VR thriller from the heart of Pakistan.
Even if there are people on this industry far more experienced that I am (I started back when I was 16 and this year I’m turning 23, so you can tell I’m just small fry), one thing I always love about being a gaming writer is the ability to interact with developers from all over the world. You already heard from Insert Disk 22, a team with people located basically in all corners of our planet.
However, today we are going to focus here in Unskippable Credits on Rematch Studios, a team from Karachi responsible for making Area of Darkness: Sentinel, a cinematic VR adventure coming March of this year. I was able to get my questions answered by Mishal and Hisham Adamjee, executive chairman and CEO of the studio respectively, and they sure have something to say about the industry. So, with no further delay, here’s our interview with Rematch Studios.
TheLootGaming: Could you tell us something about Rematch Studios (how and when it was created, which were the type of games you wanted to create)?
Mishal Adamjee: We’re both passionate about games – we love story driven games that take you into another time and place. I’m an RPG and Adventure game fanatic – I grew up playing all the Lucas Arts classics, and a bunch of pixel text-based adventures (does anyone remember Lord Avalot?). As I grew older and played KOTOR, Morrowind, and Mass Effect, I began to really appreciate how deeply immersive and spellbinding games can be – it’s a great feeling when great characters, story and action come together and transport you to another world, convincingly. If I had to choose a game company in 2019 that I think is making the types of games I love: CD Projekt Red is on top of the list. They’re an inspiration, not only because of the great games they make but the way in which they communicate with their customers and make sure that the player is always getting value for money.
Hisham Adamjee: When I was young, games were a fun way to pass the time. Over time, as the medium matured, I started to see them as works of art, labors of love from developers to the players. I play an insane amount of games across multiple platforms and devote a lot of time to watching and reading about games as art and as a business. When we had the opportunity to enter the field, it was an easy decision. My favorite games of all time (not counting newer titles like The Witcher 3, The Last of Us) include titles that revolutionized the industry like Fallout, Deus Ex, Dungeon Keeper, Final Fantasy 7 and rough gems like VTM: Bloodlines. We wanted to make narratively strong, cinematic games that tell real stories and move people, in the vein of what we enjoy. Obviously, the games I named above are larger in scope, deeper, and beyond what our capabilities are, but the end goal is clear.
TLG: What can you tell us about Area of Darkness: Sentinel?
MA: AoD:S is a narrative psychological thriller for VR – from the moment we put on a headset for the first time, we were blown away by the potential to tell an engaging story through the deep immersion offered by VR.
HA: AoD:S is a dark game. It explores mature themes, deals with mature circumstances and is unapologetically violent. It also conveys many strong messages about the world we live in and we hope that people can absorb that while playing the game. It’s different from most VR games on the market, and we hope it can serve as a bridge between traditional flat screen games and VR games.
TLG: What can you tell us about the life of a developer?
MA: The life of a developer is tough but rewarding. It means a lot of late nights, facing technical challenges head-on, and driving towards a clear vision. But – as the game begins to take shape, it’s a great feeling seeing your thoughts and ideas come to life in a meaningful way.
HA: It’s extremely difficult. The whole team is virtually new to this field and to a project of this magnitude. As designers, producers, programmers, animators and artists, we’ve had to learn a lot along the way and make an immeasurable number of mistakes. We’ll continue to learn and improve continuously, and hopefully inspire and encourage other developers locally to take up the challenge. It tests your love of video games and makes you appreciate just how much work goes into the games we play on a daily basis.
TLG: Is it challenging to create games on VR? If so, do you have to take a different approach to how games are structured in VR (the pace of the narrative, the style)?
MA: Creating a game in VR required us to go back to the drawing board and really evaluate what works and what doesn’t – VR gaming is a new platform, and the “rules” are still being established as people come to grips with the technology. Given it was a level playing field in a niche market, developing in Pakistan made good sense – the cost of development was reasonable and afforded us the time to experiment and play around as our team built up their technical proficiency in both VR, and the Unreal Engine itself.
HA: Extremely challenging – being able to understand, test, and lock down what is ‘fun’ and what isn’t takes a lot longer than in traditional games, especially for a new studio such as ours. Implementing even basic features is a time-consuming process. Rethinking how UI/UX works and retraining your brain to think differently from all the games of the past was tough. Luckily, even in the new VR space, people have created some amazing experiences and we can learn from them as well.
Pacing is something that took a lot of work and is something that could always be better. People’s tolerances for sitting in VR are much shorter than our ability to sit in front of a monitor/TV, so that’s something we had to take into account. We had some in-game conversations/events that were over 11 minutes long – we eventually had to cut those down and add interactive elements to make sure the players stay engaged through the dialogue. That’s a lot of handcrafted work to throw away, but it helped the pacing immensely. Also being in VR means you can’t direct a player’s attention to specific things, so working that out was difficult, and is something we’ll continue to improve on moving forward. It also meant that we couldn’t choose the perfect angles for certain shots/set pieces as the game is entirely in first person view. This makes the game more immersive in some areas but meant we couldn’t do everything we wanted to do from a cinematic perspective.
TLG: Your studio is Pakistan-based, and we don’t usually hear from many studios outside of the usual places where games are made. What would you do in order to change this?
HA: I think it requires developers to step out of their comfort zones and take risks. Developers and studios from unrecognized countries such as Pakistan need to create original, powerful experiences and force people to take note. Mobile clones don’t do that, service work (while a great business) will never help build a country’s identity. Look at what developers like Adrian Chmielarz and studios like CDPR have done for Poland. It’s not going to happen any time soon, but we should aspire to that.
TLG: What would you like to say to young developers that might be reading these lines?
MA: We’re a new developer ourselves, so I wouldn’t want to be giving advice just yet – but the standard cliches apply: Work hard – harder than you thought you needed to, build a good team around you – people that share your vision and have the passion and expertise to help you achieve your goals, and push yourself to your limit creatively. Building a game is a complex undertaking, and it takes time – maintaining a positive and energized outlook throughout the process is crucial to building something you’re proud of.
HA: The same thing I tell myself, as a new developer – take risks and be ambitious. For Pakistan specifically, the non-mobile game dev industry is still in its relative infancy here, and as a community, we all need to set the tone and direction we want to move in and help each other get there.
As Rematch Studios showed us today, the art of creating interactive experiences doesn’t have borders.
Even if everyone tries to become the next big gaming studio, the important aspect of it resides in making games that offer something new and unique. And with their new title coming on March, Area of Darkness: Sentinel might be the next big thing in terms of VR, but only time will tell. And speaking about telling things, do you have a project that you’d like to share with people? Are you an indie developer trying to show your creation to the world? Then contact us, and you might appear on the next entry of Unskippable Credits.