The Stories Studio
Tell me about yourself before you started this nonlinear path of starting your own thing?
I was passionate about games since I was a young child. I got my first console from my uncle. I started playing Mario and other video games throughout my life. However, I only discovered that a regular person could develop games in 2011 from watching a documentary called “Indie Game”. It focused on a few independent game developers; specifically two teams. They were creating games and I thought “Wow could you do that?”. I always thought creating games required a lot of magic but there were game engines that anyone can work with to create a game! If you had enough dedication then you can use those engines and start.
I started looking for a game community in Bahrain and stumbled across the Game Developers Community. It was run by Ameen Al Tajer at the time. They were doing some workshops, competitions and various other events. I dragged my friends to one of the events which was called Game Jam. We didn’t know anything about games ! We attended our first Game Jam with no experience and built a really horrible game. However, the encouragement we got from the community was great – they said that we were creative, and that was a good first attempt. They told us that we should come back and do this again.
We came back the next year as well and this was after I decided to self – teach myself more on game building. The theme of the second Game Jam was “Hope” and I could say that this was really the first game we built.
Tell us more about your first game “Hope” what was it about?
First game was called “Hope”. We wanted to make the game revolve around a cause. We chose depression as the main theme. The game was about a girl suffering from depression and throughout the game, you would activate hope to make her world more colorful. In addition, you could also even see new paths emerge as well. Otherwise her world in the game would remain grey and gloomy. From that experience we realized that you can make games about something important, and also have a fun element to it as well.
How did you and your Partner/Co-founder meet?
Sajad Hameed and I met at Dream Body Center where we both worked. We became friends there and realized that we shared a passion for games and volunteer work. We went on a volunteering trip to Turkey together soon after that. If I could describe the team dynamics - I’m more into the art, music and development. Sajad handles the business development side of things. Both us work with the creative aspects but that’s an area I’m definitely more passionate about.
Tell us about your trip to Turkey that triggered your first official game “MUSA”
In 2014, Sajad and I took a trip to Turkey. At the time, we were almost married. We saw a lot of refugee children in Istanbul, and that shocked us. At the time, the media wasn’t talking a lot about that issue. It definitely caught us by surprise. I specifically remember a family living under a bridge and we would pass them every time we were heading to the city center. The family and their children lived under that bridge. It was October which was very cold in Istanbul- That stuck with me when I came back to Bahrain.
MUSA is a game you built about two refugee brothers and their fight for survival, tell us more about that. What was the inspiration behind Musa? We feel like this game has a personal touch to it
My Turkey trip was definitely the trigger. It led us to create a game about refugee brothers because we met the children there, and the characters’ dress sense was inspired by them actually. A fresh memory was tied to two brothers around the Blue Mosque area. At the time, no one really talked about their experience and I wanted to communicate that visually.
When you talk to a kid that has been through a trauma like that - their roles change in life. Now you’re protecting each other’s life. I wanted the games we were creating to give a humanistic touch. I wanted to show their story so when others see a refugee on the streets - it changes the way you look at it.
In addition, 2.5% of our revenue will go back to a foundation in Turkey. We are in the process of that. I like to think of myself as an activist through art – I want to show a story through art to affect people.
“I like to think of myself as an activist through art – show a story through art to affect people. ”
You went through a bit of a pause before continuing game development, tell us more
I went through a bit of a difficult time. I was looking for meaning and I always look for meaning in life. I’d like to be honest in this interview because a lot of people do go through this themselves. Sometimes you go through life but can’t help but think that something is missing – we all get to that point.
I self-reflected during that time and made a realization. I liked creating and developing things. I took some life coaching lessons with a brilliant coach that allowed me to discover myself, and what I wanted. On 18th August last year, I created my website “The Stories Studio” which wasn’t just about game development - it showcased my writing, art and several elements I wanted to share with the world.
You work full-time on Stories Studio or do you have another role?
Since June, I work full – time on Stories Studio which MUSA and Deep Blue Dump come under.
The first time people tried Musa, how was the reaction?
It was in IGN held in Bahrain on October. The Unreal Community in Bahrain told us that they had free tables and wanted us to create something for the event. I worked days and night to develop that – that’s when I created one level for the MUSA game where he wakes up in a destroyed room and tries to look for his little brother.
People were surprised because it was shocking to them that this was a game built in Bahrain. They were happy to see local talent and I wanted them to see that! Parents came up to us and said that they would like their kids to try our game! They said “We want We got a lot of great feedback and that encouraged us to purse it further.
We got a lot of written feedback from several people during the event. It pushed me to take it to the next level. The main point was that I could give back and touch people through these games; so I wanted to continue this journey. I’m creating things that are creating an impact and It could also be your bread and butter too at some point. All the elements aligned with what I felt was important to me.
“I was looking for meaning and I always look for meaning in life. I’d like to be honest in this interview because a lot of people do go through this themselves where you go through life but can’t help but feel that something is missing – we all get to that point.”
The second game you recently announced was “Deep Blue Dump” how did that idea come about?
As a studio, our main goal was to complete Musa and it took about 16 months to create a game like that. However, we realized that it was very hard to justify a business that is generating zero revenue. We can’t wait 16 months every time we build a game to know if it works or not. Another realisation is that we know how to create games but nothing on how to publish and market them. We decided to create another game to learn more on that front. We wanted to develop a mobile game because that was easier to develop, publish and market. We started looking at causes and it was a bit difficult because some causes can be so sensitive so we decided to focus on plastic and waste.
It took us a week to build a prototype, and a few weeks after we created Deep Blue Dump. It was a beautiful mobile game about a baby turtle swimming in a polluted ocean. You would move the turtle forward and avoid all sorts of pollution which is mainly plastic to get a high score. It’s an educational finger game which can be addictive as well – those were the elements we wanted for Deep Blue Dump.
Facts and figures on plastic waste was widely available online and we incorporated that into the game. The facts would actually pop up on screen to educate people. Further to that, we included a “Call to Action”. This is a section where people who are inspired to act have a chance to accomplish several things daily. For example “5 tips to reduce plastic on a daily basis”.
It is developing quite fast, and we are in the process of getting several partners for Deep Blue Dump as well.
Are we missing some things here for the Bahrain gaming community?
It’s a lot of things together. We are passionate about developing games and create their own studios – we want to ultimately create a gaming industry in Bahrain. We can create more stuff coming out of this region.
Let’s not confuse communities and studio – I’m a startup but part of the community. The job of a community is to expand the studio, to have more established studios and create an industry. It started not so long ago and we’ve done a lot. We have monthly meet ups where you do workshops, updates on what everyone is doing and an informal monthly coffee meetup.
How has unreal community helped?
We got several amazing opportunities from unreal Bahrain - we attended 4 all paid for exhibitions for gaming which helped us learn a lot. It was good to be part of a peer group that worked on games and got technical support as well.
Give an ULTIMATE REASON for your MISSION – I realized that you can make games about something important, and also have a fun element to it as well. I wanted to impact people that way.
My belief is that we are all born with a hidden mission and purpose that we are meant to discover. And that leads back to doing what you love, being Good at it, making a living from it, and bettering the world with it. With the stories studio, I'm checking all those boxes, and it gives me a reason to wake up with loads of energy every morning.
Why do you think its hard to find game investors in the region?
It’s a less understood industry. There isn’t a lot of game creators so investors don’t have a lot of successful case examples. A lot of people don’t believe in local talent. They always think it is coming from somewhere else. There is a lot of talent in bahrain and the region itself.
“We are not looking as each other as competition – we look at each other for support. We are all doing different things when it comes to games. That’s what beautiful with games.”
What 3 tips can you share with us and others who are taking this plunge?
Being honest with yourself and realizing what you really want to do. What is the real purpose that will keep you going? You should ask yourself that. The why is really important and should resonate with you
To have one person that can mentor or guide you that can come through life coaching and mentorship – you want someone to question you and also be your cheerleader. Have someone to ask you questions so you can answer and reflect
To put yourself out there – attend events and learn. Learn from your surrounding and peers and never think you’re above anyone else.
“A Japanese concept I follow is called ikigai which is a Japanese word whose meaning translates roughly to a reason for being, encompassing joy, a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of well-being. The word derives from iki, meaning life and kai, meaning the realisation of hopes and expectations.”
Were you scared at the start, and even now? Are you scared of failure?
I went to life coaching lessons and I didn’t want to share what I was doing until it was complete. I did myself harm by doing that. Being more open about who I’ am and sharing more about what I want to be was key. When I started talking about my ideas instead of keeping them to myself – it felt so much better. Another important note is partnering with people and sharing my idea with others – when I started, I didn’t feel scared because I felt like this is what I want to do. It took long for me to discover this because life was preparing me for this.
“If you have a hunch, go with it. I’m a big believer in that but of course ask yourself if this is the way to go and here is why and why not but let your spiritual element guide you”
What are your next 3 mini goals?
To publish Deep Blue Dump
To hire a new team member – a programmer specifically
To get fully funded which is the biggest goal
Thank you Saba for having coffee with us and we will make sure to follow your journey. We are sure it will be epic - KEEP GOING