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Rumbling Games Brings The Middle East to the West With Knights of Light



The Middle East is not a region often associated with role-playing video games or video gaming culture in general. For most people, the idea of RPGs conjures images of fantastical themes, often consisting of European- or Asian-inspired lore and mythology. Even historical RPGs tend to portray eras of the past from a decidedly Western point of view, and those few games that depict a Middle-Eastern setting are produced by Western companies. As gaming reaches ever-increasing heights of popularity, one might say that time is long overdue for a studio based in the Middle East to bring its vision of interactive entertainment to the world.

Enter Rumbling Games Studio, an independent AAA development studio based in Cairo, Egypt. On July 25, the studio announced the beginning of its Kickstarter campaign for Knights of Light, a historical action RPG set in ancient Iraq. A huge open world of 400 square kilometers, 60 hours of gameplay, and two expansions to come after release are among the promised features described on the fundraising page—an ambitious scope, to say the least. In addition, Rumbling Games has made a promise to gamers: to never implement microtransactions, lootboxes, or season passes into its games, as well as to never charge exorbitant amounts for purchasing any of its titles.

While some individuals do not mind any of the aforementioned money-sinks, the studio’s attitude may very well be the breath of fresh air the industry needs. In an effort to learn more about the studio and Knights of Light, OnlySP was lucky enough to chat with one of the co-founders of Rumbling Games, Ahmed Mousa.

Discussing the origin of Rumbling Games, Mousa explained that the studio began when three of its five co-founders met while working for the same company. “We met there and decided to establish a software development company together,” he said. “For two years we achieved success and decided to expand our services to video games. We had a passion for games and history with a belief that we can succeed in this industry.”

Partnering with two other co-workers, the trio became a group of five, and, in 2016, Rumbling Games came into existence. In comparison to the rest of the world, video gaming and game development in Egypt is still in its infancy, with Rumbling Games standing out as the closest thing the region has to a AAA company. When asked if the idea of competing with Western companies might be a tad bit daunting, Mousa replied with confidence. “Globally we are not feeling any pressure at all because from a Western perspective, Middle Eastern studios are not seen as a real player or challenge,” he told OnlySP. “So no one [has] any high expectations from us. Which ironically will help us stand out among them as a weird exception.”

As far as local acceptance goes, Egyptian society is seemingly cheering the studio’s efforts on. “Locally we are very much encouraged and supported as a potential representative of the gaming community,” said Mousa.

That acceptance is sure to bolster the studio’s efforts in the creation of Knights of Light, a game of grand aspirations and unique thematic elements. Even a cursory glance over the title’s Kickstarter page reveals the dedication of the Rumbling Games team toward making Knights of Light an experience that stands out, provides players with a great product, and puts its studio on the map for the world to see. Intended as the beginning of a franchise based on the history of the Middle East, the first Knights of Light game focuses on the time period around the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah—a true historical event during the first period of Muslim expansion. Fought between Arab Muslim forces and the Sassanid Persian army, the battle resulted in the Islamic takeover of Persia and the eventual conquest of Iraq.

While playing Knights of Light, gamers will encounter figures from real-world history, including the main character himself. “The main character is from a tribe known for its might and prowess in battles,” Mousa said. “The tribe was considered as a special force in the army. Historically the main character had a decisive role in the course of the battle. He was sent as a reinforcement to help flip the battle tide. He was known for [his] amazing ability to fight bare handed against armored units.”

Realism and accuracy are important to the Rumbling Games team. A 400-kilometer map might seem enormous in the minds of many gamers, but it serves the purpose of reflecting the actual size of the land of Iraq. “The old land of Iraq had many amazing landmarks from the far south to the far north,” Mousa told OnlySP. “Just roaming freely among [these] beautiful scenes is an experience for any gamer. So, we decided to imitate the size and the scale of Iraq instead of compressing it to some random locations.”

Players concerned about redundant scenery or cut-and-paste terrain need not worry. “The map main outlines and landscape is finished,” said Mousa. “What is left is filling and handcrafting every section according to the level design.  But, since we plan to have additional stories and characters to play with in the DLCs, the map will be divided between the standalone game and the DLCs.”

For gamers who prefer a little fantasy in their RPGs, Knights of Light will have an optional side quest chain that explores mythology and adds fantastical elements with a supporting character. When asked why the development team did not include magic and fantasy in the main storyline, Mousa explained that the team wanted to “separate the truth from the myth since our story is based on actual events. So, instead of mixing everything up, we will have a distinct side story.” In acknowledgement of the realists, Mousa added: “Also some gamers love history and reality in their experience more, so we are offering them the choice of not taking that path.”

According to the Knights of Light Kickstarter page, “The story will feature war and conflicts from different perspectives. The player will not find pure angels against worthless barbarians[.] Instead he will face moral and diverse conflicts with deep character development from both his allies and enemies through the campaign.” When asked if the game featured a moral or lesson the team hoped players might glean from their experience, Mousa waxed a little philosophic, saying Knights of Light will offer its players “a simple but deep perspective of the human nature. No matter [if] the time and era is distant there is only one truth: human nature with its beliefs, morals, motives and conflicts.”

In addition to a deep storyline, historical accuracy, and diverse landscape, Knights of Light comes with the promise that Rumbling Games will never add paywall content or lootboxes to its titles. Not long ago, gamers across the world made clear that they have had enough of big companies putting essential content behind a money gate, forcing industry giant Electronic Arts to re-evaluate its approach to Star Wars Battlefront II. Asked if the decision to never implement paywall content was a sort of rebellion against big companies taking advantage of players, Mousa was forthcoming. “Of course, and that is the whole point. We, through our [Kickstarter] campaign, are offering gamers a chance to create the alternative they always wanted. Big companies always justify their greed by the expensive development costs. We, on the other hand have no issue with that.”

One last thing Mousa would like interested gamers to consider is the possible impact of the success of the Knights of Light campaign on the industry as a whole. “Do not just think of our game,” he said. “Instead think of our studio and how its success will affect the market trends. Middle Eastern studios could be the answer to all gamers struggling with mainstream Western studios. So support us to exist and deliver you the entertainment you desire.”

“This time the power is in gamers hands to make a change.”

The Knights of Light Kickstarter campaign launched on July 25, and will continue until September 23. Interested readers can find an abundance of information about the game on the campaign page, and can learn more about Rumbling Games at its official website. OnlySP will continue to keep track of the studio’s progress, and as always seeks to offer its readers the latest and greatest in video game news, reviews, and other great content. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube!

Also known as Twist, Jennifer is a gamer, author, and digital artist who spent the early days of her childhood beating her stepfather's friends at Space Invaders and Pole Position on a beat-up Atari console, after which they would promptly complain to her mother. Now a competitive Diablo 3 player, she splits her time between writing, loving her dog Emmie, and putting her monk through nephalem rifts in a quest for the top spot on the seasonal leaderboards.

Exclusive Interviews

The Occupation Designer Reveals Game Length, Talks Design, Inspiration, and More



The Occupation promo

After a protracted development period, fixed-time thriller The Occupation is set to release in one month’s time. Between its retro aesthetic and immersive sim-inspired gameplay, the game is shaping up as one of 2019’s most unique titles.

In light of that, OnlySP recently spoke to Pete Bottomley, designer of The Occupation and co-founder of developer White Paper Games to find out more about the promising project.

OnlySP: I thought I’d start off with a fairly obvious question. Given the real-time nature of The Occupation, how long can players expect a single run through to last, and by how much can that time be shortened or prolonged by the player’s actions?

Bottomley: The core gameplay is designed around 4 hours of play. There are some sections that are untimed, whether it be for narrative impact or tutorialisation for the player. As we’re playing through the game as a team, it’s taking us around 6.5 hours to play through the game.

The Occupation

OnlySP: How many endings does the game have?

Bottomley: The game’s outcome is a reflection of the steps the player took through the game. I think when playing games, you always want the outcomes to reflect your approach and we’re massively inspired by how games such as Dishonored can tackle that. Our hope is that the ending you experience feels like it reflects their approach and actions.

OnlySP: Tied to that, approximately how many playthroughs would be required to see everything that the game has to offer?

Bottomley: Our intention wasn’t to design a game that required multiple playthroughs. I’m personally the type of player that plays through a narrative, gets an outcome, and that’s my story. That being said, we’ve tried to fill the world with a lot of content, and because of the real-time character simulating actions, hopefully with second and third playthroughs, players will uncover different ways to solve challenges or narrative threads they hadn’t picked up on before.

OnlySP: How did you come to settle on the politicised premise of an Act robbing citizens of civil liberties?

Bottomley: Since we invest so much of our lives into making games, you have to work on something you feel is meaningful and rewarding of your time. At the time of concepting The Occupation, there was a lot of friction between what was happening in the UK and abroad. It affects us all and we wanted to work on something that may put people’s views into perspective.

Our previous game Ether One dealt with the difficulties of seeing a family member suffering with dementia and our aim is to continue these important themes throughout all of our games.

The Occupation screenshot 3

OnlySP: Also, issues surrounding privacy and freedom of speech, among other civil liberties, are pertinent right now. How close to your mind were the modern concerns about the topic while you were concepting the game? And have real-world events impacted the story of The Occupation across the development period?

Bottomley: The world around us always inspires us, but we don’t really rely on specific events to drive any part of the game’s narrative. When you’re developing a game that tries to get its own narrative across but ground it in the real world, you have to try to distil them to focus on the story you’re trying to tell. In a sense, real world stories inspire us but it’s more of an observational thing rather than a particular event we want to depict faithfully. We tend to focus on the emotional and societal impact of the event itself.

OnlySP: How present will those sorts of themes be within the average player’s experience? Or should players expect to be able to lose themselves entirely in the investigation without really leaning on the context?

Bottomley: We aim to put context on all of your actions in the world otherwise there’s not much meaning behind the choices being made. That being said, you can choose to follow certain narrative threads over others, which allows the player to follow the most interesting lead they come across.

OnlySP: Players take the role of a journalist in the game; how accurate would you say your portrayal is of the technologies and general aesthetic of late ‘80s Britain? How much research went into getting the language and atmosphere of the era right?

Bottomley: It’s interesting you raise that point as we’ve just been speaking about the world limitations in this game. In our previous game, Ether One, we aimed to deliver a grounded narrative that had certain sci-fi elements. With The Occupation, we wanted to go even more grounded and aim to deliver a world that belongs in the ’80s so any aesthetic and technological choices were always taken into consideration. Surrounding yourself with these limitations can create really cool gameplay mechanics such as our pager as a message delivery system, public payphones to update your objectives, and fax machines to deliver information.

The Occupation screenshot 2

OnlySP: The game has been delayed twice now, both times quite close to the scheduled release. Is there any chance you could shed some light on the causes of the delays?

Bottomley: Delaying a game is a gut wrenching decision. You’ve put a promise out there and you push yourself to deliver. We’ve aimed incredibly high on this game both technologically and in the game’s design. On top of this, we wanted to deliver the game in as many languages as we could along with sim-shipping on PC, XB1, & PS4 and doing a retail disc submission so that people could pick up the game in stores if they wanted to hold a physical representation of the game. Because of these platforms, the game has to be ready a couple of months in advance to help distribution and all the different regions to have the version of the game you intend for them. With complexity always come more bugs and since our last game shipped in a buggy state, we didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. We’ve QA’d the game for months and had support from our publishers in helping to identify the issues. As with any game, we’ll no doubt spot some issues on launch, but we’ve already put processes in place to address these as quickly as we can and hopefully the execution of the game will immerse people and keep players engaged so that nothing disrupts the experience.

OnlySP: I recall on Twitter that you once wrote that you were testing the possibility of a Switch port. How seriously have you looked at that possibility and what’s the likelihood?

Bottomley: Right now we have a Switch development kit frustratingly gathering dust in our studio. Since we’re a small team, it can be a tough choice trying to figure out where to best use your resources. We’d absolutely love to get the game onto Switch but we’ve not tested a build yet. It’s the first thing we’ll be moving onto in March so we should be able to update people as soon as we know how The Occupation runs on it. Thankfully using Unreal Engine makes this process a lot more straightforward and we’ve seen a lot of developer friends find success on the Switch so it’s a great opportunity to reach a larger audience.

OnlySP: How does it feel for you and the team to be just about ready to wrap development after four years of work?

Bottomley: It’s not quite set in yet. Although we’re done with the game and excited to see the reception it gets from people, it’s really only 50% of the work, especially when you’re in a small team. We’re currently planning all the marketing and PR opportunities along with reflecting on the development cycle and figuring out what we can do better (to hopefully not spend another 4 years on a game!).

The Occupation screenshot 1

OnlySP: Finally, do you have any closing comments for our readers or anything else you’d like to say about The Occupation?

Bottomley: The whole team has put an incredible amount of energy into The Occupation. If you look at our previous game compared to The Occupation, you can see how far we’ve come. It’s been a huge learning curve for the studio both technically and in production and we’re excited to move onto another game to push ourselves. We’re unable to do that without game sales. It sounds corny, but we really can’t develop games without our community’s support. We value each purchase and we want to grow and keep pushing to create more interesting games. We have a lot of goals and drive and we’re focusing on growing and creating more experiences for the player. If you’re reading this and have purchased any of our games, thank you. It absolutely means the world to be able to wake up in the morning and be excited to develop games. Thank you.

The Occupation is set to release on March 5, 2019 for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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