The Bird That Drinks Tears is one of the most famous and accomplished works in Korean fantasy literature. It's an epic fantasy that blends Korean elements into an entirely new world, with a setting that combines the East and West, a heroine who isn't a hero, and four different races, making it one of the most irreplaceable works for fans of Korean genre literature.
There is a company that has announced that they will be making The Bird That Drinks Tears into a "game", and a AAA game at that. It's KRAFTON. While they're best known as the developers of PUBG, they're actually a company made up of several production studios. Each studio has its own development identity and conceives and develops games of various genres.
And The Bird That Drinks Tears, surprisingly, is developed entirely in Montreal, not in a Korean studio. They even established a new studio: KRAFTON Montreal, with veteran developer Patrik Methe, known for his work on the Far Cry series, at the helm.
A new studio just starting out, what does their upcoming The Bird That Drinks Tears look like, and what are their goals and vision for the studio? On a spring day, a perfect time to start something, Inven had the opportunity to ask Patrik Methe about The Bird That Drinks Tears and KRAFTON Montreal studio, as they prepare to turn an iconic Korean novel into a game.
Patrik Methe has over 20 years of experience in game design and direction. He's worked on Rainbow Six, the Splinter Cell series, and played a central role in shaping the direction of the Far Cry franchise.
KRAFTON CEO Kim Chang-han was instrumental in getting the veteran developer to turn a largely unknown IP, The Bird That Drinks Tears, into a AAA game. After first hearing about The Bird That Drinks Tears from KRAFTON, Patrik Methe traveled to South Korea to meet with Kim as he learned more about the game and grew increasingly excited.
"I loved the fact that Kim was also a developer," he said, "and I couldn't say no to the idea of joining him on such an amazing journey."
And so the challenge began. Although he was building everything from scratch, as a game developer and a lover of fantasy novels and worlds, he wanted to be a part of this extraordinary journey. At the center of it all, of course, was a wonderful IP called The Bird That Drinks Tears. It's unique and original, but at the same time, it has universal values that they thought would resonate well with Western fans.
They gathered people and set up a studio. While the end goal is a team of around 150 people to complete a project, the KRAFTON Montreal studio currently consists of 15 people. But those 15 people are a strong and skilled group of developers who will be able to pull off the studio's first project, The Bird That Drinks Tears.
Among them, Benoit and Frederic are members that worked with Patrik Methe on several different projects, including the Far Cry series. Patrik Methe said he hopes to recreate the work environment and success of the Far Cry series with his team.
Among the 15 developers, there is art director Son Kwang-jae, who worked the artbook, “Crossing the Latitude”. Director Son Kwang-jae and his Korean team are a great complement to the project, with their knowledge of the original novel and their stunning work on the artbook.
"Everyone at the KRAFTON Montreal studio is driven by a common goal: to develop the best game possible to bring the vast world of The Bird That Drinks Tears to new players. Our development team is made up of seasoned veterans of the game industry, and we all understand that the overall game experience is more important than any individual task."
Montreal, where the studio is located, is home to over 200 game studios and 19,000 professional developers. At KRAFTON Montreal, they're looking for a harmonious group of people who can work well together and create synergy. A team of developers who can have fun together while making games.
"I've been a game director for a long time, and I've always worked closely with my team to make sure we deliver the best games possible. This time around, I've taken on a new role, and with that comes new responsibilities to build the studio and build a great team. There's a lot of work to do, but I think we're on the right track, because what I want and what the team wants is the same: to make a great game, and to have fun while we're at it."
KRAFTON Montreal is a studio that's just getting started. However, with a group of veteran developers, the studio has already established a clear development philosophy: pragmatic dreamers.
Dreaming too big can hinder the overall game experience, and Patrik Methe and his team know this from past projects. That's why their goals are specific. It's to provide a distinct and clear experience in the essential aspects of the game, such as completeness and balance.
In other words, it's not just a vision in the sky, but one that shows tangible results in terms of game design and systems. To accomplish this, the studio members are working closely with directors and engineers to design the game, and they're trying to get the most out of the game engine and systems to achieve what they want.
"Everyone on the team has read the book, and while it's important to have a shared appreciation for the content of the book, it's also really important to have different opinions and perspectives on how to translate the world of the book into the game. We can't just read the book and make it a very personal experience of 'reading'. We're trying to bring this world of fiction to the monitor and make something that everyone can enjoy."
Don't assume that there will be someone to play it because it’s original
The Bird That Drinks Tears is also known for its excellent narrative flow. It's a military drama, but it's not distracting, and the stories of various characters flow in different directions and then come together again. How can this be applied to game development?
Patrik Methe said that The Bird That Drinks Tears is written "like a game." At the center of it are the characters. The novel's characters, each with their own weaknesses and strengths, complement and balance each other in a way that is surprisingly "game-like”.
"Of course, it's still too early to define how the story will play out in the game. But one of the things that make The Bird That Drinks Tears so compelling is the different characters and their points of view, so we want to make sure that no matter which point of view you follow, you'll be able to feel and enjoy the richness of the original story in a way that's appropriate for the game.
But one thing is for sure, games are very different from books, and gamers experience stories in a different way than book readers do, and that's something we have to keep in mind."
The Bird That Drinks Tears is an epic fantasy that builds a new world so solidly and so expansively. And this solidity and freshness have worked very well for the game's developers, who have to build the world and create characters from scratch every time. The world itself is already so solid and organized that they didn’t have to constantly question their creativity.
"It's like a dream come true," says Patrick Mette. He also said that it bought the team two to three years of time.
However, turning The Bird That Drinks Tears, with such a polarizing reputation, into a game is no easy task. In Korea, it is a highly recognized work that is impossible to miss if you are familiar with fantasy literature, but in other countries, it is a work that is just starting to take off.
In a way, it's an uncharted territory where one side knows too much and the other side doesn't know anything at all. The side that knows too much wants a game that fulfills the expectations of the original, depicting what they already know. However, in non-Korean countries, the majority of people will learn about the original through the game, so the identity of the game becomes more important.
"That's definitely going to be one of the biggest challenges. We're definitely aware of that, and we're having a lot of discussions internally. We're going to stay true to the things that fans of the original love, but at the same time, we recognize that people around the world are going to have different experiences in terms of culture and background, so we're going to be constantly trying to find the right balance between what's special about the original and what's relatable to people around the world."
In the end, it's the content and quality of the game that matters most. Whether it's an adaptation or an original, gamers will choose something that's fun and well-made. However, the latter has a bit more to think about because there are fans of the original.
"An original IP can never be entirely ours - depending on how we adapt it, it can be partially ours, but it's still bigger than us, and we should never assume that because it's original, there will be people who will play it.
The story of The Bird That Drinks Tears is really powerful, so our goal is to stay true to the source material, but also give gamers a certain amount of agency. Because the world is so rich, gamers will have the opportunity to explore the different paths that branch out from it, and they'll have the opportunity to dig deeper into the world itself and the characters. The game we're going to deliver will have a story that's part of the original, but also a completely new story."
Striving to make something amazing
The original The Bird That Drinks Tears is a novel with a huge world, compelling characters, and a lot of new concepts and terms. Some say that it can be considered a Korean fantasy, as there are quite a few elements related to Korean traditions.
For example, the “Tokebi”, one of the races, is 'Korean' in everything from their existence to their characteristics. In addition, various concepts and terms related to Korean history and tradition, such as maripgan, wrestling, and touksini, appear in the novel. How can these unique concepts be expressed and solved in the game?
"We are fortunate to be able to work closely with Team Windless at the KRAFTON headquarters, who have really helped us understand how Korean culture is incorporated into the novel. We want to make a game that appeals to the entire world, but at the same time, we want to respect the content of the original novel and the writer’s point of view.
In addition, I think the high quality of the original novel doesn't just come from the Korean elements; it's a great fantasy novel in its own right, with themes, plots, and characters that can inspire and appeal to readers around the world."
In fact, the recently released art book "Crossing the Latitude" features art depicting various races, ethnicities, and cultures, including scenes with traditional Korean elements. Despite the mix of cultures, there were elements that felt like they were encountered for the first time, and the book was filled with parts of the huge world of the novel.
For fans of the original, it was a welcome and surprising experience to see the visuals that they had been picturing in their heads for over 20 years. Thanks to this, the anticipation for gamification has increased rapidly.
"The artbook was a gift to us, and it's been a great help in terms of showing us what kind of game we need to make. Just like the novel, the artbook is a good starting point for game development. It's not the final art direction of the game, but it's a very solid starting point."
AAA games take a very long time to develop. But with The Bird That Drinks Tears, there's been news, talks about artwork and videos before development had even begun. The anticipation has been high, but surprisingly, there's not much impatience inside the Montreal studio.
They're simply amazed and grateful to be a part of building this incredible franchise, and the only pressure they feel is to deliver a memorable game. They're just getting started, but they can't wait to share more with gamers in Korea who will be waiting for The Bird That Drinks Tears.
"I think we have something really amazing on our hands, and I hope that we can create a game that will be remembered for a long time, and that we can make it fun to experience it from the beginning, so that fans of the original, as well as new fans who are just discovering this wonderful franchise, can get something out of it."