Classically speaking, video game design is the craft of digital storytelling. It is an industry famed for creating fake problems and amusing situations/constraints for users to travail and solve via the vehicle of iconic characters such as Mario and Donkey Kong. This is a technological space where fame and fortune can often materialise from the simplest idea.

Following in such grand tradition; BisonPlay is an emerging game, technology, and media development company who are about to launch their first indie game following a significant surge in interest.

The team at BisonPlay present Mr. Okada, currently billed as the most popular mobile game in Nigeria. Set in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city; the crux of the game is central character Mr. Okada who is on a mission to make as much money as possible. The reason? He dreams of becoming a superstar recording artist and players must complete tasks and negate obstacles via his ‘Okada’ (form of motorcycle) to fund his musical ambition.

Featuring such universal themes means the game should appeal to and enjoyed by anyone from any background. However, it will resonate with African mobile gamers, the African market as well as Africans living in the diaspora. It is available for download on both android and IOS mobile platforms.

Head developer Tobias Ighofose met his chief designer Dave Sewell whilst working for a digital PR firm in London’s Silicon Valley. Together they have created a clever, niche interactive game with their combined experience in coding and design has resulted in a quirky game set in cosmopolitan Lagos. How much money can you make? Will you be able to help Mr. Okada achieve his dreams? This tongue in cheek look at the “hustle” of ambition is emotively relatable within African communities and beyond. Mr. Okada has gradually captured the imagination on the increasingly popular mobile gaming platform.

This week I caught up with director of operations Tobias Ighofose for TBB and here’s what he had to say…

Tobias, welcome to The British Blacklist. In a few words, could tell us about your career to date in the digital gaming/design industry?

Tobias Ighofose

Tobias Ighofose

I started out as a web designer with Java programming experience from Uni. This helped me to get into using Adobe Flash ActionScript (formerly Macromedia) as it was the cool application because of its animations and fluidity. I became a full-time Flash Developer and then got into gaming at a previous role in 2008 at Ralph Creative, a digital agency based in Shoreditch. It was at Ralph that I got the chance to make games as they dealt with clients like 2K games, Nickelodeon, BBC, Disney and many others. It was at this company I met my chief collaborator David Sewell and we worked on many early projects together. We understand each other’s needs perfectly, me as a developer and he a designer.

How and when did the concept of the digital game Mr. Okada come about?

After Dave left Ralph, we kept in touch on the phone and one day decided to meet up for drinks. It was then the idea of Mr. Okada was borne. I spoke to Dave about the game projects I had been working on at Ralph, how I moved from being a Flash developer to focus on creating mostly HTML5 and JavaScript rich applications and games and how it got me interested in developing a game app with him as the designer. I spoke about my experiences from growing up in Lagos, Nigeria for the 1st 20 years of my life and my interesting and sometimes fun memories of using Okadas – motorbikes used as a form of public transport; very good at avoiding the usual Lagos traffic – as means of transport. We both agreed it would be fun to make a game based on Lagos life experience but from the view of the average Okada rider. I described the idea to Dave, while he made a lot of sketches. After leaving, I went home that night and started coding and programming the functionality of the gameplay soon after.

Can you provide any stats to indicate the success of the game so far?

The game has been out for only a week and the figures are in the hundreds, which isn’t bad for an indie paid game with no investors or backing. It has created a lot of buzz for many Africans and Africans of the Diaspora with a lot of positive feedback.

Do you essentially begin by designing a game for yourself or for your audience?

Dave Sewell

Dave Sewell

It started with a single idea of creating a character who races through the streets of Lagos. From there on it became all about the audience, what would they most enjoy about the experience and appeal to them? As they will be the user of your game. There’s always the personal touches you add to enhance it and that gives it that uniqueness and charm, but ultimately the user is first.

Can you give us some insight into your tech company BisonPlay?

As a start-up, with an experienced developer and designer, we strive to create fun and interactive experiences, from making games to creating rich web and mobile applications. We would like to focus on projects that fully utilise our different skills, basically creating great user experiences. We like to think outside the box and are very creative so our focus is what we and our audience consider lots of fun. We don’t want to be seen as just mobile/web developers, we prefer to entertain our audience with our work.

What do you believe to be the biggest thing users just don’t understand about game mechanics?

I would say the time it takes in developing and making sure the games are compatible on the many number of devices around these days. Also, there is the issue of a lot of users expecting a free app. As a startup, we need extra funding to continue to produce quality products, from getting licenses for development and design tools, a lot of marketing, recruiting other developers and designers to reduce our workload and helping with completing more projects with shorter deadlines. As a community we need to understand the importance of supporting each other.

What are the essential skills and personal qualities of your trade?

To be a good communicator, and being confident in what you are selling. Also, knowing what is right for the business such as what will get you that return on investment, what will appeal to your audience, etc. Then there is creating the game from a visual standpoint with illustration, branding the game and a clear user journey with sketching and wireframing. Technically it was building the game with HTML and JavaScript frameworks through to implementing with Game Center. Finally, you have to have that drive to just to keep going and believe in your vision.

mr_okada_2

Who do you consider to be the benchmark in your field and why?

Nintendo (Pokémon Go) and Disney (Research App) have both been creating interesting and unique ways of interacting with gameplay. They’ve been using augmented reality to overlay footage on top of real life. This is such an exciting development within our field as it makes the gameplay feel even more synced with our every day and it opens up the industry to a whole new wave of games.

How important is it to create the right workplace/office environment whilst working on a video game?

It is so important to get your setup correct as you’ll be spending a lot of time discussing, creating and launching the video game from behind your desk! For us, we chatted over Google hangout a lot and that worked for us as you can share your screen and give a live update. This worked for us but it’s just about finding what works best for you and what you are most comfortable with.

How would you feel if Mr. Okada became the new Flappy Bird?

We’d love that! Flappy Bird was huge but we want to take it one step further by being the best indie game across Africa and the UK at one time!

What is the next step of the vision for everyone associated with BisonPlay?

To successfully launch our first indie game, creating our next title and establishing the BisonPlay name as the best indie game developers from London Silicon Roundabout.

When and where can we download a copy of Mr. Okada?

It’s available now on iOS and Android, search for ‘Mr. Okada

What are you doing once this interview is over?

An evening at Got Soul (A weekly event hosted at South Place Hotel in Moorgate) with life size character cut out of Mr. Okada himself. Talking to guests about the game and hosting a head to head challenge with guests playing the game and getting a prize.


Get your download of Mr. Okada – iOS and Android

Find out more about BisonPlay via Facebook