We have an honor to speak with Ahmad Jadallah, Writer and Director of Unearthed and the Director of Development at Semaphore, a company that will bring us a surprising title, direct from Kingdom of Saudi Arabia very soon. Let us see, what he has to tell.
Hello Ahmad. First of all, let’s talk about Your Studio. What’s the story behind it? (when You have started, what was Your first title, etc.)
Semanoor is a leading e-learning and training developer with a host of products and solutions for different platforms and has several offices worldwide. It was founded by Mr.EmadAldoghaither. I am heading the games division (Semaphore) which focuses on developing game, multimedia and VR applications for PC/Mac/Ios/Android/Xbox 360 and PS3. Unearthed is our flagship product and we aim to make it a starting point for new games and projects in the future.
Do you have an international team? How many people are working on Unearthed?
Semanoor International (the mother company) is made of 200 employees so our team at Semaphore increases or decreases based on production requirements. We also work with a network of partner studios and freelancers worldwide.
What defines Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta?
we don't mean to show a "positive" portrayal but to explore different aspects that you don't get to see when you are in an Arabic city with its residents shooting at you or a nuclear bomb about to go off :-)
Well, we looked at the landscape of action adventure games that are available now and we found that while some of them feature locations of the Middle East they are usually set in war-torn and sometimes stereotypical versions of the area. At the same time we believe that in the story of Ibn Battuta we have a great source material that is grounded in real history and never been explored before in games that we can tap into.
Unearthed is based on a true story surrounding the traveller Ibn Battuta who predated Marco Pollo by thirty years and crossed three times the distance that Marco Polo did. Of course we add the required amount of fiction and creative license that is needed to make the game fun and engaging. The core of the game is a third person action adventure with agility, combat and cover system mechanics that you expect in modern game, but here are a lot of things we are currently developing to set the game apart and some of those will appear in the upcoming episodes of the game as the story progresses.
Can you specify, on which platforms will it be released?
Episode 1 is coming to PC, Mac, PSN and XBLA at the price of $9.99 and for Ios, Android for $4.99.
Other platforms that we are considering for the future are Linux, Windows Phone 8, Wii U and Vita.
Any of them is leading platform for which you created the game at first place?
The PS3 is our lead platform as it allows us to scale up to PC or down to mobile with "relative" ease.
21 different languages is really impressive number of translations, what convinced you to do this?
Well, we grew up in this part of the world watching Japanese and American TV shows and cartoons being Dubbed and subtitled into Arabic and this gave us a great exposure over their cultures, thought process, and values. We believe that it's our turn to give something back and represent ourselves in a way different from the stereotypical portrayal that you find in most media today about the Middle East. Note that we don't mean to show a "positive" portrayal but to explore different aspects that you don't get to see when you are in an Arabic city with its residents shooting at you or a nuclear bomb about to go off :-)
We know that you’ll distribute Unearthed via Steam, Android Market, PSN and Xbox Marketplace, are you considering releasing it on other media, such as DVD or Blu-Ray Disc?
Currently our plan is digital distribution but if there is enough demand we might release all the episodes when the season is done on a single DVD or Blu-Ray but that is still not finalized at this point.
Have you got any other video games, besides Unearthed in your portfolio, which has been released on consoles?
Unearthed is our flagship product and we aim to make it a great kickoff point for our studio and for others in the Middle East region.
When you announced Trial of Ibn Battuta, almost whole gaming world said, that this is a copy of Uncharted. Are you not afraid of that kind of comparisons?
Think of Unearthed as the ultimate form of fanboyism where you go beyond being passionate about your beloved game and create something new inspired by it
There are a lot of similarities between our game and titles like Uncharted, Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones in the sense that they are all third person action adventure games set in modern\recent times and are about treasure hunting of sorts. Yet of course each one of those aim to differentiate itself by carving its own niche. We are doing that as well, but due to the episodic nature of our game the difference will start to show up clearly in future episodes. But rest assured that we are fans of the Uncharted series and we would do our very best to honor it. Think of Unearthed as the ultimate form of fanboyism where you go beyond being passionate about your beloved game and create something new inspired by it and adding your own culture and unique spin to it.
So, what unique attributes has your game, that is even better than Naughty Dog production?
Naughty Dog is a big established studio that has decades of delivering AAA gamesand we are an up and coming studio. So our aim is not to compete with their production level and it doesn't make sense to compare ourselves to them over than to see what best practices they and other studios are following in their production process and try to learn and improve ourselves. Having said that, Unearthed is presented in an episodic format and on many platforms and featuring new settings and storylines that were never featured in games or movies before.
How does the games market look in Saudi Arabia?
The past few years saw the emergence of several studios in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates that mostly target casual mobile and social networks players through either developing games or localizing eastern ones. Here at Semaphore we choose to travel down a different path targeting core gamers and current gen platforms in addition to the mobile and social space.
The Arab spring had its effect on Egypt and Syria (which was previously the main game development hub in the region). Elsewhere however there is an ever increasing player base especially with the rise of mobile and social gaming.
What are the most popular games in Your country?
I would say that games like Call of Duty and the Fifa are dominating the market for the most part. But we also have a big MineCraft following and a rising interest in RPGs (Both Western and Japanese).
Why we're getting so few games from your region? Is this a matter of culture, religion or something else?
What this market needs is a success story! And that is what we are hard at work to achieve here at Semaphore with Unearthed and other projects. Local investors need to realize gaming as stable and viable industry that rivals other options. Especially at its infancy where first movers can reap great advantages.
Are you familiar with Polish games? Have you played The Witcher or at least heard of it?
Actually, I have been following the Polish gaming scene for quite some time and worked on the Chrome Engine by Tech Land at some point. So I am familiar with titles such as Call of Juarez, Dead Island and The Witcher series. I haven't got the chance to play The Witcher but from the reviews and videos I have seen it is definitely a huge production. And I hope that in the Middle East we will be able to reach the same level as you guys in the future.
What’s Your Thoughts about that kind of games?
As a fan of the Quest of Glory series (Adventure\RPG Hybrid) back in the nineties I can relate a lot to The Witcher and its great to see a modern take on that formula with such high production values and DX11 goodness :) and I am looking forward to Cyberpunk 2077 as well.
Did you see the movie Lawrence of Arabia?
I haven't (Shocking, I know). But I am familiar with the character and the story.
What are your inspirations for further projects?
There are several sorts of inspirations that we consider, be it from story perspective, technical, game design or mechanics.
Are you going to create next title based on legends from your country? I must admit, I don’t know many of them, so in my opinion it could be very interesting to learn about your culture through games.
Sure, we have a lot of those and we believe they will make interesting game ideas in many genres. Story telling actually played a historical role in this region for decades in the form of Al Hakawati who is a guy who would tell captivating stories based on the culture that will make people curious to return for more. So we are keen to explore this further and see how best we can represent those.
Thank You very much for the interview. Any last words for players all over the World to convince them to buy your game?
I would like to thank you and the Polish gaming community for this opportunity and would ask everyone to check out the very latest Story Trailer that we released today for Unearthed as it will give you a good idea of what to expect from the game.
We are working very hard to deliver unique features to Unearthed in future episodes that will differentiate it from other games and we need your support to be able to do that. We added Polish menus\Subtitles to episode 1 and we are looking into dubbing the voiceover into other languages if there is demand for it (Currently voice over in Episode 1 is Arabic and English).
Also, please vote for us on Steam Green Light so that we can add the game to Steam (www.unearthedgame.com/greenlight)
WERSJA POLSKA NA STRONIE 2: