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Straight from the Source: Cukia “Sugar” Kimani (Semblance)

We sat down with Cukia “Sugar” Kimani at BitSummit Vol. 6 and talked about Semblance for the Nintendo Switch, and being the first African IP on a Nintendo console! The interview was conducted by PushDustinNirbion, and MasterofBear.

Check out the official Twitter account for more information about Semblance.

Big thanks to ebifryfly, PushDustin, and Nirbion for help with the transcription!

Push: This is PushDustIn from Source Gaming and we’re about to interview the developer of Semblance. Can you please briefly introduce your game?

Sugar: What’s up, everyone. I’m Cukia “Sugar” Kimani and we’re working on Semblance. Semblance is what we’re calling a ‘play dough’ platformer where you get to shape and mold the world to solve puzzles. And I think to us we’ve both been thinking about it as it’s the real first platformer. Everything until now has been run or jump on a platform. In Semblance,  for the first time, the platforms are the main mechanic and you use those to be creative and solve puzzles.

Push: Yeah, like for example you can knock the platforms to block the laser so that way you can safely traverse over the land.

Sugar: Yes, exactly. You got it right, you hit it right on the nail. That’s exactly what the game is about. Or if you can’t reach something, well, why don’t you make the platform a bit higher and then you can jump right there and you can reach the essences of their world.

Push: So how did you come up with this concept?

Sugar: Well, it’s an interesting story. One where a bit of mistake and planning and just a lot of iterative process, but a lot of the weird deformation came from a weird bug that we used to have where you hit the platform and all of a sudden it would go in and then they was just like “Hey…”

Push: This is the game.
Sugar: “… This is our game. This is our game right here, make this happen.”

Push: That’s fantastic! So I was wondering. Can you briefly talk about the art style?

Sugar: Well, the art style, we went through a lot of iterations of the art, at one point we even tried pixel art. And then we got a fantastic concept artist back in South Africa. We kind of worked through something that was simple like vector art, but I think the one thing that stands out to everyone is the colors scheme. The pink the scheme was one of those that was like, I on one side, I was like what kind of color is a pink base.

(Push laughs)

Sugar: They call me serious. And everyone else, the two was like “This is the color. This is gonna be our main color.” And now, I was like “Thank God I didn’t listen to them.” One of the big thing for us is that it stands out. If you weren’t very unique, you want something that is going to stand out to players. So when you’re walking around [at BitSummit], there’s gonna be a lot of games you’re gonna be seeing around here, when you’re just going through scheme it screams at you like think it’s another platform and then you’re like “Oh, it transforms the world.” Like you just wanna have different layers of engagement…

Push: Exactly.

Sugar: Like surprise.

Push: Exactly.

Nirbion: Exactly, and it’s actually also one of, or not, even the first game coming from South African developer coming to a Nintendo console. Could you explain or tell our readers about the indie scene from South Africa?

Sugar: Ok. So, yes, unless someone beats us. We know that someone else is working on a game, but unless someone beats us, we would be the first South African game on Nintendo Switch, and in fact, the first African developed IP on a Nintendo platform ever. We’re making history, but the way I like to think about this is like when a star is being born, it’s hot, it’s dense, it’s small, but they only get better from there. So, everyone, it’s a very small community, it’s very small, we’re really close together, everyone’s helping out each other, and so it’s like an industry you want to be a part of, not like anyone hates each other, anyone’s competing. So it’s really homey and casual place. There’s not a lot of us, but, of there are, we’re all the cream of the crop. That’s who we are.

Nirbion: Could you explain yourself why this is the first South African game, I mean, when I did research on the South African game development scene, there was always the case of getting talents outsourced to other countries and such and the scene in South Africa had a difficult time to form. Could you tell us what has changed back then to today? What got better when developing games in South Africa?

Sugar: I think it’s just a number of big infrastructure changes for us, like the Internet’s gotten better. I mean these days you don’t even need an office to run a studio, you just need good Internet and work as a team. And one of the things is that one of the great universities started a game course. We were the first graduates, Ben and I, from that course. So as that course released more people, there’s gonna be more people in the industry like pumping out more games, coming into the studios, creating their own studios. So it’s just a whole ecosystem that’s just starting to mature. It’s like a good wine, you know. When it’s just grapes, well, you have it for breakfast. You give it a bit of time, a little bit of growth, a little bit of maturity and that’s what you’re seeing right now in South Africa. We’re growing an industry body and we’re starting to figure out how we can make games. And now, that the government is also starting to fund us to go to game expos like to go to Gamescom and GDC, and that’s how we’re able to meet other international gamers, to meet you guys, your fans and that’s kind of what’s become a big catalyst for growth in our country.

Push: So can you briefly talk about your company?

Sugar: Our company is Nyamakop. It’s a mixture of two African languages, really tells the soul of Africa. ‘Nyama’ means meat in Swahili and ‘Kop’ means head in Afrikaans. So we’re meathead. That’s silly and when asked how it came about but it was more everything else was really terrible and then when we came to select we’re like yeah, it’s kind of funny.

Push: Why meat head?

Sugar: No idea why. It’s just the words in the language just sounded really cool. It has this really cool texture. But us as a company, we started about three years ago, but it was more like we were students, we’re kind of figuring things out, and only like 18 months ago when we really started working on Semblance. We started getting into a stride of what we are, what our branding is like, as a studio how we wanted to grow.

Push: So how long will it take players to complete Semblance?

Sugar: It will take them depending on who you are. It will take between three to four hours, I think, average game time. It would take a bit longer if you take your time. Sit down, relax, you know. But if you’re one of those people who would kind of want to get to the end, I don’t know. Maybe in speed run mode, it would take faster. But it’s like an average of four to five hours.

Push: It would be interesting to see a speed run mode because then we’re seeing the players and how they sculpt the world.

Sugar: Yeah. I think that’s something we should definitely look into. Because I think someone once said in an article that it would be really fun for speed runners. With us playing the game and like Ben and I we played it so much, we actually have seen the game that fast. So it could be speed running.

Push: So what’s the story of Semblance?

Sugar: So the story of Semblance….I don’t want to say too much. The way we wanted to tell the story, it’s not like explicitly in your face, wall of text, voice over, just the game is relaxing, puzzle game. We wanted the story to feel the same way. All throughout the game, we have these cave paintings the players come across and they themselves need to piece them together. And because the game is not linear, you can visit all these cave things in different order and we want it to be like what you think the story is about and think about this and this is what is kind of happening. So it’s always kicking up the mystery of the game by. Basically, it’s a story of this world that’s nice and soft and this infection that comes in and starts to make things hard and brings lasers but there’s a much deeper undertone for what’s going on but that’s all through the end.

Push: Sounds fantastic.

Nirbion: Super fantastic. When are you aiming for release?

Sugar: Semblance is releasing July 24th, 2018 on Switch!

Nirbion: What does being indie mean to you?

Sugar: What does being indie mean? It means yolo. YOLO. You only live once. I mean that’s how we roll. We don’t have any schedules and anything. This is the game we want to make, this is the money we got. YOLO. We go to Japan, yeah YOLO. We go to GDC, YOLO, let’s do it. That’s what indie is to me. Just figure it out as we go.

Push: Alright. Well, thank you so much. 


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