Fueling Qatar’s growing gaming scene – and hoping to challenge Arab stereotypes in the process – a group of young Khaleeji entrepreneurs are preparing to launch a new mobile platform game this Ramadan.
The game, titled Hamad and Sahar, follows the adventures of a bilingual brother-sister duo as they explore the world of Arabian folktales in a 2D side scroller style akin to the popular Super Mario game series.
Players can choose to be either Hamad or Sahar, and graduate to different levels by breaking blocks to obtain valuable items like keys and recovery items like food.
The game was created by Space Crescent, and is the second edition of an earlier prototype that was launched last March, which has since been reworked to include new features and levels.
In an interview with Doha News, Faisal Al Kubaisi, CEO of Space Crescent, explained how the concept came to be:
“When we decided to publish a game we decided to make a simple platform game instead of a huge one,” the 26-year-old Qatar University graduate said. “After deciding that, we contacted Girnaas and proposed Hamad and Sahar. They decided to support us and publish the game for us in their accounts on the store and help in marketing it,” he said.
Girnaas, a creative studio established with incubation support from Supreme Council of Information and Communication Technology (ictQatar), is one of the pioneering firms in the local gaming scene, creating Qatar’s first homegrown game, Giddam, in November 2013.
The company has since launched two other projects – Giddam Connect, a upgraded version of the original game, and Go Fahad, which was created to commemorate the 2015 World Handball Championships.
Like Giddam, Hamad and Sahar aims to combat an inherent marginalization of Arabs in popular mainstream games by depicting endearing, calm characters dressed in traditional garb.
“Gaming culture, within its communities and character representation in games, is still sullied by bigotry…Group games were, and often still are, happy to marginalise Arabs. Every other first-person shooter seemed to have you aiming your crosshairs at bearded Arab men and they were always called terrorists,” read a recent article in The National, which also credited other games like Run Camel Run and CSI: Hidden Crimes, both created by UAE-based studios, with changing the narrative.
The latest edition of Hamad and Sahar, which, according to Al Kubaisi is “80 percent done,” took over a year to develop, with the team creating new levels, backgrounds, scores, and characters from scratch to supplement the existing ones.
Developers included Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Faisal Al-Kubisi, Maryam Al-Khulaifi, Abdulrahman Al-Dossry.
While Giddam cost some $25,000 to make, and was backed in part by the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, Hamad and Sahar was entirely self-funded.
“(We didn’t) have an actual fund or start up costs needed. What we have used are applications which we already owned or were free to us,” Al Kubaisi said.
However, the team did face some organizational hurdles during the game’s creation.
“We didn’t have an office where we can gather and work…Most of us are busy with our jobs or studies. It was hard to find the time or conduct team meetings. Another issue was file sharing, how could we share the game assets? (In the end), we chose Dropbox to share our game files and organized our work by conducting weekly meetings over instant messenger applications such as Skype…and Facebook,” he said.
The team has since established Space Crescent as an independent company, and will be relaunching the game on their own iTunes and Google Play store accounts toward the end of Ramadan.
Over the next five years, the team hopes to increase its gaming roster and presence by releasing more games and establishing courses and materials to raise awareness of game development locally.
“The gaming scene is starting to flourish, (but) Qatar needs to improve the e-commerce services to encourage the investors and game developers,” Al Kubaisi said.