cantonese words Cheng Shih speaks in the game. Although I’m not entirely sure whether Cheng Shih speaks Mandarin or Cantonese, the latter seems like a more accurate choice given the lingua franca in the Guangdong region.

A screenshot of The Pirate Queen, showing a scroll depicting a woman with Chinese characters underneath, as well as an English translation that says A screenshot of The Pirate Queen, showing a scroll depicting a woman with Chinese characters underneath, as well as an English translation that says

Singer Studio

All added to the immersiveness of Pirate Queen, in which players find themselves in an atmospheric marine environment. Meta Quest 3’s controllers served as my hands in the game, and I steered boats, climbed rope ladders, and picked up objects with relative ease. Some of the mechanics, especially the idea of ​​”teleportation” were a bit clunky, but after about five minutes I got used to how things worked. When you select a place you have to point the left controller and push the joystick and the scene around you will change. This may reduce the chance of nausea, as you are not standing still while watching the movements around you. It’s also very typical, so those with experience playing will probably be familiar with the movement.

Of course, you can still walk around and explore. I searched the corners of the room, inspecting the insides of cabinets and more, all the while searching for keys that would unlock boxes containing clues. A lot of these are pretty standard for puzzle or room escape games, which I played a lot in my teenage years. But I especially enjoyed boating in the ocean and climbing the rope ladder, both of which made me break out in a light sweat. Inside Cheng Shih’s cabin, I lit a joss stick and placed it in the incense holder—an action I repeated every week at my grandfather’s altar when I was growing up. It felt so real that I tried waving a joss stick to put out the flames and could almost smell the smoke.

It’s these kinds of activities that make VR games great vehicles for education and empathy. “We didn’t want to have these combat elements that traditional VR games have,” Singer said, adding that was one of the challenges of making it. Pirate Queen.

“It’s cool to watch and learn and be a part of, as opposed to let’s go to page 48,” Liu said. “There is nothing more exciting than doing something and being an active part of something.” When you play as a historical character in a game, and one that’s as immersive as a VR game, “you’re living that person’s life or that moment in time,” Liu added.

when Pirate Queen Currently only available on Quest devices, Singer said there are plans to bring it to “as many headsets as we can.” Singer Studios also said it was “expanding Pirate Queen Franchise to graphic novel, film and television series beyond VR.

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