to join the CVG community. Not a member yet? Join now!

The making of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

A journey 1400 years in preparation...

We'll admit: Enslaved was hardly the King of Xbox World's patented Anticip-o-meter as it marched towards release.

We had an early peek and admitted to being intrigued, but it could just as easily have been a 'possibly rent' as a 'must buy'.

What we weren't prepared for was just how bowled over we would be by the characters, as the story progressed in a cinematic style many games aim for, but rarely achieve.

If videogames are marching towards artistic equality with cinema, Ninja Theory's post-post apocalyptic action title should be remembered as a significant step along the way.


But Enslaved's journey goes back a lot further than the team's years of spirited development.

In 629AD, Buddhist monk Xuanzang had a dream. This dream told him to journey to India along the Silk Road, examining ancient Buddhist temples and returning the monks of the West to the true ways of the faith.

His epic mission became the subject of folktales for centuries to come, collected together in the celebrated Ming novel Journey To the West.

But with time the story travelled a lot further than Xuanzang ever did. The hero of the novel was named Tripitaka ('three baskets' of Buddhist teachings) and his progress was aided by a gaggle of grotesques: Sandy the monstrous General, Yu Lung the dragon who takes on the form of a horse, and - most of all - Sun Wukong, the Buddhist Monkey King: fearsome, acrobatic, mischievous... for centuries, the spirit of Monkey has been irrepressible!

So, our burning question for the Chief Creative Ninja at Cambridge development temple Ninja Theory Tameem Antoniades, had to be: what was the real inspiration for Enslaved - the Chinese legend or the crazy 70s kid's show Monkey?

Thankfully, he laughed: "We are of course big fans of the TV show. A lot of us grew up with it. But we wanted to really give the story our own unique look and feel, so returned to the original book for our inspiration."

The real seeds of the game inevitably lay in Ninja Theory's first opus. "I read Journey to the West about four years ago when researching the Wuxia (martial arts legends) genre for Heavenly Sword. I really loved the story; in my opinion it's an epic on par with Lord of the Rings."

The tale of Monkey and Tripitaka has been recycled in cartoon, movie, TV, opera and comic book over the years - with the 'beautiful' figure of Tripitaka by now traditionally played by an actress.

It's always been perfect videogame material - a gang of fighters on an epic voyage, facing off against a series of monsters, with the charismatic Monkey equipped with flying cloud and magical staff - and indeed Ninja Theory had featured a Monkey-style character in their first game, Kung Fu Chaos, in 2003.


This time however, Ninja Theory weren't content to simply turn the legend into a game, but used it as the basis for their own story.

"Another source of inspiration for us was a TV show called Life After People, which explored what would happen to the world if humans just suddenly ceased to exist."

The last thing the 360 needed was another post-apocalyptic gameworld - especially one based on New York City - but this approach was something else.

"We projected into the future 150 years and came to the conclusion that rather than being a barren wasteland, nature would thrive like it did before humans were here. All of our man-made buildings and structures would just start to be overcome by nature. The setting also suits the game very well. It's beautiful yet deadly."

  1 2 3