Raising his game

THE next best thing after playing games is probably designing them, and Jeremy Ooi gets to do the latter for a living, fulfilling the dream he has had since he turned 17.

Even though he went a little off course on the way into the gaming industry – he pursued accounting in college – Ooi managed to reach his dream destination five years ago thanks to his involvement in the local theatre scene.

It was at a show that he met a game designer, who landed him a job as a producer in a 3D film production company. Ooi gained his experience from there, having conceptualised over 20 games, as well as produced and designed six, including Malaysia’s first point-andclick game Hoodwink.

Last October, Ooi and his team in Monson Lab Studios released their first title, Sara Is Missing (SIM), a ‘found footage’-style mobile game that captures the horrors of mobile technology and the voyeuristic pleasure of prying into another individual’s personal belongings.

The game, which has been downloaded over a million times on Google Playstore, won the awards for Best Upcoming Game and Jury’s Honourable Mention at the first Southeast Asian edition of the International Mobile Gaming Awards (IMGA) last year.

What’s the inspiration behind Sara Is Missing (SIM)?

Two years ago, I played Her Story, a computer game where you watch a police interrogation of a young lady and decide if she committed the murder or not. It is an interesting concept because it’s unique and new, so I thought, why not create a mobile game with a similar style? We wanted to feature real people in the game to give a surreal gaming experience.

Making a computer game then porting it to mobile is problematic, as it can be clunky and take up a lot of space. So we decided to build it first for the smartphone, and it doesn’t require a high-end phone to play. The game uses a phone interface, like a real mobile phone, whereby all the player needs to know is how to use a phone and its apps.

Could you share the game development process?

I pitched the idea to the game’s producer Shahrizar and programmer Shahazmi, who were first sceptical about it. It took about six months to develop – three months for the prototype of the game’s mechanism and system, and the other three to get the game’s storyline. I got a team of writers from different backgrounds – Buddy Anwardi, Saqina Latif and Derek Mui – to help with the storyline.

Is there a future for SIM?

SIM was released under a tight deadline, so we are doing a ‘spiritual sequel’ to it. It is neither a remake nor a sequel, but it will see more improvements and bugs corrected as well as better content. We are hoping to release the game in the second quarter of 2017.

What are your thoughts about the gaming industry in Malaysia?

Big companies in the US and Finland have a lot of exposure to intelligent content, which adds up to making good games.

In Malaysia, we have the advantage of being exposed to both Asian and western cultures, but we have not exploited this yet. In the market, this is a sweet spot and we need to take advantage of it. We have a lot of talents in the country, but we need to be brave enough to try new things.

TRIVIA

Can’t leave home without: Mobile phone.

Favourite cuisine: Japanese.

Game designers he looks up to: Sam Barlow and Jesse Schell.

Favourite games: Shadow of the Colossus and Mega Man X.

Other hobby: Playing trading card games such as Magic: The Gathering.