The company behind PUBG is trying to create the next big fantasy epic

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Krafton is best known as the company behind PUBG, taking the scrappy battle royale and turning it into something much bigger thanks to mobile versions, surprisingly expansive lore, and soon even a horror spinoff. Now the company is hoping to build the next big fantasy series after licensing the Korean novel The Bird That Drinks Tears by Lee Yeong-do, with the goal of creating a multimedia franchise that extends to games and beyond.

“Project Windless,” as it’s known right now, is still in its earliest stages. Krafton art director Kwang Jae Son and renowned concept artist Iain McCaig — who has worked on the likes of Star Wars and Harry Potter — are currently creating what’s described as a “visual bible” for the series. “It’s basically groundwork to first bring the book to life,” Son explains.

McCaig tells The Verge that he was initially referred to the project by a friend in Korea. But once he looked into the book, he was so excited he set aside a number of personal projects to focus on it. “The Bird That Drinks Tears is unlike any other fantasy story I have ever read, with fresh new ways of exploring human nature, which is what always attracts me most,” he says.

According to Son, part of what makes the book different from other fantasy series like Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones is its focus on Korean folklore. Here’s his description of the work:

The biggest charm of [Lee Yeong-do]’s works, especially The Bird That Drinks Tears, is that everything is novel. There are races where chickens and snakes are humanized, not to mention monsters from Korean folklore. Lee Yeong-do’s stories introduce a diverse element of novelty and each element organically interacts to create a unique world. It is difficult to visualize all these elements, but I am always mesmerized by the originality of the world he created.

The beauty of this world is that it tells stories with contradictions and paradoxes. The greatest beings leave their ugliest traces, and those that you truly loved betray you. These extreme pieces of the story throw questions to the readers, which makes the book’s themes more resonant and personal. It’s quite philosophical and can be analyzed and interpreted in a variety of ways. You could find that these elements make the novel challenging, but I think that that’s what make it even greater. Depending on the values a reader holds, the theme constantly changes.

According to McCaig, the process of visualizing the novel is similar to work he’s done in the past. “I always look for through-lines — things that connect and run throughout the entire saga — and visual themes that we can build upon and pay off later, too,” he says. “It’s part detective work, part archaeology, part treasure hunt.” The visual bible is still being worked on, and the duo expect to complete it by the end of the year. “The visual bible for The Bird That Drinks Tears will be provided to various artists, writers, and directors who will expand this work, so we are concentrating on building the world based on the story, character, and understanding of the original novel,” says Son.

You can get a sense of the style in the concept art below.

“Project Windless” fits snugly into Krafton’s stated plans to expand beyond video games. The company even recently announced an animated PUBG project helmed by Adi Shankar. But “Project Windless” is something much more ambitious. PUBG grew as a franchise solely because the original game was such a big hit. All of the subsequent releases — whether game or something else — grew from that. This new project goes in a different direction, with the expectation that it will be a media-spanning series from the very beginning. That’s new territory for Krafton, and Son says the company is looking at other successful fantasy series for guidance.

“Interestingly, the The Witcher video game series was based on the original novels, but ironically the original novel became better known to the world thanks to the game. And since then, the IP has been produced as a series and has grown into a global IP loved by many. In this respect, The Witcher is a good role model for us.”

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