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Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Tag: gaming

Quick Hits Around African Tech: July 2012

Africa’s Mobile Stats and Facts 2012

Few organizations do as good of a job as Praekelt in creating well-designed applications that are used by millions of people in the continent. A couple times a year, they take that same level of quality and create new videos and resources to better showcase Africa’s tech statistics. Here’s their newest video.

Game Creators: an Interview of Maliyo Games in Nigeria

Good interview of Maliyo Games founder and the opportunity in Africa’s gaming space.

Why do you think the African audience is looking for African games instead of Farmville or Mafia Wars?

“It’s not so much what they are looking for, more what is being pushed to them. Our games ‘Okada Ride’, ‘Mosquito Smasher’ and ‘Adanma’ have far more local relevance than Mafia Wars. Nigerian music and Nollywood movies have a strong appeal to the local and diasporan consumers. We are riding this trend and thus far we are seeing traction.”

Check out Maliyo’s website to get their games.

Opera’s “State of the Mobile Web” for Africa 2012

Opera puts together a great resource of user-based statistics [PDF link]. It’s a country-by-country breakdown of mobile penetration, user growth, top domains and top handsets used. Here are a few of the interesting tidbits:

  • Across Africa, data growth seems to outpace page-view growth. This fact suggests that Africans are browsing larger pages and most likely, using richer, more advanced websites.
  • Facebook is the top domain in every country except for these six, where Google leads: Egypt, Guinea, Djibouti, Comoros, Central African Republic, and Algeria.

Mobile Reporting Field Guide

UC Berkeley has created a mobile reporting field guide, useful for people doing data collection and research as well as activist types.

Upcoming Tech Events in 2012

PyCon South Africa – Cape Town, Oct 4-5
DEMO Africa – Nairobi, Oct 24-26
Tech4Africa – Joburg, Oct 31-Nov 1
AfricaCom – Cape Town, Nov 13-15
Mobile Web Africa – Joburg, Nov 28-29

(If you know of other tech events coming up before the end of the year that you think belong here, put it in the comments and I’ll add it later.)

Some Self-Serving Links:

TED Thoughts: Where Gaming is Taking Us

TED is the type of conference where you’re drinking from the fire hose and, with the 18-minute talks marching onward every few minutes, you have little time to reflect on what you’ve heard before you’re onto the next. It’s been two days now, much of it spent in travel, reading and reflection and I’m starting to string a couple of thoughts together that I find at the very least interesting. At the most disturbing.

On the technology side, there were three talks that made me sit back and consider their repercussions, especially as I think of their tracks vectoring in on each other.

It’s a pretty interesting time that we live in; where giant databases are learning about us by applying Myers-Briggs testing to millions of people through a game, where both software and hardware can self-replicate, and where you can control virtual actions and physical items with your mind.

Gaming

I’ve been playing computer games since I was about 8 years old, when a friend in Nairobi got a Commodore-64 and I learned how to use those dastardly cassette tapes to bring fantastical new realities to life. What happens when a gaming generation looks at the tools and devices being built? I don’t think any of us know quite yet, but sometimes, in the minds of sci-fi writers that we see a future that could be.

On the flight back I read the book Daemon, by Daniel Suarez. It’s a mixture of hacker and gaming culture set in a fantasy world of techno-pessimism and a doomsday scenario that will get a geeks blood flowing. Well worth the read, a perfect airplane book.

Now I’m on to Fun, Inc, a book about “gaming being the 21st century’s most serious business”. It’s a $40+ billion dollar industry, and it’s not slowing down. Virtual worlds and currency are here to stay.

In Milo, I saw what looked like a fairly unimpressive game, but one with a very impressive gaming and AI-training engine. It’s next iteration will be significant indeed.

I talked to Tan Le about the Emotiv device and how I thought that her ideas of it being used for practical purposes like closing shades and turning on lights, though sounding less juvenile, would likely be overshadowed by its use in the gaming world. In fact, I can’t wait to see the first big gaming companies using the Emotiv SDK to create new user interactions, HUDs and options in popular games.

All of these vectors of technology are, at once, both exciting and scary. I don’t know where gaming is taking us. What I can’t help but think is that gaming, and possibly the culture behind it, will be the vehicle that drives mainstream technology use and growth of the talks and demos that I saw at TED.

A Location Based Mobile Adventure Game

This is brilliant. Legends of Echo is a new free Java mobile phone, massively multiplayer role playing, location based game put out by the people behind the Grid in South Africa (Vodacom).

“In the game, the Echo is a parallel virtual universe based on the South African map. Instead of cities and skyscrapers, however, players will find rolling green fields, rocky outcrops and valleys to explore and establish their base.”

The best overviews are found on the News24 Games blog, in an interview with co-creator Nic Haralambous, and on Nic’s own blog (you’ll also want to read what Vincent Maher had to say about it). From what I can tell, without having played it yet, is that it’s a turn-based card-type game. You find loot, do battle and win more loot. Leveling is there, but it’s not as large of a component as expected.

“There are lots of different kinds of weapons, powers and items that you can pick up by moving around the country from city to city, province to province. Each one gives you a slightly different edge in battle.”

On top of the normal game elements, and an indicator that makes me believe that LoE might be better thought-out than most other games, is the fact that they built an economic system into the game from the beginning. Nic states, “There is a currency model built in to the game that allows players to spend airtime in the Echo Marketplace.” That’s a big deal, and it’s not easy to pull off if done right.

Legend of Echo’s graphics and visual appeal can’t be understated. They spent a good deal of time to make this game look and feel like a World of Warcraft competitor, and it shows. Visually it reminds me of Arcanum meets World of Warcraft.

Specs

You’ll need to have a high-end Nokia or Sony Ericsson to play Legends of Echo. I’ve got an old Nokia N95 sitting around somewhere, so my plan is to dust that off and give the game a run when I’m in Cape Town next month.

It also appears that you actually have to be in South Africa to play it, but I’m checking with Nic to see if anyone living in a country that The Grid operates in can play it as well. This is doubtful, as it’s based also on the Afrigis system, which is fairly Southern-Africa specific.

The game is available for free as a Java download to cellphones. To play Legends of Echo, SMS ‘ECHO’ to 33313 (50c/SMS) or visit http://www.legendsofecho.mobi

A teaser video:

Legends of Echo from Cow Africa on Vimeo.

Thoughts from a gamer…

  • It seems that a web-based Java version of this game would be successful, if only because it would allow you to play on whichever device you have handy. Are there any plans for that?
  • How much will LoE go the direction of Foursquare where they really use the location based systems to drive competition and increased game play?
  • I’m impressed that they took the time to create a strong virtual economy.
  • Will a real-world economy of people using real money to buy and sell goods develop online, as we’ve seen in other successful MMO games?
  • You’re supposedly able to “Build special items with unique abilities”. I’d like to know more about the crafting system, as that can be one of the best ways to deepen interaction and make a game more unique.

iWarrior: an African iPhone Game

There aren’t a lot of African gamers, as would be expected due to the general lack of access to gaming technology and platforms in Africa, relative to other parts of the world. There are even fewer game developers on the continent. Due to being a gamer myself, I like to keep track of this as much as possible, and it’s always fun to announce a new one.

iWarrior - an African iPhone gameiWarrior is an iPhone game (iTunes link), created by the cross-Afrian team of Kenyan Wesley Kirinya and Ghanaian Eyram Tawia of Leti Games. It’s a unique top-down shooter game that utilizes the iPhone’s inbuilt accelerometer to both move and shoot. Your goal: protect your village, livestock and garden from the incoming marauding animals.

It’s a great first-effort from the team, and I believe it’s the first game created by a team in Africa. This itself is a much more difficult task than what many might expect. Just to get an iTunes account and a way to be be paid for your application is a challenge due to Apple’s inbuilt prejudice against Africa (they’re not alone in this, as many other platforms, like PayPal’s or Google Checkout’s are the same). That seems like a dramatic statement to make, but I ask you to stay your judgment until you’ve walked in the shoes of an African programmer.

Gameplay
I’m not an exceptionally talented twitch gamer, so I found the unique movement plus shooting actions hard to come to terms with. However, as I played it longer, I found myself slowly figuring it out and getting better at it. Thankfully, the team has built in a completely different way to play using your finger to slide and tap, you can move and shoot. So, for the accelerometer-challenged (like me) there’s another option. 🙂

iWarrior also allows you to play your own music while playing the game. This might seem small, but it’s something a lot of game maker’s overlook, and it’s a lot more fun than listening to the same repetitious in-game music.

The game costs $2.99, which is a little steep for new games on the iPhone. For many reasons the costs of most applications (games or otherwise) on the App Store have been driven to about 99cents. So, it takes either a really big name or an app that has hard to replicate features in order to break past $1.99 and sell a lot. In the team’s defense, it’s difficult for them to download paid games to test and see if they compare to their own prior to putting it on the market (again, due to them being in Africa).

Graphics
The graphics are okay. I’m a stickler on this type of thing though, and I go for either over-the-top quality or simplicity. Examples of this is comparing Fieldrunners to Doodle Jump, both excellent graphically, yet with completely different aesthetics.

iPhone game design - fieldrunners vs doodle jump

So, I’m going to ding the team on this part of the game. This, after a lengthy discussion in Ghana with Eyram over the difficulties of finding quality digital artists. It’s not an easy thing to do, the best designers aren’t digitally literate, with a few exceptions. So, you get great sketching and painting, but few can put that into vector graphics, 3d or even Photoshop.

Though the challenge is high, we live in a digitally connected world where top quality digital artists from Asia and Eastern Europe can be found to do the work at acceptable rates. There are other options, and a game can be made or broken on looks alone.

Summary

iWarrior is an excellent first game on the iPhone platform from two highly talented and creative African game developers. I expect that there will be a lot of good games, and other applications, coming from this team over time – both on the iPhone and other platforms. It’s a game to be proud of and one that I hope a lot of others will buy.

iPhone and Computer Game Development in Africa

I’ve got a new theory: one of the best tests of a tech community’s creativity is how many people are coming up with non-business related applications and games. It makes sense that the two games below come from Kenya and Ghana, two of the biggest “tech hubs” in Africa.

Another 3d Shooter from Nairobi

I think it’s a good sign that I just heard about a new 3D FPS shooter game called Mzalendo (not to be confused with the “eye on Kenyan Parliament website also called Mzalendo that Ory and M put together…). It is being created by Morgan of TriLethal Labs in Nairobi, and they have just released the Beta version of the tech demo outlining the capabilities of the New Siege3D graphics core.

Mzalendo - FPS 3d shooter game

Mzalendo Game - using the New Siege3D graphics core

Africa’s 1st iPhone Game?

I’ve profiled Wesley before, and he’s now partnered up with another game developer in Ghana named Eyram. Their newest claim is that they’re about to release (early April) the first iPhone game from Africa, called “BugzVilla” (I’m not sure if it is the first game, let me know if it is/isn’t).

It’s a game in which you crush bugs by tapping the screen and earn points as you level. Shake the screen to release more bugs, and watch out for the red ants! Here’s a short video on their new game:

I’ll try both of these new games out as soon as I can get my hands on them. Eyram assures me that their new game will be on the iTunes App Store in April, so you can bet I’ll buy it and play it.

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