MADIBA Olivier is the founder of Kiro'o Games, the first video game studio in Cameroon (Africa). He is also a Gamedesigner / Screenwriter / Programmer of the first African-Fantasy RPG in the world: Aurion The Legacy of the Kori-Odan released on steam in 2016. Aurion started as an amateur project on RPG Maker in 2003. Today, the game is already in Hollywood pipes because of its quality of writing and staging. Madiba Olivier was even received by President Obama as part of the YALI program.
PS : The writer usually speaks French, so sorry for potential English mistakes.
So I will explain (with a lots of pictures) how we evolved from a simple amateur project in 2003 to the professional video game Action-RPG that you may already know. It's a long journey, take popcorn to discover the path of the Wallbreakers.
How the game evolved from 2003 to 2015
(trailer shownig the evolution there
2003-2005 : Play with the cards you have, don’t cry those you don’t.
I just finished my high school at that time in Cameroon and I dream about making my perfect RPG one day at Square Enix. I tell myself that if I make a good game from Cameroon, one day they will discover me and they will hire me (The illusion of Drake ...).
Around me of course everyone laughed, I would even post on a french forum my idea of the perfect RPG that I will create one day (it looks like what FF15 was supposed to be)
I am on internet every day to search about gaming creation and then I discover RPG Maker. It’s a revelation: everyone can really make a game.
This was my shaolin temple for gamedesign for years !
I meet two friends (Dominique Yakan and Wouafo Hugues) and together we create our amateur game Aurion: the legacy of Enzo Koriodan, a big shonen RPG full of cliché with an "Afro Gokou", a prophecy and a choosen one (Erine) to save the world of a big demon.
We decided to focus on the staging, the programming and the scenario, ripping the drawings of the other games (thank you SNK, Capcom, and all the emulators of the world).
How to use graphics from others to start your game
The game creation never ended (stucked at 50%) But we already had a lot of ideas which survived in the actual game :
- The Aurion was already linked to the ancestors.
- Enzo could already merge the basic Aurions to have more.
- We already wanted dynamism with QTE during the turn by turn gameplay.
- The fighting cut-scenes at the beginning and ending of boss fight with “prorixyde flash logic” were the future !
You can see a old trailer there I made in 2006 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HUmiSMIZRE
One wall down and I can see another in the horizon…
2006 -2011 : Hard reality.
The hardest years of my life: repetitive academic failure, financial hell, I stagnate to have my bachelor degree in computer science in a depressive environment. I also understoodd that I will never get into Square Enix when I live in Africa and with a RPG Maker experience only... it seems I am already a total loser.
2008, I have a boost of combativity, with others friends I open my first startup MADIA in webdesign and this will teach me the basics of CEO life: men and project management and my basics in computer graphics.
I owe my psychological survival to the fact that I continue to work on Aurion every night when I back home and on week-ends. I'm going on RPG maker XP and I start to read about the Professional GameDesign process. It is also there that I decide that my gameplay will be one of the most dynamic ever created in 2D, and I start to create my engine the Astral Engine in overlay of RPG Maker XP.
I worked mostly to not become mediocre, I wanted my brain to remain active on something big, challenging to hold on in this psychological prison of lack of opportunities, corruptions etc.
2012 : The return of the Jedi… who see his father
At the beginning of the year 2012, MADIA is bankrupt (it's better today), I'm about to fail my life with style. But two things will put me back on the path of Gamedesign::
- Kickstarter eldorado, and the new indie gaming scene with the digital publishing.
- A press release about the studio Yager which spent 4 million dollars in the “entertainement of the team”.
I think that if someone give me those 4 million dollars, I can create an AAA in Africa and then I begin to simulate on excel how much I need ... miracle! the figures show that it can work!
All this year I worked like a crazy on Aurion via RPG Maker XP. I rewrited the script, the gameplay notebook, I designed and realized my engine and I seeked volunteers to make me at least Enzo and Erine in Pixel Art.
Aurion 0.5 Demo was done at 50% on my own script with no combat available
Without money no one wants (or can) works seriously, I think that with a non pro demo I may convince people in Kickstarter to give me $12,000. I start to make a demo for December 2012 to launch my Kickstarter campaign.
A trailer of this version is available there: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PP5-aA5C_xs
One wall down and I can see another in the horizon…
December 2012... The slap in my face. The demo is ready, I want to launch a $ 12,000 Kickstarter to create an amateur RPG that will show my potential (to find 4 million later). I sit in front of Kickstarter and there... the reality (again!). As a Cameroonian, I do not have the right to post a project on Kickstarter. The "new campaign" button was available all the year I never tried because I was sure it would not have been there if not working.
Depression, tears, bitterness. I was wondering "Am I designed by the gods to fail because I'm African?"
2013 : We are Diamond Dogs
You must know that I was born on 10 October (like Naruto), and I am a super Saint Seyia fan since my childhood. My team and I decided that we will "change this world or die trying." If the world does not give us an opportunity we will create it by force: We will open our studio in Africa.
We pre-recruited and trained artist and coders
in MADIA which became our Mother Base.
We exploited our demo (yes a demo on RPG Maker XP it was insane) to make conferences call for investment in Cameroon: 2 conferences organized in 2 months by 5 people. With the support of our Ministry of Culture which sponsorised them.
At the end of the conferences there was a little buzz in Cameroon, so we decided to make a professional game directly. After all, the Team Meat had less money and fewer people, we will not have any respect from the game industry if we release an amateur game with a team of 20 peoples.
Some local journalists at this time say that we are suffering from a "crisis of collective hysteria". Moreover, no international investment fund believes in us. So we decide to create our fundraising system ourselves.
The quest for financing in Africa is hardcore mode, in addition to having to reassure investors that your game will work; you must also reassure them that you are not a scam and that you will deliver it while your GameDesigner track record is blank.
Some investors saw the RMXP demo but they wanted images of the pro concept to invest.
The big equation, how to create a pro game to have money while it takes money to create it?
MADIA is broke I'm broke. We live almost with charity this year 2013 but we have a rage worthy of Saint Seyia team. I collect about €400 so that my 9 designers work 2 weeks to simulate the beginning of the game in picture. Every day we buy transport and a sandwich to everyone. The most interesting part is that we designed these pictures following a real level design process; it was not about drawing but showing that we can make it as a team of game developers. The result will move the internet.
After several adventures we get the first investors (thanks to emails, youtube, and skype) and we opened the studio. Then I saw an unexpected mutiny.
Despite all my transparency, my artists were sure I was going to cheat this money.
In Cameroon, they had already been volunteere for several projects before me, each time the promoter had fled with the money by leaving them on the job. This time they wanted their shares.
Obviously I refused, and so I was two weeks before the opening of my studio, without a team... We had to react quickly and recruit again a team of super motivated. This added a problem: to retrain them.
On December 2, 2013, Kiro'o Games is born ... an impossible dream became true, I opened the first video game studio in my country.
One wall down and I can see another in the horizon…
2014-2016 : We started as a team, now we are a family
What happened during these 3 years will be the subject of several technical post-mortem. Here I am mostly going to tell the human adventure behind.
Since Day one we all agreed: this development would be a f *** ing battlefield! We had caught the eyes of the world. If we fail to release a correct game, it will not just be a failed studio, but proof that Africa don't deserve a place at the World GameDesign table.
I realized that we were responsible of an entire industry for our continent. Much of the future of young aspiring African Game Designers was going to depends of our ability to make a good game.
This stakes deserved all the sacrifices. Aurion's specifications were monstrous compared to our skills.
What we wanted to do (jan 2014) :
- Create a 15 to 20 hours lifetime RPG.
- Write a scenario good as FF7 (or more)
- Innovation in staging (no prophecy, no lists of temples, etc.) we have to write the game as a series, each end of trial must trigger the player to see the next part with twists worthy of Game of thrones.
- Create a real original African-Fantasy without ever use ancien Egyptian assets, no pyramids in Aurion.
- Create the ultimate 2D combat system in real time. The dream of all fans of Action-RPG who wants to express their fighting talent, while leaving the possibility for not skilled players to finish the game.
- Visually, not take the Tiled pixel art path, but go to the hand drawn challenge.
- No time for R&D, shareholders want to see “something moving" soon.
- That’s why we need to create our own engine the ASTRAL ENGINE
Our team state (jan 2014):
We were sooo that team
- 19 pure local self-made guys who never made a video game in their life, they never even tried or work to bring coffee in a professional video game studio somewhere (no one has been out of cameroon at that time).
- 1 guy (me) with two (unfinished) games on RPG Maker experience.
- A lots of power outrage and bad internet connection which means that we couldn’t stream video tutorial as we wanted.
- The studio was opened with 27% of the funds needed, so I will have to continue the fundraising while doing everything else (training the guys, training myself on XNA, etc)
- A gameplay notebook too old, and a old scenario that we had to rewrite for the 4th time to avoid the “naruto FanMade” too visible.
- You should know I wrote the end while making it 3 weeks before the release of the game (and what a end !).
Now when I see it like that, even me I wouldn’t have trusted us hahaha. But we were so passionate and motivated that some investors did.
What we decided :
- Everyone is a shareholder at the studio, so everyone will sleep there from Monday to Saturday (we did it until mid 2015). The choice was free, everyone agreed.
- Our engine will be crafted in the same time as the game realization.
- The engine had to be the most "open-minded" possible to absorb our own design / production mistakes and allow us at any time to change what we want.
- A process of creation of the assets and characters was defined to facilitate the work of the team (with an internal website to share the master book.)
- I supervised the whole team myself during the day and I did my work at night when they were sleeping.
(Yes this has to come out lol)
The development of the game was ... exciting. So many technical challenges, pressure from families who did not understand our pace of work (some parents and spouses came to my office to complain).
Here is a "non exhaustive list of problems encountered and solutions" before the release of the game:
- RAM Explosion: XNA is a 32-bit framework, so limited to 1.6GB of RAM. The more the game evolved the more it crashed because of the sets and animations of Enzo. We had to lower the size of some resources, and no longer keep the entire hero in RAM, just the standard animations and those related to a particular Aurionic state. We were forced to flirt with multi threading
- The addition of the Shaders: We understood how the shaders work in mid-2015 ... So it was necessary to restructure the codes to integrate them so that the decors gain in beauty.
- The « Translation Gate » : The translation of the game has been delayed (more text than expected). Moreover, the translators did not respect the formatting (by tags) given the delays. We had to retransform the whole team into "text checkers" at the release of the game. This element has plumbed much the start of the game in the USA in addition to the last uncovered bugs.
- Make long speech without voice, fun to read : To compensate the lack of dubbing, since our scenario is complex, we opted to add explanatory sheets every time in the history so that the player is not exhausted to make a mental picture of everything when we address as complex topics.
- Greenlight and Kickstarter: A great moment of life ... We launched Kickstarter in late 2015 because we were out of cash to finish the game and we needed a few more months. In addition, Greenlight has shown us that, as an African, our ability to upload games on Steam was very complicated administratively (a lot of extra and obscure documents to provide for international taxation).
- The « Mc Giver » team: The beginning of the game was completed in February 2015 ... It was the "stress zone" to create the first public demo that served the Greenlight. The designers had already finished all the rest and trained themselves to become mappers and Level Designers for further development.
- Internet and Electricity: Our ISP did not allow us to upload the game (bandwith too unstable). We had to upload it with my phone and my data via a telecom operator who has a much better bandwith (MTN thanks). Every year from February to March in Cameroon, it is the dry season so power outrage often for 8 hours in a row. We did not have any generators so we converted those hours into brainstorming design and remix scenario. And we organized the schedules to work in the evening or in the day depending on the schedule of the power cuts (yes they gave us a calendar to tell us when we would be in the dark).
- The Multi-task team : In Kiro'o Everyone had at least two or three positions. For example all music and sound effects were made by one man who also managed accounting and HR (not to mention technical crafts). All the cut-scenes of combat are made by a single draftsman who learned by observing my personal animations of 2007 and by grooming fanmade fights SNK and Capcom Online.
- Managing the fame and troll: We became famous too early, which was a good and a bad thing. We had an African fanbase unaccustomed to long projects and they started to say that we would fail to deliver the game because of the delays. In the Western audience, the comments to each video and news that always brought the game back to a propaganda tool for diversity. I am someone simple in nature, seeing my name being mistreated was special. I learned to manage watching the editorial team of the site Gameblog.fr manage several crises of troll in the same period.
- The programmers turnover: We had a big turnover of the programmers of the game because of the pressure throughout 2014, which meant that I had to code myself a good part of the game "frontend" and the lead Programmer focused on the " Backdend "and the problems of dark layers that I do not even want to understand.
Finally on April 14, 2016, Aurion is born on Steam and after 2 first difficult weeks (bug and bad translations) where we harvested bad notes and red inches. The opinions have stabilized to say that we made a good game, even a very good game for some (reviews > = 7/10).
The Final Aurion trailer showing our soul and blood as creators
Aurion's scenario is very good, so good that it is already studying in Hollywood.
One wall down and I can see another in the horizon…
2016 : Games has changed, This "exotic wall" may have pushed us in hell, we will go deeper
We are at the end of 2016, everyone looking at steamspy will wonder why Aurion didn’t hit the numbers (yet) and also why Aurion didn’t found its public.
After a lot of depression weeks and a super inspiring YALI program (6 weeks in USA), I woke up and started to look what we have done wrong and what we have done right. There are many reasons, but mainly it’s a (very) bad marketing strategy on the western gaming audience.
We tried a conventional way (press release, etc) in a new world. We tried to hype the mainstream (like a AAA) instead of focusing on our niche only for the start. So the major part of JRPG Anime fan (our core public) still doesn’t know Aurion is out or even exist.
So now our team is trying to catch up, and also we discovered there is a sleeping pc gaming market in Africa and a fast growing smartphones market: We are building our outter heaven there.
There it's me pitching the new vision of the studio at SLUSH 2016 Helsinki
Since we have so much to do, I don't really know how to end that post-mortem. I think it's mainly written for "wannabe" game Designers since I think I have nothing to teach to the super senior. I just hope this story help someone who is in face of a big wall : adapt yourself, learn quickly, get up again and over again until you break it, that's the wallbreaker mindset.
This is the first post of a serie of postMortem on Aurion. I will talk more about the technical stuff from now. Feel free to contact me on twitter at @madibaOlivier and to comment here. You can also write at madiba (at) kiroogames (dot) com