Wagadu Interview: Kiro’o Games

By now you know the purpose and focus of my writing is to develop stories based on African and African American culture, history and traditions. So imagine my excitement when I came across Kiro’o Games, a company based in Cameroon with the same focus. A few weeks ago I reached out the Kiro Games and asked if they would be interested in an interview about their company. They said yes, so here it is.

First off, thank you all for allowing us to interview you. Tell us briefly about Kiro’o Games.

Thank you. We are the ones to thank you for the attention you grant us.

Kiro’o Games is the very first professional video game studio of Central Africa. It is based in Cameroon (Yaounde). It is operational since December 2013 and is currently in the middle of the development of the first African game to target the international market; the game Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan.

What is your mission statement?

Our ambition is to create an internal awakening among gamers around the world through the spiritual vision we vehicle in this game, hence our slogan “Gamer-Spirit-Design”. This vision is deeply based on our cultural legacy that is still highly under exploited in the video game industry.

In addition to this, we intend to propose a new entertaining genre: the Kiro’o Tales. Literally translated as “The Stories of Kiro’o”, Kiro’o Tales is a new way of creating video games by tapping from our culture’s artistic, sound and visual potential.  Therefore, based on Kiro’o Tales, we intend to:

  • Create fantastic worlds by drawing inspiration from myths, traditions, practices, customs, tales, legends etc. from Africa;
  • Make African games international by introducing a strong existential and universal value to our themes;
  • Favor more than ever, the unity of the world by drawing inspiration from the cohesion values that are present in the best of our traditions (respecting the other, high family values, natural resources, etc.).

Why did you decide to develop games?

The first reason is that it was to achieve a childhood dream; MADIBA Olivier’s childhood dream since the age of 14 when he just finished playing the 7th part of Final Fantasy for the 6th time. In actual fact, after completing this game, he started imagining the follow up and thinking of what the gameplay would look like if a few elements of the African culture were introduced. That’s where he got the idea. But it remained a mere idea because at the time, Olivier envisaged to pursue a carrier in video games abroad. It is therefore after obtaining his BA in Computer Science and after his various studies in the sector that he discovered that being a developer in Cameroon also had many advantages (especially the value of the FCFA, the availability of work force, etc.). Now that the environment was favorable, we decided to embark into it in 2013.  Another motivation was to make the most of our raw material, the African culture to create games destined for an international audience. And we are gradually achieving that goal.

What games/game builders are your inspirations?

We have been inspired by many games. But those that enabled us to get to this level (without advertising them) are the Final Fantasy Saga. As mentioned above, it is the game that birthed the idea of becoming a creator in MADIBA Olivier. We also have Tales of Destiny that served as base for our Gameplay. At our level, we intend to bring much more creativity, dynamism and innovation.

Concerning developers, we were greatly impressed by Mr. SHIGERU, creator of Mario Bros.  We actually have one of his sayings to accompany use every day: “A good game is first of all … a good Gameplay”. We vividly expect that our game Aurion will live up to this citation.

As you know, I write what I describe as Sword and Soul. Do you have a particular name for what you do?

Wow!!! This is a good one (smiles)! As said earlier, we are placing the milestones of a new entertaining genre: the Kiro’o Tales. Our desire is that Aurion might succeed; this will enable Kiro’o Tales to grow in notoriety and stand out as a reference.

What history/culture are your games based on?

The game Aurion draws its essence from the African culture in general. Africa is a continent of great wealth at the level of its peoples and tribes as well as its landscape (fauna, flora, etc.). Our goal is not to represent all the African cultures in the game but to tap from most of them. Therefore some of our cultural references we can cite include the Adrinkas (Ghana); we based ourselves on some aspects of their culture to design tribal logos in the game. As concerns characters, there are many: the Peuhls, Massai (Enzo’s tunic that some compare to a Japanese dress is indeed a dress that the Massai people put on, we just made some adjustments on it), the Sawa, the Choa-Arabs (in Tchad, Niger, Soudan, Cameroon, Nigeria, etc.). As for habitations, we were inspired by constructions from the Yoruba (Nigeria), Sao (Cameroon, Tchad, Nigeria), Bambara (Mali), Massai (Kenya, Tanzania), Fang (Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea…).

We hope that as the development of the saga progresses, we will also continue to draw from more cultures.

What is your market focus?

We target all the Core Gamers in the world with an inclination for those who love role and action games designed for PCs and consoles. However, we would have loved this version of the game to be available on XBOX 360, but it might probably before the coming versions of the game. We seize this opportunity to apologise to our fans for this quite unpleasant news.

Our desire is that each person who plays Aurion will feel immersed and come out of it edified on the African world and its assets, values and symbols.

Do you plan to make your games available worldwide?

From the inception of the project, we studied axes to market the game on the international scene since that was our target market. We opted to release the game in a de-materialised form that we intend to sell on Steam.

Based on our research, besides Desura, Gog and the others, Steam is already the most important and most opened platform to the whole world. Also, it gives much room to independent developers (like us) to make their games known. We also intend to very soon register on the Greelight program and count on the community of gamers across the world to give Aurion their favourable opinions to enable it to be available on Steam.

As concerns to the local target which is not yet familiar with e-commerce but rather rooted in its old consumer habits, we thought of producing physical media (but in very small quantity).  Alongside producers, we are still studying possibilities of producing DVDs and commercialising them.

Tell us about Aurion.

Aurion is a 2D Action-RPG whose ambition is to bring a revolution in the world of 2D games, particularly with much innovation and dynamism at the level of the Gameplay. It is based on the principle of defining ones future by leaning on forces of the past. Considering that in Africa we are very much attached to ancestral worship, we decided to create an energy whose source would be this cultural specificity. This energy is called Aurion.

Aurion: Legacy of the Kori-Odan is the story of Enzo Kori-Odan who suffers a coup d’état orchestrated by Ngarba, his brother in-law, on the day of his coronation. He goes round the world with his wife Erine by his side in order to assemble their Aurionic Legacy and confront the existential stakes of their people.  You can read the complete presentation of the game here (http://kiroogames.com/en/aurion.html )

What are your plans for the future?

The “immediate” objective of Kiro’o Games is to effectively and concretely create the first video game studio of Central Africa of international standard. But because all this would be pointless if it had to stop at this level, the vision of Kiro’o Games goes way beyond that.

In the long term, the Studio is expected to last for 30 years. We intend to:

–          Become editors in order to organise the distribution of games on the continent and improve production.

–          Initiate vocational training for gaming particularly in Cameroon and Africa at large;

–          Create games for mobile and tablet;

–          Create other entertaining and educative media (comics, cartoons and others);

–          Revitalize the exploitation of the African culture by entertainment media (games, cartoons, etc.);

–          Open new outlets for IT and African artists;

–          Transform Central Africa through Cameroon into a precursor in the field of video game;

In conclusion, the Kiro’o Games Studio aims at promoting and developing the video game industry in Africa. We believe that video games can be an important lever for economic development on the continent, enabling us in particular to promote entrepreneurship among young people.

What obstacles have you run into in developing your game?

We have encountered a good number of difficulties in realising this project. To begin with, it was difficult for us to earn the credibility that would enable us to get financing. Most of the Cameroonian companies where we submitted our file thought that it was for the creation of an arcade hall. But thanks to the support from our first shareholders (foreigners in majority), we were able to gain this credibility and today, we can count some Cameroonians in our list of shareholders.

We also suffered some technical problems (electricity outages, poor internet network) often slow us down every now and then in the development of the game. However, we keep on advancing and trying to work as best as we can. The trailer we recently published (http://youtu.be/gb7Z7NVmiZ8 ) can justify progress made that remains visible despite difficulties.

How do I purchase a copy of Aurion?

You will be able to download the game Aurion on Steam if everything goes on as planned. But for Aurion to be available on Team, we must work hand in hand you and us: you bringing all the necessary support for it to be green lighted; and us working hard to supply you with good content that meets your expectation.

Do you think your games will appeal to African Diaspora people throughout the world?

Yes, considering the excitement and return we receive, we believe that the African Diaspora in its entirety is very proud of our work. Some are shareholders of the Studio; this tells of their hearty support for us and their desire to see the game succeed since behind Aurion, the stakes are high for the expansion of the continent. On our part, we will do what is ours not to disappoint them and not to disappoint all the fans who follow us and encourage us daily.

And there you have it. I hope you’re as excited about  Kiro Games as I am. I’m following this groundbreaking enterprise so I can be one of the first to get my game. I hope you do the same.

It’s Been A Long Time Coming…

This week has been a proud moment for me. I have the privilege and the honor to release the first book of a new epic fantasy series by Sword and Soul creator and Sword and Sorcery Grandmaster Charles R. Saunders, Abengoni, First Calling. The path to this moment is a story of extraordinary circumstances and a rewarding journey to say the least.  I wrote a song about. Like to hear it? Here it go! (not really)

Most of you know how I ‘became’ a writer and publisher. After decades of toying around with the idea and a couple of stabs at it, I finally decided to jump into it as a self publishers nine years ago. I published my first book Meji Book one two years later. While I was putting the finishing touches on the Meji manuscript I came across a book that almost ended my plans of releasing Afrocentric sword and sorcery: Imaro. I was stunned; not only had I found the book I hoped someone would write but this masterpiece was written almost thirty years prior. The author’s name was familiar to me. I’d read Charles’ story ‘Gimmile’s Song in the wonderful Dark Matter anthology but my search for books by him came up short. I found his book at that time because they’d been re-released by Nightshade Books. I devoured both books then eagerly anticipated a third. Unfortunately that was not to be.

This is where the first bit of extraordinary surfaced. While lurking on Blacksuperhero.com a young man and internet friend of  mine going by the name Uraeus delivered bad new and good new simultaneously. He announced that Nightshade would no longer publish the Imaro series. Then he announced that he communicated with Charles and that he would continue to publish the books.  I immediately reached out to Uraeus then asked if he could get me in contact with Charles. He did. I was nervous when I first contacted him; writers can be fickle, and I knew plenty of people had probably done the same thing. I also intended to ask him to take a look at the Meji manuscript, which I was sure many people had done as well. Things turned out much better than I expected. Charles is a gracious and friendly man. We hit it off immediately. Both of us were inspired by the same sources and motivated to write sword and soul for the same reasons. After chatting for a while I built up the courage to ask Charles to take a look at the Meji manuscript. He agreed, and better yet, he liked it!

Since then Charles and I have collaborated on a number of projects, most noticeably the Griots anthology series. But a few years after we met Charles shared with me another gem. Back in the early ’90s he wrote a new epic, Abengoni. The manuscripts were never published. I immediately asked to read them and wasn’t disappointed. After reading them I asked Charles if I could have the honor of publishing them. He said yes!

It was after I got about the business of publishing Abegoni that the next extraordinary event occurred. I surf Deviantart.com on a regular basis looking for artists to work with. It was during one of those searches that I came across the artwork of Julie Dillon. I was blown away by her style and her depiction of diverse people, most she had done for her own personal portfolio. I was finally convinced that I would seek her out when I saw her amazing cover for the Long Hidden Anthology. I contacted Julie; like Charles she’s a friendly and gracious person. A few months after our initial contact I was ready to publish Abengoni. My timing couldn’t have been better. Julie had just completed her successful Kickstarter for her Imagined Realms book series. And as icing on the cake, two weeks after I commissioned her for Abengoni she received the Hugo Award for Best Fantasy Artist! As you can see, she did an amazing job. Both Charles and I are very pleased.

And that’s my song. Abengoni is the multi-cultural epic fantasy everyone has been asking for. It’s a grand epic that includes diverse cultures from the very beginning, not as an afterthought. It’s a story centered on an African based source, not the typical and overdone European scenario. It’s a book that wouldn’t have been possible without print on demand, e-books and social media. Most of all it’s a great read. I know you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. This is a book that deserves to be in your fantasy collection. It’s been a long time coming, and now it’s finally here. Enjoy.

As always you can purchase Abengoni and my other titles at http://www.mvmediaatl.com/. It’s also available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.