Finding success

13 Mar 2020 / 11:02 H.

A PHYSICIST, an accountant, and a theatre enthusiast walked into games development and created a unique horror experience on mobile.

Available on PC, iOS, and Android, their ‘found phone’ game has garnered millions of fans around the world. And have I mentioned that they are from Malaysia?

We met the people behind Kaigan Games, the makers of the Simulacra game franchise, at their office in Damansara South.

In Simulacra, you play as yourself. One day, you find an abandoned smartphone.

Being a good Samaritan, you try your best to find out who the phone belongs to. However, your only lead is the phone itself, its apps, its contacts, and the media within.

At the Kaigan Games offices, we were welcomed by the CEO Shahrizar Roslan, game designer Jeremy Ooi, and lead developer Shahazmi Roslan, the founding members of the company.

Ooi began by explaining how they came up with the ‘found phone’ horror game concept.

He added: “There was a game that existed before ours called Replica. It is also a found phone game, but it [is on] a smaller scale and uses pixelated retro-style graphics. In the game, your task is to figure out if the owner of the phone is linked to a terrorist group.

“I thought it was a cool concept, but when I played the game, I found that what you can do in it is very limited. For example, there are conversations in the game, but you have no control over it. I felt it could be better.”

Another inspiration for Simulacra was Her Story, an open-ended narrative-driven game where you play an investigator sifting through interrogation videos to piece together the story.

Simulacara combines the elements of the two games, most notably the use of full-motion video (FMV), a technology that was once common with the introduction of compact discs.

Nevertheless, FMV is appropriate in a parallel reality game like Simulacra.

“We were also in that dilemma at the time,” said Shahrizar when explaining how using FMV can be cheaper than using computer-generated graphics (CG).

“There were only three of us,” he added. “Previously Shahazmi and I were working for hire in the gaming industry, and Jeremy was working for another gaming company. So we got together and thought about what kind of game that we can do within the scope that is unique.

“In the end, we agreed that using FMV was the solution.”

You can see the results of the company’s initial foray into FMV in its first published game – and a precursor to Simulacra – titled Sara is Missing, which is free on iOS and Android.

And to think, none of the founders of Kaigan Games had a background in game development when they started.

Shahrizar said: “So, even here, the three founders: Jeremy’s background is accounting, Shahazmi graduated as an accountant, and I graduated as a physicist. We had no training to become game developers.”

But that did not stop the trio from learning the skills to develop games that deliver some of the most unique experiences out there.

With inspiration being somewhat grounded, we have to ask why did Kaigan Games choose to make horror games with paranormal elements?

Shahrizar said: “Back when we published the game some four years ago, it was the height of independent horror games. YouTubers were recording themselves playing horror games with a face cam, screaming.”

“There are two big reasons: [if] we want to make the game popular, we need the game to be played by popular YouTubers, and they tend to like horror games,” said Ooi.

“Secondly, with the parallel reality setting and the phone, we believed we could do more. We notice when a phone acts differently than it should, and it was a great tool for us to craft unique scenes and gameplay moments.”

Today, Kaigan Games is a team of about 10 people. With four games under its belt including

Simulacra: Pipe Dreams which is a free spin-off to Simulacra, and Simulacra 2 which was released late last year, the company has carved a niche for itself, and others have taken notice.

Two years ago, Kaigan Games worked on A Touch of History, an educational programme and advertising campaign in Switzerland that asks the question: “What if historical figures had a smartphone, and what if students got their hands on one?”

Through the app, students can learn about the likes of Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, and Marco Polo by browsing through the virtual smartphones of these historical personalities.

It is amazing what these talented and passionate Malaysians have achieved.

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