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Title [Martial Arts Globe] Is It Possible to Recreate/Express Martial Arts Through Video Games?

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  • Date
    09-09-2021
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This photo is not directly linked to the writing. Photo by Stillness InMotion on Unsplash.


Kim Yong Woo


Currently working in the design industry and preparing a webtoon. Trains taekwondo (ITF, WT), kickboxing and Muay Thai as a hobby after work, and researches the origin and characteristics of various martial arts as well as the production of content such as video games. 



With confidence, my answer is “yes” to the question on the title of this article. Why? Because of a technology called “motion capture”. Motion capture refers to the computerized  movements recorded by attaching sensors to a person’s body parts such as the head, arms, legs, and joints. Motion capture technology is also used in sports to check the athletes’ forms and  movements.



The Korean release edition of “Taekwondo.” The Japanese version can be played in Korean or Japanese language, with different names for the characters depending on the selected language. Even when playing the game in Japanese, the lines made by the referee, such as “Bow!” and “Ready!” are still in Korean. The referee is voiced by Master Lee Jong-mok, who is mentioned in this article.


In the case of “Taekwondo,” a 2D game released exclusively for a video game console called the Super Famicom (known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, in the West) by Human Corporation in 1994, prior to the application of motion capture to video games, the developers chose to film the movements of Zainichi Korean Taekwondo practitioner, Master Lee Jong-mok (7th dan today, 2nd dan instructor* at the time) and divide the videos into individual frames to illustrate the movements of the characters in the game. This was the best method available at the time to express martial arts in a video game. As a result, the quality of the movements shown in the game are outstanding.



A playthrough video of “Virtua Fighter,” which became extremely popular due to its realistic depiction of movements.


With the emergence of “Virtua Fighter” and “Tekken,” the two giants of the 3D fighting game genre, the appearance and movements of characters began to resemble reality more closely. For example, Tekken’s Korean fighter “Baek Doo San” was developed in reference to the movements of Ken Lo, who is known for his impassioned performance as a crime boss in Drunken Master II starring Jackie Chan. Meanwhile, Akira Yuki, the protagonist of Virtua Fighter who is proficient in bajiquan, was created based on information gathered by interviewing Wu Lianzhi, the descendant of Kaimen Bajiquan. By recreating movements for characters in a similar method to 3D animation, it became possible to present rather realistic movements in video games.

 


A playthrough video of “Tekken 3” using the TAS method. TAS stands for “Tool-Assisted Speedrun,” referring to the completion of a game as quickly and fully as possible using software tools. It is a different concept from data manipulation.


Later, motion capture technology began being applied to 3D action games and ensured that the movements of martial artists and actors are depicted more realistically. In Korea, the most well-known case of motion capture being used in game development is possibly Hwoarang, a character in the “Tekken” series. Hwoarang is a Korean character who first appeared as protagonist Kazama Jin’s rival in “Tekken 3,” which was released by Namco in 1997. The motion actor for the character was the Zainichi Korean Taekwondo master Hwang Su-il (7th dan today, 3rd dan assistant instructor close to becoming 4th dan instructor* at the time), and many praised the game for capturing his movements with striking realism. Indeed, Hwoarang performs the fittingly-named Hwarang teul (form**) in the intro video for Tekken 3, which holds up remarkably well even to this day as it captures the motions expertly despite the low-quality graphics and character model resolutions due to the limited technology during 1997 when it was made. Hwang Su-il himself commented that he was impressed by this achievement.

 

A story video of Rig, a character from Dead or Alive 5 who is known for his construction worker outfit and a fighting style focusing on flashy kicks.


Released in 2012 by Koei Tecmo, “Dead or Alive 5” added new characters such as Rig, whose motion actor was Kataoka Tomoyasu (6th dan instructor*), a student of Master Lee Jong-mok (7th dan*) who was mentioned above as a motion actor in the production of the SNES game “Taekwondo.” For his motion capture performance, Kataoka wore black tights and black shoes attached with sensors and performed for three or four hours, freely demonstrating his techniques or demonstrating additional movements as requested by the developers, since techniques that had been converted into data could be used for any desired purpose. According to Kataoka, the character’s movements within the game are set to be faster than his own movements to the point that, when he first saw his own movements as enacted by Rig in the game, he could hardly believe that he was the model for the character, only to be reassured by those who played or watched the game that Rig’s movements were clearly based on Kataoka’s.

When playing video games whose characters were created based on the movements of motion actors, it is common to have the reaction of near disbelief that certain techniques were performed in real life by motion actors. However, it’s not always the case that outlandish techniques in video games were actually performed by motion actors. While it’s true that the data collected using the movements of motion actors is used to create the movements of in-game characters, they are not converted directly into the game as they are. The movement data provided by motion actors is used as a kind of a rough sketch, on top of which the imagination of the game developers is overlayed to create the movements of in-game characters. This concept was once discussed by Harada Katsuhiro, the director of the Tekken series. As such, the result can differ slightly from the original martial art it was inspired by.



Demonstration of the Hwarang teul (form) in the intro video for Tekken 3


Demonstration of the Hwarang teul (form) by Master Hwang Su-il, a motion actor for the Tekken character Hwoarang



 Demonstration of the Hwarang teul (form) by Joel Denis, a Canadian Taekwondo instructor


It was mentioned earlier that motion capture technology is also used to monitor the form of sports athletes. Indeed, both Master Hwang and Instructor Kataoka reflected that their motion capture performances showed aspects of their own movements that require improvement. Through motion capture, it is rather simple and easy to convert a motion actor’s movements into data so that a specific game character can emulate any martial arts techniques. The biggest difference between game and reality would be the process of translating movements into a video game which includes the developers’ imagination.

As an aside, the aforementioned game director Harada Katsuhiro once remarked on the difference between American and Japanese game developers. To enhance the realism of the fighting games, his American counterparts tend to apply the original movements of motion actors directly into games. Harada, however, saw the purpose of motion capture for fighting games to be different from other sports games such as soccer and baseball, which seek to depict human movements as closely to reality as possible.

 

*In ITF taekwondo, a ranking system is conferred, where 1st to 3rd dan practitioners are referred to as assistant instructors, 4th to 6th dan are instructors, 7th to 8th dan are masters, and 9th dan are grandmasters, with each rank wearing a different uniform (from color belts to instructors, in particular).

 

**ITF taekwondo differs significantly from WT taekwondo with regard to the terminology, with Teul (form) being a demonstrative example. Teul in ITF Taekwondo correspond to Poomsae in WT taekwondo. Unlike the WT terminology of Taegeuk, Goryeo, and Geumgang, there are 24 Teul in ITF taekwondo that each refer to figures from Korean history, such as Dangun, Hwarang, Chungmu, Gyebaek, Yeongae, Yusin, and Gwanggae, with the name of each Teul reflecting the meaning of the Teul.


※ Views in this writing are the author's own.