Video games have become a progressing industry in Qatar. More and more tournaments and events are being held nationwide, and in the region, content creators have developed a booming community, and a handful of talented developers in Qatar have also started to come out with original video games that have received fantastic feedback from audiences.
The ILoveQatar.net (ILQ) team caught up with Mohammed Al-Ansi, an indie game developer in Qatar behind the horror game Sinister Entity, to talk about his game, his journey with developing it, and the future of the gaming industry in the country.
Mohammed: My name is Mohammed Al-Ansi. I am an indie game developer and a 3D designer. I enjoy reading and drawing. I love video games, particularly horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. I like stealth games, and (Metal Gear) series is my favorite.
Mohammed: The story began long ago when I first saw an Atari console and was introduced to Space Invaders and Pac-Man games. Since that day, I have fallen in love with video games. I consider video games the best form of entertainment and even better than movies because you can control the storyline as you play. They also immerse you in the experience in a way movies cannot provide.
Mohammed: I started entering the field of gaming around 2007, and my journey began with the 3D Game Studio engine. After realizing the engine was unsuitable, I transitioned to the XNA library. I continued learning and programming in C#. Previously, I used to hate programming and couldn't tolerate it, but after starting to learn it, I grew to love it.
In 2012, I moved to the Unity engine. I started learning it by watching tutorials on YouTube and trying to apply what I had learned. The path wasn't clear to me because self-learning can be very difficult, and you often feel lost, needing someone to guide you in the right direction. You need to know many things about game development, such as game design and how to prepare a project before starting, including creating a game design document and more. These things may not be known to someone just starting in this field.
My learning journey was filled with difficulties, and I was discouraged several times, but I didn't give up and continued learning.
Mohammed: I love this genre very much and had some beautiful days with it during the PlayStation 2 era. I also enjoy reading scary stories and about the supernatural world. Additionally, most of the movies I watch are from the horror genre.
I drew inspiration from several games, starting with Clock Tower 3, which had the concept of escaping and hiding from enemies. The classic Resident Evil games and a bit of The Evil Within also influenced me.
As for movies, I borrowed some ideas from The Exorcist 1973.
Mohammed: Sinister Entity is a third-person horror and puzzle game set in Egypt in the year 1980. It tells the story of a girl named Salma, who is going through a period of sorrow after her mother's death in a strange incident. The cause of her mother's death remains unknown to the doctors. Currently, she lives with her father, Dr. Adham, an archaeologist constantly studying ancient manuscripts.
The game relies on the elements of escape and hiding to survive, while offering various puzzles with varying degrees of difficulty. It also includes some violent and terrifying scenes.
The game features Arabic text and dubbing, including the Egyptian dialect and English language support. It will be available on the Steam store by the end of 2023, assuming I don't face any obstacles.
Emirati composer, Ibrahim Al-jneibi, collaborated with me and composed the game's melodies. He also created the soundtrack for the scenes.
Voice actress, Dina Fahim, took on the role of the character Salma. She is the official voice of many Arab and Gulf institutions and companies.
Voice actor, Hisham Al-Kabeer, performed the voice of the devil and has been involved in projects such as Final Fantasy VII Remake. He also worked as a producer and consultant and participated in the documentary film Video Games: The Movie and the film The PlayStation Revolution.
Voice actor Fares Al-Ghamdi also contributed to a scene for one of the characters in the game, marking his first participation in this field.
Mohammed: The game development started in 2019 and continued for 4 years. I haven't finished it yet. The game development goes through several stages.
Firstly, the pre-production stage, where I started by writing the story and the ideas that will be present in the game. I also created some initial game concepts and documented some ideas.
After that, I wrote the game design document, which contains all the information about the game, including the story, cinematic scenes, mechanics, game areas, player tools, and puzzles. In short, the entire game is documented in this document. In this stage, I also created a simple prototype of the game.
Next, there's the actual production stage, which is the longest and the one I'm still working on. I can say that I have completed most of the tasks, such as game design, story writing, character design, character animation, environment design, and game programming. Character design was a lengthy and somewhat challenging process. I first searched for reference images to design a realistic character of acceptable quality. I purchased some reference images from specialized websites and used various programs like Maya for character design and Mudbox for sculpting and texturing. The character design process took around 6 months. After that, I also designed the palace, which is the environment where the player will embark on their adventure. That took several more months. I also worked on character animation and created cinematic scenes in the game. Most of my time was devoted to game programming since the game contains much to implement. Being a 3D game makes it slightly more complex. After completing the game, it will be uploaded to the Steam store for publication.
Based on their feedback, the final stage is fixing any issues players may encounter.
Mohammed: I believe a group of people will be happy with this game, particularly fans of the Resident Evil series. I tried to maintain what distinguishes old horror games: the emphasis on survival. If you lose the game, you have to restart from the last saved point, and there is no concept of checkpoints now. Additionally, old horror games focused primarily on puzzles, and that's also what I cared about.
Mohammed: In general, the reactions were positive, and some people came to try the game or watch it based on what they had heard from others at the exhibition. This made me happy and increased my excitement. The Geekend exhibition was very beneficial to me because, finally, people saw the project I had been working on for years. It also introduced me to people interested in this field, precisely what we need.
Mohammed: There is only interest in e-sports here. As for the game industry, I can say that we don't have a game industry in Qatar. Every developer works individually, and the number of studios we have in this field is very few, and they are small studios. Therefore, this industry will not flourish unless it is adopted by a governmental entity and provided with the necessary support.
Attracting experienced individuals and holding the necessary courses and workshops to teach game development and elevate this industry is necessary. Game development should also be included in our university programs, as it is taught in many countries abroad, and game development is considered a profession for many. It encompasses various specializations, including story writing, programming, art and 3D design, sound composition, voice acting, and more. It should be noted that this market generates significant revenue. In 2022, global spending on games amounted to $200 billion, which has become more important than movies.
Mohammed: Some people are eager to learn and enter this field but don't know where to start. I would like to tell them that online courses are widely available now. We also have our own Discord server (Game Dev Qatar), where many programmers and artists gather. I invite those interested in this field to join and form small groups and attempt to create something simple initially.
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