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!