Two developers from Johannesburg turned their university assignment into a gaming-world success.
Ben Myres (25) and Cukia Kimani (26) are the masterminds behind the malleable world of Semblance, where nearly everything, including the environment and a soft, bouncy character called Squish, is like playdough.
The deformable world in the game was an idea born from a glitch - which attracted the attention of the Japanese gaming giant Nintendo.
Making them the first South African local developers to see a game released on the Nintendo platform.
“The game was originally just about the character changing shape,” said Myres. “In a silly experiment, we put a [item] underneath one of these platforms and realised you could unveil and collect it. This was a watershed moment that hinted at how interesting deforming terrain could be, rather than just the character changing shape.”
The game started out as a university project for a game design course at the University of the Witwatersrand in 2015. This was until one of their examiners, who was himself a professional game designer, encouraged the pair to develop it into a fully-fledged game.
Until that moment, both of them never considered becoming game developers.
“I used to play a lot of games as a kid, but they were mostly bootleg CDs that my dad brought back from Hong Kong. I loved Age of Empires as a kid. But it wasn’t until I studied game design that I really fell into it,” said Myres.
They took a gamble, packed up their belongings and moved back home to develop the game from their bedrooms. They also started a company called Nyamakop, literally 'meat-head'. Over the next two years, they travelled the globe, demonstrating Semblance at gaming expos in Los Angeles, Cologne, San Francisco, Tokyo and Boston. In the process, they secured publishers, Good Shepherd Entertainment.
“When we travelled we had to stay in hostels with like 10-20 people in a room, all sleeping on bunk beds.” said Myres. "We worked out of garages or just at home desks. We still don't have an office!"
A major breakthrough came at the PAX East expo in Boston, a conference for game developers. Their game scored a positive review by Rolling Stone magazine, who called it one of their favourites from the event.
"The user reviews have been excellent too - we had a 100% positive rating on Steam for the first few days, and now it’s sitting at 97% positive. We also had decent uptake from YouTubers and livestreamers playing the game," said Myres.
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